3 Lessons 30 Days After the Oxford High School Shooting 

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On November 30th, 2021, a 15 year old sophomore male came out of a bathroom at Oxford High School with a semi-automatic gun his father had given him days prior. He chose to open fire 30 times at his classmates at close range killing four students and inuring six more students and a teacher. 

When detained by police minutes later, they found 18 rounds of unused ammunition on the shooter. 

At the time it was the 29th school shooting this year

I serve in a church in southeast Michigan that is an hour from Oxford High School in Oxford, Michigan. Days and weeks after the shooting the school districts in our surrounding area (and across the nation) were facing social media threats of more school violence. Students were being kept home from their school by their parents as fear increased with students asking their school administrators about the security and protection of their lives. 

Here are some lessons we can learn from the Oxford High School shooting: 

(1) The Family Unit Matters. 

So much speculation continues to circle on how this specific shooting happened and who is responsible. No one made Ethan Cumbley, the shooter, pull the trigger, he made that choice. The Oxford school district is being sued by parents who had children injured or killed in the shooting. 

There’s blame being shot at Michigan law-makers for there being no law against gun owners keeping their weapons locked away children. 

But try to picture Ethan Crumbley being raised in a home that loved him like Jesus does him. 

What if Ethan witnessed a marriage daily in his parents that was nurturing, gentle, compassionate and edifying? 

Instead Ethan’s parents are known for DUI’s, alleged child abuse towards Ethan and buying their child a 9MM handgun on Black Friday of this year, an early Christmas present. 

The family unit matters. A godly husband married to a godly wife who are together submitting to Jesus daily and are intentionally raising godly children: it matters. 

We should not be quick to judge the parenting style of James and Jennifer Crumbley until each dad and mom looks at their parenting style holds up in terms of godly or worldly, proactive or reactive, in gentleness or in anger, in gratitude or in whining. 

(2) Bullying in the Schools Matters.

The Oxford school district claims there were no documented reports of Ethan Crumbley being bullied by others in his school. 

But I know that he was bullied and here’s how I know: his actions show a miserable, isolated child. 

He had a journal that was recovered which included detailed plans on shooting and killing classmates. 

On Ethan’s cell phone were at least 2 videos of him stating he was going to attack students. 

This school shooting was premeditated and yet he told no one of it. He had no safety at home to speak of it. He had no friends at school to speak of it. This shooting was a shock to his 18 year old brother. This was a lonely child who only told his journal and his smart phone. He had no trusting friendships who could’ve told him this was a horrible idea.

He had been ostracized and the feelings of rejection, jealousy, insecurity and anger led to this tragedy. 

I sit down with my children and talk about their role at school. Above excelling academically, I want them to be a leader in kindness. 

So, if a student is sitting by themselves at the lunch table, that’s the moment I want my child to invite that marginalized student into the conversation at lunch, to bring them over and get to know them. 

On the playground at school, if a child looks down and off away from the other students having fun at recess, I am raising my children to be the one to walk over and include the distant child in the activities.

My oldest daughter has chosen for the second school year in a row to sacrifice one of her recess times to be a safety volunteer for younger students at her school and every afternoon she comes home telling me how she included a sad student with others on the playground.

I don’t want to incorrectly allegorize Luke chapter 15 which references Jesus’ parable of the shepherd leaving the 99 safe sheep and going after the 1 lost sheep. It’s a parable about evangelism, yes, but who are the students going after the 1 student who is off by themselves?  

This is why the family unit matters. We cannot be raising students who are self-indulged and judgmental – where they only care about themselves and how they look and if they ever look up from their smartphone, they look at others with cold harshness.

Our students have got to be lights of love in their schools. They’ve got to be includers, people of kindness, and I would love to know what acts of love the Christians at Oxford High School attempted to pour on Ethan Crumbley. 

(3) Praying For Our Schools Matters.

The day the Oxford shooting happened I reached out to six Oxford school district officials on how my church can help and I got an email three days later from one administrator saying, “We need prayers. Prayers. More prayers. The prayers are working. We are seeing God redeem this situation already.” 

Prayer matters. Prayer should be done in all aspects of your life. Sometimes prayer is reactive, like in this situation with the church praying for Oxford High School and the victim’s families.

But prayer can also be intentional, like you praying for the schools in your community every day. You can pray for safety, for the leaders of the school, for Jesus’ light to grow in the dark hallways and locker rooms of the schools. 

Be honest with me here: Who is still praying for Oxford High School 30 days later?

Who got distracted by Christmas plans and a new Covid-variant and family plans this month? 

Because when the shooting happened all I saw on social media was, Praying for Oxford. Prayers sent towards Oxford. Praying for the families of Oxford. 

Just a month later we’ve forgotten to pray for Oxford which is also an indication we might not be in daily prayer for the schools closest to our home. 

When the Sandy Hook shooting happened in Connecticut in 2012 so many people prayed for a week and then forgot. 

It happened with the Parkland, Florida shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Paris, France attacks, the Las Vegas shooting. We said we were praying and forgot to do so.

We all changed our social media profile pictures to reflect the fact that we were keeping those schools, those cities in our prayers. 

Listen, prayer matters and the school district in your community needs prayer more than they need their levy to pass. They need prayer more than they need a successful football team. They need prayer more than they need a good academic rating from the state they’re in. 

The school boards need prayer. The principals need prayer. The teachers need prayer. The Christians in the schools need prayer. Physical prayer walks should be happening around the school. 

I have committed to praying for Oxford High School for 40 days since the shooting happened. 

I’m praying for the family of Hana, Tate, Madisyn and Justin, all who were killed in the Oxford shooting. I’m praying specifically for the 7 injured people and for the fear and anxiety that school has.

Do you know who else I’m praying for?

Ethan Crumbley and his parents. 

Did Jesus suggest that we should love our enemies or did He command it? 

I know of a father and mother who lost their teenage son in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. The drunk driver survived, their son did not. The son’s parents were Christians and they have forgiven the drunk driver, visited him in prison and plan to pay for his sobriety counseling once released from prison.

It is possible to pray for your enemies. 

So while most people will be shocked by Ethan’s actions and call him demonic, I’m praying for his salvation, for the grace of Jesus to change his entire life. 

While most people will blame his parents for his actions, I’m praying for James and Jennifer to give their past, their sin, their lives to Jesus. 

Human life is MOST precious to God. Meaning, if God were to pick between loving on your family pet or loving on Ethan, He chooses Ethan 100 out of 100 times. God loves Ethan as much as He loves you. Ethan has a soul. Ethan has an eternal destination after this life, so I’m also praying for him. 

And I’ve upped my prayers for the school district in my city. 

The family unit matters. How Christians in the schools respond to bullying matters. Covering the next generation and their educational leaders in prayer matters. 

Thanks for reading, know you are so loved by Jesus. 

Z

Why You Shouldn’t Talk About Jesus This Holiday Season

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Years ago I was serving in a church in Tennessee where a male leader in the church wanted to meet with me. 

It was the Monday after Thanksgiving. 

He had told me that he and his wife just had the worst Thanksgiving of their lives and it was all of their adult daughter’s fault. 

At Thanksgiving dinner, their daughter informed her parents that she was a lesbian and had been for quite some time and was seriously dating a female significant other. 

And both mom and dad lost their minds in anger/fear/judgment. 

There was shouting. There were derogatory remarks. And their daughter ended up leaving the Thanksgiving holiday, mid-meal. 

As she grabbed her coat and purse, her dad yelled out, You’re going to go to hell, you know that!?!

The father telling me what took place was being this brutally honest with me, and not because he felt shame for how he reacted to his daughter’s news of being gay, but because he thought he was preaching to the choir. He thought I was with him in the way he reacted. 

I was only with him in two ways: One, I loved him because God loves him. Two, I also have had moments where surprising news came to me from family and I did not react well either. 

May Christians have the continual prayer that while we can’t control the comments of those around us, we can still choose to respond to their news in a God-honoring way. Self-control, kindness and gentleness are fruit of the Spirit that never go bad. They are always ripe. 

But I was not with him on how he thought Christians should treat those in the homosexual community. To him, his daughter became an enemy. In an instance what was going to be a great family memory turned into an us-verses-them relationship. 

Fast forward a year later, a couple weeks before Christmas. This same dad comes into my office still stressed and still angry. 

At this point I hadn’t seen him in a year – at all. After our meeting the year before, I asked him to step down from church leadership unless he was going to apologize to his daughter. He refused to apologize and left the church abruptly, blasting me on social media. 

But he reached out to me again 13 months later, and since I wasn’t a legalist like him, since I believe in the action of grace, I was willing to meet. 

He told me that on Christmas Eve his daughter was going to marry the woman she had been dating for over a year. He and his wife had been invited to the wedding (which was in a state that permitted same-sex marriage at the time). 

The wedding was two weeks away and he and his wife had not made travel plans. Not only had he not talked to me in over a year, he hadn’t talked to his daughter in over a year (his wife had a few times).

They weren’t going the wedding of their child. 

His reasoning was this: If he and his wife attend the wedding of his daughter to another woman, then he would be sanctioning what he considered their lifestyle of sin. 

I asked him if he had ever been to a wedding before. Obviously he had. 

I asked him if each wedding he attended, if he knew all of the shortcomings and sin of both the bride and groom-to-be. He obviously hadn’t. 

But he attended each wedding. He dressed up, bought gifts, supported the couple, had a good time. 

I told him that not attending the wedding of his daughter would be something he would regret for the rest of his life and that it would sever their relationship.

I encouraged this father to view his daughter through the lens of God the Father. I wanted him to see how God still pursues people even when they run from him. And I reminded him that his judgmental sin put him on the same level as any sexual sin he assumed his daughter was doing. 

Two weeks later, he didn’t attend the wedding. 

I don’t know if this father and his daughter have reconciled to this day, but think about how the holiday season feels each year for this family. When Thanksgiving comes, the memory of a daughter crying on her way out of the home as her dad yells she’s going to hell will be felt every year. 

On Christmas Eve, the memory of her parents not willing to attend her wedding will be felt every year. 

This is why I do not talk about Jesus around the holiday season. 

It’s not just Jesus I don’t talk about around the holiday season. It’s anything political. It’s anything racial. It’s anything personal that is a historical bad memory in the family. I prayerfully vie to be all smiles and support and acts of service no matter what this time of year. 

The holidays are a very sensitive time that any topic that polarizes (which the topic of Jesus does), is going to be a lose-lose situation. 

Civil rights activist and poet Maya Angelou said this: People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel

What is more important than talking about Jesus around the holiday season is being Jesus during the holiday season. 

If your loved ones feel rejected and depressed, give them a listening ear taking some serious one-on-one time for them to make sure they definitively know how loved they are. 

If your loved ones have hurt you in the past, let them know you forgive them and that you’re always with them. 

If your loved ones have news that surprises you or opinions that you adamantly disagree with, there is a time and a place to state your case and the holidays are not the time to do it. Usually our first emotional response in conversations of disagreement are not the most God-honoring responses that we have. 

They will forget what you said. They will forget what you did. They will never forget how you made them feel.

Choose acts of humility and service over acts of having to be right this holiday season.

There will be more than enough of opportunities to talk about Jesus, share the Gospel, pray with someone, share a Bible verse, speak truth, invite a loved one to worship throughout the year (and if a loved one is asking about Jesus willingly, yes, please shout the Good News from the mountain tops), but when someone isn’t in the humble spirit to hear about Jesus, the holidays are definitely not the time to bring Him up. 

But the holidays are definitely the time for Him to show up through you.

Jesus says that your love for one another will prove to those watching that you are a Christian (John 13:35). 

It won’t be your opposing comments. It won’t be your opinions of disagreement. It won’t be your frustration. It won’t be your obsession to be right. It won’t be your addiction to control others. And it won’t be your hope for a perfect holiday season in the way you expect it to go. 

It will be your love. 

Think back to the father who refused to attend the wedding of his daughter. 

When she told her parents that she was a lesbian and had been FOR QUITE SOME TIME, that meant it was brand new information to her parents but something she was scared or uncomfortable to bring up to her own Christian parents. 

That’s heart-breaking. 

That tells me there wasn’t a culture of grace and belonging no matter what someone does or who they view themselves to be in this household. Instead of love, there was fear. Instead of compassion, there was control. 

One daily action I have been doing every morning is praying through the fruit of the Spirit over the day at hand. 

The 9 fruit of the Spirit are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). 

Each morning I have been praying specifically, God, give me Your joy so I can give it to others. Give me Your patience so I can give it to my children. Give me Your gentleness so I can be gentle when things don’t go my way. Give me Your self-control when my emotional responses want to bring separation.

The reason these fruit are from the Spirit is because you cannot manufacture them on your own will-power. And since the holiday season is already an emotionally-charged time of year, trying to approach holiday events with others on your own strength with no preparation of prayer is going to be disastrous. 

Run through the fruit of the Spirit in earnest prayer before any holiday gathering this year and prepare yourself to be Jesus. 

You can’t control what others say or what news they give, but with the Spirit’s help, you can react like Jesus to whatever conversations occur. 

Thanks for reading, you are so loved. 

Z

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attempt #1: Chemical pregnancy (false positive)

Attempt #2: Chemical pregnancy (false positive)

Attempt #3: Conception (miscarriage at 9 weeks)

Attempt #4: Conception (pregnant with 3 fetuses)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hate death. I hate it. 

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

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

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

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

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

Z

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

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

What it also brought was time away from classmates. 

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

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

Puberty had changed them. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes God wants us to repent of our personality. 

Check out what James 1:19-21 says: 

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

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

Here’s 5 kinds of ways to resist growth: 

1. Be a Noisy Chatterbox. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Be a Bad Listener.

Are you a bad listener?

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

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

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

3. Have a Short Fuse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Be a Compromising Hypocrite.

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

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

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

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

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

5. Be a Constant Know-It-All. 

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

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

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

he issue is pride and the solution is humility. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

Fun and Needed Marriage Advice For Men

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

(Genesis 2:20)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compared to the aardvark, she’s amazing.

Here’s where I’m going with this: 

Men, your standard of beauty is your wife. 

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

It’s your wife. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Husband, the standard of beauty is your wife. 

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

To bring Adam his fitted mate, God chloroforms him.

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

(Genesis 2:21)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It works every time. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next, get married. 

Marriage is for men, not for boys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank for reading. You are loved. 

Z

Laying the Foundation for Better Communication in our Relationships

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Recently I was at a fast food joint, catching a bite, replying to emails. About 15ft from me, at a smaller table, was a girl, age 12, 13ish, with a smartphone in her hands. She was playing a game. Across the table was her brother, age 9 or 10. Brother was asking the sister if he could play the game she was playing. 

Sister said, No. 

And the boy lost his soul.
He didn’t just lose his mind. He lost his soul. 

He said these comments to his sister,

I hate you!
You’re the ugliest person in the world!
I wish you were dead!

Their dad was at the same table reading the news on his phone. Just sat there.  

And so did I. 

That sister/daughter isn’t going to forget those words.

Simply stated, words are powerful. 

The tongue has the power of life and death. (Proverbs 18:21)

The words that we use during the week have the ability to bring encouragement into our relationships, or to harm them. 

Show me a relationship that no longer exists and I’ll show you people who either said words that harmed someone or didn’t say words that would’ve healed and brought life.

I want to share 5 ideas on how we can better care for each other, to help our communication at home, at work, at school, with friends, even with God. Here’s how we lay that foundation: 

(1) Speak Affirmation.

Why is it easier to complain than it is to be grateful? Why is it easier to tear down than it is to build up? Why is it easier to take and take and take without ever giving back? 

The ping-ponging of hurtful words can seriously damage a relationship, whereas constantly choosing praise and affirmation towards others can change their life and grow you closer together. 

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. (Ephesians 4:29)

It’s a husband who plans a date night with his wife. He sets up the sitter, gets the reservation, gets dressed up with her,  they’re out to eat and it’s good food, laughing, and at a point in the conversation, the husband stops, pauses, looks at his wife and says, I want you to know how amazed I am at you. You do so much to take care of us. 

It’s when a mom speaks to her kids before dad gets home from a long day, and she says, Daddy works so hard for us – let’s hug him tightly and let him know how loved he is when he comes through the door. 

It’s when a parent chooses to praise their kid, not when it comes to their grades, or their athletic or artistic ability, but the parent praises the godly characteristics in the child. They were scared but they trusted God. They were picked on, but they chose kindness. They saw someone lonely and included that person. They were patient when they needed something. They were grateful with no ulterior motive. 

On social media mom and dad are posting about their kids non stop with. Look what my kid did!. Look what my kid can do! God’s like, That’s awesome, great job. I’m more interested in who your kid is. Praise the goodness that is in them. 

Every time I’m ordering food, I let the person behind the register or the waiter/waitress know I am thankful for them. I say, Thanks for working today.– And they’re always taken back by that simple comment because no one thanks them. 

How is your discipline of appreciation at work? 

How is your gratitude toward the coaches that mentor your kids? 

How is your gratefulness toward someone you think of in your past who really inspired you to be more than you thought you could be? Write them a note to say thanks.

Bring affirmation into each room you walk into. Think, How can I improve this person’s day with my words? 

Because words are powerful. 

(2) Show Affection

I learned a 3-step way to appropriately show affection to the people in my life.

A look. A word. A touch. 

A parent looks their child in the eye, they speak a word of encouragement, they give them a hug. 

At the office, you look a coworker in the eye, notice them, you let them know how impressed you are with their work, give them a high five or a fist bump. 

A look. A word. A touch. 

A husband walks in the door from work. He looks at his wife, says, I can’t believe I get to come home to you each day. And he kisses her as the kids watching throw up in their mouths. 

A look. A word. A touch. 

Okay – those are the first two words to improve your relationships – affirmation, affection. Those are not natural – you’ll need God’s help for it to become routine – affirmation and affection. 

(3) Ask, “And then what happened?

These could possibly be the four most romantic words ever spoken.  

It’s when a husband makes great eye contact with his wife, and says, No way! And then what happened? 

And she’ll say, Well, after I couldn’t find a parking spot, I finally make it in to Trader Joe’s. But I couldn’t find where the almonds were. 

And the husband says, You’re kidding! And then what happened? 

Yes, it will take up more of your day. If you ask this question to your co-workers who want to tell you about the dream they had or your child who want to tell you about something funny at school or the friend who had an interaction with their in-laws, yes, it will take up more time.

But you’ll be known as someone who intently listens and cares about people. 

When you don’t just want to know the highlights, not just the cliff notes – but you are interested in every single detail – it shows you think they are important to you. 

(4) Speak the truth in love.

In each of your relationships, there comes a moment where you need to communicate what they need to hear. Each relationship is two imperfect people who at some point are going to have a rift, usually based on something someone did. 

The closer you grow with someone, the more you’ll be exposed to a harmful habit or perspective someone might have.

We will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ. (Ephesians 4:15)

We will speak the truth in love. We will do it gently, not judgmentally, not in a holier than thou way – but because we love them and don’t want them to harm themselves.

Some people claiming to love Jesus have loved Him for a very long time, but the reason their spiritual growth has hit a ceiling is because they don’t speak the truth in love in their relationships. They don’t like conflict, they don’t want to share truth because it might offend someone. 

Conversations where truth will be shared shouldn’t be done impulsively, or passive aggressively. It’s when you care about someone, they hurt you or they’re hurting themselves, and you write down clearly what you want to communicate with them in love, and then you meet with they and stay on script.

If you are close to someone, and you’re not sharing truth with them, let me ask, Do you really love them? 

If we want the best for them and it’s their lust or their drinking or their greed or their gossip or their lying or they’re walking away from God – and we ask them about what’s going on, do we love them? 

Truth without grace is mean.

It’s not worth being right if you’re going to be rude about it. 

The flip side is the same result,

Grace without truth is meaningless.

When you love someone, you’ll have multiple opportunities where you’ll need to share truth with them, with grace. And I hope you have someone in your life who will do the same with you.

(5) Prayer.

If you take the first four ways to improve your relationships, and rely on your own strength, you may make your relationships a little less complicated, but you’ll regress at some point.

We need the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit in our lives daily to improve ourselves and as a result, our relationships. It takes prayer. 

Do you pray for your spouse?
Do you pray for your parents?
Do you pray for your children?
Do you pray for your boss and their leadership?
Do you pray for your church?
Do you pray for your non-Christian loved ones? 

You fight and wage war. You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. (James 4:2)

Without prayer we will fight in our relationships. With it, God will give us what the relationship desperately needs. 

God needs to be involved in the relationship. 

You could pray silently, sure. But when you are with a loved one, and you grab their hand or put your hand on their shoulder, and you pray out loud with them,  you are signally that God is involved in this relationship. 

Prayer is an intimate act. It might be awkward at first, you might be embarrassed you don’t pray out loud with the people you’re closest to currently, but it takes the relationship deeper because it gets God involved.

Even if you think you can’t pray, I’d rather you pray poorly than not pray at all. Ask the person you’re in a relationship with, a sibling, a child, a classmate, a friend,  ask them what they need prayer for. 

And the people you’re with this week, they’ll know you don’t just hear them, you understand them. They will know you love them enough to get God involved.

Affirmation. Affection. And then what happened? Truth in love. Prayer.

Add these into your daily life and you’ll be known as a person who effectively communicates with others, and deeper than that, someone who will love those around you in ways very few have.

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

When You Can’t Do Life On Your Own Anymore

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Do you want to make a positive influence on your relationships? 

Do you want to improve each room you walk into? 

Do you want to get through a difficult time in an honoring way as others are watching you suffer? 

It’s embedded in my worldview that these people believe they can do it, but only with the help of God. 

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)

Put fear and timidity on one side. Those aren’t from God.

Place power and love and discipline on the other side. Those are from God. 

Which means, every time you have chosen to endure, or rely on this inner strength to get through something, each time you’ve loved or have felt love, each time you’ve stay focused to do what was needed, all of that is from God. God gives us a spirit of power and love and self-discipline. 

Which means that fear and timidity, these aren’t from God. Any anxiety, worrying, afraid to live, afraid to get through it, afraid of failure, depressed, not from God. 

Being insecure and anxious is what will happen if we just believe that we can do it on our own. We will harm our relationships over time if we continue to buy into the delusion that all we have to do is pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and go after another day. 

We need God’s help.

I’ll give two examples of each side when it comes to parenting. This crosses over with how you lead employees during the week or how you are with friends, how you react to stressful circumstances.  

I get to be a father of two daughters, age 8 and age 5 currently. 

EXAMPLE ONE

One morning, I’m getting the girls ready for the day, trying to keep them focused on the following: outfits, shoes, teeth brushed, hair somewhat presentable, somewhat disheveled only a father’s touch can provide. 

They’re sitting at the kitchen island, time is short before the school buss arrives, so I throw together a Carnation mix with milk for breakfast. With a straw. No lid on either cup. 

Right when you just read the words, no lid, every mother reading knows where this is going.

Every mother is thinking, Oh, you gotta put a lid on it. 

I know that now. 

Izzy, our five year old, knocks her cup over accidentally, it hits the floor, and makes a mess. You would’ve thought a cow was murdered in our kitchen. There was milk everywhere. 

I let anger out on Izzy until the alligator tears started to form in her eyes.  

Hold that memory. 

EXAMPLE TWO

A few days later I’ve set a mug of coffee on the end of our sofa and Izzy comes flying in the family room. She’s at this stage where no matter where she is or who’s around her, she’s doing a cartwheel. 

She flies into the family room, does a cartwheel and accidentally knocks over my mug with her feet. Coffee goes everywhere, mug falls onto the wooden floor and shatters instantly. 

This time I’m calm. I’m chill. 

I make sure she’s okay. I ask her to stay away from the broken ceramic pieces. I gently remind her to watch for her surroundings when she’s in Simone Biles mode. I apologize to her for leaving my mug on the sofa. 

Okay, compare the two instances. When she knocked over the milk in the morning, and I let my anger out, that instilled fear and timidity in her. My ripple effect was negative. 

When she knocked over the coffee off the sofa, I let gentleness out due to self-discipline. She felt that love. 

What’s the difference?

It was reflecting on 2 Timothy 1:7 over and over throughout the day.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)

In the morning, when Izzy spilled the milk on the floor and I spilled my emotions on her, I hadn’t gotten up early to pray for God to guide me during my day. I hadn’t thought about needing God’s power for energy, or God’s love for others, or God’s discipline to help me love on my girls that morning. 

I relied on my own strength and impatience came out. 

But when the coffee spilled off the sofa, I was able to respond with gentleness and humility because I had been praying 2 Timothy 1:7 throughout the day (in fact, my wife had written the verse on our mirror in her beautiful, large hand-writing as a reminder for both of us to lean on the Lord and not on ourselves). 

Lord, please, in all of my conversations, give me Your power so I have the energy to deal with what comes. Give me Your love so people around me feel it. Give me Your discipline as my own so the old Zach doesn’t come out, but the likeness of Your Son does. 

This works in parenting. It works in dating. It works in marriage. It works when you are around your employees, neighbors, friends. 

It keeps our relationships from viewing us as bipolar. Jekyll one day, Hyde the next. 

It keeps the people around us at home or at work from wondering which version of ourselves they’re going to get no matter what the day holds. 

If you believe you can do life on your own, without God’s help, the ripple effect you will have on those closet to you will be fear and timidity. People will be afraid to be around you, they will walk on egg shells, you’ll have extreme mood swings, they’ll be anxious and scared and eventually depressed.

But, if you rely on God daily, in prayer, people around you will see and feel your example of love, and power and focus and they will want the same. 

Even if you don’t have a high view of God, or of the Bible, try it out. 

It’s got to be daily consistently, over a long haul of time. 

What hurts is that Izzy is going to remember me getting irate over the milk spilling more than she will remember me being gentle and concerned for her when the coffee spilled a couple days later. – 

I need to do it daily so she sees me as the latter half of this 2 Timothy 1:7 and doesn’t feel the first part. 

If you work, reflect in the car on the way home, God, I’ve had a long day. I need You to give me Your strength, Your love, Your discipline for me to love my family the best I can tonight. 

In the morning before school or work or the day of errands, God, I don’t know what will come today, but You do. Please give me Your power and love and discipline to honor You and love on others and be an example. 

During a crisis in your life or in the home, you need God’s power to get through it faithfully, God’s love to give you identity that no matter what happens, you are still loved by Him. You need God’s discipline because in trials, if we don’t rely on God in prayer, we get sad and lazy and melancholy and lay around and have no energy and our loved ones see us as that. 

You can do this with the help of others and with God’s help.

We want to change lives, we want to improve relationships, we want to make a difference, we want to leave a legacy, but you need God’s empowerment daily to do it. 

And you need the help of others to also remind you that you need God’s help. 

Most people, when they wake up, they feel rushed and allow life to happen to them and then they react to it and they just want to make it through the day. 

Most people don’t wake up praying to rely on God for the day. 

Most people don’t wake up acknowledging that what they do for that day builds their legacy. 

Most people don’t wake up feeling like a world-changer. 

But, what if you believed daily that with who you are created to be, and with the help of others around you, and with the help of God, you could change the lives of others for the better? 

I believe you can.

5 years into our marriage. Whitney and I found out that we were infertile after desperately wanting a child. That was a harsh realization. 

My father died of cancer six years ago. That was tough. 

I have sin in my past that cost me security and friendships and reputation. The consequences still weigh heavy. 

There are little stresses piled up on me and my family every day. Life pressures down on us. 

All of the trials, all of the worrying, I cannot do it on my own. I cannot have a positive influence on those around me and get through difficult seasons on my own will power. 

I need you and I need God’s help. You need people to help you. So open up to someone. You need God’s help, so pray to Him throughout the day. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

Going From Anger to Gentleness (One Daily Action)

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In Proverbs chapter 15, we see how powerful gentleness is. 

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. (Proverbs 15:1)

Gentleness can diffuse. It’s powerful.
Harshness is also powerful. It can ignite. 

If the people are walking on eggshells when they are near you, that’s an indication that you are not placing your life under the lead of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. It shows your prayer life is sporadic or non-existent. 

[I want to be clear to the Christians reading because I am concerned many people are living their lives in an unaccountable way, always being on the throne of their choice of emotions.] 

The Bible’s wisdom gives the follower of Jesus no room for unnecessary roughness penalties against those in our daily lives. There is no room for angry outbursts. There is no room for profanity in anger. There is no room for belittling others. There is no room for resentment or bitterness. 

How others see you and what is inside of you can be some ugly stuff when you don’t let the Spirit control you each day. God desires for us to be better than that. 

Stupid people express their anger openly, but sensible people are patient and hold it back. (Proverbs 29:11)

Foolish people are rough on others. Wise people are gentle toward others. 

Anger is something I’ve been tempted to give into most of my life. It’s easy for me to get angry. I’ve read a lot about it. We get angry toward two areas. 

(1) Inanimate Objects

One area we get angry toward are inanimate objects. 

We stub our foot on the sofa and we go, Stupid ,sofa! 

Our computer crashes and we go, Stupid computer! 

We slice a golf ball into the woods and we go, Stupid 6 iron!

We actually yell at inanimate objects. We call thing not breathing, stupid. 

Who’s really the stupid one?

The other area we get angry toward are:

(2) People We View as Less-Than

Southern comedian named Bill Engvall, had a schtick about being mad at stupid people. Maybe you remember it, Here’s your sign: (and the sign reads: Stupid).

Engvall speaks of a semi truck driver getting stuck trying to make it under an overpass and a police officer pulled up next to the incident and said to the truck driver: What, did you get stuck? 

And the truck driver said, Nope. Not at all. I was trying to deliver this bridge and I ran out of gas. 

Here’s your sign. 

We get frustrated at people who we view as less-than. We think they’re not as smart, not as successful, not as put together, not as great as we are. 

We walk into a room and automatically think we are the best person in that room. This makes everyone around us easy targets to get angry toward. 

Stupid things and people we view as less-than us make us angry. 

What you’ll rarely hear come out of the mouth of a person who is angry is this: 

I make me so mad!!!!

An angry person never is rough on themselves. They are always mad at something or someone else. Always blaming and shifting focus off their short-comings. It enables them in their mindset to be harsh on others. 

But the statement, I make me so mad!!! ends up becoming true. If you give into anger, all it leads to is more anger. You do make yourself so mad. 

It’s not the inanimate objects fault you are rough. It’s not a bad driver on the road or an annoying co-worker, or the poor results of your performance or the unmet expectations of your children. 

It’s not a thing and it’s not someone else. 

Upon further review: You make you mad. 

You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Your anger can never make things right in God’s sight. (James 1:19)

Those who pause and pray and don’t react right away, those are also the people who don’t get angry. Slow to speak is slow to anger. That kind of restraint comes from relying on the Spirit. 

I’m coaching a U10 girls soccer team this Fall. The soccer field is huge and the players are running around for 50 minutes, giving it their all. 

After the game, as we debrief and I am telling them how proud I am of them, it’s snack time. They get some fruit. They get a treat. And they get a drink. 

The drink they get every Saturday seems to be a Capri Sun. 

Capri Suns are a German product named after the Italian island, Capri. They are difficult to open, difficult to puncture a straw through. 

What kids don’t get about Capri Suns is that you shouldn’t squeeze them. You can just drink the juice through the straw. But every kid in the history of holding a Capri Sun has to squeeze them. 

What is in the pouch, comes out when you squeeze. Juice all over your shirt. All over the backseat of my car. 

You and I are just like Capri Suns.

Whatever is on the inside of us, when a little life-pressure is applied, whatever is inside is going to come out of us. 

If it’s all of the things the Spirit of God gives us, (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness) when we get squeezed, that’s what comes out toward others. 

If we’ve got unresolved tension or bitterness or impatience or rage inside of us, when life hits a bump, guess what gets spilled all over the people near us?

We get so filled up inside with past hurt, with sad memories, with failure, with insecurity and disappointment, (add to that an overloaded schedule and the pain that happens to us at times, we are doing so much and going through so much) any time anything or anyone jostles us a bit, what’s inside squirts out and people around us get hurt.

The other day I was in a fast food drive through with my children. One of my kids noticed the car in front of us, mom in front seat, small girl in back seat. The girl in the back was picking her nose. She was on a mission. She was digging deeply.  

Both of my kids start to giggle uncontrollably. Even I was drawn to binge-watch what was going on. 

I used it as a teaching moment to tell them that someone is always watching us, whether we realize it or not (that little girl digging deep didn’t realize we were watching her). 

Someone is watching when we are frustrated at a waitress, or a grocery store clerk. 

Someone is watching when we’re mad at a referee at a game. 

Someone is watching when a child is unfairly treated on the bus or on the playground. 

Someone is watching how you interact with coworkers or neighbors or customers. 

The kids at home are watching when mom and dad get into it. 

We are always on display. 

I don’t want the pressure of life to make my angry obvious to those around me. I want gentleness to be a characteristic that others notice. 

Let your gentleness be evident to all. (Philippians 4:4-5)

If I can’t have my gentleness be evident to all, I at least want it to be evident to my family. I want the word gentleness to be some of the first words they use when they describe me at my funeral. 

To help with that, I am committed to not let any of the stress of my day or the feelings of tough circumstances enter into my home.

I’ve done this for years wherever we have lived and recommend it to anyone, no matter how silly it feels. It works. 

There’s a nail I have nailed in the mortar of the brick wall of our home.

It’s a small nail, above our doorbell on the right side of our front door. You can barely see it, and that’s the point. 

No matter when I get home from a long day, or what stress or frustration I feel for how things are going, or how exhausted I am, I sit in my vehicle parked in the driveway for a few moments, pray for any of that hardship or negativity to not enter the home with me. 

I get out of the car and hang all of that emotional weight onto the nail.

It’s an imaginary necklace I take off my neck and hang it onto the real nail. I physically do this action. 

Then I go inside a refreshed, fun, present, patient, gentle husband and father.

It’s not just on stressful days or disappointing days – I don’t just hang those up, I hang my imaginary anger sword on the nail too. I don’t want to come into my home with any harshness. I don’t want to bring fear. I don’t want to bring intimidation. 

And guess what? When I wake up the next day, after I kiss my wife and am thankful for her, kiss our daughters and instill encouragement in them, when I head out for the day, guess what is waiting for me on that nail?

The stress and my sword to go forward and tackle the day with the Lord. 

You don’t have to do this, but  believe it’s shaping my family from seeing me as someone angry and exhausted and impatient to someone who is gentle. 

Over time, it could be the difference between someone seeing you as harsh and someone seeing you as gentle. 

Let your gentleness be evident to all. (Philippians 4:4-5)

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

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