How To Study The Bible Better For Yourself

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As a church leader, I am begging the people I serve to read the Bible daily. 

There’s a red flag if church people only lean on the pastor of the church they are a part of to feed them Scripture when they attend worship once a week. 

I get grumpy when I skip one meal during the day, I can’t imagine only getting fed once a week but that’s what a lot of church people do. They don’t open their Bible at all and expect the pastor to feed them (no wonder there’s so many grumpy church people if they’re only getting fed once a week). They should learn how to study their Bible. 

I get why church leaders are imploring their people to know the Bible themselves. 

But it’s also a red flag when the church leaders beg people to read the Bible but don’t teach them how to read the Bible. Here’s my attempt for Christians who love God and want some introductory steps to read their Bible. 

Step 1: Know to study the Bible for love, not facts. 

The point of reading the Bible is not to become a Bible scholar. The point of reading the Bible is to grow more in love with God Himself. 

1 Corinthians 8:1 tells us that knowledge puffs up a person but love builds a person. Bible-reading should not puff you up to where you feel more like a Christian just because you know more of the Bible. Scripture is for the mind, yes, but it is so much more for the heart.

Yes, the Bible needs to renew our mind but it also in the same breath must transform our heart (Romans 12:1-2). 

We do not want to know some things about God, we want to intimately know God. He has graciously given us timeless and timely truth showcased in 66 books to love him. 

Step 2: Ask God to reveal His Word to you. 

Calming down your heart and your thoughts before opening the Holy Scriptures is vital. 

How often are Christians rushing to open their Bible, reading chapters and verses quickly in order to check it off and say they did it? What does that change? If we’re thanking God for food before we eat, we should pray before reading the Bible. 

Simply asking God, Lord, this is Your time. Thank You for meeting with me, for speaking to me and for hearing me. You have my focus.

Let’s not just “fit God in” during our day as we read a couple sentences in the Bible and then move on with our day. Let’s not schedule God around other things. We cannot feel rushed while reading the Bible because when we feel rushed, we won’t reflect.

Choose to ask God to reveal His Word to you (because He will!).

Step 3: Choose a Bible translation 

I take two values into consideration when choosing a Bible translation. 

First, what biblical translation is most accurate to the original manuscripts? The Bible has three languages it was originally written in (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek). Finding an English translation that stays close to those original languages is very important, otherwise, we’re approaching very scary ground adding to and taking away from God’s Word (Revelation 22:18-19).

Second, after researching for a translation that is close to the original manuscripts I want to be able to digest and understand the truth I’m reading. 

The King James Version is close to the original manuscripts but how relevant is it (not relevant). It’s got some beautiful language but no one talks like King Henry VIII anymore. 

The Message paraphrase of the Bible is very relevant but how accurate is it to the original text? Not that close. 

For me, I study out of the English Standard Version (ESV) because of how close it is to the original texts and I preach out of the New Living Translation because of how conversational it is for skeptics, new believers and growing Christians to understand. 

After finding a translation, I HIGHLY recommend buying a Life Application Bible in the version of your choice. I know you love that Bible your grandmother gave you or the Bible your church gave you when you got baptized, but if you want to study the Bible you need help and the Life Application Bibles (easily searched on amazon.com) have overviews at the beginning of each book, commentary notes at the bottom of every page and a glossary of biblical values to learn more. 

Step 4: GJJ-P

For new believers who have such a craving to read the Bible, they ask for a starting point. 

I recommend GJJ-P and I stress that they go slowly through these books. 

G is Genesis. 
J is John.
J is James. 
P is Proverbs. 

Start with the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, to find out Who God is and what His character is like and what His plan He has for the world and how He continues to steadfastly love messy people to further His mission of love for others. 

Then, after slowly studying Genesis, move on to the Gospel of John to find out Who Jesus is and how to emulate what Jesus did. 

Then, after slowly studying John, study the letter of James to learn how to apply the knowledge you have of God and the love you have for Jesus into your daily life. 

Alongside reading Genesis, John and James (in that order), read a chapter out of Proverbs a day for daily wisdom. Whatever day of the month it is, choose that chapter in Proverbs to read through (so if the day is November 3rd, read Proverbs chapter 3). There are 31 chapters in Proverbs and roughly 31 days in a month so you can read through God’s book of wisdom for you 12 times a year while you’re studying other books of the Bible. 

I strongly encourage Christians to read through books of the Bible. Do not “flip and dip” where you feel like you need a word from God and you just open the Bible to a random spot and put your finger on a verse to tell you want to do with your day. 

You need depth. You need context. You need narrative. You need full-scoped wisdom.

Please go slowly through a book of the Bible. I’m not against reading the Bible in one year and they have those plans out there but that’s like drinking water from a fire hydrant for people new to studying the Bible. Go slowly through a book. For me, one year I only read the book of Exodus. This year, I’m slowly studying the book of Joshua. Take your time and enjoy it. Don’t feel like you have to finish fast. 

Bible-reading is not a race, it’s a relationship. 

Step 5: Apply what you read, daily. 

When someone sees a movie they love they will have excitement and say, That movie was SO GOOD! 

When you ask them why it was so good, they respond with, I’m not sure why, but it was SO GOOD! 

When we read the Bible, it will come to life. When you study Scripture and ask God to speak to you through Scripture, it will happen. And that experience will bring excitement. The Bible is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). 

As that excitement happens of God speaking to you and giving you what you need, and as your love for Him grows, remember that implementation is so important. We can’t say, I’m studying the book of Ephesians and it’s SO GOOD!

Why specifically is it good? How is your reading comprehension helping you become more like Jesus in your daily actions? What exactly are you learning about God’s character? 

We should be talking about what we’re learning in the Bible with others and we should be living out each day what we’re reading. If we’re not growing to be more like Jesus each day are we growing? 

Journaling helps me while I read the Bible. I like to write down what God is teaching me and what He is asking me to do with the truth I’m reading. I love the note-takers in the church I get to serve in because those people are taking learning seriously. When we hear something, wisdom might stick. When we write it down, it has a double chance of sticking with us. When we live it out it becomes habitual, placed into our long-term memory bank. 

James 1:22-25 calls the Christian to not just listen to the Word but to do what it says (and when we do what God’s Word says, we will be blessed). 

Read it. Write it down. Live it out. 

Bonus Step: Don’t ignore things you don’t understand.

I don’t just love reading the Bible everyday, I love reading itself. While reading a book, if there is a word I read that I don’t know the definition of, I circle the word and go to Google to look up the definition of the word so I can have a better understanding of what the author was aiming to communicate. 

When we read something in Scripture that we don’t understand (the name of a region, an ancient practice, or even the word meekness a word we don’t utilize in our daily conversations), let’s not just act like it’s not there and move on. There is significance in every single syllable of the Bible and since we’re going through a book of the Bible slowly, let’s get to know the things we don’t understand. Buy commentaries of the book you’re studying to go alongside your Life Application Bible notes. 

Happy studying! Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

What I Tell Engaged Couples Ahead Of Their Wedding Day

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As a pastor I have the privilege of being asked to officiate weddings. When asked to officiate a husband-to-be and a wife-to-be, I sit down with the engaged couple 4-5 times to do some pre-marital counseling with the hopes of preparing them for the greatest human-to-human relationship available from God. 

My main goal in counseling the couple is to get them excited about a marriage more than they are excited about a wedding. 

Here are the 5 things I make sure they understand heading into their adventure of marriage: 

(1) The Biggest Threat To Your Marriage Is Unresolved Conflict 

Marital psychologists share that the path to divorce starts with disappointment. In fact, if disappointment in the marriage isn’t dealt with in a God-honoring, unified manner, it will take the marriage down in 2-3 years. The pathway to divorce looks like this: 

Disappointment – Discouragement – Distance – Disconnect – Discord – Divorce. 

The church has done a disservice to couples yelling at them to not get divorced and then walking away hoping the marriage stays together. Rather, if the church came alongside couples and helped them realize that way before divorce there’s disappointment, and then how to resolve that disappointment, divorce wouldn’t even be a thought. 

Marriages don’t fall apart because of conflict, they fall apart because of unresolved conflict. 

At the wedding altar, instead of pledging to be there for the other for better, for worse, I think the couple should flat out admit, Hey! I’m different than you. This means we’re going to disagree a lot. But even in the disagreements and the disappointment, I’m committed to you and committed to God’s Spirit at work within you. 

Ephesians 4:26 says, “Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are angry.” 

I make sure the couple will make a commitment to resolving conflict. 

(2) Your Wedding Day Should Be The Day You Love Each Other The Least 

What happens too often when a Christian gives their life and sin to Christ and becomes saved as a child of God, that is the day they love Jesus the most. After conversion for many Christians, there’s lackluster worship, discipline and spiritual growth.

What needs to happen for new Christians is that the day they got saved is the day they loved Jesus the least.  

Ephesians 3:19 says that we will never be able to understand the depths of God’s love for us which means each day is an opportunity to grow in a love for Jesus. 

Instead of pursuing Jesus daily we are using our time for others things (which, those other things like family, work and leisure are good gifts from God, but pursuing Jesus needs to be happening). 

When it comes to the wedding day with all of the obsessive plans and dreams of what the ceremony and reception will be like, even though it’s a signifiant day, that should be the day the couple loves each other the least. 

After the wedding they should still study each other and date each other and still pursue each other. There should be daily encouragement and forgiveness and laughter and prayer.  

For too many couples the mountaintop experience of their relationship is the wedding day. This happens when during the engagement instead of prayerfully putting into place routines and commitments to grow closer together and to allow God to lead them, they instead use their time to plan an event. 

(3) Choose To Pray For Each Other and Pray With Each Other Daily

It’s very difficult to be angry at someone and pray for them at the same time. Love heals deep wounds and an intimate step many thriving couples choose to take each day is praying for each other and with each other. 

Spouses need to be encouraging each other daily (Hebrews 3:13) and through a disciplined prayer life to thank God for blessings, to ask God for forgiveness and wisdom, to place Him as the leader of the marriage all can breath such life into the relationship. 

(4) In Grieving, Choose To Lament Together

Sometimes the pain a couple experiences is caused by one or both sides. But sometimes the deep trauma experienced in a marriage is circumstantial and out of their control. 

There might be death of parents and loved ones. There might be miscarriages. There might be seasons of unemployment. There might be a cancer diagnosis. There might be health or behavioral concerns with children. 

In these seasons of confusion and hurt, since the couple already resolves conflict with each other (there’s trust and grace), since they pursue one another relationally (their love for each other deepens) and since they pray for and with each other, grieving is a safe and unified space to mourn. 

The author of the book Lamentations in the Bible is grieving deeply. In the midst of his emotional struggle he rightly recognizes that God is the Giver of great hope (Lamentations 3:22-24). Regardless of the circumstantial pain, he clearly confesses his ongoing need for God in his life.

We cannot go a day forgetting the mercy of God in our lives. A married couple needs to be grateful for the grace of God and His comfort and presence in the absence of answers and clarity. 

A married couple cannot separate relationally during seasons of pain because distance leads to disconnect.

(5) Recognize That The Best Day Of Your Marriage Happened 2,000 Years Ago

Christians believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for their sins and the sins of humanity. They are grateful that forgiveness is found freely at the cross through belief and confession. 

Just as there is mercy found at the cross, there is power and hope found at the empty tomb of Jesus when He rose from death 2,000 years ago. 

The resurrection of Jesus is the most important event in the history of the world. It’s more important than a spouse’s wedding day, or the birth of their child or any answered prayer they experience. It’s more important than the church, more important than the Bible and even more important than the crucifixion of Jesus. 

If Jesus didn’t rise from death then His claim to be God wouldn’t be true and His prophecy that He would rise from death would be a fraud. And someone who isn’t God and is a fraud can’t forgive sin, provide sacred Scripture or start a movement of love (the church). 

For marriage, yes the couple is so grateful for Jesus’ death (to the point where, since Jesus died for them, they can die to their selfishness and pride towards each other), but b/c He lives (He lives!), the couple can receive the power and the hope that sustains, revives and propels a marriage to places of unimaginable joy, unity and peace. 

Whether someone remains single or pursues marriage, life is broken and can be harsh at times. When forced to go through the trials of pain and suffering, every person needs the reality that Jesus is alive, that He is for us and that He is with us. 

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

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

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

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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

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