7 Questions to Ask for Men and Women Wanting to Marry (A blog series on dating, 4 of 4)

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[This blog is the fourth and final installment in a series of blogs on dating for single people and for parents raising children. Read the first blog and second blog and third blog to catch up]

This last blog on dating is for the following: 
– If you are single and desire marriage
– If you desire to raise godly children who plan to marry
– If you have friends who are single and want to marry

I’ve got seven questions for both sides of the wedding aisle, different questions for men and women to chew on and think about while they pursue the lovely blessing of marriage. These questions hopefully will remove some blinders people have while dating and also prepare some to intentionally seek out God’s will for their aspirations of love, intimacy and commitment.

7 Questions For Men Wanting to Marry

  1. Are you overlooking a good woman in your life right now (those who are shy, those who are a single mom, those who have been divorced)? Instead of looking for Miss Right, should you prayerfully see that Miss Right In Front of You is waiting?

  2. In your life, are you honoring God above all? Then, do you honor her? Then, do you honor her family? Then, do you honor her friends?

  3. Is the girl you are pursuing modest in her appearance and her social media posts? (1 Timothy 2:9)?

  4. Do you display a leadership in front of her and a prioritized love for her that inspires her to follow and trust you?

  5. Is her character noble (Proverbs 31:10-31)?Is her character something your mother would love? Is her character something God approves? Can you see the spiritual attraction over the physical attraction? Or does she have the worst qualities listed in the book of Proverbs (unfaithful, loud, quarreling, nagging)?

  6. Can you both agree on the path ahead? Can you provide the lifestyle she expects? Can you support the calling she has in life? Do you see her supporting the commitments you currently have? Can you welcome her family as your family?  
  1. Do you want your daughters to be like how she is right now and do you want your sons to marry someone like her?

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7 Questions for Women Wanting to Marry

1.  Do you get excited when thinking about helping him as you join the course of life he is on (Genesis 2:18)?

2. Does he have the resolve to stay faithful to God and strong for you in tough times (2 Timothy 2:3)?

3. Is he considerate and gentle with you (1 Peter 3:7)? Scripture’s role of the husband as the leader of the home isn’t that he gets to make decisions as a dictator for his wife and kids. That’s a gross misinterpretation. He needs to be considerate on what his wife thinks. Where she thinks the family is headed. Being considerate and gentle go together. A husband who is angry with his wife is one who doesn’t consider her thoughts or feelings. 

4. Will he make a godly father (Psalm 127:3-5; Ephesians 6:4)?

5. Does he have the maturity and the commitment to be a one-woman-man (1 Timothy 3:2)? Does he understand that lust, laziness, pornography, cheating, emotional and physical affairs have no place in a marriage? Does he see that love is not merely a feeling when things are good, but a covenantal commitment no matter what? 

6. How valuable does he make you feel? In a serious, dating relationship heading toward marriage, you should feel above all other humans and responsibilities in his life. He should consistently show you that he loves Jesus passionately (not say it, show it), and then there’s you. You should have no doubt that you are the apple of his eye. He should lavish you with time, encouragement, prayer, gifts as you see you are a priority to him. 

7. Do you want your sons to be like how he is right now and do you want your daughters to marry someone like him?

Thanks for reflecting on these, passing them on to loved ones and for taking the time to read all four blogs on dating. What’s going to uplift and improve our culture is not another politician, election or crisis. It’s going to be a gracious, loving uprising of strong, godly households. This is done by intentional, prayerful dating. 

You are loved. 

Z

7 Principles For Single People Wanting To Date (A blog series on dating, 3 of 4)

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[This blog is the third installment in a series of four blogs on dating for single people and for parents raising children. Read the first blog and second blog to catch up]

There are four types of relationships when it comes to dating today, and three of them are acceptable for Christians. 

  1. Prearranged marriage. 
  2. Courtship. 
  3. Christians dating. 
  4. Non-Christians dating. 

In any of these scenarios of pursuing marriage, I want to give seven principles for single people. 

1. Utilize your current singleness for God (Philippians 2:3-4)

Single people desiring marriage can give in to two temptations that will harm the work God wants to to through them. 

One: They will be so consumed with wanting to date, wanting to be engaged, wanting to plan a wedding, wanting the kids and the picket fence that they waste their years of singleness. 

Two: They will choose to be selfish in their season of singleness. 

These temptations really go together. If a single person is being lazy, or selfish AND they’re always thinking about wanting to marry, there’s going to be long-term harm if they do end up choosing to marry. 

Marriage is sacrifice. A single person needs to be using their singleness as a time to serve God, serve the church, serve co-workers and neighbors and those in need. A single person will never have more time and opportunity in their lives to serve others than right now in their singleness. Marriage and children bring beautiful distractions that limit the amount of self-sacrifice that can be done toward others. 

Singleness should also be a time where a person is leaning on the Holy Spirit and Scripture and Christian community to mold them into a more godly person, which prepares one greatly for marriage. This means no to pornography, drunkenness, drugs, grudge-holding, promise-breaking).

2. It’s not wise to pursue a relationship until you are ready to marry (Proverbs 18:22)

Each parental unit in the household will have their own guidance on when their children can start dating. This should be done with prayer and conversation with godly people and not done with what culture is doing or what the child’s friends are doing. 

There’s no where in the Bible where it gives a certain age on when someone should be married, so there’s definitely not an age given on when someone can start dating. 

Who and how someone dates is more important than when they date. 

When I say that Christians should not pursue a relationship until they’re ready to marry, I really mean until they’re ready to commit fully to one person. They don’t have to by forever committed to the first person they go on a date with. The point of dating is to search out what godly and lifelong characteristics are valuable to you.

Problems occur when someone in dating wants a greater intimacy than what is wholesome in God’s eyes and doesn’t want to commit to much. Those who simply want to date around and be physical with others while giving no concern to commitment long-term aren’t ready to find or enjoy a spouse. 

3. It’s healthy thing to not set your expectations too high or too low.

My heart breaks for the person who worships romance and marriage and they basically want to find Jesus to marry, not giving any room for sin or defect or flaws in the other person. They won’t find Jesus to marry (even though He should have their heart above all). Sometimes Mr. Right is Mr. Right In Front of You but you’re dismissing that person because they’re not perfect. Your bar is too high. 

My heart also breaks for the person who doesn’t see the value and worth God has instilled in them, so they settle for any person to be with long-term. Even if the person is destructive or if there are obvious character defects that loved ones warn about, they are staying with that person. They’ve set the bar too low. 

We won’t find Jesus to marry but we shouldn’t date the devil either. 

Yes, you deserve someone godly to serve you and lead you closer to Jesus, but no, you don’t deserve anyone ungodly to use you and belittle you and let you down continually. 

4. Never date a non-Christ-follower (2 Corinthians 6:14)

In our household there are two daughters. My wife and I encourage them to not say the words never or always. When they express what is wrong they will say, You always side with her, or, You never let me play outside. Of course those aren’t factual. They’re over-exaggerations based on emotion.

But, when it comes to God’s Word, if God uses always (He will always love us) and if He uses never (He will never forsake us), then it’s time to use those words too. 

God tells His people to not (never) be emotionally and physically intimate with non-believers. Not because Christians are better than non-Christians, but because there are severe issues long-term when one side worships Jesus over all and the other side worships someone or something other than Jesus. 

And notice I didn’t say, Never date a non-Christian. I said, Never date a non-Christ-follower

Just because someone is in church doesn’t mean they’re in Christ. 

It’s when a girl says, He’s so cute and so funny and he likes me and he told me that his grandma used to take him to church once in a while and he’s cool with me loving Jesus. 

Not gonna fly. They need to be in Christ. The love for Jesus and the fruit of the Spirit should be oozing out of them.  

5. He should initiate and then she should respond. 

In the biblical roles for men and women in marriage, men are assigned the role of leadership. This is not to say that women don’t lead (my wife leads me), or that women don’t have leadership skills (the church leadership team where I serve has more women than men). This isn’t to say men are more valuable or have greater importance in the marriage. Both spouses are equally, worthy, spiritual beings. 

But in dating, men should initiate and women should respond. 

Biblical evidence of this is the creation order in Genesis 2 (Adam is created first, he speaks first to Eve) and also, 1 Corinthians 11:8-9 and Ephesians chapter 5. 

The guy should approach the girl (or ideally, her father first). After there’s a friendship, after there’s prayer, after there’s visible evidence of fruit of the Spirit and a servant-heart toward others, after he’s ready to commit to one person to date and hopefully marry, he should initiate. 

A girl is best suited to lean on God’s goodness and sovereignty as she prayerfully waits for a godly man to initiate a relationship with her. 

Now, does this mean a woman never tells a man how she feels? Because men are dense. They need help connecting emotionally. They need help realizing what signs she is giving him.  

I know this: God is sovereign and powerful. If it doesn’t work out for a girl with a particular guy because he didn’t see the signs or the beauty in her or wasn’t ready to commit – whatever the reason – God knows what is best for us and will orchestrate someone better in the future. 

We can trust Him with the things that are most important to us. 

6. Feel free to utilize technology wisely (internet dating) (Proverbs 4:23)

What technology has done to many young people is devolve them into not knowing how to have a conversation. They can text a bit, use emojis, film a Tik-Tok, but their phone has become such a desire, it’s like their fifth appendage. 

With not knowing how to talk (and with the dating scene being pretty sparse because you probably aren’t going to find the guy/gal for you long-term that God wants at a bar or a club), and, with many churches not being relevant or not caring about the next generation (since the churches are getting older and older), there aren’t a lot of millennial or Gen Z options to date at a lot of churches, it can be dismal out there.

Internet dating becomes a viable option to meet people. Let’s allow God to use technology for redemptive good. 

Your trust should not be in a dating site. Your energy should not be spent on a dating site that is only for hook-ups or good times. You don’t need a good weekend, you need a good legacy. 

Just be cautious as you sift through online options. You don’t want physical attraction to be primary, you want to prayerfully seek the character and heart of the person you might go on date with. As Proverbs 4:23 states, guard your heart. 

7. Only invest in a relationship with someone you are attracted to completely. 

You should be attracted to them physically, yes. You can be attached to how talented they are, sure. It’s fine if you like their success, though that fades (so does beauty and talent). 

There needs to be a mental attractions (you think highly of them). 

There needs to be an emotional attraction (you trust them and feel safe with them). 

There needs to be a spiritual attraction (they love Jesus more than you or anyone/anthing else).

There needs to be a gifting attraction (you see your spiritual gifts and theirs combined well together to do ministry).

When the two become one, it’s not just sex. It’s not just living other. It’s not just having one bank account together. It’s everything. 

It’s views on marital roles, on parenting, on gender, on spiritual disciplines – everything, on how time away from work is spent. 

For the final post in this mini-blog series on dating, we’ll ask each man and each woman 8 different questions when it comes to them dating. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

2 Blunders Made By Single People Who Date (A Blog Series on Dating, 2 of 4)

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[This blog is the second in a series of four blogs on dating for single people and for parents raising children. The first blog can be read here.] 

If you are single desiring marriage, you are not alone. You might feel lonely at times, but you are in the majority of American adults right now. 

There are more adults who are single right now in America than there are adults who are married. This is a first in the history of America, where the adults who are single are the majority. 

Now, the majority of people will eventually marry.
Nine out of ten people do. 

When it comes time to get married, the man is on average 30 years old and the woman is on average in her late 20’s. 75 years ago, the average age to marry was ten years less than it is today. Young adults are prolonging their commitment to marriage, which has led to much sexual sin and cohabitation. 

It’s also led to more time to think about marriage. Which means there is more time for single adults to put the prospect and hope of marriage on a throne it shouldn’t be on. 

For single Christians hoping to be married in the future, and for dads and moms wanting to raise godly children, let me share the two big mistakes I see single people making:

Blunder #1: I desire marriage so strongly that I worship it. 

Those who idolize the concept of marriage have a stress-free, worry-free, romantic, Disney-like picture of what marriage is like. 

That’s not realistic. 

The gap between the fantasy of marriage and the reality of marriage is quite the chasm for this person. 

The more a single person worships the idea of marriage (meaning, it’s what their heart wants more than anything, it’s what they constantly think about, it’s what they’ve spent their life desiring), when marriage is worshipped, immediately that person becomes someone who is codependent. 

Those who idolize marriage are the ones who always have to be in a relationship. They cannot stand the thought of being single. They feel less-than if they’re not dating someone. Their greatest fear is not marrying and instead of celebrating friends who do get married, they are jealous and bitter. With each boyfriend or girlfriend they have, they turn that person into a functional savior. Their heaven is the wedding altar. 

When a single person worships the idea of marriage, when falling in love sits on the throne of their heart, here’s the danger with that: You will overlook the faults and flaws you and the person you are dating have.

When all you think about is marriage, you’ll be blind (or choose to ignore) glaring personality deficiencies and unhealthy habits just to get to the wedding day. 

This mindset leads to long-term issues, because when the wedding day comes and goes, the faults and flaws remain, or, outside of Jesus, get worse. 

Marriage is a starting line, not a finish line. 

This blunder usually is tripped over by women. 

Recently I was counseling a young woman in her late 20’s who is overwhelmed by her being single. She is full of anxiety over the fact that she isn’t married and doesn’t have any children. In our hour together, she said the words I’m single six times. Instead of Jesus’ love defining her, her identity is: not married

Through some questions I asked, she relayed that she feels miserable while she doesn’t date and feels like she’s on Cloud 9 when she does. She said by the second or third date with someone, she’s picturing having kids with the guy and seeing how his last name fits with her first name. 

This tells me she is rushing the process, controlling too much, not letting go of this idol to be married and probably smothering the men she gets to know. 

I’ve said it before, and it’s true for those who idolize marriage: Chase after happiness and you’ll never find it. Chase after God and happiness will find you. 

Blunder #2: I detest marriage so strongly that I condemn it. 

The other mistake single people make isn’t idolizing marriage, it’s demonizing it. 

In this extreme, the single person doesn’t have a euphoric picture of marriage, they have a very dismal, miserable view of it. The chasm for this person is the horror stories of marriage they’ve seen and have heard verses the hope for a wonderful relationship they could hope toward. 

While the worship of marriage leads to an unhealthy codependence (save me, fix me, always love me), the condemning of marriage leads to an unhealthy independence (I don’t need anyone, look what I can do). 

This perspective of detesting marriage leads to a more self-centered lifestyle. The single person thinks they will get the most joy out of being by themselves, when, Christ-followers know we find ourselves by serving God and others. 

Not to saying people who have a bad taste in their mouth toward marriage don’t date. Sure they do. They reflect the desire that God has made us for companionship. It’s just, while they date, they severely focus on the person’s flaws and faults (most of the time exaggerating them). They inherit the role of being a bad prophet predicting that this is the reason it wouldn’t work out long-term. 

While the person who worships marriage ignores the flaws in a dating partner (no truth), the person who detests marriage focuses too much on the flaws in a dating partner (no grace). 

Rather than pushing a good relationship along, they push it away. Deep down inside they want to meet Mr./Mrs. Right, but their fears and unrealistic standards of a marriage partner keep them from pursuing Mr./Mrs. Right In Front of Them

This blunder is usually tripped over by men. 

While counseling a single young male in his early 30’s, he confessed a daily involvement with pornography and a periodic involvement with pre-marital sex. I asked him who he was having sex with and he told me it was typically girls in their early 20’s. 

I asked why he thought there was typically a ten year difference between him and the girls he chose to pursue and his response was, They’re not thinking about settling down. They’re more fun

While he wasn’t worshipping marriage, he was worshipping pleasure. He was worshipping temporary acceptance. 

He went on to talk about how awful his parents marriage was, how ugly their divorce was when he was 15 years old and how stale his friends marriages are today. He condemned any idea of tying the knot.

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For single adults, and parents raising children, we don’t place dating or marriage or sex or friendship on the throne, and we don’t place those things under our feet and stomp on them. If desired, marriage is a beautiful gift, and if done in a godly fashion, it’s such an amazing adventure with your best friend. But it can’t be worshipped and it can’t be spit on. 

I firmly believe that when you are focused on God above all, placing Jesus on the throne of your thoughts, words, actions and dreams, He does, in His timing, give you the desires of your heart. 

Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

A History of Dating (A Blog Series on Dating, 1 of 4)

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With my oldest daughter turning 9 this month, which makes me realize she’s halfway to moving out of the home, and also, with the numerical increase of millennials and generation Z’s being led to the church I get to serve, the topic of dating wisely has been on my heart. 

[This blog is the first in a series of four blogs on dating for single people and for parents raising children.] 

To kick off this blog series on dating, it’s probably a healthy first step to understand how fast the dating process has progressed (I should say, how it has regressed). Here’s a history on dating: 

History of Dating

In 1896, the word dating was first used as lower-class slang for prostitution. To date someone meant you were soliciting a prostitute (I see patterns today in culture where modern dating still includes some sort of prostitution).  

The Parlor With Her Mother and Father and His Shotgun

In the early 1900’s if a young couple wanted to get married, here’s how it would go down: Dad and mom would have a front room in their house called a parlor. There would be some nice chairs, maybe a piano, some big paintings on the wall. 

If dad and mom had a lovely daughter who was near the age of marriage, they would make a list of qualified, approved male suitors who earned the right to be interviewed by the girl’s parents. A letter of acceptance would go out to the young men stating something like, Congratulations, you’ve been approved to interview with us to court our daughter.

After receiving this invitation to interview, the young man would clean himself up, put on a suit, comb his hair, get rid of foul body odors and he would go to the girl’s house, sitting in the front parlor. Dad and mom would sit with him, and the girl would sit in the back of the room (this was social distancing before it was a 21st Century trend).  

Dad and mom would then drill the young man with questions, Do you love the Lord? What are your intentions? Do you have a job? Are you ambitious? Are you gracious? Do you have goals? Are you a drunk? Do you own a Bible? Can we see your Bible? 

They would have this conversation to get him thinking seriously, they would feed him some small snacks and tea (not dinner, they don’t want him hanging around too long). Later on, if he was a healthy prospect in the parents eyes, they would notify him again, and through more interviews, if he was deemed worthy, he could talk to their daughter, maybe end up marrying her. 

This was a long process where the young man would have to come onto her family’s property, play by her parent’s rules, and the young man and the young woman weren’t even permitted to be alone together. Dad was always watching. With a shotgun in hand. And a whisky. A loaded shotgun.

Women’s Magazines

But then something happened in the early 1900’s women’s magazines started gaining steam in popularity as they were put in the hands of these young women wanting to marry. The Ladies Home Journal by the year 1910 had over 1 million subscribers. 

Instead of a young lady taking wisdom on what a godly woman is and looks like from their Bible, or their mom or grandma, or their church, now they’re getting advice and looking at pictures from magazines who are saying that this is what a woman should look like, this is fashion and sexuality. These magazines still exist today, they’re very popular and are in every grocery check out line. Have you read through Cosmo or Vogue? There aren’t a lot of Bible verses in them. They teach you how to break all the commandments from God while spewing lies on how to get a good man. 

Women started reading these magazines and they began thinking, Oh, maybe I don’t show enough cleavage. Oh, I need to listen to my desires and my heart over my God. Oh, I need to sleep around to have fun and see what I like. This is what’s called normal. Now I get it.  

Growth of Urban Cities

What happens in the 1920’s is that urbanization became exciting and contagious where everyone is moving to the city and working in the city. Since the city is full of creative and hard-working people who need an outlet, the entertainment industry exploded. There’s restaurants and movie theaters and dance halls.  

What happened is young ladies were being taken away from their home to go eat, drink, dance with boys the parents don’t know. There’s no, dad and mom get to know the boy in the parlor of the girls home anymore. Today if you watch the ABC show The Bachelorette, the girl’s parents aren’t meeting the aspiring boys episode 1. The girl is making out with boys in episode 1.

The Automobile Takes Her Away 

This process of going from the woman’s domain (her parents house) to the man’s domain (wherever he wants to go) picks up fast in the 1930’s with the mass production of the automobile. Young men buy cars, they pull up to the girl’s house beep beep, honk the horn, the girl comes running out of the house and drives away instead of the boy parking his car and visiting with the parents on the front porch or in the front parlor room. 

He takes the girl out on a date where she spent all day trying to look pretty and attractive and her heart is involved with this boy so she’ll go where he takes her.

A little later on, the young man begins to realize, Wow, I are spending a lot of money just to go on a date. I bought a car, a few suits, and I’m picking up the tab at dinner and at the club, and I’m not getting anything in return. 

There became this uncomfortable pressure from the boy onto the girl to neck/make out/go too far/have sex. Because after all this spending of money and time, at the end of the night the girl saying, thank you wasn’t enough for these guys. 

This is where I believe dating became a form of prostitution. The guy pays for the entire evening, and he unfairly expects physical affection in return.

The guy would insinuate that the girl owes him, that there needed to an exchange, money for affection. Some of ladies reading this have felt this pressure so what the women came up with was this term going Dutch, apparently the Dutch are very cheap people, and it’s where both sides of the date split the check. Women everywhere declared, Tonight I will pay for my own steak and he can’t touch me. 

The Feminist Movement

The 1960’s come along and the feminist movement begins to grow and gain an audience. And their cause was this: we want women to be treated like men! The shortcoming with this movement is that men don’t treat other men that well. There was a day where if a woman walked into the room, all the men would stand up out of respect, open the door for her, seat her nicely but feminism said, treat us like men, well, as men, we don’t stand up for you, we don’t compliment you, we use you, rip you off, lie to you, hurt you. 

The Sexual Revolution

Next comes the sexual revolution in the 60’s and 70’s (to be truthful, the first sexual revolution occurred in the 1920s, so don’t let your grandparents tell you it’s the hippies fault on why sex is so casual today).

Another sexual revolution happened in the mid 1960’s where young adults basically spent 7-8 years completely naked. The clothing manufacturers in the 1960’s-70’s declared bankruptcy because no one was wearing clothes.

Sex goes from being a committed intimate act to a hobby with not much emotion involved, there’s an increase in sexual diseases and pregnancy outside of marriage. 

With this revolution came their scripture: The first Playboy magazine was issued with Marilyn Monroe on the cover. With each risqué issue, there’s no dad or mom on the cover with them, no Bible, no clothes and Playboy and Penthouse go from behind the counter to on the shelves and now we’ve got women investing in magazines on how to make your man happy, and we’ve got men addicted to pornography, investing in the lie that this is what all women should look like and what they should do.

With all of this sleeping around we were given birth control pills and condoms and other contraceptives but people were still getting pregnant before marriage and before maturity so in 1973 our country legalized institutional abortion. 

The marriages are falling apart because lusting eyes and flirting tongues and an improper view of each other was the norm but it was still considered just fine. In 1974 the lawmakers in America passed the edict of no fault divorce. It’s not your fault, it’s not my fault, we’ll just say it didn’t work out and go date other people.  

Dating Today

Today it’s been magnified times ten with sleeping around before marriage and divorce after marriage and parents not raising godly children in how they date. Even young adults not being faithful to God in their 20’s.

80% of  Christians ages 18-29 years old are having sex before marriage (Not 80% of young adults, 80% of so-called Jesus-followers).

In just a matter of a few generations, we have this meltdown in culture and very few are saying, Hey, this isn’t working. I’m still broken and lonely and empty. Maybe we should repent? Maybe we should go back 100 years and see what was working then? We just keep trying solve our own mess with protection, abortion, divorce, lazy parenting, avoiding the Bible while all this time we should’ve just brought our mess to Jesus and let Him cleanse it and show us the right way to have an intimate relationship. 

In 1970, 36% of Americans were unmarried. 
In 1980, it went up to 39%. 
In 1990 it went up to 41%. 
In the year 2000, 44% of American adults were unmarried. 
And today it’s at 51%

People aren’t getting married because their parent’s marriage or divorce scared them, and if they can sleep together, live together, play house, and get some of the benefits of marriage without having any of the obligation or commitment that marriage requires, they’ll do it.

Sex used to be just for married people. Then it was, oh, but we’re engaged, we’re gonna for sure get married so let’s have sex. Then it was, we’re dating and we’re serious. And now people just have sex with anyone. The term friends with benefits has come along. Personally, I’m friends with a lot of people, only one of those friends gets benefits from me and that’s my wife. Benefits to me are like medical and dental and retirement and when McDonalds brings the McRib back each year. Not sex.

The average age of a man on his wedding day today is 30.
For females it’s 28. 

In 1960, the average age of a man on his wedding day was 23, and the bride was 20. 

In Europe, they don’t believe in marriage anymore because in some countries you can get married and have a 3-4 year relationship and then the marriage license expires like a driver’s license. 

We need to admit this culture isn’t working. This culture is a lie. People are not complete and happy without Jesus. People are not fixed by doing whatever they want. We need an alternative. We need a different way to live. We need Jesus. We need the Bible. We need to get back in the parlor with the dad and mom (which, dad and mom need a godly, committed marriage to showcase). 

If culture and our natural desires lead to destruction in relationships, how are young adults to be while dating and what wisdom are parents to give to their children when it comes to dating?

This is my attempt in this 4-part, mini-blog series.

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

When Unborn And Born Babies Die, Do They Go To Heaven?

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As a church leader I have been given access to hurting families who have gone through the tragedy of losing a young baby, either through a miscarriage, a still born birth, a premature death, SIDS, cancer or a horrific accident. I mourn with those who mourn. 

As a father who has two living daughters, and four babies who didn’t make it to full term pregnancy (one miscarriage, one still born and two premature infants who died within a day of being born), my wife and I have those who choose to mourn with us (for those who are unaware, more of our faith journey can be read here).

The instances of abortion, miscarriages and the death of a baby raises an important question (a biblical one, in fact): Where do dead babies go when they die?

This has been an old question in the entire history of the church. In the first century, infant mortality rates were high, and as it does today, it caused great anxiety for moms and dads who were wondering about the eternal destination of their dead child. 

An old school scholar named Irenaeus (130-201 A.D.) taught that the reason Jesus became an infant was to save infants. However, in the early first century church, baptism was legalistically tied to salvation. This meant if your unborn child, dead child wasn’t baptized in the church, they were destined for hell. The Catholic Church has extended this teaching up to today. 

To me, this is a stretch at least and superstitious (unbiblical) at most. Parents who want their children baptized so that they can be saved is off the biblical radar. There is nothing magical about the water when someone is baptized. Baptism doesn’t save anyone. Jesus alone saves. It’s a faith in Him as Lord and Savior that alone saves.

The Age of Accountability Doctrine

Growing up in the church, I was wrongly taught the unbiblical doctrine of the “age of accountability”. This unhelpful teaching says that someone is not responsible for their own sin until they reach an age of reason (and yet when I asked questions to church leaders about what that age was, there was never an answer).

What confuses me about the age of accountability teaching is it seems to say that a child goes to bed with no moral responsibility and then they suddenly wake up the next day accountable for their desires, words and actions. 

The psalmist writes, “For I was born a sinner – yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5). 

Once our heart is beating, we have moral responsibility and it grows in us emotionally as we grow physically. Those who teach age of accountability teach it as a light switch that just turns on one day. Rather, it’s more of a dimmer switch where the more we grow the more we are illuminated of what is right and wrong. If Jesus grew in wisdom as He grew in strength, so do our children (Luke 2:52).

If your church wrongly teaches the age of accountability doctrine, show them some of the Apostle Paul’s last recorded words where he writes, “You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15).

What I Teach My Children and My Church

With the loss of a baby, people not only need answers but they need love. They need prayer and compassion and a presence of friends and a listening ear. As a husband to a wife who asks questions about the triplets who were in her body for 21 weeks and then were delivered too soon to survive, this is a very personal issue. I cannot provide the theology to satisfy the grieving emotions myself and parents who have lost precious children. God’s Spirit will mend wounds. God is good. Jesus saves. Grieving parents should long for heaven, and here is some theology on why they can look forward to seeing their baby (pending the fact that mom and dad are believers in Christ as Lord and Savior). 

As a leader in my family and a leader in the church I get to serve in, here’s what I teach: 

(1) God Can Relate to Us Emotionally and Physically (Hebrews 4:15)

It’s taught frequently in churches (and rightly so) that Jesus became a man. But first, He was a baby. Before that, He was an infant in His mother’s womb. I take great comfort in knowing Jesus can identify with my wife’s miscarriage and her still born birth. 

I also take great comfort in knowing Jesus felt the emotional pain of losing a loved one. He hurt when hearing His cousin John the Baptist was executed. He wept at the grave of Lazarus. He Himself experienced death. For Him to come as a baby means He can relate to our humanity at every stage of human development (from unborn to adult). 

More than answers (which is what parents of dead babies want), God’s provides His presence and His love (which is what parents of dead babies need). 

(2) God Can Save Babies From the Womb (Psalm 22:9-10)

Did you know this? Psalm 22:9-10 speaks of God leading a baby to trust Him while the child is breastfeeding. It speaks of the baby serving God as Lord from the moment they are born. 

Further examples of God calling babies to be His are found in Jeremiah 1:4-5 and Isaiah 49:1-7. Both prophets, messengers on God’s behalf, were called by Him when they were in their mother’s wombs. On top of that, so was John the Baptist (Luke 1:15) who was promised to be filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb of Elizabeth. 

(3) Jesus Loves the Little Children Whether Born or Unborn

The word for child (brephos) that is used speaking of Jesus being a baby in the womb of His mother Mary (Luke 2:12) is also the same word used when Jesus asked for the little children to be brought close to Him (Luke 18:15). 

In the same chapter in Luke (18:17) He instructs His disciples that His kingdom (heaven) was custom built for young children who will be with Him forever. This historical picture of Jesus inviting children to be with Him is a deep solace to parents who have lost a baby. I weep joyful tears when I think about Jesus holding my four dead babies on His lap waiting for my entrance into heaven. 

(4) There Is a Biblical Example of a Deceased Baby Being Saved (2 Samuel 12:15-23)

King David had a baby who died very young. The child was born sick. David’s leaders of faith prayed with him over the child and the baby survived seven days and then died. On the same day David chooses to go into the house of the Lord and worship Him. When he returns home after praising God he chooses to eat and try to move on with his life. It’s at this point he tells his friends that he knows he can’t bring his dead baby back into his life but rather he will focus on the fact that he’ll go to his baby one day (2 Samuel 12:23). 

This account gives me great hope and even assurance from David’s faith that dead babies are ushered into the arms of the heavenly Father in heaven. 

(5) God is a Good, Good, Perfect Father (Psalm 103:13)

Even as a leader in the church I have no idea who goes to heaven and who doesn’t. My role on this planet is not to judge anyone or determine their eternal destination after death. My role is to simply love people with the grace God has shown me. I can hope. I can trust. I do not know for sure.

God the Father alone determines which children He permits via spiritual adoption into His family. It’s His choice alone. Not the parents of a deceased baby who need false hope. Not any church leader trying to say nice words to a grievely family. It’s the Lords’ choice. 

And that’s very good news. 

I trust the Father God who pursued me, saved me by His grace, through His Son and has sealed me forever in His care, so, yes, I also trust Him fully to do what is loving and merciful and compassionate to do what is best with the babies my family has lost. 

I am a dad who worships a heavenly Dad Who brings life where there has been death. 

I am pro-life (more here). I am in anguish over the 50,000 abortions happening each year. But I have faith that all of those 50,000 babies each year are ushered into heaven, praising Jesus forever (when, in reality, had all 50,000 babies been allowed to be born, some would grow up rejecting Jesus and not in eternity with Him).

In the end it’s God’s decision to welcome dead babies into heaven or not, but from what I believe about God’s character, what my faith has seen in Scriptural references and in the trust I have in God’s hesed (unconditional) love, I am eager to spend eternity with four children I didn’t have the honor of raising in this life. I am eager to weep no more as Jesus wipes the tears from my eyes. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

What Every Retired/Former Pastor Should Be Doing

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I was raised in the home of a pastor. My father, before his death, was in ministry for over 40 years. Throughout his career in the church, he noticed that a lot of his friends in other vocational fields were always looking for ways to work less and play more. They were trying to hire other people to do their work so they could travel more, improve their golf game, retire early. I heard him repeatedly say that he’d probably never retire unless God made it clear for him to do so – and he never did. 

However, many pastors, ministers, ministry leaders do retire or step away from vocational ministry.  Some of them have left the ministry to work somewhere else, maybe in a parachurch ministry format. Others have fully retired. In either case, for those not in full-time, local church, vocational ministry: this blog is for them. I know them. I see the highlights of their lives on social media. I wonder about them.

And in a sense, this blog is also for me.

Now, when I say, “What Every Retired Pastor Should Be Doing”, how arrogant does that sound? I’m not even 40 years old and I’m declaring what people decades older than me who have so much more wisdom, experience and faith in God than I do should be using their time for. Seven things they should be doing, to be exact. 

Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father,” [1 Timothy 5:1]

I hope these seven actions come across as encouragements and aren’t felt like rebukes. 

Be thankful to God in reflection. 

If a pastor has retired, that means God sustained him for a long duration of ministry. Only one out of ten pastors make it to retirement age as a pastor. The other nine are either fired or they burn out and quit. For a retired pastor, there is much to look back on and be thankful for. There is much to celebrate. 

Looking back on how God was faithful and what answered prayers there were and what fruit there was is always healthy to reflect on as it takes the eyes off the retired pastor and gives praise to God. 

There are also so many people in a retired pastor’s past to be grateful to God for, and those people could be written heart-felt letters expressing gratitude for the support they gave to the pastor. Makes you wonder if Moses ever wrote a thank-you letter to Aaron and Hur [Exodus 17:12]. 

Attempt to reconcile with broken relationships. 

This is the most difficult step of the seven. 

Ministry is messy. It is full of imperfect people trying to serve a perfect God as well as other imperfect people. There is much let down and pain and harsh words said and for some reason American church leaders have made “nice” a fruit of Spirit as we shove the past severed relationships under the rug hoping they’ll go away.

I remember serving in a church where the senior pastor and the worship pastor were incompatible to the point where they were giving each other the silent treatment. These were grown men in the faith who were on stage together every week refusing to talk and forgive each other. 

It came to a point when the worship pastor was leaving the church for another position elsewhere. As he was packing up his office, I was in the senior pastor’s office and this leader of the church, the senior pastor, told me, I am so excited he’s leaving. I don’t even feel bad about not saying good-bye. 

I just sometimes wonder if pastors forget that one of their main ministries is the ministry of reconciliation [2nd Corinthians 5:19].

Sometimes the relationships the retired pastor needs to seek forgiveness for is with his family. In ministry he chose the church over his first ministry, his wife and kids, and as a result, there is distance in his marriage and a lack of faith in God with his kids. 

Most people aren’t self-aware at how they come across, but it is definitely true for leaders in the church. We just don’t know how what we say and what we do is felt by those around us. 

Some of the pain a pastor causes is unintentional, and some of it is downright sinful. 

80% of pastors are discouraged and 70% are clinically depressed. Much of that negative weight is due to broken relationships that weren’t peacefully mended. The retired pastor still carries around the anger towards others in their ministry past.

There are broken relationships that every church leader can think of, and, if that retired leader still believes in the Gospel, they should seek out forgiveness, give forgiveness, and vie to extend the hand of grace for the purpose of reconciliation.

They should spend time in prayer and ask the Spirit to bring names to mind. Past church elders. Past church staff. Past church members. After decades of ministry, surely there are a handful of people to reach out to and apologize. Hopefully they still have a pastor’s heart to be that humble and that courageous. 

Those are the kind of leaders I want to follow. 

Develop authentic and transparent friendships. 

Did you know that 70% of pastors admit they do not have someone they consider to be a close friend? 84% of pastors desire to have a close friendship with someone they can confide in and trust.

Yet it doesn’t happen. 

Pastors, being burned by people and seeing their sin burn relationships (usually related to pride, anger and an unhealthy obsession to control people), have trust issues. They’re afraid to get close to someone. 

67% of church people expect their pastors to have a much higher moral standard than they themselves do. 

Many pastors, while in ministry, are leery of letting their guard down because they might disappoint someone by showcasing a weakness. But now, being retired, they should feel set free to have zero pretense and develop friendships that are transparent. 

They should have a relationship where a same-gender friend holds them accountable, urges them to repent, urges them to seek reconciliation, urges them to keep their spiritual disciplines. 

Sadly though, the retired pastor will just keep people at a distance. As he continues to post pictures on social media about how much fun he’s having in retirement, it’s the thing he craves, a close friendship, that isn’t realized.  

Get actively involved in a local church. 

Some retired pastors stay active in the church they served vocationally before retiring. Some move on. That’s between the pastor and their spouse and God. Either way, whether a retired pastor stays in the church he served or moves on or moves away, they must be in a local church somewhere, consistently. Otherwise their entire career was a farce. 

Every week, as a vocational pastor, they would preach to others about the importance of church community. They would repeatedly urge people to attend worship, to serve in the church, to be in a small group, to give financially back to God.

For many, when a pastor retires, they neglect church life. Not only is it hypocritical, but it’s damaging to their spiritual and relational health.  

I know of a senior pastor who told his church elders he was going to retire in a few months and the night he told them, he stopped giving financially to the church. He ended his online giving immediately, even though he had 100 days left to serve vocationally. Instead of storing up treasures in heaven, he was storing up acorns for the winter. To him, if he was done with the church mentally, he was done financially [Matthew 6:19-20]. 

I can imagine that retirement in ministry isn’t full of lavish riches. Things get tight. You won’t find “pastor” as a Forbes list best-paid professions. But even so, tithing shows that Jesus is the retired pastor’s God, not money. Not control. Not fear. 

I know of a retired pastor who serves in the children’s ministry of the church he served for years as the preacher and it’s such an example of what volunteering looks like. What an example he must be for the parents picking up their elementary kids. What an example he must be in the worship service as he humbly puts himself under the teaching and worship of other church leaders. 

If ministry was all about getting a paycheck and being noticed and having a feeling of power in decision-making, then yes, those retired pastors are not actively involved in a local church today. But if it was all for God’s kingdom and for a love for others, you’ll find a retired pastor and his family with towels and basins all over a local church family [John 13:14]. 

Privately and publicly support your previous church leadership. 

When a pastor gets fired or leaves a church frustrated, yes, then it can be difficult to honor a church leadership. Those who do so anyway have a maturity of faith that is God-honoring. 

When a pastor retires from a church after many years of service, it should be a great and easy opportunity to honor the elders and the new pastor in place. 

They should do this privately (because church members will flock to the retired pastor to give their opinion about decisions the current church leaders are making) and they should do this publicly (on social media, while hosting others over to their home). 

Both private and public support carry weight. I publicly boast about my wife all of the time. Her faith in God, her love for her family, her heart for those in need, her hospitable nature to make others feel at home and the fact that she carries the fruit of the Spirit [Galatians 5:22-23] around with her more than anyone I know. I am utterly blessed to be in her life. 

That is me praising her publicly. And while those things are true about her, if I never tell her personally what she means to me, in private, then I’m not really uplifting her as much as I could. 

The devil gets a foothold toward church divisiveness because a retired pastor refuses to encourage the church leadership publicly (people are watching his response) and privately (due to gossip, and stubbornness) [Ephesians 4:26-27].

If he feels uncomfortable praising the current church leadership, then that takes us back to his need to seek reconciliation with others. If he’s staying silent, either it’s due to a sin that has yet to be uncovered or a relationship with church leadership has yet to be mended. 

Be aware of  the motivation for your online presence. 

When a pastor leads a community of faith for so long, and then steps away, he has an overwhelming feeling of displacement. He isn’t seen up front as much anymore. He’s not counseling people in need as much anymore. Sometimes he and his family step away from the church they served completely and with that there are losses of relationships and a loss of influence.  

Sometimes, to over-compensate their displacement, they post pictures online of how amazing their life seems to be. They desperately want the church people they used to serve to know that they are out of the house, with others, still trying to make a difference. 

They still want to feel they matter as their pulpit has been replaced by selfies. 

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed this, but have you seen that the most active people on Facebook are women and male pastors? I don’t see a lot of non-pastor males posting as much as male pastors do. There’s a large insecurity inside each church leader that screams for people to notice and like them.  

It’s fine to post every time you go to a restaurant with someone. Every time you go golfing with someone. Every service project you do. Every vacation you take. I’m not against it at all. I’m just curious as to why that is done. What’s motivating it?

And this is my point with these things a retired pastor should be doing. If a retired pastor is posting constantly about how great his life appears, it could be a clear indicator that he hasn’t reconciled relationships with those he hurt and who hurt him, he doesn’t have close, real friendships, he’s not involved in a local church and he doesn’t support his previous church’s current leadership. 

You might want to lovingly ask him if he’s done those things. 

Finally: 

Dream what’s next. 

Many have heard the phrase, If you’re still breathing, God isn’t done with you yet. While this isn’t a scriptural reference, there is still truth to it. Just because a church leader resigns from vocational ministry doesn’t mean they’ve resigned from serving God and serving others in big, impactful ways. 

Sure retirement can be full of loving on grandkids and entertainment and traveling but dream what could be next along with those blessings. 

I just don’t understand why so many pastors just get online and share articles when they have such a wealth of knowledge, wisdom and experience to write their own articles to help others. 

They should be writing worship music. They should be mentoring pastors. They should be evangelizing to their loved ones and neighbors. They should be leading a small group. They should be involved in international missions. They should start a non-profit. They should pray big prayers. Sadly, many don’t (in fact, 95% of pastors admit to not praying daily and to not ever praying with their spouse). 

I hope every retired pastor is like Simeon, the religious leader in the Temple in Jerusalem, who was promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he laid his eyes on Jesus [Luke 2:26]. 

The greatest event in Simeon’s long life occurred at the end of his life this side of heaven. 

If Simeon had stopped thanking God, stopped serving others, stopped his ministry of reconciliation and stopped trusting God to show up in his life, would he ever have held the Messiah in his arms?

My heart in writing this is for retired pastors and their wives and retired church leaders to not settle in life. Jesus came so that we would experience life to its fullest potential, and the hope He has for us to do so doesn’t end when our paychecks from the church conclude [John 10:10].

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. [John 14:27]

May each pastor, retired or not, have the peace to pursue these seven actions. Don’t be troubled or afraid to do so. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

Words of Lament: How 3 Of Our Children Died In 3 Days

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On July 15th of this year, my wife Whitney was urgently rushed to a hospital in Detroit, Michigan. At the time, she was 20 weeks pregnant with triplets. Doctors informed us that her cervix had opened, that there was a bulging sac and that the babies were going to be delivered far too premature that evening. 

I stayed the night at the hospital with Whit and no babies were delivered. We call that an answered prayer. 

The next morning I read through Proverbs chapter 16 where the first line says, 

We can make our own plans, but the Lord gives the right answer. 

Our plans, our dreams, as a married couple, was to have my wife become pregnant, experience pregnancy and give birth. It had been a desire on her heart for most of her life. 

Unable to conceive naturally, years into our marriage we have pursued in-vitro fertilization via embryo adoption four times. 

Attempt #1: Chemical pregnancy (false positive)

Attempt #2: Chemical pregnancy (false positive)

Attempt #3: Conception (miscarriage at 9 weeks)

Attempt #4: Conception (pregnant with 3 fetuses)

With each attempt there are mountains of paperwork, finances, medication, injections and prayer. But the dream we had to expand our family and love on another child was all worth it without a question. 

This past April was when we found out Whit was pregnant with triplets, and we were ecstatic. Not only was there hope of a baby coming, but it was threefold. The magnanimity overshadowing this attempt was that we were told this would be the last chance at pregnancy after three previous unsuccessful ones. 

Sure there was a pandemic starting, and school was canceled, and our family was moving out of state, but we couldn’t stop praising God for an answered prayer as Whit’s pregnancy prolonged through the first trimester with three healthy babies. 

When she was 19 weeks pregnant, we announced the exciting news to social media. Five days later she was a high risk patient in the hospital with doctors telling us the babies were coming too early and there wasn’t much they could do. 

Five days after that, her water broke. The doctors told us the babies were going to be born any minute, yet for the next 12 days no babies were born. We call that an answered prayer. 

On July 31, at 1:39AM, 16 days after Whit was first put on bed rest in the hospital, a child was delivered. A baby girl was born at 22 weeks and 2 days. She came out still born and we were able to hold her and cry and thank God for her. 

The concern at that point was that Whit would get infected. If she showed signs of fever or a high white blood cell count, the other two babies would have to be induced because at that point the situation would be life-threatening to Whit. Her health was primary to us. 

Later on July 31st, her fever spiked to 102.9° and she started having chills. At that point it was a no brainer, Whit was given medication to give birth to the other two babies. 

On August 1st, the other two babies were delivered. At 4:20pm another baby girl was born at 22 weeks and 3 days. She came out and gave one exhale and eventually within minutes had no heart rate. We were able to hold her and cry and thank God for her. 

11 minutes later a son was born. He had a heart rate and had low oxygen levels but came alive out of the womb. He was rushed to the NICU immediately. His weight was just under 1 pound. 

Over the first hours of his life he was put on a ventilator, and then another ventilator and a third ventilator. He was given two blood transfusions, given sugar, caffeine, hydrochloride, saline and multiple doses of dopamine. 

He was considered by the nurse first in charge of his care to be a fighter and ended up fighting for 17 hours, dying at 9:40AM, August 2nd. The last moments of his life Whit and I were able to hold our son and cry and thank God for him in our lives. 

Sometimes God blesses parents to love their kids for a lifetime, sometimes for a day.

Three babies, all three dead on three different days due to being too early in birth. During our time in the hospital, we were constantly educated that if the babies could make it in the womb until 23-25 weeks, there was a good chance at their survival. That was our prayer, and our three children almost made it to that goal.   

We can make our own plans, but the Lord gives the right answer. (Proverbs 16:1)

Hadassah Lynne, born and dead July 31. Her name means: One who brings joy, of the church. 

Beatrix Tyler, born and dead August 1. Her name means: One who brings happiness, home builder. 

Samuel Dominic, born August 1, dead August 2. His name means: The Lord heard, of the Lord. 

The most amazing moment happened on Samuel’s first and only night on this earth. While in the incubator, his heart rate was dramatically dropping around 11:30pm. The doctors were doing everything they could but things looked grim. They asked me to go get Whit since she hadn’t seen or met him yet. 

When Whit got to the NICU, she asked if she could touch Samuel. With her two hands around his tiny head and chest, over the course of an hour, his heart rate, blood oxygen level and pulse all went up to the best they ever would be during his 17 hours of life. The doctors were amazed. We call that an answered prayer. 

There is a lot of confusion, loss and sadness right now, but rather than focus on those things at this time, let me give you the other answered prayers we were able to experience: 

  • Our dream was for Whit to get pregnant, to experience pregnancy, to go into labor and all of those things occurred. 
  • Being in love with having daughters, I had prayed for a son to see what that was like. Out of the three babies who died, our son survived birth as we were able to know him and hold him.
  • Each day Whit was on bedrest, with each healthy ultrasound given, the doctors kept telling us that something beyond science was happening. Again, they said on July 15th the babies were coming and to see Whit be prayed for and to watch her fight for the chance at life was beyond anything they had seen. We like it when faith and science work together and medical professionals noticed. 
  • My wife and I have been a praying couple in our marriage, but at no other time in our relationship had we prayed together, cried out to God together more than these past few weeks. It’s an intimate thing to pray with your spouse. We were able to tangibly feel God’s care for us by doing so. 
  • Our church stepped up to love on us practically during the 18 days of bedrest. They made meals for our family, mowed our yard, took care of our kids, sent flowers, gave gifts and kept checking in letting us know we were prayed for. 
  • Our witness for Christ was known throughout the entire hospital by nurses, doctors and administrative workers. With all of the sorrow, tears and loss, the hugs given to us came with comments like “We have never seen a couple with more resolve, faith and gratitude than you two.” Every new nurse that came in to care for Whit, they had already known about Whit’s joyous and kind spirit even while going through the scariest trial of her life. My faith in God grew and my love for her increased just by watching her character in hardship.  

During Whit’s time in the hospital, she would write in her gratitude journal, listing things she was grateful for to God rather than worrying about the future in the worst way. She would write thank you cards to express her gratitude to others while they were serving us in this time. She would read her Bible, listen to worship songs, read a book about anxiety, write encouraging notes for our two older daughters and always would uplift the spirit of the nurses and doctors checking on her. 

To see her be bedridden enduring all the IV’s and blood tests and morphine and pain and the bed pans and the lack of showering and the inability to sleep a full night and the concerns of a dream dying, to know the pressure she felt even though none of what occurred was anything she did or didn’t do, to know this was her last attempt at IVF, with all that going on, those able to witness her faith in God completely floored them. 

I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. (Philippians 1:12)

Since Hadassah’s death, I have been walking a little slower. 

Walking around the hospital God brought to mind a memory of my father that expressed the emotions I was having. 

When I was in the 6th grade, my father, a pastor, came into my bedroom the week before Christmas. He was wearing a suit and tie and he asked me to get dressed up. It was 10AM and I argued with him stating I wanted to stay home in my scrub clothes and watch TV. He kept asking me to get dressed. I finally gave in as I came downstairs in wrinkled khakis and a sweater. We got into his Chevy Blazer and drove off. 

My dad didn’t tell me where we were going even though I kept asking. 30 minutes later we pulled into a hospital. My dad grabbed his Bible from the back seat, and he and I walked into the cancer wing of a Cincinnati hospital. 

Over the next hour I witnessed my father officiate a wedding inside a hospital room. The patient, a dad with cancer, had the dream of walking his daughter down the aisle. His daughter was engaged to be married in six months, in June. Plans changed when the father had been told earlier that week that he only had days to live. 

So this dad could see his daughter be married and get to be a part of one of the biggest, joy-filled days of her life, my father showed up to the hospital room in December to officiate, as tears mixed with sadness by all were falling in the room. 

Had I remained lazy and whiney at home earlier that day, I would’ve not of only missed out on the emotion I felt that day, but also what my dad said when we got back into the car. 

My dad said, with tears in his eyes, “Z……I hate death……..but I love you and I love Jesus.” 

Twenty years later, on his own deathbed due to cancer, after he had walked his daughter down the aisle just two months before, I said to my father, “Dad, I hate death, but I love you and I love Jesus.” 

And with the death of three children in three days, it’s the exact sentiment I have. 

I hate death. I hate it. 

As people are unsure how to respond to our pain currently, we have heard that this is part of God’s plan. Our 8 year old, after initially hearing her siblings are dead, cried out to us, “How could something this horrible be part of God’s plan? I thought God is loving?”  

He is loving, but I had no words for her in the moment. Yes, it could be viewed as God’s plan for our family, a purpose we may never visually realize going forward, but there is also an evil side to this. There is an unseen but not unfelt wicked presence in our world. The devil’s only obsession each and every day is to hurt God by hurting us. 

I don’t understand how people go through the brokenness in this world without Jesus. How do people do it without His love and without a longing for heaven, a place where there is no pain or sadness?

Yes, I hate death. But still, I love people and I love Jesus so much. 

Thanks for reading and I thank you for prayers for my wife and myself as we move forward in grief and gratitude. 

Z

A Letter to Izzy: a white father’s apology to his black child

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I am a Caucasian (white) male. My race, ethnicity and gender do not define me, they merely describe me. 

I am a father of a beautiful African-American (black) daughter. Her race, ethnicity and gender do not define her, they merely describe her. 

I am a white father to a black daughter. Her name is Israel Cate. Her name has meaning. She was purposely given the names she has. 

The name Israel means: With God there is victory. My wife and I knew that being a black female, Izzy was going to have more of an uphill battle when it came to the way people related to her, gave her opportunities and viewed her. We wanted her to know in her core that there is only victory with God – only identity and purpose – in the way He views her. If she is going to succeed in her desires and dreams, it will be because of Him. If she was going to heal from the pain that is coming her way by being a non-white female, it would be because of Him. 

Her middle name Cate means purity. When her own choices stain her, when this world throws it’s trashed opinions onto her that are about her, when she is dismissed and left out due to appearing different, because of God’s love for her through Jesus, God sees her as perfect. As pure. As stainless. 

I have been praying about what to say her about her life. Already in her world, at 6 years old, there is heartache due to her being black. 

What I am hoping to do with this post is convey what I am personally sorry for to her and also what has hurt my heart in what others have said and done. I can apologize for myself but I cannot apologize for others. Instead, I will simply say my heart hurts seeing what I’ve witnessed. 

Let me look in the mirror first. 

To Israel Cate: 

I am sorry I have not been a proactive learner of the dynamics in being a white father to you as a black child in a country that still has much unrest and undertones racially. I am sorry that it has taken circumstances in America, and even death, for me to learn more, read more, have more conversations about racial equality, justice and reconciliation. I should have been doing these things more throughout the six years of your life. I am sorry for being a reactive, pharisaical leader of you. 

I am sorry that when you are in my office at work, and you look at the poster on the wall that has a quote and a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. that you don’t recognize who that is or what cause he was predestined to lead. 

I am sorry that as a family we instinctively watch television shows like Full House and Little House on the Prairie. While these shows are mostly wholesome and have good lessons to share, I am sorry you very rarely get to see someone who looks like you as you continue to see people who look like your mom, myself and your older sister (who is white). I am sorry for being an unintentional father during our down time as a family. 

I am sorry that when we went to go visit your birth-mother when you were 5 years old, that I did not make 110% sure she was able to meet us at the time and place we had agreed to meet. I know when she did not show up to meet us, it broke your big heart and left a scar there. I am so grateful for your birth mother and what she has done for our family in giving us you – and I want you to have a possibly close relationship with her as you grow and when you are grown. I am sorry for not nurturing more of a relationship with her since she did not show up to be with you a year ago. I will extend forgiveness and grace and be in constant communication with her. 

I am sorry that I used to spread the message to others that I was colorblind. My intentions were to show that I loved all people equally, no matter their appearance. What I now know is I was showcasing that your unique, specific, beautiful ethnicity was being ignored. You are black. I see you. I want to point that out in you in a positive affirmation and not sweep your race away in a quick, hidden way. For me to say “I’m colorblind” is to not acknowledge the specific way God has created you.  

For these things I am sorry. 

My heart hurts as well on what I have witnessed from those around me. 

My heart hurts that when we informed extended family members that we were going to be able to adopt a black child, we were asked, “Why would you ever want to do that?”. 

My heart hurts that through our nation-wide adoption agency, there were two categories to choose from to adopt a child. You can either adopt a non-black baby or a black baby (this is how these were worded). There are so many babies born to black women that are not being adopted by people in our nation that they outnumber the amount of babies who are not African-American. 

My heart hurts reflecting on a meeting I had with elders at a church in Tennessee. When I informed them of the exciting news that God had added a second child to our family, and then showed them your picture as an infant, one long-time member, a leader in the church, said, “Oh, she’s black? Okay. Just make sure you raise her right because 1 out of 4 black women have abortions and we don’t need more of that.”. 

My heart hurts remembering when you were a few months old and our family attended a county fair. I was holding you and trying to eat an ice cream cone at the same time, and a mother and her adult daughter were oohing and aahing over you. They came close to see your adorable face and the mother asked, “What’s her name?”. When I told her, “Israel Cate”, she responded, looking at her daughter, saying, “Thank God he didn’t name the child one of those long, confusing names those black people name their kids.”. 

My heart hurts when people assume you were born in another country. I tell them you were born in the country of Virginia. 

My heart hurts when people wrongly assume that your older sister is biological and you are adopted. Both of you, in God’s providential plan, are our daughters through infant, domestic adoption. But, next to you, your sister “looks” like us. It’s said continually and we are sorry that you hear those comments and feel left out. Remember, with God alone there is victory. 

My heart hurt at Thanksgiving one year, when many of your aunts and uncles and cousins were gathered around the table, having a good meal. Your sweet two year old cousin looked around the table and said out loud, “Everyone is white. Izzy is brown.” And that was an innocent observation on his part. He’s learning his colors. I was confused when all of your aunts and uncles laughed out loud. You looked at me unsure why people were laughing over the fact that your cousin had stated your skin was brown. 

My heart hurts that you are the only black person many of our family and friends know and love. 

My heart hurts when having conversations with other white pastors in the community on how diverse their churches are and they blame the lack of diversity on the fact that either their community isn’t diverse (which, through my eyes, I see diversity all over. They have scales on their eyes that only allow them to see people like them) or, the lack of diversity in their church is due to the fact that “those people” have “their own churches” to worship at. My heart also hurts that these white pastors are posting pictures of them and people of color with them when all of these pictures are people they met briefly on a mission trip, not someone in their local community. 

My heart hurt and was enraged when you and I went for a short run through our neighborhood last month. Our run took place after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot to death while jogging. When you and I jogged by a man who was outside his home we both overheard him say, “That’s smart, dad. Run with her. Keep her safe.” I was not happy with my response to him as I noticed the Confederate flag on his pick-up truck.  

My heart hurts that I get worried when you are outside playing away from our home.

My heart hurts when you and I were playfully wrestling in the home shortly after George Floyd had been murdered. While we were tickling and laughing and jumping – as I rolled over you to make you laugh and you felt my weight, you said, “I can’t breathe.”. I was horrified inside and stopped wresting right away and began praying for the day when I sit down and walk you through some of these tragic events that are happening.  

My heart hurts that just like people in our nation were praying for Sandy Hook, praying for Paris, and they were praying for Las Vegas – the reaction of most people is going to be a phase in terms of standing up for racial justice. 

My heart hurts that as you grow older and learn more about your heritage, our nations’s history, the present day shortcomings and lack of progress, that I will be bewildered and at a loss for words for the many questions you will have. I am here to process your emotions with you. I am here to work toward making the desires you have for a better world with you. 

I will listen to you. 

I will be in tune to your feelings. 

I will continue to ask you specific questions about how your day went. 

I will provide reminders on how much you are loved by God and by your mom and I and by your sister who is utterly protective of you. I am thankful that she sees you. 

I will strive to correct the wrong done against you. 

I have one other apology: I am sorry that I have never been the subject of racism. Though I try to understand and pray to empathize through what you will endure, I will be a step removed. I will feel powerless. My heart aches that I cannot fully ensure your well-being through the myriad of elements in this life when it comes to this ignorant (at least) and hateful (at most) comments and actions those near you choose. 

I want you to know any attack on you is an attack on me and against God Himself. I want you to know that the pain caused by others, unintentionally or purposefully, does not need to be repaid with revenge. We will love. We will be peaceful.

“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9)

“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)

Thanks for reading. Thanks for learning. Thanks for seeing a side you don’t normally see. You are loved. 

Z

How Change Happens In Culture (What You Can Do And Not Do To Help)

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Indulge me for a moment because this might not make sense until I explain it a bit. 

Many Christians don’t know how to change the culture around them. We get frustrated because we feel helpless and overwhelmed and confused. We say, I don’t like the way the world is, I wish it was different. But what can I do? 

What Christians unwisely do is they react to culture by dividing it into sides. 

They say, We have the Christians over here on my side, the Christians are the good guys, they wear white hats, God loves them more. And on the opposite side we’ve got the non-Christians, the sinful people, the bad people, they wear the black hats.

The Christians declare a cultural war on the non-Christians. 

But the Bible doesn’t teach that. Your spiritual beliefs and your church home shouldn’t buy into the good guys verses the bad guys. 

There’s only one good Guy, His name is Jesus. The rest of us, we’re all bad guys. There is one white hat in the entire Bible, it’s worn by Jesus. One Person rides the white horse, and it’s Jesus. 

Every other person is bad. Most bad people die without Jesus, some bad people are forgiven and will live forever with Jesus. 

The church believes in equal rights, meaning, everyone is with sin. Everyone. You, me, your church elders, your grandma, Tim Tebow, the Duggars, the Trumps, Duck Dynasty, Desperate Housewives, the Pope, Dave Ramsey – all stained by sin. All loved by God. And only a few trust in Jesus as Lord and are cleansed. 

Not everything has to be an upstream battle. I don’t see any evidence in the book of Acts, when the first century Christians are being arrested and beaten and killed for loving Jesus, there’s not one meeting where a revolt is planned against Caesar. 

So today, yes, prayer will be taken out of schools and God will be taken out of the pledge of allegiance and abortions will remain legalized and people will be arrested for feeding the homeless and same-sex marriages will be law and no-fault divorce is easy and Islam is growing fast on college campuses and the racial discord in our country is horrific. Somewhere there’s a Christian fighting all of these issues.

In the latter part of the book of Genesis, when Joseph gets to Egypt, God is with him. He looks around and there is plenty to be unhappy about. There is plenty to be disappointed and angry about. Rather than being discussed and declaring war on Egypt in the name of his God, he serves people and blesses them. That’s what the early church does too. They didn’t attack the Roman government. They trusted God was in control and served the people around them. 

Historically, in our country’s history, if people are going to go upstream and change something in culture, they’ll have a march. The Civil Rights movement was very effective. The church, not so much.

The church is like, Everyone is sleeping with everyone. They’re all perverted. Abortions and divorce and same-sex relations and cohabitation is running rampant. We’re going on a walk to change things. We will make poster board signs and bring megaphones and gather all the other people who are angry like us. 

And the Christians walk, walk, walk for Jesus. March for Jesus. Sign the petition for Jesus. Complain on Facebook for Jesus. 

I’m not against walking for Jesus, but the non-Christians don’t look at the Christians marching and think, Oh man, we’ve got to change the way we’re living! We’ve got to change the laws we’re instituting! We’ve got to change the music and the movies we’re making! Quick! How can we start over? They’re walking!!!!! They’re posting on social media!!!!!!!

God doesn’t need you to walk for Him. God needs you to walk with Him. 

God doesn’t want you to fight others. God wants you to love and serve others. 

We need to be in the world, not of it. Love the world, don’t fight it.

See, we turn on the radio, but we don’t get to decide what bands are signed. We turn on the TV, but we don’t get to decide which shows are on. We enjoy Thanksgiving with loved ones but we don’t get to decide which stores are open. We like to read, we don’t get to decide what gets published and what doesn’t. We don’t get to make the laws. We pay our taxes but don’t get to decide how much we’re taxed. All of those decisions are made way upstream by a select few people sitting high up in culture. 

And more recently, we can’t control much during Covid-19 except wash our hands continually. 

And more seriously, we don’t decide which police officers are hired, approved and trained. 

If we really want to change culture, it’s not going to be during big events with Christians in a big room chanting, We love Jesus, yes we do. I’m not against the marching or the big events, but we’ve got to realize that there are cultural gatekeepers who shift culture and education and laws and influence others. 

And the church yelling downstream at the people they think are wearing the black hats (while they view themselves as wearing the white hat) isn’t going to change anything for God. 

If we declare war downstream, we don’t get to move upstream. 

We’re not going to compromise on God’s law and truth, but we’re also not going to judge, hate or gossip (how many people in here slander a politician over them compared to how much they pray for them?). 

We can’t hate and gossip and judge. Instead we must love others, serve others, have integrity, be generous, pray for God to put holy people in those cultural gatekeeper chairs. 

In Genesis, Joseph has been a blessing to people and faithful to God and now God has put him upstream. Joseph decides the law, he decides all things food and property rights and taxation and education and he affects the lives and the betterment of millions of people. 

With Joseph ruling, how many God-fearing people are in Egypt? 

One. Just Joseph. 

If he had shown up and declared war and fought for everything and slandered non-Christians, he’d never be upstream. He shows up to Potiphar’s house and asks, How can I be a blessing to you? And Potiphar puts him in charge. He’s put in jail and he says, How can I be a blessing to this jail? And he’s put in charge. They give him, a prisoner, the keys to the prison. He’s brought in front of Pharaoh and he just wants to know how can he improve Pharaoh’s day, and he’s put in charge. 

Not once does he fight, or complain, or lose his temper. As a result, God guides him upstream, because he doesn’t declare war on those who are downstream. If we’re shrewd and wise and always loving and always generous and always forgiving, who knows what God could do through us. 

If we believe God has taken care of us, then we will take care of others. 

When Jesus shows up on the scene, He says, I’m a servant. Be a servant. The apostle Paul says, I serve Christ. We need to be a servant to all. It’s not that we compromise, okay, you should know I love truth more than anyone, we don’t compromise, but instead of fighting and whining, we pray, we love, we’re generous. We show God has been good to us and that He loves everyone. 

If you strongly desire to change the culture around you in a God-honoring way, serve and bless the people downstream from you (the marginalized) and pray for the people upstream (the cultural gatekeepers).

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z 

Balancing Work and Rest Post-Pandemic

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So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. (Genesis 2:1-2 / NLT)

Most evenings in our households while putting our young daughters to bed this is what the routine looks like: pajamas on, teeth brushed, hug mommy goodnight, have daddy read a fictional book and a chapter from their children’s Bible, then, prayer and kisses (and then they have the endless excuses to stay up like: I’m hungry, I’m not sleepy, I’m itchy, my tongue hurts, I’m afraid of that fly I saw earlier outside, etc). 

The other night for their children’s Bible time we read the creation account where God the Creator creates the world in six days. 

To their numerous amount of questions I was explaining everything God had done in the Creation week to my  daughters. I’m saying, God did this. God then did this. God then brought the animals. God then made Adam and Eve. 

One of the girls takes the children’s Bible from me and puts it under her sheets as if she was tucking in her own child to sleep. She looks at me and says, God needs to go to nap time.

She doesn’t comprehend it yet, but God doesn’t rest on Saturday because He was beat. God worked and accomplished so much, but He the reason He rests on Day 7 wasn’t because He was all plumb-tuckered out. 

God didn’t wear himself out to the point He needed to go to Florida for some R & R. He wasn’t like, “Oh, man! I pulled a hamstring. I got calluses. Whoo, making the goats, that was exhausting. I’m not as young as I used to be.

But what God did, God finished his work, and then He rested.

The point of rest is this: To enjoy life.

Did you know that? 

The point of resting is to enjoy life. So many people work and don’t enjoy life. 

I know people who work really hard to get a boat and don’t go boating.
I know people who work really hard to get a car and never go for a drive.
I know people who work very hard to have a vacation property and don’t vacation.
I know people that got married and don’t go out on dates.
I know people that have kids and don’t hang out with them. 

It’s because they keep working. They can’t stop. They won’t stop until they completely crash and harm what is good in their lives. This is why we have rates of burnout and anxiety and depression, because people just keep going until they absolutely come undone. 

What God is saying is this, “Work hard for most of the week. Work hard, do work that honors me, make things good and very good. But then, take your day off. Sleep, rest, enjoy. Don’t just work all the time.

I am concerned about what life is going to look like post-Covid-19 for some of you because still, after all of this time seeing how things are out of our control, you think everything is up to you and you have to work constantly and you’re fraying yourself, you’re going to come undone and you’re missing moments with your loved ones. 

When I moved to Brooklyn, NY right out of college, during my time there I didn’t take a day off. I had three jobs. I slept 4-6 hours a night. I burned myself totally out. I was frustrated and angry and easily agitated. I was not as pleasant to my friends, or my roommates and I treated the girl I was dating at the time in a disrespectful way. I can’t blame that on anyone. That was absolutely my sin that I needed to repent of.

And it was all due to not resting. 

The point of rest is to enjoy life and when I refuse to rest I harm the good life I’ve been given. 

It’s the person who hasn’t slept and is stressed out and freaked out and angry and agitated and then their productivity suffers. Those who don’t rest well, don’t work well.

It’s the person who works hard and well, and then rests and plays hard and well, and then goes back to work that has this rhythm in their life. 

I have parented two toddlers in my history of being a dad. Toddlers play hard, they work hard and they sleep hard. Toddlers have rhythm. It’s how we’re created. If they get off that rhythm, the ugly side comes out. 

Adults aren’t much different. 

The subtle thing behind people who work too much is this: If you don’t take a day off, and if you don’t take a nap, and if you don’t cease from your work to enjoy what God has given you and what you’ve done by his good grace, then you are demonstrating to the world that you don’t trust God. 

(you might want to read the above paragraph again, slowly)

Those who work too much, too late in the day, at night and on the weekends when their family is around, checking their phone all vacation, they’re saying, If I don’t work, it all falls apart because God’s not sovereign and he doesn’t hold things together.

If we don’t take time to worship and we don’t take time to rest, we don’t take time to love, we’re being terrible followers of Jesus. We’re sending out very mixed messages about God to our loved ones and to the world, This is the God who’s sovereign, but I have to keep everything under control.

But, the person who works hard, takes time day off seriously, enjoys their family and their friends and enjoys their hobbies – those are people who live better lives and longer lives. They leave a legacy that is more productive. We should rest. 

Don’t feel guilty about resting, it’s biblical. 

I can think of two types of people who have the hardest time having a Sabbath and a rhythm of rest. 

(1) The Self-Employed and (2) The Mother

Those who are self-employed struggle to rest and find boundaries in their schedule because they don’t have a boss, and they just keep working. And mothers, because on the weekends, their kids are still there. Motherhood never ends (in a good but exhausting way). 

No matter the case, when some type of normalcy begins to occur, it’s going to be important for those of you who have fast-paced lives make sure that you still Sabbath, that you get your date night if you’re married. That you get time with family and friends. That you make time for a Bible study. That you make time for prayer. That you can put the phone down. 

People can get real legalistic about Sabbath, they ask really detailed questions like, What constitutes as work – if I mow the lawn or bake a cake? Or if a go for a walk, is that work? Am I sinning against God? 

If you want to go for a walk and that’s restful for you and you enjoy the Lord, it’s a nice day, go for a walk. If for you it’s restful to take a nap, take a nap. If it’s restful for you to be out in your garden, then go work in your garden. If it’s restful for you to have people over and to have a big meal and to enjoy your family and friends, then enjoy yourself and have people over.

Let’s not argue too much about the Sabbath. It’s a gift that God gives for us to have joy and rest. And that’s why some people argue over the day. Well, is it Saturday, is it Sunday, is it this, or is it that? Paul says in Romans 14, it’s whatever. If Tuesday’s your day off, Sabbath on Tuesday. If your job forces you to work Sunday, and Wednesday’s your day off, enjoy Wednesday.

Some people have this picture of God, that when God tells us to do something, it’s bad, and we need to be defiant. I’m telling y’all, when God tells us to do something, it’s good. When I looked at my toddler daughter, and noticed, Whoa, Mr. Hyde is back in your personality. Toddler, go take a nap, that’s because I love her. I want her day to go well. I know what it’s going to look like if she doesn’t rest.

I know what my life will look like if they didn’t rest.

God’s just like that. God’s a good Dad, who looks at us and says, “You need to rest today. You need to just read and pray and hang out. It’s a nice day, go for a drive. Go for a walk. Go for a bike ride. Take a deep breath of fresh air. It’s a nice warm winter day. I’ve given you the whole world – get out of your cubicle, go enjoy a little bit of it. Go play some golf. Go read a book. Take your preacher out to Chili’s with you.” 

Alen Cohen says, “There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.” 

We have been given the gift of rest and time with God and with loved ones for a couple months now. All I’m inviting you to do is discipline yourselves to, when you go back into life once the restrictions lift, is to keep rest in your week. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

 

To The Woman Who Isn’t A Mother On Mother’s Day

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In the church I get to serve in now as a lead pastor, decision-making is not done in an unbalanced, anarchist fashion. I am not the CEO of the church. I am not the President of the church. I am not the Leader of the church. Jesus is. I am a servant under Him, and I’m also willingly and humbly under the elders at the church.

In the church, decision-making amongst leadership should be collaborative and unified, and it shouldn’t be done just because we’ve always done it this way. 

When I was in my late 20’s I was in ministry as an associate pastor at a larger-sized congregation where the senior pastor had been in the church for nearly three decades. 

At the time I was an arrogant and naive team-member. Hard-working, yes. Caring, yes. But there were still many things about the decision-making in leadership that I didn’t understand. 

My continual questions in leadership meetings was: Why do we do things this way? Could we do it better? More effectively? More honoring to more people? 

Too often I enjoyed playing devils advocate and it would ruffle feathers of those making the decisions. 

I’ll give an example: At this church, Mother’s Day was a big day (as it is with most churches). A sermon was given to mothers specifically each Mother’s Day. Special music was sang to mother’s specifically. The children’s ministry would have the kids in the church make crafts for mothers specifically. 

And, a flower was specifically given to each mother walking into the church. 

Now, I am for honoring mothers. I feel strongly that the role of a mother is the closest thing to Jesus in the flesh I have seen in my life. It is a selfless daily task that is fueled by unconditional love. There is fatigue, heartache, service done when no one is looking –  above anyone else, it is the mother who instinctively is thinking about others over herself. 

Here was the issue I had: To each woman walking into the church on Mother’s Day, the greeters at the church were instructed to ask, Are you a mother? If she said, yes, she got a flower. If she said, no, she did not get a flower.  

Imagine a woman who wants to be a mother desperately, but isn’t for whatever circumstance. She knows Mother’s Day is going be a tough day for her. But, because she loves Jesus, she gets dressed for church. She drives to worship. She parks her car. She watches other family units smiling and walking together into the church building. And, as she walks into worship, she is asked, Are you a mother? She replies, No, I’m not. Then a flower is pulled back away from her. 

It’s the woman who has had a miscarriage.
It’s the woman who is infertile.
It’s the woman who has had an unsuccessful in-vitro fertilization.
It’s the woman who’s friends are having babies while she isn’t.
It’s the woman who’s had an abortion and is reminded of that pain every day.
It’s the woman who gave her baby up for adoption.
It’s the woman who had plans to be a mother but it didn’t work out that way.
It’s the child making a craft for a mother they don’t have in their life. 

Remember, it’s the mother who thinks of others over herself. So that’s what I vied to do one meeting at this church.  

In a staff meeting in the early Spring one year, as we were planning for Mother’s Day, I brought up the suggestion that all women on Mother’s Day should get a flower. 

I brought up the perspective of the women who aren’t mothers walking into the doors of the church who already feel the rejection of not having a child – and how being refused a flower would compound that rejection. 

I brought up Jesus’ constant compassion to be drawn to the marginalized, the left-out, how He was the ultimate Includer. And, if a church chooses to love those who are on the outside of things, then she is truly loving Him (Matthew 25:40).  

I was berated for suggesting these things.  

I was given the, We’ve always done it this way. Mothers get flowers on Mother’s Day. Why would we give flowers to women who aren’t Mothers? If they want a flower they should be a Mother. 

I am so thankful Jesus doesn’t give out His love to people in the same way. What if Jesus were to say, Only perfect people get My love. Why would I give My perfect love to imperfect people? If they wanted My love, they should’ve remained perfect.

……………………………………………

My wife and I were married fairly swiftly after initially meeting each other. Due to being married quickly, we decided to get to know each other for the first 5 years of marriage and then in year 5 we would attempt to start having a family. 

We made it to year 4, saw all of the fun and joy our friends were having with their newborn children and couldn’t wait to have a firstborn, so we started trying. 

And trying. 

And trying. 

Nothing happened.

If you know the journey of infertility, it’s full of attempts at trying, false symptoms, negative pregnancy tests and another month of trying again. This went on for a year. 

Finally, after some tests, the doctors told Whit and I that I would never be able to get my wife pregnant. I was infertile. Biologically, it was not going to happen for us to have a child. 

We wanted a family so badly. God was giving us an opportunity to place our faith in Him during this trial. 

Two weeks later we entered into the adoption process. 

Many of you know the endless paperwork and classes and interviews and tests and waiting required and money needed to have the opportunity to adopt a child. 

In January of 2011, we were on a waiting list where any day we could get a call that a baby had been born waiting for us to adopt and care for and love on and raise the best we could in God’s way. At the time, my wife and I were living in Northeast Ohio.  

The next month God brought a potential job change to us that would require us to move out of state. After a couple of interviews with this prospective employer we realized quickly that this was God’s hand leading us to move from Ohio to Tennessee. 

As the job opportunity became serious, we were told by our social worker in Ohio that if we moved out of state before a birth-mom chose us, we would have to start the adoption process all over.This meant we would need to repay all the money, resubmit all of the paper work and go through all the hoops for all those months. 

God was giving us an opportunity again to trust in Him.

In tears and confusion, we trusted God wanted us to move to Tennessee. I accepted the position out of state and my starting date was to be a month after accepting the position. I accepted the job on May 1st of that year and I was to start at the position on June 1st. 

God had 4 weeks to get us a baby or we would need to start over

Mother’s Day came, a very hard day for us (because, as mentioned earlier, my wife was one of those women walking into a church I served at who was made to feel more isolation by being asked if she was a mother and not receiving a flower). 

She sits in a worship service that is all about mothers and has her mind full of thoughts of anxiety and pressure and knowing that one week had passed and three weeks were left for God to do His thing.

That was May 8th. It was a difficult Mother’s Day for my wife. 

The very next day, on May 9th, I was at Wal-Mart picking out a Sugarland CD to try to see what the big deal about country music was (since we were moving to Tennessee), my wife called me in tears that a birth-mom from Missouri had chosen us to adopt the baby she was carrying. The baby was due in September, but we wouldn’t have to start the adoption process over. God had come through again for us. We had a new job in a new state and by stepping out on faith, we were going to be new parents. 

If you just trust God, and give control over everything, He will come through. 

The thrust of the Christian journey, when it comes down to this mystery of having a relationship with the Creator God – it’s not a faith issue. It’s not a theological issue. It’s a trust issue. 

Many of you are put off by the fact that God is for you, wants the best for you, wants to come through for you and wants to give you the desires of your heart in His will. The reason you struggle to believe these things is because you have trust issues.

To the woman who, after Mother’s Day, is feeling sadness, rejection and loneliness because she’s not a mother for whatever reason: God is giving you this opportunity to trust Him.

To all of us, please continue to think of the marginalized, the outsider and those who are left out. Be the includer. Spread the aroma of Christ to all around you (2 Corinthians 2:14). Which means, figuratively hand a flower to every one you meet so no one feels isolated. 

And, please, continue to trust God one day at a time with whatever you are going through so you do not feel isolated. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

 

Attaining Emotional Maturity: 5 Actions to Quit During Covid-19

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Think back to when you were in junior high. The two most enjoyable words to a preteen/early teen are the words, Summer vacation. Summer vacation brings no school, sleeping in, outdoor fun and indoor laziness. It was a license to be a sloth for 90 days. 

What it also brought was time away from classmates. 

For three months you would not see the kids who went to school with you during summer vacation unless they lived in your neighborhood, played on your summer baseball team or went to your church. 

Junior high students would go three months not seeing the kids they went to school with and then, as they gather back together in the early Fall, on the first day of school, many of the kids last seen on the last day of school months prior do not look the same at all. 

Puberty had changed them. 

Some kids were taller. Some kids had acne. Some kids had body developments and bodily hair. Some kids smelled different. Some kids had lower voices. All of the kids had extreme mood swings.

Three months went by, growth had happened in the junior high students and when seen after the hiatus of summer vacation, there was visible change. 

For non-essential workers and students right now, we have been given a gift. While we still have at-home responsibilities with work and school and home-life, we have been given a slower lifestyle – a lifestyle away from others. Months away from others. 

How great would it be when some type of normalcy returns – when routine is back in your life – if, when you are around the people you are around, they have to do a double-take to recognize you? 

We’re not talking physically (please, stay active during this season), we’re talking relationally. We’re talking spiritually. We’re talking about your personality is different.  

After months of not seeing others, what if you used this time to grow and mature as a person who is more loving, kinder, gentler and more patient?

There are ways we can stagnate our own growth. Like a preteen smoking daily or drinking gallons of coffee, we can keep ourselves from growing to the potential we have.  

Sometimes God wants us to repent of our personality. 

Check out what James 1:19-21 says: 

Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James :19-21)

The kind of people that refuse to repent of their personality are the ones who block God from growing them. They don’t produce as much spiritual fruit as they could. 

Here’s 5 kinds of ways to resist growth: 

1. Be a Noisy Chatterbox. 

You know what a chatterbox is, right? You’re like, I think I do. I might be one. I don’t know. Am I? I prefer the term “verbal processor.”

This is a person who talks way too much about others. 

They’re the person who always has to talk, fill the air, always wants the last word, makes sure their voice is always heard, would rather talk about someone else than deal with their own stuff. Their coin phrase is, Let me tell you what I think about this. Or they say, Did you hear about what happened to…..?

Are you a noisy chatterbox? If you don’t know, ask your spouse or your children or your parents, they will let you know. If you can stop talking to hear their response, they will tell you. If this is you, it might be good to practice what James says: slow to speak…..think before you speak….pray before you speak… maybe not speak…..practice silence…Do you ever pray and not talk?….Do you ever just sit and listen to God’s Spirit?……If not, you might be a chatterbox.

The rabbis uses to say, God gave us two ears and one mouth because we should listen twice as much as we speak.

Instead of being a noisy chatterbox, be, slow to speak (James 1:19).

2. Be a Bad Listener.

Are you a bad listener?

A bad listener is someone who’s so distracted, so much going on in their mind and in their schedule, they’re frantic and don’t listen well. Other times, bad listeners are those who hear advice, they hear wisdom, they hear the truth and they ignore it. They don’t like it so they walk away from it. They hear it, but they don’t listen because if they listened, they would change. 

Some of you are not good listeners. You’ve gotten information, instruction, truth, you’ve been taught God’s Word, read God’s Word – you just don’t listen to it. You don’t ponder on it, you don’t receive it, consider it, believe it, plant it – and that’s why you don’t change………What you need is not more information, you need more receptivity……..more humility under God……

Instead of being a bad listener, be, quick to hear (James 1:19).

3. Have a Short Fuse.

Has someone said that to you? You’ve got a short fuse! This is a person prone to anger.

Now, out of these 5 things that keep us from growing in Christ, there will be one that is most convicting to you, and this one is most convicting to me. I’m not a yeller, but I get frustrated from being so easily disappointed. I’m allowing God to purge it out of me. 

I used to think, Well, God gets angry, so it’s okay if I get angry – I used to spiritualize it, but James says that God does not get angry like we get angry. We get angry quick. God doesn’t. Over and over Scripture shares that God is slow to anger.

His patience is so much longer than ours. He does get angry. He will not let the guilty go unpunished. He will not let unbelievers continue injustice. But it’s a very long wick because our God is a God of great mercy and grace.

We have a short fuse. Any little thing can set us off at any moment. The people around you are always on guard, on eggshells. It’s like a landmine – the slightest bump will incur an explosion. We need to learn to be slow to anger – quick to compassion and slow to anger. Then we’ll grow.

Instead of having a short fuse, instead, be, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20).

4. Be a Compromising Hypocrite.

The compromiser is showing up increasingly in our culture. It’s in our children. It’s in our young adults. It’s even in our older adults. It’s the person who can’t stand this specific sin, but they can tolerate that specific sin. It’s a Pharisee – they caught the woman in adultery, a visible sin, but they ignored their own judgmental, condemning attitude toward her – an internal, unseen sickness.

More so than that, this person admits, That behavior is wrong. I hate it. But this behavior, though wrong, is fun and I kind of like it. They’re inconsistent. Is the Bible the unchanging Word of God or something we can cut and paste? They segment their life to God, they don’t give their all to God. They have offense at what God says, think they know better, and choose to believe the world over the Creator of the world. 

We shouldn’t just clean up part of our lives and let sin run rampant in other parts of our secret, private areas.

The compromiser is willing to put up with the hidden sin they continue to do. They think, no one’s perfect – yes, Someone is (Jesus) and He expects you to put away all filthiness. If it’s offensive to God it should not be flirted with by you. Let’s not segment our lives, let’s surrender our lives

Instead of compromising and being inauthentic, put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness… (James 1:21)

5. Be a Constant Know-It-All. 

This is the person that can’t be taught, they’re not teachable, because they think they already know it all in their mind. They are never humble to admit, I don’t know. I need help. I didn’t know that. Thanks for the help.

 Do you have these people at work, or in the family? As soon as you try to educate them, they’re like, Oh, I knew that. 

This group has a tough time submitting to authority. They make sure you know how smart they are. T

he issue is pride and the solution is humility. 

The issue is they reject instruction, the solution is they should receive, with meekness, with modesty,  God’s Word. 

The reason people do not receive God’s Word is they think they know how to run their own life – and that’s why they’re not changing for the better.

Rather, we should pray daily, God, I am not as smart as You. Your ways are not my ways. I have much to learn. I have much growth to do. I am broken and need You. Thank You for Your mercy and wisdom.

Instead of constantly showing others how you know it all, receive with meekness the implanted word…. (James 1:21)

We have the capacity of doing all of these 5 things that refuse us the opportunity to grow – but –  if you want to grow, you have to see how much God loves you and receive the wisdom of the Bible into your heart. Know the Word. Do the Word. Read the Bible. Apply the Bible. It’s like two pedals on a bike – know the Bible, do what it says – because God loves you. 

I’ve yet to be to a high school reunion but I’ve always wonder how they go. People who knew you a certain way, how you acted, what habits you had, how you spoke, how you looked – and then years or decades later – they’re reacquainted with you. 

Do your high school friends from years past consider you the same person? A worse person? Or someone who has had growth and a maturity and an improved personality and spirit in them? 

We’ve all heard the phrase when speaking about immure adults, They still at like they’re still in high school. It’s because they keep 

If you want to grow, if you want to mature, here are the great qualities to develop during this season of lock-down: 

Be slow to speak (the natural instinct is to talk about others). 

Be quick to listen (the natural instinct is to interrupt or be distracted). 

Be full of grace (the natural instinct is to flip a lid on the people around us). 

Be someone who has values and tries to stick to them (the natural instinct is to compromise). 

Be someone who is hungry to learn more about God and life (the natural instinct is pride). 

Like a seed in the ground in springtime you have this great opportunity to grow and then when society’s doors open back up, maybe those around you won’t even recognize you – in a great way. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

5 Things Children Need In Order To Have Contentment

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I remember taking a humanities class where the professor had us watch this movie from 1994 called: Bullets Over Broadway. 

This movie was the start of cultural post-modernism and still affects the way most people who aren’t captured by Jesus’ love think. It even got turned into a musical. 

The main character in the movie is played by John Cusack. He lives in the early 1900’s in downtown New York City. 

He has a girlfriend but he also has this temptation and opportunity to have an affair. 

He’s talking to his friend named Sheldon, and Cusack says to his friend, “I want to have this affair, but I don’t want to feel guilty for being unfaithful to my girlfriend.” 

And this is what Sheldon says, this is his advice: 

“Guilt is crap. It’s made up. A real artist creates his own universe.”

Remember how in 1 Corinthians 13, verse 6 it says that love does not demand it’s own way? 

Well, Cusack does. He has this affair with this other woman, doesn’t tell his girlfriend about it and then he finds out later that his girlfriend cheats on him with another man. 

And Cusack loses his mind. He’s all, “How dare you betray my trust. How dare you go back on your commitment. How could you be unfaithful?

He says, “Who were you with?”
And she says, “I was with Sheldon.” 

Because Sheldon says an artist creates his own universe.

(This movie came out 25+ years ago so any spoiler alert thoughts can be put to rest. You’ve had time to see it.) 

The driving point of Bullets Over Broadway is what’s wrong with the human race. 

People not devoted to Jesus are creating their own universe by saying, “Who’s to say what’s right and wrong?” They create their own moralistic codes to live and usually it’s based on how they want to feel in the moment. 

In April, 2018, GQ Magazine published an article, by the editor himself, entitled: “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read.

Number 12 on that list was “The Bible”, calling it overrated.

The article went on to say that there are some good parts  of the Bible but it’s not the finest thing man has ever written (I agree, since man didn’t write it).

I consider the Bible the only compass that leads to contentment. Without the Bible pointing us to Jesus, we would be headed down the path of creating our own universe, our own moral standards, and that path leads away from love.

When you’re watching a movie or reading an article or listening to a friend’s opinion, just know that culture’s worldview is set by creating their own moralistic universe of what is right and what is wrong and you need to get back to God’s Word and align yourself to what He says. 

Because what He says is said in real love and true wisdom. 

Yes or no: When you read your Bible on a daily basis, do you give more love to others verses days and weeks you go without reading the Bible? We know the people here can’t experience life without first experiencing God’s love for us. 

Specifically, our children can’t experience real love and true wisdom without us experiencing those things from God first. 

My wife and I catch ourselves as parents feeling like, “Oh my goodness. We give so much to our children. We give so much to them and they give such little back.” 

But this is what unconditional love is. You don’t love and serve and forgive and be patient and bite your tongue and train what is right and clean up messes and endure heartache and stay up late at night and worry yourself silly and invest time and energy into them and pray for them daily because they can give you something in return. 

You do it because you love them unconditionally. 

Before our kids know what love is behaviorally, they have to experience love first from the behavior of those closest to them. 

Whatever your opinion of statistics are, I read a study that shared this one:

Between the ages of 18-28, 80% of people who have a faith in Jesus choose to walk away from Him permanently. 

And they never come back, because they weren’t equipped by their parents, their mentors, their church family to handle the temptation, stress, and hardship that comes with growing up. 

Only 20% either stay faithful to God or eventually return to Him.

To do so, what children need is not academic success, athletic or artistic accolades, more likes on their social media posts, romantic love or even the desires of their hearts and dreams. 

Here are five things they need in their lives continually in order to experience real love, true wisdom and a life full of joy and peace: 

(1) A Loving God  

I want my children and your children all to know Jesus intimately close where they can trust Him at all times and they can known His guidance and believe His power is available for them even at the youngest of ages. They will know that they don’t have to do life on their own, that God is for and with them.  

(2) A Loving Book 

We call this amazing book, the Bible. It will point them in the direction of a lifestyle that leads to legacy. If they know their Bible, they will lead a life that is full of life and purpose and distinct compared to the rest of their friends and the world around them. If they keep the Bible in their minds and follow Its instruction, they will be able to work through disappointment in a mature way and stay strong in down seasons emotionally. Their compass in life has got to be the Bible, it cannot be their own heart. 

(3) A Loving Parent 

This is critical: each parent sets the spiritual pace and expectation of their child. 

As Paul wrote to Timothy, Imitate me as I imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Who spends more time with a child of a church, the teachers and volunteers in the church or the parent of the child?

In a recent study, (where are my mom’s at?), in a recent study 1/3 of children ages 8-12 said they wish they could spend more time with their moms.

Same age range, ages 8-12, it doubles for dads. 2/3s of children wish they could spend more time with their dad. 

In this same study, (52,000 students were polled) 9 out of 10 middle school and high school students said they have no desire to see their parents take a lesser role in their lives, but a greater one.

Parents need to step up. They’re going to be gone before you know it and I’m afraid the norm in our culture is to keep our kids so busy and so happy that life gets so blurry that we forget our main priority is to train them to be faithful.

The job of the leaders and volunteers in a church is not to babysit your kids. Their job is also not to make sure your kid makes it to heaven in the end. No, their job is to equip parents and grandparents and guardians to know how to make a daily, influential investment into the lives of their kids. Your responsibility as parents is to do everything you can daily to make sure your kids love Jesus while they’re in the home and are faithful in that 18-28 age range, – and our leadership’s responsibility is to help you do that.

(4) A Loving Friend 

Every kid and teen needs at least one close friend who shares a common faith in Jesus and that friend will be there for them during church activities, but also will take a stand with them at school and as they get older, will stand with them on the weekend and during the summer when the spiritual pressure builds up. 

If each of our kids had a radical, faithful friend to stand with, it would be more difficult for them to walk away from God and toward the world. 

(5) A Loving Voice 

When I say our children need a loving voice, I mean someone who is older than them, who will encourage them in love and challenge them in truth from God’s Word and will care for them enough to hold them accountable to be there for them when life gets difficult, lonely, or sin looks appetizing.

A loving voice gently shares the truth in love.

In the church let’s not say the cheesy line that children are the future of the church. I’ve not a fan of that belief. The children are in the church now, they’re part of the church now, they have a role in the church now and we need them today and tomorrow.  If they’re going to worship with us tomorrow and love on others tomorrow and be there with Jesus tomorrow they need right now:

A loving God (Jesus)
A loving Book
(Bible)
A loving Parent
(mentor)
A loving Friend
(transparency)
A loving Voice
(truth in love)

Your kids, the kids of your community, they need these things. You need these things as well. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

A Vaccine for Anxiety

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I read an article in The New York Times that said although we – today, in this generation – are more wealthy, are more healthy, have a bigger sense of liberty and purpose than our parents and grandparents did in their generation, we are 20% more anxious and depressed.

People today are 20% more anxious and depressed than the previous generation. 

Usually when anything increases 10% in any generation, it’s an epidemic. We are living in a double epidemic of depression and anxiety right now. 

This is The New York Times reporting this. They don’t lean to the right politically. They’re not really any friend of the church. They’re just doing their journalistic duty reporting that even though we are healthier than ever before and have all the advancements of the medical world available to us, and even though we are wealthier and have more opportunity and more means to make more money and even though we have a greater sense of liberty, meaning we can go anywhere, travel anywhere, set personal goals and bucket lists, with all of that – 

People today are 20% more anxious and depressed than the previous generation. 

I’ve got a friend who is a pastor in the church. 8 years ago he was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. As time went on after his diagnosis, he became fatigued toward the people in his church coming up to him Sunday after Sunday saying that the cure to his anxiety was that he just needed to trust Jesus a bit more. 

He told me one day over coffee that he wanted to lovingly punch the people who kept saying that all he needed to stop any anxiety attacks was to pray more. 

If you don’t know anything about having an anxiety disorder than you don’t know. 

I read about a man who experienced an anxiety attack for the first time and when it hit him, he thought he was having heart attack because his blood pressure was at the level of a stroke. 

The doctor told him to go home and rest, and for the next 3 nights he had an anxiety attack and thought he was dying. He was flown from Kansas City to Los Angeles for better care and for the next 6 months, every single night, he thought he was dying due to experiencing this anxious paralysis. 

$50,000 later with all the medical tests available, he was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder. 

And this guy is a Christian leader, an elder in a church. He gets told all the time by people at his church to suck it up, pray it out, trust Jesus and he wants to slug people in their well-meaning faces. 

I know a woman in the church who struggles with an anxiety disorder and I reached out to her via Facebook-messenging last week asking her about her anxiety disorder and she wrote back – 

“You can do everything right in your marriage and it can still fall apart. You can do your best in raising your kids in a loving way – or even in the way the Bible wants you to – and there’s still no guarantee that when they are older they still love Jesus – they could walk away from God. You can do everything right at work and still not succeed in the way you expect .Or still not get promoted. Or still not find purpose. Or even lose your job. You can do everything right as a friend and still get back-stabbed by them.”

And then she wrote this – 

“This world is volatile and if you haven’t admitted that, it’s time to admit it.” 

The New York Times article referenced earlier goes on to say that the Western world, specifically America, is disintegrating from other inside out. That, no matter how much you convince yourself on the outside of things that everything is okay, your soul inside knows something is off. No matter how many trips you take or things you buy or nights out with friends or shows you binge to ignore it – something is off inside.

I’ll put it like this: 

In all of life, in every aspect, there will be a backdrop of disappointment and dissatisfaction. 

[insert sarcasm] Thanks for choosing to read my blog today. I hope you are fully encouraged. Enjoy the rest of your week.

…………………………..

No matter how much wealth, how much health, how much liberty you have to succeed or how great you look or how awesome your family is, depression and anxiety will set in if you think any of those things can really save you. 

Have you heard the latest report on what the death rate is right now? I didn’t have to Google the answer. The death rate is 1 per person.

You are going to die.
I am going to die.
Every day is a gift from God.

And if I attach myself to something that is also disintegrating, like my marriage, my kids, my job, my money, my health,  then my soul knows that and I will disintegrate as well. 

C.S. Lewis put it this way, 

“Most people, if they really learned how to look into their own hearts would know that they want something that this world can never give them. These longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning will ever satisfy. 

There is always something that we have grasped at that first moment of longing that just fades away with reality. The thing we thought we were going to get in the new experience always evades us.” [C.S. Lewis]

Part of the reason people come to Jesus and give their life to Him is they hope He will give them the idols they worship. They hope Jesus will give them a spouse, give them a child, give them their break through, give them their health back, give them a house like everyone else. 

People pray to Jesus all the time saying He’s their Savior but what they’re praying for is really their savior. 

Anxiety is ultimately the fear of losing someone or something you think you can’t live without. 

Yes, if it happens, one day, it’ll hurt to lose a job, lose a dream, lose a loved one, lose your own health. But the only thing you can’t truly live without is Jesus.

When our day doesn’t go how we thought, or our year doesn’t go as hoped, or our life turns out in a worse way than we dreamed (when a flu virus becomes a global pandemic) we forget there’s a sovereign God.

And I’m not a doctor or a scientist but if you feel like you don’t have control of your life you probably don’t have control of your life. 

The only thing that lasts is God. Everything else fades away. 

Your soul knows when you attach yourself to something other than Jesus and that’s why we get more miserable and more unsatisfied. 

We are only as durable as what we have placed our trust in. 

Did you know that beautiful people (to the world, I think all people are beautiful) but beautiful people to culture are more prone to commit suicide because as they get older, they lose their looks and figure and since they’ve attached their identity to their physical appearance, once that is gone, what do they have to live for in their mind? 

The Bible communicates that your life and mine is all about us having an intimate relationship with God and once you say you will believe in Him and follow Him, He will not only forgive you and bring you in, He will spend the rest of your life destroying your lesser loves. 

He will frustrate the things in your life you love more than Him – the things you think you can’t live without. If God doesn’t destroy what is destructible, you will place your identity and faith in it and it will destroy you from the inside out. 

That’s why I beg every Sunday when I preach at the loving church I am a part of for those listening to place Jesus at the center of who they are. They need love Him more than self, more than health, more than money, more than marriage, more than children, more than dreams, because if they don’t, those areas are going to be frustrated until Jesus is their passion and you are going to be anxious. 

As long as you think life is all about you and how fake great you are, anxiety and depression will grow in you. 

If you want the good and satisfying life Jesus came to earth to die and rise for you to have, you have got to let go of whatever or whoever you’ve attached yourself to and hang onto Him. 

Let go and let God.

It’s when we say, God, this life is not about me. It’s about You. I’m taking each day as a gift from You, no matter what happens, You are large and in charge and I am Your child, Your servant, I will trust in You. 

How many Christians are praying a prayer like that verses how many are over-reacting with anxiety at what is taking place in their lives or in the media?

If you want to let go of anxiety, you have to attach yourself to something eternal. 

If you attach yourself to someone or something other than Jesus, that something or someone is fading away and you will fade away with it, but if you attach yourself to Jesus, the One who was, is and will always be, you will live and your anxiety will fade away. 

But it’s a daily decision and I was hoping to give you that daily reminder today. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

6 Ways God Reveals Himself to Us

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Would you like to know where in the world God is at in your life?

Here’s a promise God makes to you, You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)

There are six ways God has chosen to reveal Himself to us when we seek after Him with all of our heart. Here are some ways God chooses to reveal Himself to us when we seek after Him:

1. Pivotal Circumstances

God loves to sneak up quietly from behind us in our daily lives and lovingly tap us on the shoulder whenever we’re going through a big transition.

God shows up more visibly during a big transition, like the following: 

A change of career or loss of job.
Moving to a new community, changing schools, changing churches.
When one goes from being single to being married.
When one goes from being married to being single again (widowed or divorced).
When a child is born (especially the third child, that’s what mother’s with multiple children say is the toughest transition, kid number 3).
When the kids grow up and venture into adulthood.
When retirement age comes.
When someone gets cancer.

There are a lot of transitions and if we’re seeking God with all of our heart each day, He will show up in these pivotal circumstances. 

Anything that causes us to be restless, these pivotal circumstances, these major transitions – He’s coughing and sneezing and shaking branches, and He’s whispering, Psssst!….I’m over here. I’m waiting for you to find ME in this season of change for you!

Through the big transitions in life, we need trust and know God is there waiting to reveal Himself when we look for Him. 

He also works through: 

2 Providential Relationships

It’s not just the changes in our lives where God gets our attention, He also shows up in our lives through other people.

Your relationships are not by accident. The people in your life that you trust, that you interact with, they are providential, meaning there is a reason they are in your life right now. Either you need to help them or they are going to help you. God has purposefully has put these people in your life.

Some of these people in your life, they quote Scripture, they share their spiritual experience, they pray with us, they encourage us and all of the sudden God comes into sharper focus. 

The fog lifts when we see marriage how God intended and we say, Yes, I want that. We see that person has more joy in trials than we do and we say, Yes, that’s what I want. We see that person is content, that person has purpose, that person has spiritual disciplines, that person is really changing and we say, Yes, I want that. 

God wants it for you too. That’s why there are Christians around you, to be an example in your life – a life is intended to be better than the selfish, anxious, fearful, grumpy state we make it. 

When was the last time you wrote a note of encouragement or took a Christian friend out for coffee or made dinner for your parents just to say, Thank you for being an example of Jesus in my life? 

They helped show Who God truly is to you. 

God also shows up to us through:

3. Practical Teaching

Have you had a conversation or read a book or watched a movie that really spoke to you and you think, That person has hacked into my emails and texting. That person knows what I’m thinking. That person was speaking right to me?

When I preach, I hear frequently people responding they feel like they were the only person in the room and I was speaking right to them. I had nothing to do with it. The Bible is timeless and timely. 

God’s truth from God’s Book will always practically speak to God’s people by God’s Spirit. 

God’s Spirit with God’s Word through God’s people – that combination has this amazing way to give us direction and answers, nudging us to go right or left when we feel like we’re at a crossroads – not just what to know about God but to know what to do that is acceptable in God’s eyes. Families and churches need practical teaching. The Bible feeds us and the Bible inspires us to be verbs for God during our week – to love and give and forgive and sacrifice and serve and encourage and pray – and God has a way of putting the right person in our conversations to spur us forward to apply His truth to our lives. 

4. Private Disciplines

All people in turmoil in their relationships or out of control with their addictions, every single time I ask about their spiritual disciplines, they answer, No I haven’t been doing that. I haven’t been reading the Bible daily. I haven’t been praying to God throughout my days. I haven’t been to worship every weekend. I haven’t been eating right or sleeping well or exercising or serving others.

For me, I don’t just have the daily routines of praying and reading God’s Word, or investing into my family for God, I also have weekly disciplines like tithing, giving a sacrificial amount back to God’s church, like communion, where I am grateful for the cross, where I’m forgiven after repenting of my sin.

I choose fast at various times in my year. I’ll go 40 days without caffeine to refocus on God. I’ll choose to not eat a meal on one day of the week for 3 months just to pray for those who actually are hungry in the world. 

If not done in a rushed manner, if not done in a I’ve got to check this off my list, these daily and weekly and seasonal disciplines calm me down. Discipline for God and others, it focuses me on what matters in my life and what doesn’t. 

The older I get, the more God allows me to experience, I see Him clearest through the discipline of prayer. When I’m out for a run, when I’m commuting home from work, when I pray with my wife, when we pray with our daughters or when I pray with friends, whenever I need God to come through or I just am joyfully overwhelmed by the life He has given me and I want to thank Him, that’s when I truly feel closest to Him. 

These private disciplines are the personal part of your life that I can’t force you to do or determine how you should do it but our world is moving so fast and only getting faster, and I don’t want to be misinterpreted here when I say this because God is always on time

But God is found in slowness. God moves to a different beat than the world does. 

And the tension we feel each day is, will we run fast with the world toward shallowness, or will we walk slowly with our heavenly Father toward fulfillment?…….Personal disciplines slow me down. 

God reveals Himself through circumstances, relationships, teaching of His Word, through our daily and weekly disciplines – also, He reveals Himself through – 

5. Personal Ministry

God has mostly revealed Himself in visible form through Jesus taking on human form. When we see Jesus in the Gospel accounts, we see God Himself, no questions asked. When you see Jesus, you see God. 

And Jesus said interestingly that we would most see Him in the faces of the poor.

If you really want to find God, serve the poor. Clothe the poor. Hug the poor. Stoop down and live life with the poor. And not just the physically poor – but there are emotionally broken people in your life for a reason – so you can serve them. There are relationally broken people – so you can heal them. There are financially broken people as well, and give as God shows you needs and wisdom – but ultimately, there are spiritually broken people – people without Jesus, people with sin, people with baggage, people with a bad taste in their mouth toward the church, people who need to be set free that you need to keep praying for and serving. It’s your personal ministry. The broken people, the spiritually-bankrupt people, you should be serving them……and then you’ll find God…..He’s hiding behind their brokenness. 

Bono, the lead singer the band U2 was speaking to a group of politicians and he said, 

“God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives and God is with us if we are with them.” – Bono

God is with us if we are with the broken. They’re around us. You don’t see the brokenness on your facebook page, but if you walk into a nursing home and serve the elderly, the widowed, you’ll see God.

You won’t see the brokenness by binging Netflix, but if you cook a dinner for a family going through cancer treatment or for a single mother, you’ll see God. 

You won’t see the brokenness catching up with what the celebrities are into but if you open your home to foster care, or to adoption, or to mission trips, or to soup kitchens, or simply just to have neighbors over for dinner you’ve been ignoring, or to be a Christian example to your kids’ friends, you’ll also see God.

Perhaps the most palpable way we feel God in our lives is through: 

6. Painful Seasons

Could it be that the God of the universe, Who knows everything that happens and allows everything to happen, Who loves every single person, Who hurts when we hurt, could it be that God reveals Himself the most when we seek Him during a painful season?

I’m not talking about painful moments or painful events, we’re talking about painful seasons. God is there. When pain shows up in your life, it’s not a drive-thru experience. Pain lingers. 

When the pain of divorce are still around.

When addiction to lying or pornography or alcohol keeps tripping your family up.

When the Big C is diagnosed in your life or in a loved one’s life. Cancer is such a painful and frightening season.

As depression and letdown and failures continue to steal the ounces of joy that were left in you.

In painful seasons, I have experienced that’s when God reveals Himself in HD – crystal clear. 

When my wife and I found out I was infertile after desperately wanting a child, God was there. When my father battled cancer for a year and died, God was there. In your darkest hours too – adultery, miscarriages, people hurting you, a painful childhood – God was there healing you.

In her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, author Barbara Brown describes how she finds God while being alone in the darkness of a cabin or by walking down a dark trail in the woods, or even sitting in a dark cave. She writes, 

Sitting deep in the heart of a cave, I let this sink in: New life starts in the dark. Whether it’s a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it all starts in the dark.” – Barbara Taylor Brown

While we instinctively run away from pain, or try to ignore or avoid pain – God runs toward it. I don’t believe God causes pain but I do believe He uses pain to get our attention. To slow us down. To get us focused on him. C.S. Lewis called pain God’s megaphone. He’s screaming at us to find Him.

When pain happens, God is coughing and sneezing and shaking branches like a madman. 

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)

It’s a promise God makes to us. Go find Him. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

Fun and Needed Marriage Advice For Men

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The man gave names to all livestock
and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field.

(Genesis 2:20)

Adam names three categories of animals: livestock, birds and beasts. It says he named all of them. There are 8.7 million species named today and 30,000 more than don’t have names. For Adam, this is going to take a while. He’s going to wait for his bride for a good amount of time.

And then, in the same verse, we find one of the greatest understatements of the Bible: 

But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. (Genesis 2:20)

Here’s the hypothetical scenario going on between God and Adam:  

God: I love you, Adam, I do, but you need a wife. You need a close friend.
Adam: Whoo, yes! Let’s talk about that.
God: How about an blobfish?
Adam: No, no thank you.
God: How about a rhino?
Adam: God, it’s got horns. That’s not good.
God: How about the cow?
Adam: How about no.
God: What about a monkey? You want a monkey in white dress?
Adam: …………

God’s going to make the woman and bring her to Adam as his wife, his helper, his best friend.

What does the first woman look like? We have no idea, but, compared to the options Adam has, she’s gotta be amazing no matter what she looks like. If Adam is looking at the woman on one side and has a snapping-turtle alligator on the other side, Eve is the choice 10 times out of 10. 

Compared to the aardvark, she’s amazing.

Here’s where I’m going with this: 

Men, your standard of beauty is your wife. 

Hey husband, question for you? Who’s the most beautiful woman in the world? 

It’s your wife. 

There is not another woman on this planet more beautiful than your wife. 

With Eve, we don’t know if she’s tall, short, voluptuous, skinny, redhead, blonde, brunette, bald, light skin, dark skin, and, after sin enters the word, we don’ know if she’s loud or quiet, harsh or sweet, lazy or hard-working, vindictive or gracious. 

We don’t know what she is. We just know she’s better than the gibbons. 

Women don’t come from man, but from God. That’s why they’re great. They are God-sent. 

Now, not all women remain great. According to the book of Proverbs, some women are crowns and some women are cancers. A single guy’s prayer is to marry a crown, not a cancer. To marry a godly woman, not a selfish, angry one.

But no matter who he marries, she needs to be the standard of attractiveness to him. Not a Super Bowl halftime show, not a porn star, not a co-worker, not an old girlfriend, not a flirtatious neighbor – his wife is the standard of beauty. 

My wife will ask me, Are you going to think I’m attractive when I’m 70? 

My response: Baby, when you’re 70, I’m going to be into all things grandma. I’m only going to be about white hair and slow movements and The Price Is Right and going to Florida a lot and eating dinner at 3:30pm and taking our pills together. 

I’m gonna be all about my 70-year-old, beautifully-wrinkled, grandmother wife. No matter her age or ailment or attitude or shape or look – there is not another woman close to being more gorgeous to me than her, inside and out. 

Husband, the standard of beauty is your wife. 

God’s answer to Adam is, You don’t like the goat or the anteater as a choice for a lifelong partner? Okay, I’ll make you a lady. 

To bring Adam his fitted mate, God chloroforms him.

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall
upon the man, and while he slept took one of
his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.

(Genesis 2:21)

God doesn’t take a bone from Adam’s head to show the woman is above him. God isn’t a feminist. 

God doesn’t take a bone from Adam’s foot to show the woman is under him. God isn’t a chauvinist. 

God takes out a rib to show the woman is a helper alongside to him as he will be a helper alongside her. God is showing that any relationship worth having is one that involves mutual sacrifice. 

The rib that the Lord God had taken from the man
he made into a woman and brought her to the man.
(Genesis 2:22)

There are 8.7 million different species of animals. Adam names them all. That’s exhausting physically but what’s more exhausting was the emotional toll of Adam searching for his best friend and being disappointed 8.7 million times. 

And then God brings her to him (cue the R&B music). 

God creates the first woman, which means God makes the first marriage.

This is the first wedding because it feels like God the Father is walking Eve down the aisle toward Adam. Some of you didn’t have a godly father – neither did Eve. But Eve had God, who is a Father to the fatherless.

God walks her down the aisle like the father, and He gives her away. He officiates as the first pastor at the first wedding ceremony. It’s perfection. The man needs to say something, though. Adam needs to say something. He needs to comfort his wife. He needs to show her he will be there for her. 

The reason Adam needs to speak? Eve has had a big day She got created. She meets God. She’s naked and is going to her wedding. For most girls, that’s too much for one day. Most girls would pass out. 

She’s going to meet her husband. First person she’s ever met. He’s going to need to say something. 

Here’s what Adam does: He sings to her.

Women love guys who can sing. Trust me. We lived in Nashville for 7 years. If the guy can sing, the girl is blind to a lot of his flaws. He could have a criminal record, live in a tent, be illiterate and the girl still says, But he played me a song. I love him so much.

It works every time. 

Adam sings a love song to Eve in the Hebrew language. The first recorded words we have in human history before sin enters the world is song. Some have the theory (it’s just a theory) that humans sang every word until sin came. We didn’t start talking until we sinned. Maybe that’s why people are so moved at musicals, because we were meant to sing through life. Maybe that’s why children sing and hum while they play. We were meant to sing through life. 

In your Bible, what Adam says is in compositional form. It’s poetry, and in Hebrew, this song rhymes.

Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
(Genesis 2:23)

Men need to be careful what they call their wives, what they call their daughters. If a man degrades his wife with mean names, not good. If he chooses to uplift her with corny monikers, it’s sweet and life-giving. I call my wife Baby Cakes. I call her, Gorgeous. If you call her those things, they’ll never find your body. Those are names for me to call her to uplift her. 

Adam sings, At last! At last! After going through all of those animals and not finding someone to be with and love and play and laugh – I’ve waited through all the animals, at last! She’s here!

Men, on your wedding day you were saying, At last! 

Men need to go back to that time when they were acting head over heels in love. God brought you your wife, at last! Speaking of weddings, here’s a familiar verse:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and
his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they
shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife
were both naked and were not ashamed.
(Genesis 2:24-25)

First thing for a single person to do: leave your mother and father. 

Next, get married. 

Marriage is for men, not for boys.

A lot of immature males think, If I get married, that’ll make me a man. Nope, it won’t. Be a man first. Prepare yourself now. Read your Bible. Pray. Work hard. Give generously. Serve others. Then, get married. 

The big things in this verse are: move out of your parents home, get married, and have sex in marriage. Jesus said this. Paul reaffirmed it. Moses wrote these verses in Genesis. Those are three big guns: Jesus, Paul and Moses. They all three tell boys to move out of home, marry wisely and then have sexual union. 

Human history began with a wedding. In Revelation, at the second coming of Christ, Jesus is our groom is coming for us, His bride. History began with a wedding and it will end with a wedding, and in the middle, our weddings and our kids’ weddings are the closest we get to the picture of what eternity with God will be like for those who believe in Jesus.

Weddings done in a godly way have affection, commitment, hope, joy, song, laughter, celebration, feasting, friends, dancing. That’s heaven. 

It’s why we love to go to weddings. Don’t you love it when people who love each other get married? Isn’t it a great day and a great party? There’s something in us that just loves that moment. It’s because that’s where we come from, that’s where we’re going.

Some of your marriages are not good. They are not Genesis 2. They’re more Genesis 3. You’re more roommates than you are best friends. There’s little trust. There’s little forgiveness. There’s no singing. There’s little laughter. Pray and figure it out because marriage is amazing when sin is dead in our hearts. It’s up to you to lean on God for a better marriage.

It’s up to single people to be pure and grow up and marry wisely and it’s up to married people to become one and forgive. It’s up to you. Just as God was saying to Adam and Eve, Here’s your choice, life or death. You make the call. It’s up to you.

Thank for reading. You are loved. 

Z

3 Practical Steps for Thriving Relationships

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Everyone needs wisdom in their relationships. If you’ve got all of your relationships figured out and they’re thriving and are at peace and don’t need improving, we’ll see you on the next blog post. You can stop reading.

Every single person, no matter the age or stage of life, guy or gal, single or married, no kids, have kids, empty nesters, whether someone is in school or they work a job or they volunteer or have neighbors or have friends – all of us are in some type of relationship with the people around us. 

Sometimes those relationships can get complicated.
Sometimes we are the one at fault.  

We’re a bunch of imperfect people colliding together every single good day and bad day.

I want to give you four things that I have seen in my life, in the lives of others, that help manage and heal and help relationships thrive. I can tell you these work. I can also confess I’ve not always done them. And when I don’t do them, that’s when the conflict and the complications happen. 

(1) I will act, not react.

We all know what it’s like, when something doesn’t go our way, we instantly react. Our first emotion isn’t the healthiest one. Our first words aren’t the most helpful. 

Some people explode.
Some people walk out with a cutting word.
Some people are loud.
Some people shut down. 

I heard about this married couple who got into an argument that led to them giving each other the silent treatment. Neither spouse was talking. 

Many times when there’s the silent treatment in marriage you will do everything to not speak first. If you’re bleeding out on the bathroom floor, you will crawl to your phone to dial 9-1-1 rather than asking your spouse for help, even when you’re dying. 

This couple giving each other the silent treatment, the husband knew his wife was an early riser in the morning. He needed to get up at 5AM to catch a flight for work, and had been having issues with his alarm, so what he needed from his wife was to wake him up at 5AM. 

But he wasn’t going to talk to her. 

He wrote a note: Please wake me up at 5AM and he left it by her toothbrush on her side of the vanity sink. He knew she would be brushing her teeth when she woke up early the next morning. 

In the morning, he wakes up. The sun is pouring in through the bedroom windows. He shoots up in bed, startled, looks at the clock. It’s 8:00AM. 

He’s missed his flight. 

He looks on his nightstand by the bed, and there’s a note. The note says, It’s 5AM. Wake up. 

Point for the wife. 

Before we react – to a spouse, to a child who doesn’t listen, to a coworker who dropped the ball, to a friend who is being unfair to you – before you blow up or give the cold shoulder, memorize this verse:

Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. [Psalm 141:3]

It’s a prayer that says, Lord, would you help me keep my mouth shut when I want to instantly react? 

Or, if you’re the silent treatment type of person, the prayer is, Lord, would you give me the humility to open my mouth and speak gently when I want to be quiet?

Acting is: Praying before responding.
Breathing before responding.
Apologizing.
Asking clarifying questions.
Speaking calmly. 

When we react, we get into the fight and name call and bring up past actions and we over exaggerate. When you react, you do not get those words back when a spouse or a child or a parent or someone at work hears them. 

Let’s watch the names we are calling each other and let’s watch saying the words “always” and “never” – you never and I always 

These are things I’m teaching my children. We don’t name call and we don’t express our emotions with “you never” and “you always” – because it’s not true. We want to stick with that specific incident. 

And, let’s watch the tone and the volume level we use. I can see the look in my youngest child’s eyes when my tone is too harsh or my volume is too high. You can’t unring that bell. 

Before you respond, if it’s a bit heated, take a walk around the block because you’ll never regret a delayed word that is said gently. 

Another piece of advice on this one is: Don’t get historical. 

It’s amazing that you’ve got people in your life who can’t find their phone or their keys but they remember something hurtful you said or did 10 years ago. 

As for you and I – when we are in an argument, we need to focus on the argument. We don’t need to get historical. 

In any relationship, Don’t get historical.
Watch your use of “never” and “always”.
No name calling.
Watch your tone and your volume. 

All of this is acting, not reacting. 

(2) I will focus on the good things in you. 

Sometimes we look at people and think, Right now there is nothing good I can find in this person. 

Here’s why that’s a lie: Jesus still died for them. And He saw something redeemable in their life. 

Satan is the author of all lies and one of the lies we believe that he tells is, there’s nothing good in this person, all I can see is the pain they’ve caused – that’s what keeps us from restoring the relationship. 

We need to back the emotional truck up a bit and say, Okay, there’s got to be soothing good in this person, something I can be grateful for with this person, what is it? 

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. [Philippians 4:8]

Is there anything about that in-law, about that co-worker, about that friend who hurt you, anything about them that is true or honorable or noble or right or pure or lovely or admirable? Instead of thinking about how they annoy you or are frustrating to you or are so different from how you are, think about the things laid out in the above verse. 

In the deepest of arguments, the way to climb out of the hole and get to a resolution is to focus on what is good in the person, praise them for that. Then they’ll be more open to discussing the issue at hand like a grown up. 

Even if it’s not an argument, when you highlight and highlight and highlight what is good in that person, they rise to the standard to compliment them for and you begin to truly see them as that good person.

This same advice is for spouses and parents and employers:

Instead of sitting down with someone and using words describing them in their current state, use words that describe who you know they can become. 

The words that we say to our kids, to our employees, those are the words that define them. 

(3) I will extend God’s grace toward you as I remember His grace toward me.

We all want God’s grace given individually to us – that’s an easy choice. We’ll take God’s forgiveness toward us, but it’s difficult for us to give that to the people around us. 

One way of recognizing if you are growing as a Christian, if God is transforming you, is to see the amount of grace you need verses the amount of grace you give out.

Jesus touches on this in His Sermon on the Mount. 

If you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. [Matthew 5:23-24]

As far as it depends on you – go make things right with that person – Jesus wants you to apply God’s grace toward that person. 

If you don’t deal with what’s separating you and that person in your life where things aren’t good, it will short-circuit what God is trying to do in your life.

People want God to move in their life and yet they can’t even give a pinch of grace to those around them when the way God wants to move in their life is by extending grace towards others around them. 

Every time I think about how much God has forgiven me, it makes it easier to forgive others. Every time I sit in solitude and think about how much God has given to me, it makes it easier to give to others. 

Every time I think about how much I need God in my life, it stirs a passion inside for those around me to see how much they need God and how much they need me to be like Jesus in our relationship so they can partly know what God is truly like. 

I will act, not react.
I will focus on the good things in you.
I will extend God’s grace toward you as I remember His grace toward me. 

Will there still be difficulties in your relationships? Will there still be bumps? Absolutely. But now we have a way to resolve things with people in a God-honoring way, and that always un-complicates things. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

Practical Ways a Father Can Have a Lasting Legacy

Sticky

Let’s do a bit of an exercise. At first, it’ll seem a bit morbid, but hang with me because I think it’s eye-opening.

This exercise isn’t something I came up with, it’s been around for a while. It’s called The Eulogy Exercise. It comes from the book by Steven Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey walks the reader through this hypothetical scenario:

Imagine you are going to a funeral. 

You pull up to the parking lot where the funeral location is (a church building or a funeral home ). You park, get out of the car, walk into the building as other people who are dressed up are walking in. You smell fresh cut flowers as you enter into the lobby. There’s a fresh aroma sprayed all over the room. You take a free mint offered. 

You look around and you begin to recognize people. And not just acquaintances, but close friends and family members who are also at the funeral. 

It’s visitation hours, so people are in line to walk by the casket of the deceased to pay their respects. You get up to the casket and when you look down, it’s you that is laying there, dead.

You are attending your own funeral. 

The date on the program isn’t 50 years from now. This funeral, your funeral, is just three years from today.

You go into the sanctuary where people are sitting awaiting for the ceremony to begin and as you look on the program, there are going to be four people who will be speaking at your funeral.

Four people will be sharing about you and how you lived your life. 

Person #1: A family member

The first person that is going to speak at your funeral is a family member. It could be a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling. It will be a family member who knew you very well. 

Person #2: A close friend

The second person that is going to speak is going to be one of your close friends. Maybe a childhood friend or a friend from high school, a college roommate, a friend from the neighborhood. They’ve spent time with you and know you. They’ve been through the ups and downs with you. 

Person #3: Someone from work

The third person speaking will be someone from your job, or if still in school, a teacher or a coach. It’s someone who sees you during the week. They’ve seen how you celebrate and encourage others. They see how you handle stress.

Person #4: Someone from church

The fourth person to speak is someone from your church, if you have a church family. They see how much you choose to attend. They see how you serve. They’ve watched how you worship. 

Four people.
A family member.
A close friend.
A co-worker.
Someone who was in the same church as you. 

And the big question is: What would you like each of these people to say about you?

This is the point of the exercise: Covey coined it as this: Beginning with the end in mind. 

If we think of what we would want those in our daily lives to say about us when we return to dust, we then can look at how we are living in the present to go after that desired legacy. 

Here are some practical steps every dad can take to cement a life-changing, positive legacy with his children: 

Smile in photos taken with the family. 

What is it with dads not smiling in family photos? Dad looks grumpy with his wife. He looks serious with his kids. How he feels towards his loved one is not how he shows it in pictures. Sure he loves them, but in pictures it doesn’t seem that way. 

I don’t care if dad was in the military, or still thinks he’s taking a football team picture, or if he thinks he has bad teeth or if his favorite team just lost or if he’s had a bad day – smile. 

Send the message from your heart of love towards these people to your mouth when pictures are being taken. 

Because, when dad dies, his kids will only have pictures to look at to remember him. If those pictures look like dad was serious or harsh because he didn’t smile, that’s the legacy he’s going to write long after he’s gone. 

Have evenings of focused one-on-one time.

Life is full. Life is packed. Kids grow fast. When the child gets off the bus or when dad gets home from work, there isn’t much time together. 

What a dad can do is carve out intentional, one-on-one time with the child. 

Whether it’s father-son or daddy-daughter, nights out or date nights need to be set and kept. 

Every year, 12 times a year, once a month, I take each of my children out separately. Just me and them. Sometimes it’s dinner when we get dressed up and all fancy. Sometimes it’s ice cream. Sometimes you go bowling with them. Sometimes I surprise them at their school and have lunch with them. Sometimes it’s a long walk so we can talk and catch up on their view of the family, of God, of life, of their emotions. 

When I am just with them, we’ll laugh and talk about our day, but, there are also some heart-to-heart questions that I ask. 

How are you feeling being a part of this family?
Do you feel included?
Do you feel heard?
How is school going?
Is there anything challenging happening?
Are there any frustrations in your life right now that I can offer some advise on or pray about? 

And you let them talk. And after you are gone, dad, they’ll remember the time spent and the wisdom shared. Your legacy will live on. 

As best as possible at night, ignore screens until the kids are asleep. 

If children are great at one thing, they are great at exaggerating. Children naturally use words like always and never. 

So, if dad is on his phone for work or for fun, when a child wants to talk to dad or play with dad, all it takes is two instances where the kid sees dad looking at a phone and then the child thinks, Dad never plays with me (even when he does), or, Dad is always on his phone (even though he’s not).

Perception is reality to them. 

My family and I attended a volleyball game at a junior high school a few months ago. Some friends of ours were playing in and attending the game. We were there to cheer them on. 

Two rows in front of my wife and I was a father of a child playing in the volleyball game. And for the majority of the game, he was watching on his phone his favorite college football team play their game. 

And I saw his daughter look at him multiple times as he was looking at a screen. She saw that he would rather watch strangers play a game than his daughter play in hers. 

Dad, be present. 

Yes there is work. Yes there are emails. Yes there are fun things to watch on TV. Yes we have the habit of checking social media every five minutes. Those can all wait (they might be highjacking your legacy at home). 

From the time you get home to the time they are finally asleep, try to look at them, not a screen. 

Treat his wife with kindness and respect. 

The way dad consistently treats his wife shows any son he has how to treat women and any daughter he has how to be treated by a man. You’ve heard that. 

But, in addition, when there is unrest in the home, the children internalize it. They invite the stress of a marriage into their life and it goes with them into their school, activities and relationships. 

It’s when dad yells at his wife. It’s when dad puts down his wife. It’s when dad is giving the cold shoulder to his wife. It’s when dad would rather have nights out with his buddies than take his wife out. The children see this. They feel it. They think it’s normal even though they don’t like it. 

Dad needs to serve his wife. He needs to uplift her with words of encouragement. He needs to thank her in front of the children for all she does in the family and in the home. He needs to come alongside her when she makes decisions for the children. He needs to take her out on dates and text her romantic stuff during the day because a happy wife and mother also has a key impact on the children. Dad can help with that. 

[Sidenote: If dad is divorced/unmarried to the child’s mother, he must not speak ill of her. Even if she takes the low road when speaking of him. Without her, dad doesn’t have the joy of loving his children, so even when difficult, uplift the child’s mother.]

Put God first in his life and in the home’s life. 

After dad has died, it leaves a hole in the heart of a child that never fully heals. It is difficult to lose a parent. You think about it every day. You miss them every day. For me, with a father gone for over 6 years, the only thing that has gotten me through it is leaning on God, my heavenly Father. 

I have that relationship with God because my father did first. My father wasn’t the person of love he was because of his self-effort. He was loving toward me because of God changing his heart and working through him to effectively serve and graciously care for us kids. 

God is first in our household. I am not the leader of our home. God is. I am not the decision-maker of our home. God is. When we are hurt, we pray. When we are stressed, we open the Bible and write verses on our bathroom mirrors to calm our anxiety. When we are afraid, we remind each other to trust God. 

Our schedule doesn’t get in the way of family dinners where we pray and talk about what we’re grateful to God about. Our hobbies do not get in the way of worship on Sunday mornings. As a family, we actively serve in the church we are involved in. Our children know that my wife and I read our Bibles each morning. 

After dad is gone, his legacy of how he leaned on God daily in his life will be the driving force they need to press on into the life God has in store for them without dad. 

Smile in photos taken with the family.
Have evenings of focused one-on-one time.
As best as possible, no screens until the kids are asleep.
Treat his wife with kindness and respect.
Put God first in his life and in the home’s life. 

Doing these things consistently, by beginning with the end in mind, allows dad’s legacy to be a positive one that outlives his physical life into generations of his family. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

The Four Areas of Unity Your Church Leadership Should Have

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Jesus prayed that you and I in the church would be unified. This is His prayer on the night of His arrest – 

I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. (John 17:21)

Simply stated, God’s people are called to have unity. It’s something Jesus prays for.

A step more serious is that leaders of God’s people are called to have unity. A reason it’s important for church leadership to be unified is because:

If the leaders in the church aren’t unified, then the people in the church won’t be unified. 

What we see historically, and sadly too often today, is that when division happens in the church it’s not because people know or vote based on facts and data, or even rely on prayer, rather, they weigh in based on whether or not they like the person. 

Their decisions aren’t objective, they’re subjective. 

I liked this person, so I’m taking their side. This person has served with me, so I’m with them. I’ve known this person longer, so I’ll join them. And what can begin as a personal issue quickly spreads into a division in the church.

Another reason why unity is vital in the church, from leadership down, is because it keeps the entire church focused on what’s important – Jesus and loving others. 

If there is division, then the conversations aren’t about Jesus, they aren’t about God’s vision, they aren’t about loving others. Instead, they’re about: Have you heard this gossip lately? Well, I heard this. Well, I believe this person did this. Well, they must’ve! Here’s my opinion, here’s how I think it’s going down. 

And all of the sudden, because of a distraction and a divisive spirit, loving Jesus and loving others exits out of the conversations and out of the church’s mission. 

Just as there are things that help unity, there are things that harm it as well. 

Sometimes it’s obvious, visible sin like sexual sin, or stealing money, or what led to divorce, or laziness, or complaining. Many times it’s deceit. 

Sometimes the sin that kills unity is more subtle, like bitterness or jealousy towards others. Many times it’s pride. 

Sometimes division is caused by heresy (teaching truths outside of the Bible to be as authoritative as truths in the Scriptures). 

Sometimes disunity is caused by legalism, where people make a list of rules, judge others by those rules, they show up in a black and white striped shirt and a whistle – you’re religious. Sometimes division occurs when there’s confusion between what is a primary issue and a secondary issue. 

Another reason for division is distrust. The larger a church gets numerically the more she’s going to have to trust one another. 

Leadership has to trust their small group and ministry leaders. Leadership needs to train and trust that each small group and ministry are staying focused on Jesus. Leadership must trust they are encouraging people to lean on God and not on self, to hold people who are in sin accountable to God. 

When anyone teaches a class in the church, the leadership must trust that the teacher has diligently prepared and prayed over their lesson. When a new person or a new couple bravely walks into the lobby and into this big scary room, I have to trust that they will be loved on, talked to, sat with – by you. 

In any type of church, if we don’t have trust, then we don’t have unity. 

Visible sin, subtle sin, heresy, legalism and distrust are places where unity won’t be found.

Unity in the church (and anywhere else) is something that is gained slowly, and lost quickly.

So what is unity? 

If we don’t have a working definition of unity, then we can’t work towards it as a church. 

I’ve learned to define unity in the church 4 ways – 

Theological Unity

This means we agree on the things of God that matter. 

There are things that Christians (especially Christian leaders) will have to fundamentally agree on, go to battle for, not let go of, ever.

We fight for the Bible as God’s Word. We fight for the two sacraments of baptism and communion. We fight for the God Who is Three in One. We believe Jesus is God, born to a virgin, lived with no sin, died on a cross, that He rose from death, is alive today, is coming back soon and is the only way to salvation. He’s good, we’re bad, hell is hot, forever is a long time, and you should have a good sense of humor (not an exhaustive list).

These are the things that we’re going to fight for. These are very important to have unity on. 

And then there are things we won’t fight over or for.

Any conversation about the rapture, how old the earth is, home-schooling vs. public schooling, Democrat vs. Republican, speaking in tongues, women in leadership, etc.

We’re not going to fight over some things. 

The earth didn’t come with a birth certificate so I don’t worry about how old the earth is. We can argue about it, that would be a cute waste of time. I would rather hold fast to things that matter. 

We’re not supposed to fight for everything. Our identity is in Christ not in winning arguments that the Bible isn’t concerned with.

Secondly, as a church we must have, 

Philosophical Unity 

This typically comes down to style and what are the best methods for each local church to reach the culture they are providentially placed in. 

At a previous church I was grateful to serve in, I had a couple new to the church meet me in my office and inform me that they would join the church on the condition that their kids would be able play their hand choir bells before service. Every week. I told them that wasn’t our church’s philosophy, that we want people to join the church – not to uplift their kids but – to uplift Jesus. 

And they left. Not just my office, but the church. 

A church’s philosophy when it comes to singing could be contemporary it’s not hardcore, it’s instrumental, there are hymns sometimes.  Sometimes it’s too loud, sometimes they go acoustic.

Sometimes a church’s philosophy when it comes to the next generation is to keep them out of sight, out of mind, in their own section of the church building, stating, they’re the church of tomorrow. Or, a church’s philosophy could be to let God work through children right now; letting them be the church at their current age.

A church’s appearance could be come as you are. It could be dress fancy. It could be hosting online services where you worship in your underwear. If you want to wear a suit and tie or a dress to church, please do. And if you want to wear a t-shirt and jeans with flip-flops, please do. Just be sure your toenails are cut appropriately. 

I believe diversity in the church is a great thing, but some people want to go to a church where everyone is Republican, married and dressed in robes. And there are churches like that. I’m not sure that’s the church Jesus is praying for in John 17.

A good philosophy I recommend is being serious about God and the Bible and the next generation and being relaxed about music and attire and political affiliation.

The church should hold onto big things like saving the lost, maturing the saved. She should host fast to arguing over little things, like, what people wear, what color the carpet is in the nursery, did Adam and Eve have belly buttons or not.

Relational Unity  

In the church, we need to find unity in one another. It’s there, we need to seek it out. 

This means we are kind to one another, respectful, uplifting. We don’t tear each other down on a serious, condescending level. We might poke fun at ourselves and our sensitive to how our comments about others come across. 

We’re family, so we acknowledge each other when we walk into the room and we love and reach out when needed. We reply to texts/voicemails/emails promptly and prayerfully. 

We forgive one another, and, by one another I don’t just mean the people active in a church, but we also forgive those who have left a church with a sour taste in their mouths. We also seek out if there’s anything we can humbly apologize for. 

Missional Unity

At every core of families, companies, sports teams, and churches, they all only care about one thing. They all focus on one particular thing. Their one thing is something they’re passionate about. Something they can’t stop thinking of. 

What is your one thing going to be? 

Is your one thing in life making money? Is it appeasing customers? Is it winning? Is it raising godly kids? Is it obsessed with being in shape? Each person and leadership has their one thing. 

Hopefully each church’s one thing is to be Jesus. That’s it. At the end of the day, the reason why your local church exists is because they should want people to fall in love with Jesus, grow to be like Jesus, worship Jesus, follow Jesus, trust Jesus, talk about Jesus, die for Jesus, and live with Jesus forever. That’s what Christians must be all about. Jesus! 

We need to find unity in this, because the rest of what happens in church leadership is secondary. Not unimportant, but secondary. If we lose sight of loving Jesus and loving others as our mission, there will be division. If we’re going to work towards unity, we have to work on all those fronts – Theologically, Philosophically, Relationally, and Missionally. And if we are united on these things, then our family, this thing we call church, it will be a God-honoring, life-changing, kingdom-building, very exciting experience. 

To repeat, unity is gained slowly and it is lost quickly. If it’s something Jesus prayed for each Christian and each church leadership to have, then prayer and conversations and focus on unity should be continual. 

It might be a good idea to ask gentle, inquiring questions of how your local church grooms new eldership, hires ministry staff, vets out and trains volunteer leaders and how they handle conflict in their meetings. If forgotten about, quickly or haphazardly done, it’ll damage unity.

Feel free to reach out to your church leadership to make sure they are unified on these four areas and, at the same time, pray for unity for them as Jesus does. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

How Do We Relate To Bullies? (Why President Trump Is So Influential)

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As a second grader, our oldest daughter was coming home bearing the hurtful comments and actions of her schoolmates. Each night around the dinner table and before bedtime my wife and I were untying the knots of damaging lies said to her by others and, then, we were instilling the truth of who she is in God’s eyes and in her parents eyes. 

For whatever anger/loneliness/emptiness that is inside the kids choosing to verbally attack her, this is what she heard:

Your hair is ugly.
Why would you wear that to school?
How could you get that question wrong?
You can’t play with us, you’re a girl.
Your teeth look messed up.
 

It’s only a few kids who say these hurtful comments to her, and to others. 

During her second grade year, our daughter’s class wrote on a poster board about why they love her. She brought the poster board home and we hung it up for her to see each day.  Some comments by her classmates written were:

Thank you for helping me with my school work.
I like it when you hug me and say nice things about me.
Thank you for inviting me to play with you at recess.
Thank you for including me at lunchtime.
I like you because you stick up for me. 

So it seems that she’s popular. 

Not popular in the sense because someone is pretty or smart or athletic or rich, then they’re liked. Rather, popular in the sense of both sides of the aisle know her. The bullies know her and choose to degrade and those bullied notice her and choose to be grateful. 

She has influence. And influence polarizes. 

Each day she was coming home with these contradicting feelings of loving others and hating bullies. 

Some of the unraveling of the untruths bullies say to her is also unraveling the untruth of her feelings that she should hate bullies. 

Her confusion is this: Why are bullies popular? 

She’s chewing on the conundrum that bullies gain influence through being bullies, but they also grow in influence when others try to bully them. They get worse when you treat them like they treat others. So how do you deal with someone abusive like this? It’s a lose-lose if you submit to them or if you fight them. 

With a high sensitivity toward American politics and with limited context to where my beliefs and values are and where yours are, just a few clarifiers: 

I am not siding with one political party or another. This post is not to get people more hyper or more irate about politics.  This is not a post against President Trump.

The goal of this post is to try to answer this question: 

Why do bullies grow in influence by treating people the way that they do?  

Some words that people have used to describe President Trump as are: bombastic, arrogant, insensitive, condescending, sexist, racist.

Other words to describe him have been: patriotic, brave, outlier, savior, Christian. 

Depending on how you view him (and only God knows the heart even when we see the tweets and hear the speeches) how do we explain his meteoric rise to him being so popular?

(Again to use the word popular doesn’t mean he is liked by so many people, but that he is polarizing, that everyone knows of him and his actions.) 

Have you thought about how President Trump became President Trump? 

Some attribute to it that Trump is/has been a successful businessman. At a young age he became involved in some of the largest and most profitable business projects in Manhattan, being labeled as the Big Apple’s best known developer of New York City.

Others will say Trump’s rise in popularity will be because he’s got money out of his ears, supposedly, and he can bank roll his own campaign without having any major donors tell him what to say or how to vote.

Though it’s being disputed on whether or not his claim to be worth 10 billion dollars is true , no one is disputing that he has an enormous treasure chest at his disposal to fund his own political career. 

Others will comment on President Trump’s rise because he’s a master-self-promoter. Not only has he made the Trump brand into the reality TV shows, The Apprentice, and The Celebrity Apprentice, but President Trump’s name is everywhere. Hotels, golf courses, steaks, ice skating rings before politics his name was everywhere.

And yet, there have been successful businessmen and businesswomen in the past trying to run for president who have not been nearly as popular as he is (Ross Perot, Mitt Romney, Carly Fiorina, Tom Steyer, Michael Bloomberg and others). Bloomberg is 17 times richer than President Trump is. 

How can Trump’s popularity be explained?

Maybe I can share a reason no one I’ve heard is talking about. 

In 2011, a psychological study was published in the journal, Social, Psychological Personality Science.

What researchers did is they asked the participants to watch videos where people went about their daily activities, like working in a cubicle, being in a meeting, working on a task at home, taking a coffee break, catching up with a friend over lunch – lots of things people do in everyday life – the participants in this study watched people living their every day life. 

After watching these exact scenarios, the participants were asked, from top to bottom, which people they watched should get to make decisions and get crowds of people to listen to what they have to say.

In one study, customers were shown going into a new office, pouring themselves a cup of coffee from a coffee maker that had the label, Employee Coffee Only on it – compared to those walking into the same office, pouring themselves a cup of coffee from a coffee maker that was for the general public. So one customer walks into a new office and breaks code by getting coffee from an employees only coffee maker and another customer walks into the new office and gets coffee from the general coffee maker. 

The participants were asked to rate those who did not break the rules verses those who did. This was their perspective: 

Rule breakers were described as being “more in control” and “more powerful” when compared to people who didn’t steal the coffee or break accounting rules.

In a follow-up experiment, participants watched a man who sat outside at a table of a small business café, putting his feet up on a chair, tapping cigarette ashes all over the ground as he barks at the servers taking his order and those who are entering in and out of the café who accidentally bump into him.

The participants viewed this inconsiderate man as someone who would be, “more likely to get decisions made and able to get to people to listen to what he said,” – compared to the participants who saw the video of the same man in a separate video who was being pleasant and friendly outside of the café.

The concluding evidence the study found this:

People who are willing to be rude, condescending, and mean towards other people are considered, on average, to be more powerful and more likely to get things done as a leader. (Breaking the Rules to Rise to Power”, Social, Science and Personality Journal, January 26th, 2011)

I think this explains, more in part, why our current President, or your domineering boss, or your harsh spouse or the bully at school is liked by many people and yet is also despised by others. 

Either way, it’s why they have influence. 

Remember the moment back in the 2016 election debates when Republican candidate Jeb Bush’s campaign ended? It was during a summer debate when Jeb stooped to Trump’s level and began personally attacking him. That wasn’t who Jeb was. Jeb was known as a gracious candidate and I think maybe more people would’ve rallied around him after being attacked by Trump if he had taken the high road. 

Stooping to Trump’s level is also what the Democratic Party is currently doing gearing up for the 2020 election. 

And it’s not going to work for the goals they have. 

This is more than just advice in the political world.

Our instinct when we are made to feel little and less-than is to fight back with words when we’re attacked. My motto in high school, since I weighed 100 pounds wet, I was going to talk big and have bigger friends. If someone wanted to beat me up for how I made fun of them, then my big friends would be the bouncers I needed. 

As adults and hopefully as mature Christ-followers, we have got to know by now that you don’t beat bullies at their own game. You don’t beat a bully by out-bullying the bully and you don’t help a bully by allowing them to run all over you whenever they want. 

With all of the anxiousness over politics, I still think the Christians and the church in this nation, we are going to do the right thing and trust God, honor our leaders, pray for them and extend a hand of help for those in need. I still believe Americans will do the right thing when they are called to step up.  

Just ask Sherriff Jim Clark, who on March 7, 1965, almost 55 years ago, unleashed dogs, tear gas and officers with clubs against 600 unarmed pacifists who were on the edge of the Edmund Tettison Bridge on the outskirts of Selma, Alabama.

Unfortunately for Clark, unlike all of the other days where he brutally, violently commanded his men to beat innocent people who were African-American descent, this time the world was watching. The Civil Rights movement, a Christian movement, did not win because of a display of power and aggression. 

People come around when a light is shone on the bully and the world is watching and sees who the bullies really are.

What Jesus would say about how to relate to any abusive person in power is the same thing He would’ve said about what happened at Selma:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” – Jesus, Matthew 5:38-39

Jesus is the wisest human ever to live and He tells us to turn the other cheek, to model Him when He stood before Pilate and was silent, suggestive on what to do when speaking with Judas, respective next to Heord, truthful with Pharisees – because Jesus knows you never out-bully a bully.

If you think President Trump has influence, compare him to Jesus’ influence. Both are polarizing, both have been accused of being helpful and harmful, and yet One of them was inclusive in love.  

Christians are called to out-surrender bullies in love and endurance, and then, in the light, with the eyes of others on you, as their hearts are changed from stone to pity, they will stand up for you, against the bully, as they are inspired by the steadfastness and resolve that you have.

No political candidate/boss/parent/spouse/classmate is Jesus. All have flaws. But as we encourage each other on how to deal with overbearing people, the bully is simply a bigger personality able to knock every single person off who stoops to their level. They do this not with love, not with grace, not with kindness, but with their steamroller ways of divisiveness and isolation. 

In the church by-laws of where I serve and worship, this is our statement when it comes to bullying: 

In relating to each other and others during the week, God does not provide grounds for bigotry, bullying or hate, as we fully believe that every person must be afforded compassion, love, kindness, respect and dignity, regardless of his or her lifestyle. Hateful and harassing behavior or attitudes directed toward any individual are to be repudiated as sinful and are not in accordance with the Scriptures nor the doctrines this church.

Instead of being a bully and instead of being quiet when bullies choose to press their power over others, we choose inclusiveness. We find common ground and agree. We see different ground and we love anyway. 

Ask my 2nd grade daughter. She knows these two truths: 

Being kind is greater than being insolent when it comes to being noticed. 

Being kind is great than being insolent when it comes to having a legacy.

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

6 Questions to Ask in Order to Become Great This Year.

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Today, and for as long as history records, the goal of each person is to make as much money and have as much power as they possibly can so that everyone would serve them and they wouldn’t have to serve others.

Some examples?

Baristas.

I’m pretty certain “barista” is the Greek word for “punching bag”. 

What happens is, people who otherwise have no power walk into a coffee shop, and all of a sudden they are King Coffee. And they treat the barista like a slave. Have you listened to how people treat the barista? They just make demands. “I said 90 degrees! This is 92!” There’s some weird mocha Pharisees out there!

Have you ever been to a bank and just see how people talk to the teller? Or at a waitress at the restaurant? It’s angry people who aren’t powerful in their daily life lording power over people in serving positions.

That’s not greatness.

Here’s what Jesus teaches: 

But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. (Luke 22:26)  

Some of us have real powerful positions, some of us don’t, but occasionally we get to be a powerful position person, meaning someone’s our servant and we’re going to give orders to them. Jesus says, Be a leader, pursue greatness, but not like that.

It’s not a sin to make money, it’s not a sin to have a title, it’s not a sin to be in authority But here’s the big idea: 

Greatness is simply service. 

Greatness is simply service. Beautiful, godly character development is humbly serving. What makes a great leader, someone worth following, is how deeply they believe in serving others. 

Say you go to a really nice restaurant and the banquet room is reserved full with all kinds of top level people. There are politicians, business executives, athletes and celebrities. You say to yourself, “Wow, look at all those amazing people at this really nice restaurant. 

All the servants and all the waiters and all the waitresses are waiting on these “amazing” people. You and I would look at the room and say, “Those people sitting down are great people. 

Jesus says, “The waiter, the waitress, if they’re humbly serving, they are great.

Jesus tells us, “I came to the earth, not to sit at the table, but to be the waiter. And I invite you to do the same.

I’m guessing right now, many of us still prefer to sit at the table (because that’s where we wrongly assume greatness sit). But greatness gets up. Greatness is simply service. 

Here are six questions that will help deepen the quality of greatness in our character development.

#1 Do you allow others to serve you?

Some of you say, “I like to serve; I don’t like to be served.” And so you’re hard to serve. 

People say, “Oh, let me get that for you.” and you say, “No, no, no, no, I got it.” “Let me buy that for you.” “No, no, no, no, I’ll pay for it.” Or they do something for you and then you have to do something for them. You can’t just receive. 

One of the ways we serve is by allowing others to serve us.

True or false: In his life, did Jesus allowed others to serve him?

His friends Mary, Martha, Lazarus, often had Jesus over at their home. He would let them take care of him. They’d give him a place to sleep, they’d cook him a meal. He allowed them to serve him.

Before Jesus goes to the cross, Jesus allows a woman to serve him. She’s a woman who comes to him, repenting of her sin, brokenhearted. She brings all of this perfume. Very expensive. She breaks it and she pours it over him. And the disciples and those who are present, they say, “That’s too much, that’s too lavish, that’s too expensive. 

Jesus says, “I receive it. This woman wants to serve, I’m going to allow her to serve.

Do you allow others to serve you?

#2 Do you serve others with selfless motives? 

We never have entirely pure motives, right? But when you serve, is it, I’m going to get noticed! I’m going to get a raise! I’m going to get a boy/girlfriend! I’m going to get some sort of award! I’m going to get recognition! I’m going to get a thank-you card!

I knew this high school student who went to a teen conference one summer. At the conference they passed out anonymous envelopes with assigned sacrificial acts of service. This high school student received a card that said, “Help out at your church’s children ministry.” 

He came up to me and showed me the card, asking what should he do. I simply read the card back to him, stating that he should serve in the children’s ministry at his church, that he should reach out to the leaders over that ministry to see where he would be a fit. 

His response to seeing was this question: “Is it a paid position?”

My response was: “No. We’re one of the weird churches who don’t pay our volunteers.” 

Money was motivating the service, and that’s not the greatness Jesus is talking about. 

There will be times that people, should have said thank you, and they won’t. Or they should acknowledge your contribution, and they don’t. These are opportunities for the essence of our character, our true heart, to be revealed.

This is why even an unpaid ministry or serving in the community or running a household with chores and meals and being there for family is really different than a paid job. How many of you, if you went to work tomorrow, your boss comes up to you and says, “I have bad news and I have good news. 

You say, “Okay, give me the bad news first.
Boss: “We cannot afford to pay you anymore.
You: “Okay, what’s the good news?
Boss: “You can still have your job.
You’d say, “No thanks. 

But if you love Jesus and you love his people and God’s placed a desire to help some people on your heart, you walk into the church or into a non-profit or into a home in need of some TLC and you say, “I want to help. Give me a place to help. 

#3 Are you willing to do menial tasks? 

You know what a good mom does? A good mom does whatever needs to be done. Wipe the nose, clean the diaper, burp the kid, feed the kid, change the kid, get puked on by the kid, repeat the whole process. That’s what a mom does. Three in the morning, she gets up. She doesn’t say to the young child, “Hello, I work 9–5, it’s 3 a.m.. I can’t help you.” A mom does whatever needs to be done. The essence of motherhood is the essence of service.

That’s where you know if you’re a servant, right? If it’s public and if it’s praise-worthy and if it’s a big deal, it’s not so hard. The menial stuff is for the godly servant.

Right now you can do some tasks around you home, around your school, around your place of work to clean-up while no one is watching you. Practice on doing menial tasks. 

#4 Are you a lazy or disorganized person? 

If your answer to this question is, “I don’t know” then your real answer is yes. 

If you’re lazy, you’re not going to be a good servant? You’re just not. If you’re lazy, you’re not going to inconvenience yourself and go the extra mile.

Just like negative Christians don’t exist, and unforgiving Christians don’t exist, there is no such thing as a lazy Christian. 

You may be thinking you’re helping a lot of people but not very effectively. You may be doing a lot of things, but maybe not the right things. Your priorities are out of order. One way you can serve better is by not being lazy, repenting of that if it’s a sin for you, and getting organized. “Okay God, who am I and what am I supposed to do and where do you want me to focus my energies?

#5 Do you choose to be happy for others when they experience what you can’t? 

What gets you happiest? What motivates you most? Is it what you get to experience and boast about or is it also what you see others getting to experience?

Last week a guy told me he stays off social media during the holiday season because he doesn’t want to see all the posts of people traveling and being with loved ones and all the smiling faces of what others are getting to do that he can’t.

He can’t stomach the happiness of others. And I’m pretty sure on Christmas Eve three ghosts of Christmas past visited him in his sleep.

It’s the girl who is truly happy when her friend gets engaged and she’s not, her life is marked by giving. It’s the family with financial struggles who is happy for their friends who get to go on vacations all the time. 

For most people it’s all about getting. Are you consumed and primarily motivated by what you get? Or are you primarily motivated by giving? 

#6 Would you rather achieve a status or make a difference? 

Achieve a status or make a difference? If you had to pick one legacy, which one? 

It’s not a sin to become a leader, to be called the president or the pastor of something, or the CEO or the director or whatever it is. It’s not a sin, but there’s something more important than achieving a title, and that’s making a difference.

During his earthly life, Jesus never held a political office, He was never the head of a company, He never ran any official organization. He never achieved or accomplished a particular degree from an educational institution. He never wrote a book. He didn’t achieve a status, but you know what He did, right? Of course you do, He made a difference. Has he made a difference in your life?

If it’s all about making a difference, helping people, making an impact in their life, you may or may not get the title. But you will get greatness.

#1 Do you allow others to serve you?
#2 Do you serve others with selfless motives?
#3 Are you willing to do menial tasks?
#4 Are you a lazy or disorganized person?
#5 Do you choose to be happy for others when they experience what you can’t?
#6 Would you rather achieve a status or make a difference? 

Your role today is to not make your name known, it’s to make the name of Jesus known and to lift others up without care of people noticing. God sees it. And you’ll be great.   

Thanks for reading, you are loved. 

Z

Ending Loneliness: The Power of Relational Connection

Sticky

There’s an academic peer review journal called, The Journal of Happiness Studies. Researchers for the journal are trying to figure what is it that makes a human life flourish. What produces joy? What makes a life content? 

When looking at what distinguishes very happy people from less happy people, they find that there is the one factor, one difference, that consistently separates those two groups.

What’s the one difference that distinguishes more happy from less happy people?

It’s not income.
It’s not the size of the home one lives in.
It is not health.
It’s not what kind of shape one’s body is in. 
It’s not attractiveness.
It is not IQ.
It is not career success.

What distinguishes consistently happier people from less happy people is the ongoing presence of rich, deep, meaningful relationships with other human beings.

If you look at the mission of the church, we want to connect people to Jesus, and we want to connect them to other Christians and we want to connect them to the community. At her basic core, the church’s mission is to make sure no one around us is lonely. 

The neighborhoods we live in should be a places where the word lonely doesn’t exist. Yet, loneliness is an epidemic. It’s a growing concern. 

There’s a book entitled, “Bowling Alone”. It’s written by Robert Putnam, a professor at the Harvard Business School, so we assume he knows what he’s talking about. The book is about the decline of relationships and close friendships, and the increasing rate of loneliness in the United States, over the past 25 years.

Where we all were 25 years ago is a different world today.
Some stats in this book are this:  

Family dinners are down 33%. 

Active families tend to eat without dad because he’s working a lot, or they eat food cooked by a 16 year old after ordering it through a drive-thru window and then it’s off to practice for the kids. Instead of being intentional with our evenings, we watch television while eating. We could be catching up on how our loved one’s day went. 

Having the neighbors over for dinner or dessert or coffee or for a game or for a walk, it’s down 33% than what it was 25 years ago. 

How many of us know our neighbors? Not just their name or what kind of dog they have. Not just a friendly wave. Do you know them closely? Or are they lonely because you haven’t invited them over yet? 

I was convicted a few years ago and my wife and I put our home up for sale. We had an open house that we weren’t present for but our realtor told us that the neighbors on our street came to the open house. They weren’t interested in buying our home, they were just curious to see what it looked like on the inside.

Because we had never had them over for dinner. 

Having friends over to the home just to be with one another is down 45%. 

I hope we as Christians are people who practice hospitality and enjoy the company of one another to the point that weekly we have people we love and care about over to our home just to hang out. No agenda but to check in.

Playing cards together is down 25%. 

Playing cards is not about winning, it’s about catching up and laughing and catching up with one another.

The readiness to make friends by the average American is down 33%.  

Our children are young in age, but a simple principle I am encouraging to engrave in their thoughts and habits is if they see someone at school alone – at lunch, on the playground, on the bus – that they are the ones who should initiate a conversation and befriend that child who’s alone. I want them to be includers.

People want closeness, they want friends, they want to be social, but because they’re afraid or not as confident, they become isolated and lonely from the world. 

Everyone craves to have a friend but no one wants to take the first step. Everyone deep down wants to be honest and loved for who they really are but no one wants to be vulnerable. 

In 1995 Americans had 3 close friends. Now, today, they have 2. In a matter of time they’ll have one and then it will just be them. Alone. By themselves. 

25% of Americans have no one to confide in. 

When life is hard and the stress is high and the pain is overwhelming, what happens when a person with all of that weight feels unloved and believes they have no one to go to?

If people are lonely and they’re created for relationships and they feel like they have no one to confide in, who are they going to turn to? 

All it takes for a girl to trust a guy is the fact that he listens to her, because she’s got no one to confide in. He’ll listen to her, and then take advantage of her. 

If people have no one to trust, they turn to just anyone around them and that gets them onto a dangerous path. 

Or, the lonely person with no one to share their struggle with will turn to drinking, or pornography, or binge on Netflix or take sleeping pills. 

Go to a coffee house and observe the increase of isolation in our community. Count the amount of people by themselves verses people enjoying one another’s company. More and more, coffee houses are places where you buy mediocre coffee, open up your laptop, listen to some music on your headphones and ignore the people sitting close to you. 

That’s not why coffee houses were started. They were supposed to be a place of community.

It’s also not why the church started. The church is supposed to be a place of community. 

What I’m pointing through statistics is that people are more lonely than ever. 

Some of you are lonely. You’re married, but you feel lonely. You have beautiful kids, but you’re lonely. You have a job that provides, but you’re lonely. You’re retired, and lonely. You’re broken-hearted and lonely.

And if not you, the people around you are lonely. They are close to you in proximity but they are far away from others relationally.

What is the answer to our loneliness and the loneliness of the people around us? 

It’s the power of connection.

A friend of mine was telling me about their dog and cat. The dog and the cat didn’t like each other. They seemed to fight for 10 years. Then, one year, the cat died and afterwards the dog didn’t want to eat. For 6 weeks the dog wouldn’t eat. 6 weeks after the cat died, the dog died. 

That’s the power of relational connection.

Earlier this month a couple in Michigan who were married for 70 years to each other died minutes apart.

That’s the power of relational connection.

People who are socially disconnected are between 2 and 5 times more likely to die earlier than those who have close ties to family and friend relationships. 

That’s the power of relational connection. 

People who have bad health habits like cigarette smoking, overeating, elevated blood pressure, physical inactivity, these people live longer when connected to others.  

People with bad health habits but that are connected, live longer than people who have great health habits but are disconnected and isolated.

The poster boy for this is Winston Churchill. 

Churchill was deeply connected with friends and family. He had a wonderful marriage with his wife, connected to his extended family, connected to his friends and his nation and those at his work. 

His health habits were terrible. 

His diet was awful. He smoked cigars all the time. He drank too much, had erratic sleeping habits and was completely sedentary but he lived to be ninety-one years old. 

Somebody asked him one time, “Winston Churchill, do you ever exercise? 

His response, “The only exercise I get is serving as a pallbearer for my friends who died while they were exercising. 

Now, I’m not advocating that if you have close relationships then you can smoke and eat and drink as much as you want. I am advocating that the best way to take care of yourself above eating right and sleeping right and exercising is to have close relationships.

Community takes a “don’t give up” spirit because it isn’t easy or natural. God will help us but still it is not easy. If you’re not in a little community of one anothers, for whatever reason, there are Christians around you who would love to help you move towards that connectedness. 

Putnam writes further, “As a rough rule of thumb, if you belong to no groups but you decide to join one, you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half.”

It’s’ the power of relational connection.

So, for a husband and wife, each side of the marriage needs to be vulnerable. They need to share what is stressing them out. They need to share what’s disappointing them. They need to pray together. 

For a parent-child dynamic, mom and dad need to be daily checking in with their child’s thoughts. What are they afraid of? Did something happen in the day that hurt them? How do their friendships look? Are they deep or shallow? 

For our friendships, it’s so much more than having a girls night out or playing poker with the guys. It’s one-on-one conversations where we visit with a friend and ask them questions like, Is there anything you need prayer for? Is there anything on your mind that you’d like to share? Is there something keeping you up at night? 

For our neighbors, (as Christians, we do not believe in coincidence, we live in the place we live on purpose, meaning, we live by the people we do for a reason) we need to invite these people over. 

Have them over for dinner. Have them over for a game night. Invite them to come with you to a community event. As you grow closer, ask them if you can help take care of their pet if they’ve traveling or babysit their child if they need a night away. See if there’s a talent you have that they don’t that you can help them out with (finances, yard work, cooking). Buy new neighbors a house-warming gift with a card of encouragement. Don’t let anyone in church sit alone. 

Anything little to start a loving relationship so that they don’t feel alone and you don’t either. 

Every life needs to be a part of another life. It starts with you. Overcome the fear of being rejected when you invite someone into your life or when you courageously decide to ask for help. Overcome the busyness of your schedule and the lackadaisical approach you have allowed your evenings and weekends to be, and invite people into your home. 

Your life and their life might depend on an act of kindness just to grow closer. 

Let us not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another. (Hebrews 10:25)

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

How You Can and Can’t Help Someone Who is Struggling.

Sticky

Charles Schulz’s famed character, Charlie Brown, tells his friend Linus this: 

I think there must be something wrong with me. Christmas is coming, but i’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. – Charlie Brown

The chances are very good and providential that at some point this Christmas season, you will be around someone who is struggling. You’ll notice it because Christmas has a way of making people vulnerable. These people struggling might be immediate or extended family, friends, co-workers, classmates or neighbors. 

Their struggle could be an addiction they keep succumbing to. It could be a sin they have been blind to. It could be a trial that weighs heavy on them. It could be the loss of something like a job or a marriage or a loved one. It could be loneliness. It could be they are struggling with how difficult this year has been and how little hope there is for the new year. 

But, you notice them and their struggle. And in your heart you have compassion and want to help them experience love and joy and peace. How can you help them? 

In the first century, in Jerusalem, there was a pool named Bethesda. In fact, the pool is still available to see today and has received an A+ grade for what it actually looked like 2,000 years ago. 

Anyone in the first century who was sick or lame or blind, they would lay near the porches of this pool because there was a mythical assumption that if you could just touch the water, it would heal them. 

Just like today, people in need of some kind of hope just about believe anything will help them. 

In the biblical book of John, chapter 5, there is a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. And just as you might find yourself around someone who is struggling, Jesus happens to cross paths with this crippled man. 

When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?” (John 5:6)  

That’s what Jesus asks this man? Would you like to get well?

Jesus does goes on to miraculously heal this man, because that’s what Jesus does, but I used to think this was such an unnecessary question.

Would you like to get well?

This guy has been crippled for four decades. He lays by a pool hoping one person on one day would pick him up and put him in the water because he thinks that will heal him, and no one has. He’s been ostracize from the marketplace. He’s been rejected by loved ones and strangers. If only he could be healed he could begin to build a life that gives him purpose and dignity and legacy. 

Of course he wants to get well. It feels like an unnecessary question by Jesus. 

But, let’s not forget Jesus never wasted one word He spoke. Nothing He did was unnecessary. The longer I am around broken people the more I see this is not a dumb question by Jesus. 

Wanting to get well is important. Some people don’t want to get better. 

When you have a loved one with an issue they are struggling with, you need to ask them this question, Do you want to get better? Human nature is that we will not change until the fear of the damage the issue is causing us is greater than the fear of changing our habits.

What’s also counter to human nature is humility. We have to admit we need help and we have to admit we are the ones that cannot change ourselves.

We were really crushed and overwhelmed, and feared we would never live through it. We felt we were doomed to die and saw how powerless we were to help ourselves; but that was good, for then we put everything into the hands of God, who alone could save us. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)

There is power in powerlessness.

That’s Christmas. How dependent Jesus was on Joseph and Mary that night in Bethlehem as he was laid in an animal feeding trough? Jesus had no power to display as an infant and yet what results in Jesus conquering over death.

When you and I admit our weakness and admit we can’t do it on our own, that’s when God’s strength has the permission to flow through us. 

This Christmas and next year your loved ones might continue to be great an image-management. They appear put together and great and that nothing is wrong. But if they’re ever going to be healed, if they’re ever going to change or be free or have joy, they have to admit they can’t do it and that God can. 

They have to believe there is power in powerlessness. 

The day after Christmas a few years ago I got a call from friends who were married to each other and they needed to meet with me right away. On December 26th we met at my office.

It came out that the wife had found pictures of her husband and a female co-worker of his in a hotel room, and you can fill in the blanks. The wife found these scandalous pictures on the family iPad. And she found these pictures on Christmas Day.

With me probing a bit for further context, it also came out that the wife had cheated on her husband a couple years earlier in their marriage. 

These were church-going people. They had worshipped God their entire lives.

The reason there was pain in their marriage was because they were masters of image-management. Neither one wanted to admit they were powerless to change and that they were going to be fine. 

I didn’t berate them. That’s not what friends do, it’s not what leaders do. I told them that God’s power could change them and heal them if they were willing to let Him. I simply wanted to see if they wanted to get well. 

Then I told them there is one thing in this world greater than the power of God.

There is one thing greater than the power of God. It’s the love of God.

If they wanted their marriage to heal, if they wanted to forgive each other, if they wanted to change, God’s power could do that. But until they saw God’s love for them in their mess, whether they wanted to change or not, they wouldn’t want to change. 

It’s why Jesus asks, Do you want to get well? 

It’s the double-edged sword of free will. If we choose to seek after God He will heal us but if we choose to not seek after God, He can’t heal us. He still loves us and He still will pursue us, but for change or healing becomes a reality – surrender needs to happen. There is power in powerlessness.

There’s a book called, Generation Me, written by Jean Twenge. Dr. Twenge has a PhD, does a lot of research, and her book is all about the ever-increasing growing epidemic of narcissism in our culture. She writes,

Our growing tendency to put the self first leads to unparalleled freedom, but it also creates an enormous amount of pressure on us to stand alone. This is the downside of the focus on the self. When we are fiercely independent and self-sufficient, our disappointments loom large because we have nothing else to focus on.” – Dr. Jean Twenge

This is how people without Jesus think. They either focus on themselves and how great they are or they focus on their problems and how bad things are.

The answer to being humble in our success and to be transformed in our trial is to focus our life on Jesus. It’s so easy to veer our thoughts to ourselves and to our problems.

Y’all know the movies that Jim Carrey and Steve Carrell did? Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty? – If not watched, I can think of myself as, Zach Almighty. I love talking about Zach. My theme song can be Toby Keith’s,  I wanna talk about me, I wanna talk about I, I want to talk about number one, me, my, oh-my. 

I can tend to sound like the annoying seagulls in the movie Finding Nemo: Mine. Mine. Mine Mine. 

I love the idea of Santa and how excited children get because as adults we lose some of that wonder and imagination, but, why are kids excited about Santa? 

He brings them gifts. They get presents.
Are we excited about Santa if he doesn’t brings us gifts?

This is why my family reads the entire chapter of Luke 2 on Christmas morning before anything else is done. Before stockings or presents. before coffee for mom or candy for myself, we read the Christmas account in Luke chapter 2 as a family tradition to remind our children that every day, even this Christmas Day, our focus in on Jesus. 

As a parent, if I permit my children to focus on themselves unchecked, they will, and then if/when they will fail, they will then focus on their problems. Their life will be a constant seesaw with a lot of pride,  look how great I am, and depression, look how bad I am.

For a couple years on Monday mornings I taught male inmates at the county prison. The curriculum I taught from was all about preparing the male prisoners to leave their life of bad desires and choices and pursue wise and life-giving desires and choices. 

You could tell a difference between the guys who wanted to be there, who wanted to change, and the guys who didn’t, but they had to be there because it looked good on their parole record if they attended the class.

I would start each class of about 20 prisoners reciting this equation,

Self-deception + Self-reliance = Self-Destruction

This equation runs true every single time. The common denominator is self – and I would tell the guys in prison that they have there choices.

  1. They can sit and think about how they are going to change themselves once they get out.  
  2. They can think how about how they blew it and how much of a loser they are.
  3. They can admit they were powerless and rely on God’s Spirit to bring love and power if they wanted permanent change. 

Your loved ones need to hear this. They are focused on themselves or their problems.

Christmas blows away the misperceptions of God that people have. 

He is a God who comes near to us.
He is a humble God.
He is a God who cares.
He’s not just loving – He is love.

I have seen what they do, but I will heal them anyway! I will lead them. I will comfort those who mourn, bringing words of praise to their lips. May they have abundant peace, both near and far,” says the Lord, who heals them. Isaiah 57:18-19

God knows all about what I’ve done, what I struggle with, what harsh times I’ve gone through and He still wants to heal me and lead me to the way that is free as He comforts me when I am broken. He longs to bring peace into my soul.

If I let Him. If I invite Him to do so.

If I feel guilty, He wants to forgive me.
I I feel lost, He wants to lead me.
If I am overwhelmed or anxious or stress out, He wants to comfort me.
If I can’t sleep – He wants to bring me rest and a peace that transcends rational explanation. 

If I let Him. If I invite Him to do so.

You might not need recovery from addition abuse or need AA or a 12 step program but the principle is the same if you or your loved ones want healing. They have one of three options.

  1. They can focus on themselves: I can do it! 
  2. They can focus on their problems: I can’t do it! 
  3. They can focus on Jesus. He can do it. And will. And does every day. 

We are used to making your own choices. We decide what time to wake up, what to wear, what to eat, what to do at work or at school, what to do at night, where to travel to, what hobbies interest us, what to spend money on. We rule our world. We’re so used to making choices on our own constantly. 

We’ve forgotten how to be dependent on God. As an infant is fully dependent on their mother we need to be fully dependent on God. That’s the ironic message of Jesus’ birth. As dependent and humble God became on two people He created, Joseph and Mary, we need to be that dependent on God daily.

The message of Christmas is this (and what you should tell all of your relationships): 

There is a God who has an unfailing love for you, and He wants to get really close to you. 

If they let Him. If they invite Him to do so.

Open your eyes and your ears and your heart to someone near you who is struggling. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

30 Practical Ways to Love on Others this Christmas Season (and any season).

Sticky

Last Christmas season I had a friend take his two younger children to Walmart. Outside of Walmart they saw Santa Claus ringing the bell for the Salvation Army, asking for donations. Dad didn’t let his children stop to say hi, in a rush to get items mom needed for the office Christmas party. Dad promised his kids they would talk to Santa on their way out. 

Heading out of Walmart, Santa was gone and my friend’s kids were bummed. They went around the corner looking for him and they found “Santa” around the building, sitting on a turned-over bucket with his beard off, smoking a cigarette. 

The kids eyes were as big as baseballs. This Santa was a pretender. Dad was left with an awkward justification on bad Santa’s behalf.

The word Christian literally means, Christ-like, or, little Christ. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is God and, with that, we believe God is love. So, for a Christian to not be loving toward others means we are not taking our devotion to Jesus as seriously as we verbally claim 

No more pretending. No more words and actions not aligning. Will the real Christians please stand up? Because people need love to change their lives.

I know of an older woman who walked up to a younger woman who was getting into her beat up minivan in the Goodwill parking lot. With no specific need to address, the older woman gave $100 to the younger woman, someone she didn’t know, no questions asked. The older woman simply said, You are loved. 

The mini-van woman said she makes $40 too much per month to qualify for government assistance and that she’s been needing medication for a while and that the $100 gift would go to groceries and medicine for her and her family.

That’s just what Christians should do. It’s what people who think about others do.

When Christians love others radically, I think Jesus claps and cheers and whistles and shouts in a much larger way than sports fans do when their team makes a big play. When we love with no-strings attached, Jesus is high fiving angels and He’s Tiger Woods fist-pumping.

Here are 30 radical ways we can love on others this Christmas season (and any season): 

  • Leave a tip for your waiter/waitress that is double the amount of your meal. Write on the receipt, Jesus loves you, or, You are loved.
  • Bake cookies with your children or your nieces/nephews and go around the neighborhood delivering them (neighbors are more receptive to smiling children at their door). 
  • Go to an Aldi or Piggly Wiggly grocery store (or a grocery store where people have to bag their own groceries) and choose to bag groceries voluntarily for the elderly or the disabled checking their food out. While there, choose someone you can pay for their groceries, no questions asked. 
  • Go to a local laundromat, where people go in the evening to do their laundry, and hand out bags of quarters. 
  • Depending on where you live, mow the yard of an elderly neighbor or single mom, rake their leaves or plow the snow off their driveway and sidewalk. 
  • Depending on where you live, take hot chocolate or popsicles to construction workers working earnestly. 
  • Whenever you see a moving truck in your neighborhood, stop your schedule and ask if you can help unload or load items. 
  • Buy coloring books, stuffed animals, action figures and go to your local Children’s Hospital and deliver them to kids battling cancer.
  • Make homemade Christmas cards for those in nursing homes, delver them personally and sit and listen to each elderly person you visit, as very few people take time for them. 
  • Gather a group of friends and go pick up trash at your local community park. 
  • When your child talks about a friend at their school who doesn’t have much, go and buy them a new winter coat, or new gym shoes. Wrap it as a Christmas gift.
  • Walk around your local school and pray for the principals, teachers, counselors, cafeteria workers and janitors. Pray that they would love Jesus and be a positive influence on the children in that school. 
  • Blitz the police and fire stations with homemade goodies and gift cards. 
  • Get a haircut and leave a large, jaw-dropping tip. 
  • Order boxes of pizza for carry-out, get some chips and bottles of water and take them to your nearest Urgent Care waiting room around dinner time and hand out free food. You could ask anyone sick if you could pray for them. 
  • Whenever you are in the drive-thru at Starbucks or a fast-food joint, pay for the car behind you. 
  • Pursue the paperwork needed to foster a needy child in your home. 
  • Write a letter of gratitude to someone in our military serving abroad (you can also write a letter of encouragement to a missionary you know or one your church is supporting). 
  • Cook a large crockpot of your infamous chili and set up a small table near your walking trail or busy sidewalk and offer $3 for the best bowl of chili ever. Then, give the money away to a local charity.
  • Stand by your nearest bus stop, and in a non-creepy, friendly way, pass out free balloons or balloon animals already made to the kids getting off the bus. 
  • Take all of the junk in your home – the trinkets, the clothes not worn, the toys not played with, and instead of having a garage sale with price tags, have a garage sale without any price tags. Give it all away. It’s all free.  You’ll get to know your neighbors more that way. 
  • For Christmas, ask for gardening tools. Make the plans next year to till your yard, plant seeds in it, water it and grow fruit and vegetables and give that food away (or make something with it) to a low-income family. 
  • Write a hand-written letter to a teacher, thanking them genuinely for pouring their knowledge and love into the mind and heart of your child. Put flowers or a gift card to go with the letter.
  • Write a hand-written letter to someone in your past who inspired you to become who you are. 
  • Write a hand-written letter to someone who has hurt you, or you have hurt them, and either forgive or apologize, aiming for reconciliation. 
  • Sign up and get a background check to serve meals at your local homeless shelter. Smile like crazy. Encourage others non-stop. Sit down at the table and listen to the stories of those who have it difficult. 
  • Tape $1 bills to a vending machine with a note that says, Buy something for yourself, use the rest to buy treats for others around you. 
  • Leave great online reviews on Google/Angie’s List/Home Advisor/Yelp! for any local, small business you support or utilize.
  • Offer to babysit for friends who could use a much-needed date night during this busy time.
  • When you hear about a millennial who can’t afford make it home for Christmas, use your air miles or your money to get them home. 

The creative and practical ideas could go on and on. 

The issue is we can have these ideas or read the ideas of others to be a more loving person, and we leave it at that. We allow routine and the tasks at hand to take over our willingness to purposefully stop and ask, How can I radically love this person right now? Forget what I want. Forget what I need to do. How can I love this person, right now? 

A few years ago I was running late to church on a Sunday morning. It happens 50% of the time that when I’m running late, my gas tank is on empty. Frequently, I’m out of time and out of gas. 

I pulled over into a gas station and started filling up and I noticed the man behind me looked disheveled, worried, fidgety and depressed. I asked him if he was okay, and he waved me off as if to say he was fine and he’ll figure his own problems out. I still pursued because he looked troubled. Knowing I wouldn’t leave him alone while my gas pumped, he welcomed me over. 

I offered to pay for his gas and he started to cry. In tears he confessed to me he had been driving around aimlessly for an hour this Sunday morning looking for any reason on why he shouldn’t kill himself. 

A smile, a prayer, a hug and a free tank of gas gave this man the reason he was looking for. Its’ called hope. 

Let’s play, Would God Rather? Would God rather I ignore the man next to me at the gas station who looks troubled so I can be on time to church worship, or would God rather, I take time for the man and walk into church late? 

Do we get it? Our selfishness and our schedule and our insular instincts cannot dominate our heart this time of year. 

In my circle of friends is a young mom who took the challenge to love others radically. She told me she left a tip for a waitress, whom she found out was a single mom, that was equivalent to a week’s worth of groceries for her family. That’s quite a sacrifice. 

It didn’t end there. 

While my friend was getting in her car to leave the restaurant, a homeless woman knocked on the driver’s side window. My friend rolled down his window and this woman in need said, Do you have $5? I need money for a bus ticket, I’m stranded and I need $5 to get home to my kids. 

My friend opened her wallet and gave the needy woman $10. 

Then my friend watched the needy woman get in a running car and speed away. My friend had been taken advantage of. It would’ve been easy to judge that woman, to think that she’ll get what’s coming to her. 

Except this is what my generous friend wrote to me in an email, 

I began immediately to feel compassion for that woman. I saw her as a deprived child crying out these words, “While you’re giving out love and prayers of generosity, would you save some for me?” The time this happened in our day was around 1:00pm and I don’t know if I’ll ever see this woman again but for the past 4 days at 1:00pm I have prayed for her. And not only have I developed a more compassionate heart toward what she did, God’s Spirit of truth has shown me that I am like that woman to Him. I’m the swindler that asks God for some forgiveness and He gives graciously and freely and then I turn my back on Him and run to my sin, speeding off. I’m the beggar who asks God to provide for me and then I spend everything He gives on my wants and pleasures. Thankfully God’s mercy isn’t dependent on my actions! He forgives. He forgets. He covers me in love. The very least I can do today and every day is cover other people in love. As for me, I simply want to join and love more people in an authentic way.

What about you?

This is the time of year people’s needs are exposed and their hearts are more open to those around them providing acts of generosity and love for them. Let’s get to it. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

Helping a Loved One Grieve Through Their Miscarriage

Sticky

A miscarriage can be defined as the ending of a pregnancy, spontaneously, within 20 weeks after conception.  

Miscarriage is a topic hardly ever discussed. 

The March of Dimes Foundation reports that 10-15% of pregnancies conclude in a miscarriage. If the woman carrying is over 35 years old, the rate of a miscarriage is 25%. 

Chances are, there are women you know well, women you work with, women you live by, who have miscarried and have kept that emotional weight internally because they just don’t know how to talk about it.

Experiencing a miscarriage is an event that brings a deep level of confusion and sadness. With bewilderment and grief, most people keep the loss a secret. It’s taboo to discuss with even the closest people we know. 

My wife had never been pregnant before in our 13+ years of marriage and it’s been her dream, our dream, for her to conceive and experience a full-term pregnancy. 

Unable to become naturally pregnant or try in vitro fertilization, we were thankful for scientific advances that enabled us to pursue embryonic adoption, having frozen embryos placed in the uterus. 

Fittingly so, my wife and I received medical affirmation that she was with child for the first time while we were on vacation at Disney World, the most magical place on earth.   

10 weeks after conception, she miscarried. 

To add salt to the wound, the miscarriage occurred on August 22nd, which is referred to by parents as “Rainbow Day”. Rainbow day is a national day to reflect on the babies born after there has been a miscarriage, a still birth or the death of a child. It’s a day of hope for parents to look back on and see that the miscarriage wasn’t the ending, but that life came afterwards later on. 

This miscarriage was a first for her, a first for me. The shock and the loss for words and the ongoing demands of life that propelled us to move on without being able to move on was all fresh and awkward. 

As a husband who was in pain, but not close to the pain my wife’s body, mind and heart was going through, I offer this wisdom and these practical ways to help anyone you love who is going through the same ordeal, to heal. 

Don’t analyze or counsel right away.

After my wife and I were married for five years, we found out we were infertile. Immediately after that news from the doctor, I began the paperwork toward infant-adoption as a way to start our family. 

I did not allow my wife to grieve the dream she had most of her life to become naturally pregnant. Yes, the option of adoption was a good one, but to shift over quickly to it without giving space to process the purging of her dream was not wise. 

There is something innate in us that wants to solve our loved ones problems. We think fixing is helping. But offering solutions too quickly after painful news does not allow the person to express their emotions, work through their grief in time, and even feel validated for their anguish. 

When a wife comes to a husband with her pain or guilt or fear over anything, the husband is just supposed to listen. Just listen, and not solve. The wife just wants to be heard, and husbands, or any friend with the woman, can work on that. 

Pamper her so she has space to grieve. 

When a miscarriage occurs, life does not stop to wait until the woman is ready to move on. Life moves on. Work, chores, a family’s schedule, worship, errands – they do not wait for anyone. 

A couple weeks after the miscarriage, I called a fancy hotel suite, booked a room, packed a bag for my wife and when she got home from work, sent her off to her hotel for an evening to herself. 

She relaxed in a jacuzzi in her room, ordered room service for dinner, with extra desserts and watched shows she never gets to watch due to the demands of our family.

And she cried and cried.
The time to herself allowed her to release tears. 

The next morning I scheduled a massage for her to help with how tense she had been. 

Pampering her did not heal everything in her heart, but it did give her space to stop, pause and grieve. 

Encourage her to share the miscarriage with a female friend. 

Writer Kendra Hurley for The New York Times reports that 40% of women who experience a miscarriage say that afterwards, for months, they felt very alone. 

There is a false sense of guilt that can rise up in a woman when she miscarries. All of us want to figure out why things happen the way they do, but miscarriages are so confusing and mostly unexplainable, and with the physical and emotional toll that comes with it, it can bring unnecessary, harmful shame. 

It is so difficult to have friendships that break through below the surface. Very few people have friendships they’re not related to where they can go to someone and share devastation. 

The way a friendship deepens is when one friend decides bravely to share their brokenness and the receiving friend listens, grieves with them, hugs them and checks in on them. 

Gently, just a couple times, I encouraged my wife to reach out to a friend she trusted to share the miscarriage news. She did, soon after, reach out to a close friend.

Talking about it made it real, which made it something to heal from, which deepened the friendship she already had. I am very thankful to that friend of ours who took time to simply being a friend. 

Schedule a photographer for family photos.

One of the damaging things pain can elicit is tunnel vision. Through devastating news we become so fixated on the trial that it’s all we look at, think about, dwell on. We become obsessed with it and it begins to own us.

While miscarriage pain should be acknowledged, it will only lead to more isolation and depressive moods if it’s only acknowledged. 

Meaning, there is so much to be thankful for. 

My wife and I have been infertile our entire relationship. But, through God’s hand of providence, and through the sacrificial generosity of two birth-mothers, we have two daughters we adopted from birth. We have an amazing family. Only the Lord could have knitted us all together in the way and timing He has. 

To remind my wife of that, we scheduled family photos outside on a beautiful day. We got our beautiful girls dressed up in multiple outfits and had our picture taken by a professional photographer over the course of a couple hours. 

Having those pictures printed and looked at, it brought smiles to our faces how adorably amazing our lives are. The miscarriage was a signifiant event, but it was not the only thing going on in our lives. 

If there are no children in the family where miscarriage occurs, family photos as a couple, or with a pet can also be therapeutic. 

If not a photos option, there are other creative ways to redirect the thoughts of someone who has lost a pregnancy to thoughts of gratitude. 

Pray for God to strengthen her increasingly.

A miscarriage is an event that never fully heals. It leaves a permanent scar. The high level of excitement that comes with news of being pregnant combined with the devastation of news that the pregnancy is no more is something that is unforgettable. 

But, she can be strengthened. By God. 

As Christians, people who love Jesus, my wife and I firmly believe that God works all things out  for our good. When we love God, we aren’t handed an easy life, but through suffering and heartache God promises good to come out of it. 

Our response is to wait and trust Him. 

When our daughters are afraid at night from something, or they’re in pain, my wife and I will sing this song to them while holding them closely: 

When I am afraid, I will trust in You,
I will trust in You,
I will trust in You.
When I am afraid I will trust in You,
And all my fears will wash away.  

Weeks after the miscarriage, I wrote in magic marker on our master bathroom mirror Psalm 56:3-4, which says, 

“When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. I praise God for what He has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?” (Psalm 56:3-4)

The healing power of God’s Spirit can begin to patch together the heart that’s been broken by a miscarriage and, simultaneously, infuse hope for dreams to remain alive and good to come out of what is broken. Pray for her. 

Thank for reading. You are loved (and, if there is love and trust in your relationships, reach out to a loved one to see if they’ve ever experienced a miscarriage and if they’d like to talk about it). 

Z

Laying the Foundation for Better Communication in our Relationships

Sticky

Recently I was at a fast food joint, catching a bite, replying to emails. About 15ft from me, at a smaller table, was a girl, age 12, 13ish, with a smartphone in her hands. She was playing a game. Across the table was her brother, age 9 or 10. Brother was asking the sister if he could play the game she was playing. 

Sister said, No. 

And the boy lost his soul.
He didn’t just lose his mind. He lost his soul. 

He said these comments to his sister,

I hate you!
You’re the ugliest person in the world!
I wish you were dead!

Their dad was at the same table reading the news on his phone. Just sat there.  

And so did I. 

That sister/daughter isn’t going to forget those words.

Simply stated, words are powerful. 

The tongue has the power of life and death. (Proverbs 18:21)

The words that we use during the week have the ability to bring encouragement into our relationships, or to harm them. 

Show me a relationship that no longer exists and I’ll show you people who either said words that harmed someone or didn’t say words that would’ve healed and brought life.

I want to share 5 ideas on how we can better care for each other, to help our communication at home, at work, at school, with friends, even with God. Here’s how we lay that foundation: 

(1) Speak Affirmation.

Why is it easier to complain than it is to be grateful? Why is it easier to tear down than it is to build up? Why is it easier to take and take and take without ever giving back? 

The ping-ponging of hurtful words can seriously damage a relationship, whereas constantly choosing praise and affirmation towards others can change their life and grow you closer together. 

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. (Ephesians 4:29)

It’s a husband who plans a date night with his wife. He sets up the sitter, gets the reservation, gets dressed up with her,  they’re out to eat and it’s good food, laughing, and at a point in the conversation, the husband stops, pauses, looks at his wife and says, I want you to know how amazed I am at you. You do so much to take care of us. 

It’s when a mom speaks to her kids before dad gets home from a long day, and she says, Daddy works so hard for us – let’s hug him tightly and let him know how loved he is when he comes through the door. 

It’s when a parent chooses to praise their kid, not when it comes to their grades, or their athletic or artistic ability, but the parent praises the godly characteristics in the child. They were scared but they trusted God. They were picked on, but they chose kindness. They saw someone lonely and included that person. They were patient when they needed something. They were grateful with no ulterior motive. 

On social media mom and dad are posting about their kids non stop with. Look what my kid did!. Look what my kid can do! God’s like, That’s awesome, great job. I’m more interested in who your kid is. Praise the goodness that is in them. 

Every time I’m ordering food, I let the person behind the register or the waiter/waitress know I am thankful for them. I say, Thanks for working today.– And they’re always taken back by that simple comment because no one thanks them. 

How is your discipline of appreciation at work? 

How is your gratitude toward the coaches that mentor your kids? 

How is your gratefulness toward someone you think of in your past who really inspired you to be more than you thought you could be? Write them a note to say thanks.

Bring affirmation into each room you walk into. Think, How can I improve this person’s day with my words? 

Because words are powerful. 

(2) Show Affection

I learned a 3-step way to appropriately show affection to the people in my life.

A look. A word. A touch. 

A parent looks their child in the eye, they speak a word of encouragement, they give them a hug. 

At the office, you look a coworker in the eye, notice them, you let them know how impressed you are with their work, give them a high five or a fist bump. 

A look. A word. A touch. 

A husband walks in the door from work. He looks at his wife, says, I can’t believe I get to come home to you each day. And he kisses her as the kids watching throw up in their mouths. 

A look. A word. A touch. 

Okay – those are the first two words to improve your relationships – affirmation, affection. Those are not natural – you’ll need God’s help for it to become routine – affirmation and affection. 

(3) Ask, “And then what happened?

These could possibly be the four most romantic words ever spoken.  

It’s when a husband makes great eye contact with his wife, and says, No way! And then what happened? 

And she’ll say, Well, after I couldn’t find a parking spot, I finally make it in to Trader Joe’s. But I couldn’t find where the almonds were. 

And the husband says, You’re kidding! And then what happened? 

Yes, it will take up more of your day. If you ask this question to your co-workers who want to tell you about the dream they had or your child who want to tell you about something funny at school or the friend who had an interaction with their in-laws, yes, it will take up more time.

But you’ll be known as someone who intently listens and cares about people. 

When you don’t just want to know the highlights, not just the cliff notes – but you are interested in every single detail – it shows you think they are important to you. 

(4) Speak the truth in love.

In each of your relationships, there comes a moment where you need to communicate what they need to hear. Each relationship is two imperfect people who at some point are going to have a rift, usually based on something someone did. 

The closer you grow with someone, the more you’ll be exposed to a harmful habit or perspective someone might have.

We will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ. (Ephesians 4:15)

We will speak the truth in love. We will do it gently, not judgmentally, not in a holier than thou way – but because we love them and don’t want them to harm themselves.

Some people claiming to love Jesus have loved Him for a very long time, but the reason their spiritual growth has hit a ceiling is because they don’t speak the truth in love in their relationships. They don’t like conflict, they don’t want to share truth because it might offend someone. 

Conversations where truth will be shared shouldn’t be done impulsively, or passive aggressively. It’s when you care about someone, they hurt you or they’re hurting themselves, and you write down clearly what you want to communicate with them in love, and then you meet with they and stay on script.

If you are close to someone, and you’re not sharing truth with them, let me ask, Do you really love them? 

If we want the best for them and it’s their lust or their drinking or their greed or their gossip or their lying or they’re walking away from God – and we ask them about what’s going on, do we love them? 

Truth without grace is mean.

It’s not worth being right if you’re going to be rude about it. 

The flip side is the same result,

Grace without truth is meaningless.

When you love someone, you’ll have multiple opportunities where you’ll need to share truth with them, with grace. And I hope you have someone in your life who will do the same with you.

(5) Prayer.

If you take the first four ways to improve your relationships, and rely on your own strength, you may make your relationships a little less complicated, but you’ll regress at some point.

We need the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit in our lives daily to improve ourselves and as a result, our relationships. It takes prayer. 

Do you pray for your spouse?
Do you pray for your parents?
Do you pray for your children?
Do you pray for your boss and their leadership?
Do you pray for your church?
Do you pray for your non-Christian loved ones? 

You fight and wage war. You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. (James 4:2)

Without prayer we will fight in our relationships. With it, God will give us what the relationship desperately needs. 

God needs to be involved in the relationship. 

You could pray silently, sure. But when you are with a loved one, and you grab their hand or put your hand on their shoulder, and you pray out loud with them,  you are signally that God is involved in this relationship. 

Prayer is an intimate act. It might be awkward at first, you might be embarrassed you don’t pray out loud with the people you’re closest to currently, but it takes the relationship deeper because it gets God involved.

Even if you think you can’t pray, I’d rather you pray poorly than not pray at all. Ask the person you’re in a relationship with, a sibling, a child, a classmate, a friend,  ask them what they need prayer for. 

And the people you’re with this week, they’ll know you don’t just hear them, you understand them. They will know you love them enough to get God involved.

Affirmation. Affection. And then what happened? Truth in love. Prayer.

Add these into your daily life and you’ll be known as a person who effectively communicates with others, and deeper than that, someone who will love those around you in ways very few have.

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

For the Procrastinator In Your Life

Sticky

Would you like to take a quiz to see if you’re a procrastinator or not (if you thought, Sure!, you’re not. If you thought, Can we do it later? You are one.)?  

Do you get resentful when reminded of tasks left undone?

Do you sometimes delay a task so long you become embarrassed to actually do it?

Do you distract yourself spending time on non-essentials while letting important things sit on the shelf?

Do you have a difficult time determining what to do first?

Do you agree to do a task and then regret agreeing to it?

Have you ever put off signing your kids up for something and then they missed out?

Do you ever think, “If I wait long enough, the task will not need to be done by me”?

Do you find yourself making excuses for work left unfinished?

If your answers were yes to some of those questions, I don’t have to tell you about the stress level that comes with putting things off. It rises your blood pressure and erodes your level of joy. 

There is a level of enjoyment in getting things done right and timely, so putting things off takes joy away. 

Putting things off also gives you a chronic sense of guilt. It eats away at one’s self esteem and it causes friction in relationships. 

Co-lead singer of the Beatles John Lennon, in one of his more lucid statements, said, Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans.

Here are five steps I’ve taken to suffocate the procrastination out of my life. 

(1) Stop making excuses.

Making excuses easily leads to lying. We exaggerate or make up a story on why we didn’t get it done, why we were late to the meeting, why we couldn’t respond to the email, and so on. 

Ben Franklin once said, People who are good at making excuses aren’t good at anything else. 

People who keep putting things off that need to be done are great at rationalizing. They rationalize (they ration, lies) This probably flies around the work place more than anywhere else. 

Someone comes to work late again and they say, Traffic was bad. Alarm didn’t go off. Sitter was late. Starbucks was slow. I thought it was Saturday. Pick your excuse, whether that’s the real reason or not.

Teachers hear it. Parents hear it. Bosses hear it. Customers hear it. 

Why wasn’t the work done on time? Well, I’ve got an excuse for that. 

If you want to stop procrastinating and start living, you’ve got to stop making excuses. 

Whenever you feel defensive about something, or you feel any type of rationalization rising up in you to protect your pride, stop, call it what it is and say, You know what, here’s the truth. And I’m sorry. And I’m thankful you’re holding me to a higher standard. 

It’s okay to say, I was unorganized. I chose to do something else instead. I was lazy. I forgot. I chose Netflix instead. It’s okay to admit that when it’s the case because as Christians we serve God, not people.

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. (Colossians 3:23)

(2) Face your fears.

Have you ever asked yourself the question, What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?

My wife Whitney put this truth on our bathroom mirror months ago in her beautiful hand-writing,

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)

From the day we are born God instills in us with two automatic fear responses: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. As we grow up we learn healthy fears of fires and strangers and sharks and Oakland Raiders fans.

But, God has not given us a spirit of fear. We are not meant to be frozen by fear. 

Procrastination reveals two kinds of fear in us.

The fear of failing.

The fear of not measuring up or feeling rejected or not doing a good enough job. It keeps a person stuck. 

And strangely, there’s,

The fear of succeeding.

If I do this well, they might ask me to do it again, and then I’ll have to maintain this level of excellence, and they’ll ask me to do more and more.

It’s easier to stay in that mode of, Someday I hope to…. Someday I will..…

It’s more difficult to bravely take action. 

(3) Establish a plan.

Get a game plan. Map out initial steps to take. Start with the end goal in mind and work backwards. Invite trusted people in to help. 

I’ve got steps all over my life. I’ve got daily tasks that I make at night of things I need to do the next day and I check them off as they’re completed. I’ve got lists for yearly goals and I’ve got steps under those to get to those goals. 

YOU CAN get on a budget and put that plan together to keep it. 

YOU CAN finally get all of those family pictures printed and organized. 

YOU CAN get the junk out of your home. Go through all the clothes and the toys and the things unused and give it all away. Get that clutter out. Simplify so you can more easily focus on the goals you have. 

YOU CAN start leaving home 30 minutes earlier to get to work to get to school to get to the airport or get to church – so you’re there on time and if early, you can pray over your work, your school, your travels, your church.

YOU CAN sit down and think about what needs to be delegated in your life to others who are gifted in areas you’re not. 

 A wise person thinks ahead; a fool doesn’t. (Proverbs 13:16)

Put a plan together on paper. Just one single step toward your goal will start to bring relief and joy, because procrastination is a huge joy-sucker.

(4) Get disciplined.

Our culture says that discipline is a joy-sucker but it’s actually what brings more joy into your life because it fights procrastination. It fights fear. It fights laziness.

When you set a plan, there will be set backs, hurdles, disappointments, failure. There will be temptation to do something else, anything else, than the goals you have. 

You’ve got to stay disciplined (focused).

Discipline is the guard rails on that adventurous road you want to drive on. Discipline is that fence in the large backyard you want your kids to run freely in. You need guardrails to protect you, kids need fences to protect them from wandering.

If I don’t have discipline and accountability, I will veer toward the unhealthy habits in my personality and I will drive everyone around me crazy. I won’t be the best version of myself. 

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Stop making excuses, face your fears, establish a plan – invite someone in on it – get disciplined – invite someone to hold you to your responsibilities and goals.

(5) Start changing today.

In the Exodus saga, God’s people are enslaved by the Egyptians for 400 years. He hears the prayers of the Israelites and rises up Moses to go to Pharaoh and say, Let God’s people go, and Pharaoh refuses (because the 1-2 million Israelites are his free labor work force).

That’s when God gives Moses some powerful bargaining chips known as the 10 Plagues to let Pharaoh know he wasn’t the one in charge, but that God was/is. The Nile River goes from water to blood, killing all the fish. The livestock outside die. Locusts fill the sky. Flies all over. Boils on the people. Each plague Pharaoh refused to give up control.

A memorable plague was frogs all over the ground. Everywhere you looked, there was an amphibian. Here a frog, there a frog, everywhere a frog, frog. They came up out of the Nile River. Kermits everywhere is what gets Pharaoh’s attention.

Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and begged, “Plead with the Lord to take the frogs away from me and my people. I will let your people go, so they can offer sacrifices to the Lord.” (Exodus 8:8)

“You set the time!” Moses replied. “Tell me when you want me to pray for you, your officials, and your people. Then you and your houses will be rid of the frogs. They will remain only in the Nile River.”  (Exodus 8:9)

This is how Pharaoh responds: 

“Do it tomorrow,” Pharaoh said. (Exodus 8:10)

Do it tomorrow?

Wow. 

Pharaoh can’t even back his chariot out of the garage without running over hundreds of frogs. Every Egyptian household has a wife on top of a dresser screaming at their husbands to do something. 

It’s very stressful on the entire nation of Egypt and Pharaoh says that something should be done – tomorrow?

Start changing today. Not someday. 

How many of my thoughts and how much time has been wasted in someday?

Someday I’ll ask her out.
Someday I’ll read that book.
Someday I’ll take my health seriously.
Someday I’ll get help on my addictive habit.
Someday I’ll start that non-profit.
Someday I’ll have my neighbors over for dinner.
Someday I’ll balance my schedule so I can invest more into my family.
Someday I’ll get on a budget and stick to it for a better future.
Someday I’ll get serious about God.
Someday I’ll invite that person to church with me.
Someday I’ll forgive that person.
Someday I’ll confess my struggles to a loved one.

There is something all of us here have that we have been putting off that God has been inviting us to step up and take care of. 

Don’t be like Pharaoh. Don’t settle for one more night with the frogs. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

When You Can’t Do Life On Your Own Anymore

Sticky

Do you want to make a positive influence on your relationships? 

Do you want to improve each room you walk into? 

Do you want to get through a difficult time in an honoring way as others are watching you suffer? 

It’s embedded in my worldview that these people believe they can do it, but only with the help of God. 

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)

Put fear and timidity on one side. Those aren’t from God.

Place power and love and discipline on the other side. Those are from God. 

Which means, every time you have chosen to endure, or rely on this inner strength to get through something, each time you’ve loved or have felt love, each time you’ve stay focused to do what was needed, all of that is from God. God gives us a spirit of power and love and self-discipline. 

Which means that fear and timidity, these aren’t from God. Any anxiety, worrying, afraid to live, afraid to get through it, afraid of failure, depressed, not from God. 

Being insecure and anxious is what will happen if we just believe that we can do it on our own. We will harm our relationships over time if we continue to buy into the delusion that all we have to do is pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and go after another day. 

We need God’s help.

I’ll give two examples of each side when it comes to parenting. This crosses over with how you lead employees during the week or how you are with friends, how you react to stressful circumstances.  

I get to be a father of two daughters, age 8 and age 5 currently. 

EXAMPLE ONE

One morning, I’m getting the girls ready for the day, trying to keep them focused on the following: outfits, shoes, teeth brushed, hair somewhat presentable, somewhat disheveled only a father’s touch can provide. 

They’re sitting at the kitchen island, time is short before the school buss arrives, so I throw together a Carnation mix with milk for breakfast. With a straw. No lid on either cup. 

Right when you just read the words, no lid, every mother reading knows where this is going.

Every mother is thinking, Oh, you gotta put a lid on it. 

I know that now. 

Izzy, our five year old, knocks her cup over accidentally, it hits the floor, and makes a mess. You would’ve thought a cow was murdered in our kitchen. There was milk everywhere. 

I let anger out on Izzy until the alligator tears started to form in her eyes.  

Hold that memory. 

EXAMPLE TWO

A few days later I’ve set a mug of coffee on the end of our sofa and Izzy comes flying in the family room. She’s at this stage where no matter where she is or who’s around her, she’s doing a cartwheel. 

She flies into the family room, does a cartwheel and accidentally knocks over my mug with her feet. Coffee goes everywhere, mug falls onto the wooden floor and shatters instantly. 

This time I’m calm. I’m chill. 

I make sure she’s okay. I ask her to stay away from the broken ceramic pieces. I gently remind her to watch for her surroundings when she’s in Simone Biles mode. I apologize to her for leaving my mug on the sofa. 

Okay, compare the two instances. When she knocked over the milk in the morning, and I let my anger out, that instilled fear and timidity in her. My ripple effect was negative. 

When she knocked over the coffee off the sofa, I let gentleness out due to self-discipline. She felt that love. 

What’s the difference?

It was reflecting on 2 Timothy 1:7 over and over throughout the day.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)

In the morning, when Izzy spilled the milk on the floor and I spilled my emotions on her, I hadn’t gotten up early to pray for God to guide me during my day. I hadn’t thought about needing God’s power for energy, or God’s love for others, or God’s discipline to help me love on my girls that morning. 

I relied on my own strength and impatience came out. 

But when the coffee spilled off the sofa, I was able to respond with gentleness and humility because I had been praying 2 Timothy 1:7 throughout the day (in fact, my wife had written the verse on our mirror in her beautiful, large hand-writing as a reminder for both of us to lean on the Lord and not on ourselves). 

Lord, please, in all of my conversations, give me Your power so I have the energy to deal with what comes. Give me Your love so people around me feel it. Give me Your discipline as my own so the old Zach doesn’t come out, but the likeness of Your Son does. 

This works in parenting. It works in dating. It works in marriage. It works when you are around your employees, neighbors, friends. 

It keeps our relationships from viewing us as bipolar. Jekyll one day, Hyde the next. 

It keeps the people around us at home or at work from wondering which version of ourselves they’re going to get no matter what the day holds. 

If you believe you can do life on your own, without God’s help, the ripple effect you will have on those closet to you will be fear and timidity. People will be afraid to be around you, they will walk on egg shells, you’ll have extreme mood swings, they’ll be anxious and scared and eventually depressed.

But, if you rely on God daily, in prayer, people around you will see and feel your example of love, and power and focus and they will want the same. 

Even if you don’t have a high view of God, or of the Bible, try it out. 

It’s got to be daily consistently, over a long haul of time. 

What hurts is that Izzy is going to remember me getting irate over the milk spilling more than she will remember me being gentle and concerned for her when the coffee spilled a couple days later. – 

I need to do it daily so she sees me as the latter half of this 2 Timothy 1:7 and doesn’t feel the first part. 

If you work, reflect in the car on the way home, God, I’ve had a long day. I need You to give me Your strength, Your love, Your discipline for me to love my family the best I can tonight. 

In the morning before school or work or the day of errands, God, I don’t know what will come today, but You do. Please give me Your power and love and discipline to honor You and love on others and be an example. 

During a crisis in your life or in the home, you need God’s power to get through it faithfully, God’s love to give you identity that no matter what happens, you are still loved by Him. You need God’s discipline because in trials, if we don’t rely on God in prayer, we get sad and lazy and melancholy and lay around and have no energy and our loved ones see us as that. 

You can do this with the help of others and with God’s help.

We want to change lives, we want to improve relationships, we want to make a difference, we want to leave a legacy, but you need God’s empowerment daily to do it. 

And you need the help of others to also remind you that you need God’s help. 

Most people, when they wake up, they feel rushed and allow life to happen to them and then they react to it and they just want to make it through the day. 

Most people don’t wake up praying to rely on God for the day. 

Most people don’t wake up acknowledging that what they do for that day builds their legacy. 

Most people don’t wake up feeling like a world-changer. 

But, what if you believed daily that with who you are created to be, and with the help of others around you, and with the help of God, you could change the lives of others for the better? 

I believe you can.

5 years into our marriage. Whitney and I found out that we were infertile after desperately wanting a child. That was a harsh realization. 

My father died of cancer six years ago. That was tough. 

I have sin in my past that cost me security and friendships and reputation. The consequences still weigh heavy. 

There are little stresses piled up on me and my family every day. Life pressures down on us. 

All of the trials, all of the worrying, I cannot do it on my own. I cannot have a positive influence on those around me and get through difficult seasons on my own will power. 

I need you and I need God’s help. You need people to help you. So open up to someone. You need God’s help, so pray to Him throughout the day. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

Going From Anger to Gentleness (One Daily Action)

Sticky

In Proverbs chapter 15, we see how powerful gentleness is. 

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. (Proverbs 15:1)

Gentleness can diffuse. It’s powerful.
Harshness is also powerful. It can ignite. 

If the people are walking on eggshells when they are near you, that’s an indication that you are not placing your life under the lead of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. It shows your prayer life is sporadic or non-existent. 

[I want to be clear to the Christians reading because I am concerned many people are living their lives in an unaccountable way, always being on the throne of their choice of emotions.] 

The Bible’s wisdom gives the follower of Jesus no room for unnecessary roughness penalties against those in our daily lives. There is no room for angry outbursts. There is no room for profanity in anger. There is no room for belittling others. There is no room for resentment or bitterness. 

How others see you and what is inside of you can be some ugly stuff when you don’t let the Spirit control you each day. God desires for us to be better than that. 

Stupid people express their anger openly, but sensible people are patient and hold it back. (Proverbs 29:11)

Foolish people are rough on others. Wise people are gentle toward others. 

Anger is something I’ve been tempted to give into most of my life. It’s easy for me to get angry. I’ve read a lot about it. We get angry toward two areas. 

(1) Inanimate Objects

One area we get angry toward are inanimate objects. 

We stub our foot on the sofa and we go, Stupid ,sofa! 

Our computer crashes and we go, Stupid computer! 

We slice a golf ball into the woods and we go, Stupid 6 iron!

We actually yell at inanimate objects. We call thing not breathing, stupid. 

Who’s really the stupid one?

The other area we get angry toward are:

(2) People We View as Less-Than

Southern comedian named Bill Engvall, had a schtick about being mad at stupid people. Maybe you remember it, Here’s your sign: (and the sign reads: Stupid).

Engvall speaks of a semi truck driver getting stuck trying to make it under an overpass and a police officer pulled up next to the incident and said to the truck driver: What, did you get stuck? 

And the truck driver said, Nope. Not at all. I was trying to deliver this bridge and I ran out of gas. 

Here’s your sign. 

We get frustrated at people who we view as less-than. We think they’re not as smart, not as successful, not as put together, not as great as we are. 

We walk into a room and automatically think we are the best person in that room. This makes everyone around us easy targets to get angry toward. 

Stupid things and people we view as less-than us make us angry. 

What you’ll rarely hear come out of the mouth of a person who is angry is this: 

I make me so mad!!!!

An angry person never is rough on themselves. They are always mad at something or someone else. Always blaming and shifting focus off their short-comings. It enables them in their mindset to be harsh on others. 

But the statement, I make me so mad!!! ends up becoming true. If you give into anger, all it leads to is more anger. You do make yourself so mad. 

It’s not the inanimate objects fault you are rough. It’s not a bad driver on the road or an annoying co-worker, or the poor results of your performance or the unmet expectations of your children. 

It’s not a thing and it’s not someone else. 

Upon further review: You make you mad. 

You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Your anger can never make things right in God’s sight. (James 1:19)

Those who pause and pray and don’t react right away, those are also the people who don’t get angry. Slow to speak is slow to anger. That kind of restraint comes from relying on the Spirit. 

I’m coaching a U10 girls soccer team this Fall. The soccer field is huge and the players are running around for 50 minutes, giving it their all. 

After the game, as we debrief and I am telling them how proud I am of them, it’s snack time. They get some fruit. They get a treat. And they get a drink. 

The drink they get every Saturday seems to be a Capri Sun. 

Capri Suns are a German product named after the Italian island, Capri. They are difficult to open, difficult to puncture a straw through. 

What kids don’t get about Capri Suns is that you shouldn’t squeeze them. You can just drink the juice through the straw. But every kid in the history of holding a Capri Sun has to squeeze them. 

What is in the pouch, comes out when you squeeze. Juice all over your shirt. All over the backseat of my car. 

You and I are just like Capri Suns.

Whatever is on the inside of us, when a little life-pressure is applied, whatever is inside is going to come out of us. 

If it’s all of the things the Spirit of God gives us, (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness) when we get squeezed, that’s what comes out toward others. 

If we’ve got unresolved tension or bitterness or impatience or rage inside of us, when life hits a bump, guess what gets spilled all over the people near us?

We get so filled up inside with past hurt, with sad memories, with failure, with insecurity and disappointment, (add to that an overloaded schedule and the pain that happens to us at times, we are doing so much and going through so much) any time anything or anyone jostles us a bit, what’s inside squirts out and people around us get hurt.

The other day I was in a fast food drive through with my children. One of my kids noticed the car in front of us, mom in front seat, small girl in back seat. The girl in the back was picking her nose. She was on a mission. She was digging deeply.  

Both of my kids start to giggle uncontrollably. Even I was drawn to binge-watch what was going on. 

I used it as a teaching moment to tell them that someone is always watching us, whether we realize it or not (that little girl digging deep didn’t realize we were watching her). 

Someone is watching when we are frustrated at a waitress, or a grocery store clerk. 

Someone is watching when we’re mad at a referee at a game. 

Someone is watching when a child is unfairly treated on the bus or on the playground. 

Someone is watching how you interact with coworkers or neighbors or customers. 

The kids at home are watching when mom and dad get into it. 

We are always on display. 

I don’t want the pressure of life to make my angry obvious to those around me. I want gentleness to be a characteristic that others notice. 

Let your gentleness be evident to all. (Philippians 4:4-5)

If I can’t have my gentleness be evident to all, I at least want it to be evident to my family. I want the word gentleness to be some of the first words they use when they describe me at my funeral. 

To help with that, I am committed to not let any of the stress of my day or the feelings of tough circumstances enter into my home.

I’ve done this for years wherever we have lived and recommend it to anyone, no matter how silly it feels. It works. 

There’s a nail I have nailed in the mortar of the brick wall of our home.

It’s a small nail, above our doorbell on the right side of our front door. You can barely see it, and that’s the point. 

No matter when I get home from a long day, or what stress or frustration I feel for how things are going, or how exhausted I am, I sit in my vehicle parked in the driveway for a few moments, pray for any of that hardship or negativity to not enter the home with me. 

I get out of the car and hang all of that emotional weight onto the nail.

It’s an imaginary necklace I take off my neck and hang it onto the real nail. I physically do this action. 

Then I go inside a refreshed, fun, present, patient, gentle husband and father.

It’s not just on stressful days or disappointing days – I don’t just hang those up, I hang my imaginary anger sword on the nail too. I don’t want to come into my home with any harshness. I don’t want to bring fear. I don’t want to bring intimidation. 

And guess what? When I wake up the next day, after I kiss my wife and am thankful for her, kiss our daughters and instill encouragement in them, when I head out for the day, guess what is waiting for me on that nail?

The stress and my sword to go forward and tackle the day with the Lord. 

You don’t have to do this, but  believe it’s shaping my family from seeing me as someone angry and exhausted and impatient to someone who is gentle. 

Over time, it could be the difference between someone seeing you as harsh and someone seeing you as gentle. 

Let your gentleness be evident to all. (Philippians 4:4-5)

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

Curing Our Hurry-Sickness (Becoming More Patient).

Sticky

Whoever is patient has great understanding. (Proverbs 14:29)

Or as 17th century English statesman George Savile wrote, A person who has mastered patience is master of everything else. 

We all need a little patience. We have succumbed to what scholar Dallas Willard calls hurry-sickness, when talking about our culture. We have a sickness of hurry.  

I thought this 5G, high speed, high tech culture promised me with all this convenience at my fingertips, life was going to slow down? I thought I was going to slow down and enjoy more of the things that mattered?

It only seems to have sped things up. It seems to have amplified this hurry sickness. High speed really does mean high speed.

And when our patience runs out, watch out. 

It’s a husband who sends a verbal thrashing at his wife and she still loves him, but she’ll never forget how hurt she was over that tirade he gave her. 

It’s when a wife sends that look at her husband when he frustrates her, or has failed her again, making him feel pathetic. 

Its’ when an impatient dad yells at his kid during the sports game because dad is mad over his kid not doing as well as the other kids. 

It’s an employer who is more in love with profit and reputation than they are toward their employees, and over every mistake they lash out. 

There is always a high price to pay for impatience. 

With how full our schedules are and with the many plates we are spinning, there are a couple things we forget about those around us. And when we do forget these things, our patience with others begins to wither away. First, 

We forget that people are more important than our time.

This is the parable Jesus tells of the Good Samaritan where most people passing by an injured man on the road are unwilling to help him. They forgot that others are more important than an agenda or a schedule. 

God has thrown the flag on me many times when I have forgotten this. 

One example is due to my own distraction and procrastination. 

I left later than I should’ve for a meeting with someone. I ran into traffic and I became that guy, you know, they guy swerving through traffic, frustrated at the drivers around me. 

And then every car came to a standstill. There was a funeral procession that was going past me. 

And my immediate reaction was, You’ve got to be kidding me. This is going to take forever!!!

Soon after I felt convicted by God’s Spirit saying, Z, are you kidding? This funeral procession can’t go slow enough for the people in that line who are grieving a loved one being gone. 

I had forgotten that people are more important than my time. 

Author John Ortberg talks about his struggle with hurry-sickness, he writes this, 

We must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives. This doesn’t mean that we will never be busy. Jesus often had a lot to do, but He never did it in a way that severed the life-giving connection between Him and His Father. He never did it in a way that interfered with His ability to give love when love was called for. He never did it in a way that caused Him to treat someone as an interruption. Jesus was often busy, but never hurried.

Has your schedule kept you from spending time with God each day and centering yourself on what matters? 

Has it kept you from checking on others? 

Has it kept you from date nights with your spouse or from one on one time with your child or appreciating an employee or taking a friend out who needs someone to talk with? 

Being hurried all the time isn’t just a blurry schedule or a cluttered mind, it’s a disordered heart. When your heart is disordered, you prioritize the wrong things. 

Love always takes time and hurried people don’t have time. 

When time becomes more precious to us than people, you won’t find patience there. 

The second thing we forget when life is blurry – 

We forget that people are more important than our possessions.

I was visiting an elderly woman, a widow of 20 years. She’s a Christian woman, 78 years old. She lives in her home with her 55 year old son is divorced (twice) and single, currently unemployed and isn’t a Christian. 

Her son wanted to show me something on his mother’s property so he, his mom and I walk out to the detached garage behind the home. The son opens the wide garage door and inside are two identical 1968 Dodge Charger R/Ts. One Dodge was red with black stripes, one was blue with white stripes. These are pristine classic cars. 

While we were looking at the son’s cars, his elderly mother set her hand on the blue Dodge Charger and leaned against it, to rest. Her son, in front of me, sternly says, Mom! How many times have I told you not to put your hand on my car?!?!?!

Mom was embarrassed. 

We went back inside and the mom shared with me that she was having to go back to work part time as a nurse practitioner to buy groceries and pay her utilities. 

She’s a widow. 78 years old. House is paid off. She allows her son to live with her. He doesn’t work. He’s got two classic cars worth around $70,000 each. But she’s going back to work to provide.

The son had forgotten that people are more important than possessions.

When you’re a follower of Jesus, the Holy Spirit will continue to gently and sometimes bluntly remind you of these two things: People are more important than your time and people are more important than your stuff.

One of the most familiar chapters in the Bible is 1 Corinthians chapter 13. You’ve probably heard it quoted at weddings – it’s all about love. The church I get to be a part of did a series on 1 Corinthians 13 to cement that our church was going to be a powerful movement of selfless, sacrificial love.

It’s a chapter about love. What is the first thing that is said about love? It’s the most famous writing about love. What is the first thing it says describing love? 

Love is patient. (1 Corinthians 13:4)

If you really love someone, you are patient with them.
By its very definition, love is patient. 

Do you want your children to know you love them?
 Be patient with them. Don’t be frustrated with them. 

Do you want your parents to know you love them?
Be patient with them, don’t be annoyed by them. 

Do you want your spouse or your boyfriend/girlfriend or your employees or your siblings to know you love them? If you love them, then cut them some slack. Don’t be harsh, see how you can help.

When we stop looking at our watch and our schedule and our goals, and when we stop looking at possessions and stuff, and we choose to look at people – people with souls – and we choose to help people, we then receive perspective, wisdom and understanding. 

Time is going to go away.
Possessions are all going to burn one day.
People have souls that will last forever. 

If you want to be more patient with others, try to see their side of things. Put yourself in their position. 

There’s a reason that person is difficult. There’s a reason they are harsh. There’s a reason they are selfish. There’s a reason they are melancholy. If you try to seek out why they are like that, where you understand them further, then you’ll become more patient with them.

The people who are difficult to love in your life, they weren’t born that way. It’s because of sin. They chose sin and sin has been done to them. -Once you get to know them and their story, once they trust you enough to talk about their past and their parents and their struggles, then you start to think about how you can encourage them and serve them and help them.

Could I invite them to church with me?
Could I pray with them?
Could I buy them a gift?
Could I write them a note?
Could I make them a meal?
Could I offer them insight?
How can I love them?

Because, love is patient.

Patient people take the time to understand someone, why they are the way they are, and choose to love them anyway. More than your time. More your stuff. More than yourself. 

And by doing so, you yourself will be cured from hurry-sickness.

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

13 Statements on Dating and Christianity

Sticky

Whether you’re 40 and single, or 16 and single, if you desire to be married, that desire is good and it’s from God, so align your emotions with what God wants for you, and not what everyone else is doing. 

Here are 13 biblical values I see when it comes to dating and Christianity: 

(1) Take Advantage of Your Singleness.

If all you do while you’re single is sit around a dream about marriage and romantic love and constantly search for it, you’ll miss out on what God wants to do in you right now while you’re single. I feel strongly you should finish your education before marriage – and get your theology firm about God before marriage. Give your time to travel and go on church mission trips and work hard hours in your career and pay off any debt you owe. Don’t waste your single years away.

(2) Don’t Pursue a Serious Relationship Until You’re Mature Enough to Marry. 

The movies and books and our friends are all about LOVE LOVE LOVE, vying to find that Prince Charming and that happy ending, but there should be a lengthy period of time in everyone’s life where we’re not thinking about crushes and romance and finding a spouse. 

You should be preparing yourself for marriage. Some single people need biblical counseling to overcome a habitual sin in their lives – whether it’s pornography, or lying, or stealing, or substance abuse – so they can mature as a Christian. 

If someone is a new or immature Christian, or if their just moving out of mom and dad’s home, or if they’re just getting into their career and this “bill paying” thing they’ll be doing  until death – these are all good reasons to delay a serious relationship until maturity happens. 

Until someone is mature enough to handle the responsibilities of marriage, they shouldn’t be in a romantic relationship. Instead they should be using their energy and experiences to mature. 

3) Don’t Set Your Expectations Too High or Too Low. 

Setting your expectations too low in a potential mate may lead to you making the worst mistake of your life. You’ll be miserable, and you deserve better. I don’t like it when people settle for just anyone due to low confidence, or because all their friends are getting hitched.

Now if you set your expectations too high, that can be futile as well. There was a period of time in my single life where I was only going get married to the actress Natalie Portman. It kind of narrowed my options down and had I stuck with it that silly expectation, I’d still be single and miss out on the person God wanted me to marry. 

I’m not a fan of Christian singles having a long list of what they’re looking for in a lover. I think making a list of what you’re looking for in love is idolatrous because it’s just made up of what you dream about over thoughts of Jesus. And that list is probably someone just like you instead of finding someone different from you that you can learn to love and serve. 

4) Don’t Even Think About Having a Romantic Relationship With Someone Who Doesn’t Love Jesus.

If Jesus is truly the center of your life, then a non-Christian won’t understand who you are, what you value, or even how to treat you the way God wants them to. 

If you’re in a relationship with someone who doesn’t care about Jesus, then arguing over their sin will be a mess because they have no standard of morality outside of their own worldview. 

Now, you can and should have non-romantic, evangelistic connections with non-Christians. Introduce your unbelieving female friends to Christian girls. Introduce your unbelieving male friends to Christian boys and pray for them date Jesus first before they date you.

If you’re in a marital relationship with an unbeliever, pray, pray, pray for them, be a Christ-like example to them, and keep your commitment to them. But know there will be difficulty because you submit to God and they don’t.

5) You Should Only Be in a Dating Relationship With One Person at a Time. 

The goal of a Christian who isn’t called to be single is not to be someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend, it’s to be married. 

I can’t stand the act of cheating. And even if it’s mutual to date around, it’s straight up mean to date multiple people at once, making them compete for your affection and attention. 

I also think being in numerous relationships at once is better preparations for adultery in the future and not a covenantal marriage. 

6) He Should Initiate and She Should Respond.

Any serious dating relationship should begin beautifully, and that beautiful genesis should be a man taking the brave step to kindly requesting an opportunity to get to know the woman better. 

Any Christian woman going out on the prowl herself needs to drop hints, but not initiate. Guys are dense, yes, but she shouldn’t become the leader.

7) Get Your Head Out of the Clouds and Notice Who God’s Put in Front of You. 

I get this feeling that Christian singles dream of some mythical person to be with when there are great single Christians in their church, or at their work, or somewhere right in front of them. In God’s plan, faithful awesome people are right in front of you. And while the girl shouldn’t chase the guy, she can put herself directly in front of him. 

This is what the Old Testament book of Ruth is all about. God providentially put Ruth in Boaz’s field, but they weren’t together until Ruth considered the counsel of older believing women, got all dressed up and put herself in front of Boaz, not to chase him, but get in his way so he noticed her, and it ended up being one of the sweetest love stories in all of history. 

8) Choose to Use Technology Wisely. 

Stop looking at images dealing with pornography. That’s stupid and destructive. If you’re addicted to that, find a Christian friend to truthfully hold you accountable. 

If you’re texting the opposite sex inappropriate statements, stop it.

If you’ve got pictures on social media that will cause someone else to stumble, take them off. Use technology wisely, as if Jesus is sitting next to you. 

9) Invest Yourself in a Dating Relationship Only if You’re Completely Attracted to Them. 

Duh, right? You should get excited and feel some butterflies and be attracted to them if you’re going to date them. 

But attraction is more than someone who is hot and rich and hot. Attraction to a person must mean you’re attracted to the whole person. 

Are you mentally attracted to them? Do you enjoy talking about faith and deep topics and like learning from them? Married couples could do well to remember their first few dates where it was all about learning about one another. Some of y’all cute married couples have stopped learning about one another. We never fully know God or our spouses on this side of heaven, so keep having great conversations. 

You should be financially attracted to one another so you both can agree on the kind of lifestyle you dream about. If their bank account is unattractive to you and that matters, that’s what I mean by being completely drawn to them.  

Above all you should be spiritually attracted to them. Do they inspire you by how much they love Jesus? By how much Scripture they know? By how loving and giving they are to others? By how pure they’re committed to being because they love Jesus more than they love their hormones? 

I’m “integrity attracted” to my wife – I love watching the Holy Spirit work on her through the time she gives to God through reading the Bible. I love watching the Holy Spirit work through her to help others. 

I’m “ministry attracted” to her as well, watching her be the church and serve others. 

10) Only Get Serious With Someone Who Agrees With You on Primary Theological Issues. 

As you get to know them better, get to know their theology better. It’s not enough to marry someone who calls themselves a Christian. If you want peace in the home, both sides need to have the same theological convictions. 

For my wife and I, here’s what I mean: We both agree the Bible is God’s Word – that every syllable is from God’s mouth.

We both agree that God is Trinitarian – Father, Son, and Spirit. We both agree that the Son, Jesus, lived a perfect life and died for His imperfect creation. We both have a protestant view of Scripture. 

We both agree on gender and family roles from the Bible – not from the 90’s, or the 50’s, or from our parents. The husband leads, the wife follows, the husband loves, the wife respects, and the children are a blessing from God. Our children aren’t ours, they’re God’s, and God has allowed us to care for them in a loving way to lead them to Christ. 

We both agree that baptism is a command to obey from Jesus and that means a body under the water and back up, not sprinkling. We both agree that elders who lead the church are holy men, not women. From day one of our marriage we have never missed a tithe (givingi God 10% of our after-tax income) which shows God we also view money as something we borrow from God and use for Him and the church and others.

We both agree Christians are to be in the world and not of it. We look forward to being around sinners and loving them, but not participate with them in their sin…..I could go on, but be sure you’re having these important conversations, and if there’s a core disagreement, don’t overlook it. Get into Scripture together and you’ll find that conversation might lead to a break up, or for y’all to grow in your faith together and become more knowledgeable about God. You should be allies with your potential spouse on core values, not enemies – plus, raising the children is good this way, and going to the same church as a whole family is beneficial. 

11) Protect Your Heart. 

Getting to know someone takes time, so let’s not say “I love you” on your first date as you’re pulling into Micky D’s. Protect your heart. 

If you give your heart away too quickly, you’ll find yourself trying to make the relationship work and be heartbroken in the end. It’s a momentous act to give your heart away, but it should only be done in the act of marriage.    

12) Marry Someone Who Will Enjoy Every Season of Life With You. 

I love my wife more today in my 30’s than I did in my early 20’s. We’ve grown through dating and working and moving and adopting and parenting and home buying and loving the church and I’m stoked about what’s coming our way next in life. I want to grow old with her. Don’t just think about how fun they are now, or how your wedding would be, or sex, try to think ahead for once at what every season of life.

13) Don’t have any sexual contact until marriage. 

Single Christians, whether teens or older, are prone to ask the question, “Where is the line on how far is too far?

This question irks my tater. How far is too far? The question is sinful because it’s asking how close can you get to sin without asking how close can you get to Jesus?

Ephesians 5:23 says, But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity….because these are improper for God’s holy people.

Not even a hint.

Massages don’t lead to prayer time. Being alone with the person you’re dating at night doesn’t lead to putting more clothes on. Not even a hint. 

It’s possible for single Christians to avoid sexual sin. It’s possible by the power and wisdom of Christ to remain pure. As theologian John Piper writes, “theology can conquer over biology”. It is possible to remain pure. 

Put Jesus above all, raise your children to love Him above all, and if you desire to please Him and pray, you’ll find love.

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Zach  

The One Thing Happy People Have and How to Get It.

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This blog submission is the second piece of a two part series entitled, The Secret to Happiness. Part 1 can be read here.

The truly happy people in your life have one thing (and I don’t mean happy people who are paid to be happy like those who work at Chick Fit A or any other guest services),  but genuinely satisfied and encouraging and kind people all have this one quality:

P E A C E.

They have peace.
In all areas of their life.

They have an internal calmness where they are thankful for the ups and downs. They are continually comfortable no matter what their week’s circumstances throws at them. When things go or don’t go their way, they are at peace. No matter what’s going on around them, they are good. They’re stable. They’re content.

I want that. I want you to have it. Not for a moment. Permanently. Let’s get it.

The most happy people have peace in three specific areas.

(1) Happy People Are At Peace With Themselves.

No matter their temporary successes or their temporary failures, they are at peace. It doesn’t matter if they’re rich or poor, young or old, if they attain the goal or not, if they’re married or single, if they have kids or not, if they’re extroverted or introverted – they are comfortable with who they are.

It’s because they have peace with themselves, even in the toughest of roads.

This is who God has made them, they are precious and so loved by Him, that’s enough for them. Nothing else around them, relationships or accomplishments, cannot give them more than God can, and the consequences of their mistakes do not take away from how God views them. His love puts them at peace.

(2) Happy People Are At Peace With Other People.

These happy, peaceful people aren’t the ones who are flying off the handle over every little thing. They’re not whining or yelling when there’s slow wifi or when a waitress messes up an order or sluggish drivers are near them or someone drops the ball at work or when their child spills the juice accidentally or when a loved one doesn’t notice what they’ve done. They’re not freaking out on others.

These people don’t blow up others on Facebook with, You’re wrong. I’m right. You’re an idiot for thinking this way (you know those people). They are bitter and lonely because they are more about what and who they are against than what and who they are for.

Happy people are at peace with others – they are for others. Not against anyone.

It doesn’t mean they never get their heart broken by let down or betrayal, but it does mean that they are able to let it go. The pain doesn’t reside in them.

They don’t walk around looking like someone baptized them in vinegar.

They rejoice in other people’s happiness – they don’t wish misery on others – Oh, you’re going on a cruise ship. How nice. (I hope it goes down).

I don’t think like that but I’ve heard things.

Happy people are good with others – all the time – Good for you. I’m excited for you. I’m elated for you – I know that’s what you were hoping for, this is great.

They don’t hold grudges, they just forgive and move on. They’re at peace. And the reason they can be like this is number 3 –

(3) Happy People Are At Peace With God.

Because of Jesus, they are at peace with God. Forgiven. Shown mercy. Overwhelmed with grace. Adopted as God’s child. Their identity in Christ. Holy Spirit inside. Fruit of the Spirit flowing out of them like a winning slot machine.

Happy people are the ones who have discovered there is a God and they aren’t Him.
And they’re okay with that – they will let God do His thing and they’ll submit to Him. They’ve realized that for all of their attempts at happiness, it has left them wanting more, so they get off the throne and let God satisfy them.

Happy people are at peace with themselves, they’ve let go of their past.
Happy people are at peace with others, they’ve let go of the grudges.
Happy people are at peace with God, they’re just let go and have let Him take over.

What I’m really getting at is this:

Anything That Undercuts Our Peace,
Ultimately Undercuts Our Happiness. 

The unhappy people we know or have become are people without peace. Once the peace with ourselves or with others or with God is damaged, so is our happiness.

Whether it was a circumstance, a relationship, a decision, a season where you made a choice that hurt the relationship with God or with others or with yourself and that meant it hurt your peace, which left you feeling less-than.

If someone were to ask me, Is there anything you’d like a mulligan for in your life? Is there anything you’d want a do-over for?

I would say, How long do you have so I can list the poor decisions? I am full of mistakes, and every single mistake I’ve made, it subverted the peace I had because the mistake damaged my relationship with God and others and with who I am truly created to be.

Our mistakes keep us up at night. They dilute what used to be a trusting relationship, they make us feel like we don’t have a connection with God. They harm our peace and take away our happiness.

In fact, the decisions we’ve made that have harmed others and ourselves is why we’re hesitant to dream big and jump off the cliff and charge that hill because we know the consequences of making a poor decision.

Still, happy people are at peace with God, with others and with themselves.

While God has pursued you through Jesus to reconcile you back to Him, and while some of the humble, loyal people in your life will come toward you to mend things, you’ve got to go after this peace. Make sure you and God, you and others and you and the person in the mirror are at peace with each other.

Then enjoy the happy life.

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z

 

The Secret to Happiness (Part 1 of 2)

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Every single day we are inundated  with images and marketing and videos telling us how to attain happiness. 

Marketers are throwing ads at us through our phone, on Facebook, on billboards, on banners, on TV, at the bottom of every article we read – and what all of these ads are telling is in an underling message is that your life is miserable unless you have this product or this experience that they are promoting.

We fall for this all of the time. 

Some people buy a car thinking it will make us happy and it doesn’t anymore. 

Some people get a boat hoping it will make them happy and it’s too much work. 

Some people get a pool hoping it brings fulfillment and it has brought fun times but there’s still searching for what could satisfy. 

Some of you bought an ab roller back in the day, or a shake weight to improve your life and that didn’t make you happy, it made you feel less-than. 

We buy new clothes, new equipment, new technology.

Many think the next job change will satisfy.

All of us have fallen prey to the brilliant, shrewd marketing that is thrown at us saying that we need what they offer to be happy and we get it and it’s happy for a moment and then shortly after we’re not happy anymore. 

Instead of trying to buy our contentment, let’s go with this principle: 

Happiness Is More About a Who Than a What.

Happiness is found more in people than it is found in possessions.

We learn this at a young age. We come down the stairs as a child and we’re headed outside and mom asks us, Where are you going? What are you doing? – and we said, I don’t know, I’m just going to be with my friends. Because it didn’t matter what you were doing as long as you were with the people you wanted to be around. 

We took our youngest child to her pre-school open house one evening and she didn’t care about her new teachers, about the schedule, about the classroom. None of it mattered to her. She wanted to know if some of her friends from last year’s class were in her new class. 

She wanted to know if she had any friends who were going to walk this tour of duty she’s got to put in for the next 9 months. To her it’s about who is with her, not what are they going to do.

And it doesn’t really leave us as we get older – every junior higher, high schooler, college student, new career worker, new home owner, new family and on up – we want to know who is going to do life with us, not what about we going to do. 

If happiness were a what, we would’ve found it by now and would’ve bought 10 of them to be happy forever. 

When happiness becomes a what in our mind,
happy what turns into happy what’s next.

Happy what easily turns into happy what else is there that I can try?

Many of us and our friends are investing in what I’ll call Caffeine Happiness – happiness just for a while and then it’s on to the next thing we can grab to get us through the day.

At the end of our lives if God gives us a long life on this side of heaven – when we are old and tired – the regrets that we will have will have nothing to do with possessions. The only regret someone has when they are near death are relational regrets. 

I’m going to regret the people I didn’t spend enough intentional time with. I’m going to regret the relationships that were separated by sin that I didn’t try to restore but instead gave up on.

I was talking with a husband who was thinking about calling a divorce lawyer. He’s a father two two kids, both preteens, and I go, What’s going on? Why do you want out of this marriage? 

His response was: She just doesn’t “get”me. 

He went on to say, She doesn’t understand that I like my hobbies. I like spending time the way I like. I like my golf buddies, I like my cars, I like my business. She just doesn’t get it. 

And I went there, I said, Okay, let’s say you’re dying a slow death and you’re bedridden. Who is going to be there, your wife, or your cars?

I really have never met someone who, when about to die, ask, Can someone please bring me my golf clubs? I just want to hold my Scotty Cameron putter one more time.

What makes us happy – NO-THING (nothing).
There’s not a possession that can make you happy.
Happiness is a who. It’s not a thing, not a what.

The truly happy people in your life have this one thing (and I don’t mean happy people who are paid to be happy like those who work at Chick-Fit-A or any other guest services), but genuinely satisfied and encouraging and kind people all have this one quality: 

P E A C E

The happiest people I know have peace. They have peace in multiple areas of they relationships. 

And in the second of two blogs on this subject, we’ll discuss the three people we need to have peace with in order to have permanent happiness in our daily lives. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

4 Proofs God is Moving in Your Life

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For the majority of people who love Jesus, they have been waiting for God to show up in their lives and do what they know He can do.

God’s people (the church) want Him to move in their lives.

I want God to move in your life, in your home, in your work, in your school, in your community (and even in your church).

How do we know God is moving (and, in this sense, the Person of the Trinity that moves for us, in us and through us is the Holy Spirit)?

Before we can recognize whether or not the Holy Spirit is at work in our daily lives, we need to recognize the main role of the Holy Spirit.

What is the job of the third Person of the Trinity?

Some people say the job of the Holy Spirit is to give us power.
Nope. Power is a result of what the Spirit does.

Some people say the job of the Holy Spirit is to give us joy.
Nope. Joy is a result of what the Spirit does.

Some people say the job of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of our sin.
Nope. Conviction is a result of what the Spirit does.

Some people say the job of the Holy Spirit is to bring life.
Nope. Resurrecting a person’s hopes, a relationship or a situation is a result of what the Spirit does.

We want power, joy, freedom and life. How do we get it? What does the Spirit primarily accomplish for us?

Jesus tells us in John 16:13-14:

When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what He has heard. He will bring Me glory by telling you what he receives from Me.”

Boom.

The Holy Spirit leads us toward truth by telling us what Jesus has said and gives credit back to Jesus.

In a sentence, here is the role of the Holy Spirit:

To make Jesus real. 

So, back to the question, how do we know whether or not God is moving in our lives (how do we know we are living a life that reflects that Jesus is real)?

There are four optics when looking at what church normalcy was in the first century church, right when the Holy Spirit was unleashed. Those proofs are:

Worship
Truth
Community
Compassion

It’s an intentional, daily balance of these four proofs that invites God to move, emphasis on daily (meaning, you can’t try one out for a 15 minute test drive and see what God does). Like breathing, like eating, like sleeping – a daily consistency is required.

Worship is not just for Sundays. God needs to be placed on the throne of our desires and words and actions each and every day.

Truth is not just whenever we listen to a sermon or open our Bible. It’s that our entire worldview is shaped and guided by the inerrant Word of God and we exemplify and share that truth in love and gentleness with others.

Community is what we need. Social media and smartphones have allowed us to know more about people while not allowing anyone else to know what really is going in our lives. We need friends we can be transparent with. We need conversations where we are confess what is ugly, where we seek help. We should be opening up our homes hosting others over for a meal.

Compassion is a gamut of possibilities in our lives. It’s sharing with others. It’s praying with others. It’s boundless (meaning they might be Christian or not) and it’s got no strings attached to it (meaning Jesus gets the credit).

Someone who wants God to move in their life needs these four pillars of action daily.

God is God, we are not (Worship).
God’s Word is the way to freedom, not our opinion or desires (Truth).
God’s church and how they love and serve is a reflection of the Trinity (Community).
God’s unconditional love for us is our mission for others (Compassion).

I want revival for your life. You won’t find it by attending church once. You won’t find it relying on your own strength. You won’t find it running away from God.

You’ll find it in these four proofs. And when you consistently invest in them, watch out.

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z

 

 

 

 

Immigration and Christianity: 2 Cents on What’s Become Too Intense.

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In January, 2016, my family and I were living in the country of South Africa. South Africa is a country desperately obsessed with the United States. Once President Trump was sworn into the Oval Office, his inaugural speech was about protecting America first. 

Quickly after taking office, President Trump-led policies on immigration and new proposed laws started to become a reality, and, how much of the public eye interpreted it, Americans became increasingly xenophobic. 

Xenophobia is the intense dislike or irrational fear of people from other countries. 

South Africa at the time, like a younger sibling wanting to impress a big sibling, copy-catted America and became strict on immigration as well – except not through the courts or government – but in the streets. 

South Africa is referred to as the Rainbow Nation because of her wide acceptance of all nations. But, with nationals wanting to put their country first too, with a thirst for violence what ensued where protests, physical violence, theft, rape and murder. 

The college I was teaching at in the city of Durban, South Africa had a warm-hearted, bright student named Evic who was from the Republic of Congo. During this xenophobic rioting he was pulled out of a taxi cab and beaten by South African nationals, punched in his head multiple times to the point of a concussion and then left on the street.  

As Americans, my wife and I were concerned for the safety of our daughters – who were the only immigrants at the school they attended. It’s brought a different perspective into my worldview about how a country treats foreigners. 

Two years later after President Trump took office, immigration is still a sensitive, polarizing topic. I’m watching on social media my Christian friends, on both sides of the table, try to make the other side feel less-than with one-line jabs or links to articles proving how they are right. 

What is the biblical response to immigration? 

I don’t really care what the political or patriotic or personal response needs to be. What is a Christian’s directive, biblically, meaning, where does God want His people to stand when it comes to immigration? 

Immigration is a far longer issue than what’s it’s become in the Western World today. 

From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture is about immigration. I wish we could take the time to write down every single historical person in the Bible and note how many of them where at one point an immigrant.

Here’s a few: 

Abraham: God calls him to leave his home and to go to a different land. At the time, it was faith that moved Abraham and his family to a land he didn’t know, but he left everything behind to venture out. He becomes an example of trusting God when nothing else makes sense, especially the trials. As a foreigner. 

Joseph: As a young man he becomes a victim of human-trafficking. After being sold into slavery by his own family, he forcibly crosses over geographic borders and spends 12 years in prison, eventually rising out of enslavement, out of misery, to become the 2nd most powerful person in the world at that time. As a foreigner. 

Ruth: a widow from Moab, moves to a different land with her mother-in-law and gets employed gathering barley in the harvest fields. The ruler of this different nation notices Ruth, not because she’s from another nation, but because she has dignity and respect by the way she works diligently and loves others intently. As a foreigner. 

Jesus: The greatest immigrant in the history of the world. Let’s go out for a drink and you can tell me why you think otherwise. Jesus grows to be a single, male Middle Eastern refugee. He checks every single box of someone Americans adamantly opposed to immigration don’t want to enter into “their” country. 

Please don’t get excited about Christmas if you’re not praying for God’s will and care in this prevalent issue of immigration. How can we sing Christmas songs about a Savior who left heaven and came to earth and yet spew hatred or have fear toward the very people He came for? 

I’m wondering if Jesus were born today, would Americans welcome Him into their borders (or, more specifically, would He be welcomed in the neighborhood or even in the church we attend?).

This isn’t about your opinion about the country’s policies or actions for/against immigration. 

This is not about the frightening images or video footage on the news. 

This is not about crimes committed by immigrants. 

This isn’t even about whether someone loves their country or not.

This is about how you are right now with your neighbors who are different than you. 

And by “neighbors”, I mean your physical neighbors. The people you work with. The people your children go to school with. The people you live next to. The people who are different than you. When did they come over to your loving home for dinner? 

Oh.
Never?
Okay. 

Dr. Timothy Tenent, who is President of Asbury Theological Seminary, writes that, “The immigrant population actually presents the greatest hope for Christian renewal in North America.” He goes on to access that 86% of the immigrant population are likely to become a Christian if someone were to act hospitably toward them.

It’s almost as if this “group” of people America wants to keep out could be the very answer she needs for spiritual transformation. 

This is not a test of political security. This is a test of each Christian’s faith. It’s about what each Christian fundamentally believes about the Gospel and about the biblical worldview that each human is created in the image of God. 

Every single time a person who is marginalized by the majority is loved on, the mission of God advances. 

It starts with my family. It starts with your household. How we raise our children to think about those who are different than them. How we utilize our homes and resources to love those different than us. How we pray more fervently for cultural unity in the name of Jesus verses throwing darts at the other side just because they disagree with our point of view. 

I love you but I care about God’s point of view more than anything. 

In Exodus 22:21 (and again in Exodus 23:9) God says, “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”

If we are wanting to live a life that pleases God, this is where His heart is: “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:18).

I’m not trying to convince you of your opinion on immigration. I’m just asking you to buy a gift, write a card, or host a meal for someone who is different than you this season.

Let’s start there. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

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

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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

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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

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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).

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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