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

 

30 Practical Ways to Love on Others this Christmas Season (and any season).

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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

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