Raising Our Standard of Giving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving away your money is part of following Jesus. 

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

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

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

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

That’s got me shaking my head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you are not tithing consistently, begin today.

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

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

I’ll let God be stark about it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They will be mugged by the mirror. 

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

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

Graham goes onto say: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They will be pick-pocketed by the past. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They will be robbed by relationships. 

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

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

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

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

Life doesn’t have to be that way. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Z

3 Areas of Your Life To Evaluate in Order to Grow

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

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

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

That’s called missing the point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Evaluate your imagination. 

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

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

2. Evaluate how you spend money.

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

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

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

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

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

3. Evaluate your uncontrollable emotions. 

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

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

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

Are my emotions proportionate to my circumstances? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That would be absurd. 

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

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

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

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

Idolatry is killing your growth. 

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

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

Put Jesus back on the throne of your heart. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

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

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

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

Peter is his name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You would be more secure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You would be more confident.

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

Where’s the confidence?

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

You would be more restful. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. Happy Easter. You are loved.

Z

What a Husband Would Know If He Studied His Wife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the word “nothing” means. 

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

Wife: Nothing. 

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

Wife: Nothing! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L O S E R.

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

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

Wife: How much did they cost?

Husband: $4.99 plus tax……… 

Plus tip…….. 

L O S E R.

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

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

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

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

Husband: YES. I. WAS. 

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

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

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

Genuine compliments are never wasted. 

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

Why aren’t the husbands constant with the compliments?

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

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

Okay……….

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

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

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

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

A little help goes a long way. 

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

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

A little help goes a long way.

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

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

Or, you can take her for granted.

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z

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

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

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

This is her advice.

Hmmm.

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

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

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

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

Boom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHY?

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z

5 Things Your Church Leader Needs Prayer For

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

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

1. That they would not be Arrogant. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.  That they would not be Unkind. 

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

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

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

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

3. That they would not be Hypocritical. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. That they would have Joy. 

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

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

Zero.

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

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

They must’ve been baptized in vinegar.

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

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

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

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

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

5. That they would not be Power-Hungry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z