The 2 “H’s” of Christians Who Boycott

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10 days before Easter Sunday this year my social media platforms were flooded with people spreading the horror of Nike releasing “Satan shoes” along with the rapper Lil Nas X. These shoes came with the tagline, “Why be a servant in heaven when you can reign in hell” and had a drop of human blood (allegedly) in the midsole of the shoe and had the verse Luke 10:18 on the side of the shoes which speaks of Satan falling from heaven. Only 666 pairs were issued.

Christian after Christian shared this news in disgust. Christian after Christian posted that they were boycotting Nike and that they were going to throw out all of their Nike shoes and clothes. Other Christians commented that they had already been boycotting Nike because one of their spokespeople, Colin Kaepernick, had refused to stand for the national anthem in 2016. I even saw a Christian parent say that they were banning their children from singing the Kids Bop version of “Old Town Road” which is sung by Lil Nas X.

My thinking when these “Satan shoes” were released was this: Why are Christians surprised when non-Christians act like non-Christians?

It turns out Nike didn’t make the Satan shoes. It turns out Nike brought legislation against Lil Nas X and another company (who also made Jesus shoes two years ago that Christians bought) for copyright infringement. It turns out Christians, rather than praying and researching and waiting, instead chose to spread slander. 

Recently, Major League Baseball moved their mid-season All Star Game from Atlanta, Georgia in a reaction to Georgia lawmakers allegedly influencing voter-suppression. In a reaction to this, Christians shared that they were now boycotting baseball games. 

Over the years Christians have boycotted Starbucks, Wells Fargo Bank and Home Depot due to these companies affiliating themselves with same-sex marriage. Christians have boycotted shopping areas in November and December who refuse to say the words, “Merry Christmas”. (like Petsmart). Christians have also recently boycotted anything Disney due to their release of an actress who spoke her views politically.

I thought boycotting was supposed to be done when there are labor violations, dangerous work conditions or environmental irresponsibilities? 

Can someone show me a verse in the Bible (not an opinion in your heart) where the first century church boycotted the marketplace due to religious belief differences? 

In the book of Acts a church leader named Paul gets to the city of Athens and is broken-hearted at all of the idol worship he saw around him. Instead of boycotting these idols and being against the people of business around him, he goes to meet with the cultural leaders and entered into a loving, civil-engagement, praising them for their beliefs knowing that they were searching for truth. He was then able to share the Gospel message (Acts 17:16-34).

Had Paul boycotted the business of Athens, he would’ve made it about him and would’ve wrongly separated himself from the people he was called to love and serve. 

Why is it easier for Christians to broadcast what they are against and who they are against than what they are for and Who they are for?

God knows the heart of a Christian, I do not. I sometimes wonder if the Christian shining light on companies who are promoting things they don’t like when it comes to their faith (or their nationalism), is it more about grabbing the spotlight and “look what I found that is shocking!?!”, then it is standing for truth?

Are Christians called to spend their lives trying to harm businesses or vying to make disciples?

Here are two “H’s” that occur when Christians boycott companies: 

It’s Hypocritical 

It’s very hypocritical to boycott companies who have different religious and cultural beliefs than the Christian faith.

If you go to pick up a burrito at Taco Bell, do you make sure the person making it has the same view of Jesus/sex/politics/gender as you do? No. You buy the burrito and eat the burrito. 

Do you know the beliefs of the company who made your dishwasher at home and if they align themselves with your view of Jesus/the church/the Bible? No, you don’t. And if you did find out that your dishwasher company didn’t love Jesus, are you pulling it out and trying to find a dishwasher made only by a Jesus-follower?

Have fun hand-washing your dishes.

Are you aware of the beliefs of who makes your car? Who makes your smart-phone? Who even prints the copies of the Bible you own? Are you aware that there are worship songs sung in church written by non-Christians?

If we’re boycotting some companies in a reaction to what we hear (which much of is untrue), then let’s boycott all companies after researching and investigating their beliefs. And if/when you do, you’ll find yourself selling your house, living in a cave, only eating baked beans made by Christians with your shotgun next to you made my Christians as you read your King James Version Bible waiting for the world to end. 

What’s also hypocritical is how offended Christians are to the accused censoring Facebook is and yet the Christian just can’t quite walk away from Facebook because they don’t want to miss out on all Facebook gives them. They can walk away from watching the NFL/MLB and from buying Nike shoes but they can’t walk away from other companies. Seems hypocritical. 

We would do well to examine our own hearts and our own motives and our own choices than be so concerned about the assumptive hearts/motives/choices of companies and company leaders. 

It’s Harmful

It’s also harmful to publicly boycott. Christians who intend to “stick it” to companies who don’t align with their faith in Jesus seems harmful.

Christians think they are being helpful to the cause of their faith. They intend to harm the company by removing their business from them, but what is more harmful is the negative witness for Christ they are promoting to those watching.

Jesus is for people. Yes, He is for truth but He is not for spreading what we’re against over what we are for. Would Jesus rather Christians remove themselves from companies and spread negative things about them or would He rather Christians involve themselves lovingly in prayer and encouraging support?

Our nation has its roots in boycotting (Boston Tea Party).
The church does not have its roots in boycotting. We have our roots in picking up our cross daily and dying to ourselves (which means dying to what offends us, what opinions we have). 

We need to crucify our grandstanding instead of crucifying companies that don’t believe in Jesus.

When I was in college, I lived in an apartment across from a Wendy’s restaurant. I went there every day. Every. Day. I couldn’t get enough of their burgers and fries and I also loved their bar-b-q sauce.

Then Wendy’s started charging their customers thirty cents for each bar-b-q sauce packet.

I went into full boycotting mode. I was not going to stand for it. It set me off. 

I made posters attacking the greed of Wendy’s and walked around their drive-thru area shouting chants like, 

My business, they’ve lost 
Due to costly BBQ sauce! 

I was going to get my point across. 
Until God got His point across to me. 

The manager of Wendy’s came out on the second day of my tirade and asked me, Are you a Christian? 

I told him yes and asked him how he knew to ask that. 

He took me inside the restaurant to the security cameras in the back and showed me the video footage from the day before where I was wearing a Jesus t-shirt and driving a car with a Christian bumper sticker on it. 

Then the manager went on to say that he was a Christian and to continue supporting adoptions nationwide on a larger scale Wendy’s had added a cost to their sauce. 

I found it very hard to swallow my hypocrisy and harmful actions in that moment.

My actions had been harmful (and sinful) due to me not knowing the full context. I had harmed their business and my witness due to my emotional reactions. 

Point being: if we are going to boycott, let’s remind ourselves that it’s hypocritical b/c if we’d boycott everything we found out wasn’t in favor of Jesus, we’d be living way differently than we currently are AND let’s also be cautious of how harmful it can be to our witness in Christ. 

Put it to prayer. Do your research. Check your heart in the matter. Don’t be so public about it. Don’t be so shocked by it and see how you can serve and uplift the companies who view Jesus separately than you do. 

May the church be known Who they are for (Jesus), not who she is against.

Feel free to boycott, but I’m going to grab a Starbucks and watch some baseball with my Nike hat on while I pray for those companies. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

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

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

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

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

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

7 Questions For Men Wanting to Marry

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

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

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

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

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

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

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

7 Questions for Women Wanting to Marry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are loved. 

Z

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. He should initiate and then she should respond. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

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

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

Ending Loneliness: The Power of Relational Connection

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There’s an academic peer review journal called, The Journal of Happiness Studies. Researchers for the journal are trying to figure what is it that makes a human life flourish. What produces joy? What makes a life content? 

When looking at what distinguishes very happy people from less happy people, they find that there is the one factor, one difference, that consistently separates those two groups.

What’s the one difference that distinguishes more happy from less happy people?

It’s not income.
It’s not the size of the home one lives in.
It is not health.
It’s not what kind of shape one’s body is in. 
It’s not attractiveness.
It is not IQ.
It is not career success.

What distinguishes consistently happier people from less happy people is the ongoing presence of rich, deep, meaningful relationships with other human beings.

If you look at the mission of the church, we want to connect people to Jesus, and we want to connect them to other Christians and we want to connect them to the community. At her basic core, the church’s mission is to make sure no one around us is lonely. 

The neighborhoods we live in should be a places where the word lonely doesn’t exist. Yet, loneliness is an epidemic. It’s a growing concern. 

There’s a book entitled, “Bowling Alone”. It’s written by Robert Putnam, a professor at the Harvard Business School, so we assume he knows what he’s talking about. The book is about the decline of relationships and close friendships, and the increasing rate of loneliness in the United States, over the past 25 years.

Where we all were 25 years ago is a different world today.
Some stats in this book are this:  

Family dinners are down 33%. 

Active families tend to eat without dad because he’s working a lot, or they eat food cooked by a 16 year old after ordering it through a drive-thru window and then it’s off to practice for the kids. Instead of being intentional with our evenings, we watch television while eating. We could be catching up on how our loved one’s day went. 

Having the neighbors over for dinner or dessert or coffee or for a game or for a walk, it’s down 33% than what it was 25 years ago. 

How many of us know our neighbors? Not just their name or what kind of dog they have. Not just a friendly wave. Do you know them closely? Or are they lonely because you haven’t invited them over yet? 

I was convicted a few years ago and my wife and I put our home up for sale. We had an open house that we weren’t present for but our realtor told us that the neighbors on our street came to the open house. They weren’t interested in buying our home, they were just curious to see what it looked like on the inside.

Because we had never had them over for dinner. 

Having friends over to the home just to be with one another is down 45%. 

I hope we as Christians are people who practice hospitality and enjoy the company of one another to the point that weekly we have people we love and care about over to our home just to hang out. No agenda but to check in.

Playing cards together is down 25%. 

Playing cards is not about winning, it’s about catching up and laughing and catching up with one another.

The readiness to make friends by the average American is down 33%.  

Our children are young in age, but a simple principle I am encouraging to engrave in their thoughts and habits is if they see someone at school alone – at lunch, on the playground, on the bus – that they are the ones who should initiate a conversation and befriend that child who’s alone. I want them to be includers.

People want closeness, they want friends, they want to be social, but because they’re afraid or not as confident, they become isolated and lonely from the world. 

Everyone craves to have a friend but no one wants to take the first step. Everyone deep down wants to be honest and loved for who they really are but no one wants to be vulnerable. 

In 1995 Americans had 3 close friends. Now, today, they have 2. In a matter of time they’ll have one and then it will just be them. Alone. By themselves. 

25% of Americans have no one to confide in. 

When life is hard and the stress is high and the pain is overwhelming, what happens when a person with all of that weight feels unloved and believes they have no one to go to?

If people are lonely and they’re created for relationships and they feel like they have no one to confide in, who are they going to turn to? 

All it takes for a girl to trust a guy is the fact that he listens to her, because she’s got no one to confide in. He’ll listen to her, and then take advantage of her. 

If people have no one to trust, they turn to just anyone around them and that gets them onto a dangerous path. 

Or, the lonely person with no one to share their struggle with will turn to drinking, or pornography, or binge on Netflix or take sleeping pills. 

Go to a coffee house and observe the increase of isolation in our community. Count the amount of people by themselves verses people enjoying one another’s company. More and more, coffee houses are places where you buy mediocre coffee, open up your laptop, listen to some music on your headphones and ignore the people sitting close to you. 

That’s not why coffee houses were started. They were supposed to be a place of community.

It’s also not why the church started. The church is supposed to be a place of community. 

What I’m pointing through statistics is that people are more lonely than ever. 

Some of you are lonely. You’re married, but you feel lonely. You have beautiful kids, but you’re lonely. You have a job that provides, but you’re lonely. You’re retired, and lonely. You’re broken-hearted and lonely.

And if not you, the people around you are lonely. They are close to you in proximity but they are far away from others relationally.

What is the answer to our loneliness and the loneliness of the people around us? 

It’s the power of connection.

A friend of mine was telling me about their dog and cat. The dog and the cat didn’t like each other. They seemed to fight for 10 years. Then, one year, the cat died and afterwards the dog didn’t want to eat. For 6 weeks the dog wouldn’t eat. 6 weeks after the cat died, the dog died. 

That’s the power of relational connection.

Earlier this month a couple in Michigan who were married for 70 years to each other died minutes apart.

That’s the power of relational connection.

People who are socially disconnected are between 2 and 5 times more likely to die earlier than those who have close ties to family and friend relationships. 

That’s the power of relational connection. 

People who have bad health habits like cigarette smoking, overeating, elevated blood pressure, physical inactivity, these people live longer when connected to others.  

People with bad health habits but that are connected, live longer than people who have great health habits but are disconnected and isolated.

The poster boy for this is Winston Churchill. 

Churchill was deeply connected with friends and family. He had a wonderful marriage with his wife, connected to his extended family, connected to his friends and his nation and those at his work. 

His health habits were terrible. 

His diet was awful. He smoked cigars all the time. He drank too much, had erratic sleeping habits and was completely sedentary but he lived to be ninety-one years old. 

Somebody asked him one time, “Winston Churchill, do you ever exercise? 

His response, “The only exercise I get is serving as a pallbearer for my friends who died while they were exercising. 

Now, I’m not advocating that if you have close relationships then you can smoke and eat and drink as much as you want. I am advocating that the best way to take care of yourself above eating right and sleeping right and exercising is to have close relationships.

Community takes a “don’t give up” spirit because it isn’t easy or natural. God will help us but still it is not easy. If you’re not in a little community of one anothers, for whatever reason, there are Christians around you who would love to help you move towards that connectedness. 

Putnam writes further, “As a rough rule of thumb, if you belong to no groups but you decide to join one, you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half.”

It’s’ the power of relational connection.

So, for a husband and wife, each side of the marriage needs to be vulnerable. They need to share what is stressing them out. They need to share what’s disappointing them. They need to pray together. 

For a parent-child dynamic, mom and dad need to be daily checking in with their child’s thoughts. What are they afraid of? Did something happen in the day that hurt them? How do their friendships look? Are they deep or shallow? 

For our friendships, it’s so much more than having a girls night out or playing poker with the guys. It’s one-on-one conversations where we visit with a friend and ask them questions like, Is there anything you need prayer for? Is there anything on your mind that you’d like to share? Is there something keeping you up at night? 

For our neighbors, (as Christians, we do not believe in coincidence, we live in the place we live on purpose, meaning, we live by the people we do for a reason) we need to invite these people over. 

Have them over for dinner. Have them over for a game night. Invite them to come with you to a community event. As you grow closer, ask them if you can help take care of their pet if they’ve traveling or babysit their child if they need a night away. See if there’s a talent you have that they don’t that you can help them out with (finances, yard work, cooking). Buy new neighbors a house-warming gift with a card of encouragement. Don’t let anyone in church sit alone. 

Anything little to start a loving relationship so that they don’t feel alone and you don’t either. 

Every life needs to be a part of another life. It starts with you. Overcome the fear of being rejected when you invite someone into your life or when you courageously decide to ask for help. Overcome the busyness of your schedule and the lackadaisical approach you have allowed your evenings and weekends to be, and invite people into your home. 

Your life and their life might depend on an act of kindness just to grow closer. 

Let us not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another. (Hebrews 10:25)

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

How You Can and Can’t Help Someone Who is Struggling.

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Charles Schulz’s famed character, Charlie Brown, tells his friend Linus this: 

I think there must be something wrong with me. Christmas is coming, but i’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. – Charlie Brown

The chances are very good and providential that at some point this Christmas season, you will be around someone who is struggling. You’ll notice it because Christmas has a way of making people vulnerable. These people struggling might be immediate or extended family, friends, co-workers, classmates or neighbors. 

Their struggle could be an addiction they keep succumbing to. It could be a sin they have been blind to. It could be a trial that weighs heavy on them. It could be the loss of something like a job or a marriage or a loved one. It could be loneliness. It could be they are struggling with how difficult this year has been and how little hope there is for the new year. 

But, you notice them and their struggle. And in your heart you have compassion and want to help them experience love and joy and peace. How can you help them? 

In the first century, in Jerusalem, there was a pool named Bethesda. In fact, the pool is still available to see today and has received an A+ grade for what it actually looked like 2,000 years ago. 

Anyone in the first century who was sick or lame or blind, they would lay near the porches of this pool because there was a mythical assumption that if you could just touch the water, it would heal them. 

Just like today, people in need of some kind of hope just about believe anything will help them. 

In the biblical book of John, chapter 5, there is a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. And just as you might find yourself around someone who is struggling, Jesus happens to cross paths with this crippled man. 

When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?” (John 5:6)  

That’s what Jesus asks this man? Would you like to get well?

Jesus does goes on to miraculously heal this man, because that’s what Jesus does, but I used to think this was such an unnecessary question.

Would you like to get well?

This guy has been crippled for four decades. He lays by a pool hoping one person on one day would pick him up and put him in the water because he thinks that will heal him, and no one has. He’s been ostracize from the marketplace. He’s been rejected by loved ones and strangers. If only he could be healed he could begin to build a life that gives him purpose and dignity and legacy. 

Of course he wants to get well. It feels like an unnecessary question by Jesus. 

But, let’s not forget Jesus never wasted one word He spoke. Nothing He did was unnecessary. The longer I am around broken people the more I see this is not a dumb question by Jesus. 

Wanting to get well is important. Some people don’t want to get better. 

When you have a loved one with an issue they are struggling with, you need to ask them this question, Do you want to get better? Human nature is that we will not change until the fear of the damage the issue is causing us is greater than the fear of changing our habits.

What’s also counter to human nature is humility. We have to admit we need help and we have to admit we are the ones that cannot change ourselves.

We were really crushed and overwhelmed, and feared we would never live through it. We felt we were doomed to die and saw how powerless we were to help ourselves; but that was good, for then we put everything into the hands of God, who alone could save us. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)

There is power in powerlessness.

That’s Christmas. How dependent Jesus was on Joseph and Mary that night in Bethlehem as he was laid in an animal feeding trough? Jesus had no power to display as an infant and yet what results in Jesus conquering over death.

When you and I admit our weakness and admit we can’t do it on our own, that’s when God’s strength has the permission to flow through us. 

This Christmas and next year your loved ones might continue to be great an image-management. They appear put together and great and that nothing is wrong. But if they’re ever going to be healed, if they’re ever going to change or be free or have joy, they have to admit they can’t do it and that God can. 

They have to believe there is power in powerlessness. 

The day after Christmas a few years ago I got a call from friends who were married to each other and they needed to meet with me right away. On December 26th we met at my office.

It came out that the wife had found pictures of her husband and a female co-worker of his in a hotel room, and you can fill in the blanks. The wife found these scandalous pictures on the family iPad. And she found these pictures on Christmas Day.

With me probing a bit for further context, it also came out that the wife had cheated on her husband a couple years earlier in their marriage. 

These were church-going people. They had worshipped God their entire lives.

The reason there was pain in their marriage was because they were masters of image-management. Neither one wanted to admit they were powerless to change and that they were going to be fine. 

I didn’t berate them. That’s not what friends do, it’s not what leaders do. I told them that God’s power could change them and heal them if they were willing to let Him. I simply wanted to see if they wanted to get well. 

Then I told them there is one thing in this world greater than the power of God.

There is one thing greater than the power of God. It’s the love of God.

If they wanted their marriage to heal, if they wanted to forgive each other, if they wanted to change, God’s power could do that. But until they saw God’s love for them in their mess, whether they wanted to change or not, they wouldn’t want to change. 

It’s why Jesus asks, Do you want to get well? 

It’s the double-edged sword of free will. If we choose to seek after God He will heal us but if we choose to not seek after God, He can’t heal us. He still loves us and He still will pursue us, but for change or healing becomes a reality – surrender needs to happen. There is power in powerlessness.

There’s a book called, Generation Me, written by Jean Twenge. Dr. Twenge has a PhD, does a lot of research, and her book is all about the ever-increasing growing epidemic of narcissism in our culture. She writes,

Our growing tendency to put the self first leads to unparalleled freedom, but it also creates an enormous amount of pressure on us to stand alone. This is the downside of the focus on the self. When we are fiercely independent and self-sufficient, our disappointments loom large because we have nothing else to focus on.” – Dr. Jean Twenge

This is how people without Jesus think. They either focus on themselves and how great they are or they focus on their problems and how bad things are.

The answer to being humble in our success and to be transformed in our trial is to focus our life on Jesus. It’s so easy to veer our thoughts to ourselves and to our problems.

Y’all know the movies that Jim Carrey and Steve Carrell did? Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty? – If not watched, I can think of myself as, Zach Almighty. I love talking about Zach. My theme song can be Toby Keith’s,  I wanna talk about me, I wanna talk about I, I want to talk about number one, me, my, oh-my. 

I can tend to sound like the annoying seagulls in the movie Finding Nemo: Mine. Mine. Mine Mine. 

I love the idea of Santa and how excited children get because as adults we lose some of that wonder and imagination, but, why are kids excited about Santa? 

He brings them gifts. They get presents.
Are we excited about Santa if he doesn’t brings us gifts?

This is why my family reads the entire chapter of Luke 2 on Christmas morning before anything else is done. Before stockings or presents. before coffee for mom or candy for myself, we read the Christmas account in Luke chapter 2 as a family tradition to remind our children that every day, even this Christmas Day, our focus in on Jesus. 

As a parent, if I permit my children to focus on themselves unchecked, they will, and then if/when they will fail, they will then focus on their problems. Their life will be a constant seesaw with a lot of pride,  look how great I am, and depression, look how bad I am.

For a couple years on Monday mornings I taught male inmates at the county prison. The curriculum I taught from was all about preparing the male prisoners to leave their life of bad desires and choices and pursue wise and life-giving desires and choices. 

You could tell a difference between the guys who wanted to be there, who wanted to change, and the guys who didn’t, but they had to be there because it looked good on their parole record if they attended the class.

I would start each class of about 20 prisoners reciting this equation,

Self-deception + Self-reliance = Self-Destruction

This equation runs true every single time. The common denominator is self – and I would tell the guys in prison that they have there choices.

  1. They can sit and think about how they are going to change themselves once they get out.  
  2. They can think how about how they blew it and how much of a loser they are.
  3. They can admit they were powerless and rely on God’s Spirit to bring love and power if they wanted permanent change. 

Your loved ones need to hear this. They are focused on themselves or their problems.

Christmas blows away the misperceptions of God that people have. 

He is a God who comes near to us.
He is a humble God.
He is a God who cares.
He’s not just loving – He is love.

I have seen what they do, but I will heal them anyway! I will lead them. I will comfort those who mourn, bringing words of praise to their lips. May they have abundant peace, both near and far,” says the Lord, who heals them. Isaiah 57:18-19

God knows all about what I’ve done, what I struggle with, what harsh times I’ve gone through and He still wants to heal me and lead me to the way that is free as He comforts me when I am broken. He longs to bring peace into my soul.

If I let Him. If I invite Him to do so.

If I feel guilty, He wants to forgive me.
I I feel lost, He wants to lead me.
If I am overwhelmed or anxious or stress out, He wants to comfort me.
If I can’t sleep – He wants to bring me rest and a peace that transcends rational explanation. 

If I let Him. If I invite Him to do so.

You might not need recovery from addition abuse or need AA or a 12 step program but the principle is the same if you or your loved ones want healing. They have one of three options.

  1. They can focus on themselves: I can do it! 
  2. They can focus on their problems: I can’t do it! 
  3. They can focus on Jesus. He can do it. And will. And does every day. 

We are used to making your own choices. We decide what time to wake up, what to wear, what to eat, what to do at work or at school, what to do at night, where to travel to, what hobbies interest us, what to spend money on. We rule our world. We’re so used to making choices on our own constantly. 

We’ve forgotten how to be dependent on God. As an infant is fully dependent on their mother we need to be fully dependent on God. That’s the ironic message of Jesus’ birth. As dependent and humble God became on two people He created, Joseph and Mary, we need to be that dependent on God daily.

The message of Christmas is this (and what you should tell all of your relationships): 

There is a God who has an unfailing love for you, and He wants to get really close to you. 

If they let Him. If they invite Him to do so.

Open your eyes and your ears and your heart to someone near you who is struggling. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

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

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Last Christmas season I had a friend take his two younger children to Walmart. Outside of Walmart they saw Santa Claus ringing the bell for the Salvation Army, asking for donations. Dad didn’t let his children stop to say hi, in a rush to get items mom needed for the office Christmas party. Dad promised his kids they would talk to Santa on their way out. 

Heading out of Walmart, Santa was gone and my friend’s kids were bummed. They went around the corner looking for him and they found “Santa” around the building, sitting on a turned-over bucket with his beard off, smoking a cigarette. 

The kids eyes were as big as baseballs. This Santa was a pretender. Dad was left with an awkward justification on bad Santa’s behalf.

The word Christian literally means, Christ-like, or, little Christ. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is God and, with that, we believe God is love. So, for a Christian to not be loving toward others means we are not taking our devotion to Jesus as seriously as we verbally claim 

No more pretending. No more words and actions not aligning. Will the real Christians please stand up? Because people need love to change their lives.

I know of an older woman who walked up to a younger woman who was getting into her beat up minivan in the Goodwill parking lot. With no specific need to address, the older woman gave $100 to the younger woman, someone she didn’t know, no questions asked. The older woman simply said, You are loved. 

The mini-van woman said she makes $40 too much per month to qualify for government assistance and that she’s been needing medication for a while and that the $100 gift would go to groceries and medicine for her and her family.

That’s just what Christians should do. It’s what people who think about others do.

When Christians love others radically, I think Jesus claps and cheers and whistles and shouts in a much larger way than sports fans do when their team makes a big play. When we love with no-strings attached, Jesus is high fiving angels and He’s Tiger Woods fist-pumping.

Here are 30 radical ways we can love on others this Christmas season (and any season): 

  • Leave a tip for your waiter/waitress that is double the amount of your meal. Write on the receipt, Jesus loves you, or, You are loved.
  • Bake cookies with your children or your nieces/nephews and go around the neighborhood delivering them (neighbors are more receptive to smiling children at their door). 
  • Go to an Aldi or Piggly Wiggly grocery store (or a grocery store where people have to bag their own groceries) and choose to bag groceries voluntarily for the elderly or the disabled checking their food out. While there, choose someone you can pay for their groceries, no questions asked. 
  • Go to a local laundromat, where people go in the evening to do their laundry, and hand out bags of quarters. 
  • Depending on where you live, mow the yard of an elderly neighbor or single mom, rake their leaves or plow the snow off their driveway and sidewalk. 
  • Depending on where you live, take hot chocolate or popsicles to construction workers working earnestly. 
  • Whenever you see a moving truck in your neighborhood, stop your schedule and ask if you can help unload or load items. 
  • Buy coloring books, stuffed animals, action figures and go to your local Children’s Hospital and deliver them to kids battling cancer.
  • Make homemade Christmas cards for those in nursing homes, delver them personally and sit and listen to each elderly person you visit, as very few people take time for them. 
  • Gather a group of friends and go pick up trash at your local community park. 
  • When your child talks about a friend at their school who doesn’t have much, go and buy them a new winter coat, or new gym shoes. Wrap it as a Christmas gift.
  • Walk around your local school and pray for the principals, teachers, counselors, cafeteria workers and janitors. Pray that they would love Jesus and be a positive influence on the children in that school. 
  • Blitz the police and fire stations with homemade goodies and gift cards. 
  • Get a haircut and leave a large, jaw-dropping tip. 
  • Order boxes of pizza for carry-out, get some chips and bottles of water and take them to your nearest Urgent Care waiting room around dinner time and hand out free food. You could ask anyone sick if you could pray for them. 
  • Whenever you are in the drive-thru at Starbucks or a fast-food joint, pay for the car behind you. 
  • Pursue the paperwork needed to foster a needy child in your home. 
  • Write a letter of gratitude to someone in our military serving abroad (you can also write a letter of encouragement to a missionary you know or one your church is supporting). 
  • Cook a large crockpot of your infamous chili and set up a small table near your walking trail or busy sidewalk and offer $3 for the best bowl of chili ever. Then, give the money away to a local charity.
  • Stand by your nearest bus stop, and in a non-creepy, friendly way, pass out free balloons or balloon animals already made to the kids getting off the bus. 
  • Take all of the junk in your home – the trinkets, the clothes not worn, the toys not played with, and instead of having a garage sale with price tags, have a garage sale without any price tags. Give it all away. It’s all free.  You’ll get to know your neighbors more that way. 
  • For Christmas, ask for gardening tools. Make the plans next year to till your yard, plant seeds in it, water it and grow fruit and vegetables and give that food away (or make something with it) to a low-income family. 
  • Write a hand-written letter to a teacher, thanking them genuinely for pouring their knowledge and love into the mind and heart of your child. Put flowers or a gift card to go with the letter.
  • Write a hand-written letter to someone in your past who inspired you to become who you are. 
  • Write a hand-written letter to someone who has hurt you, or you have hurt them, and either forgive or apologize, aiming for reconciliation. 
  • Sign up and get a background check to serve meals at your local homeless shelter. Smile like crazy. Encourage others non-stop. Sit down at the table and listen to the stories of those who have it difficult. 
  • Tape $1 bills to a vending machine with a note that says, Buy something for yourself, use the rest to buy treats for others around you. 
  • Leave great online reviews on Google/Angie’s List/Home Advisor/Yelp! for any local, small business you support or utilize.
  • Offer to babysit for friends who could use a much-needed date night during this busy time.
  • When you hear about a millennial who can’t afford make it home for Christmas, use your air miles or your money to get them home. 

The creative and practical ideas could go on and on. 

The issue is we can have these ideas or read the ideas of others to be a more loving person, and we leave it at that. We allow routine and the tasks at hand to take over our willingness to purposefully stop and ask, How can I radically love this person right now? Forget what I want. Forget what I need to do. How can I love this person, right now? 

A few years ago I was running late to church on a Sunday morning. It happens 50% of the time that when I’m running late, my gas tank is on empty. Frequently, I’m out of time and out of gas. 

I pulled over into a gas station and started filling up and I noticed the man behind me looked disheveled, worried, fidgety and depressed. I asked him if he was okay, and he waved me off as if to say he was fine and he’ll figure his own problems out. I still pursued because he looked troubled. Knowing I wouldn’t leave him alone while my gas pumped, he welcomed me over. 

I offered to pay for his gas and he started to cry. In tears he confessed to me he had been driving around aimlessly for an hour this Sunday morning looking for any reason on why he shouldn’t kill himself. 

A smile, a prayer, a hug and a free tank of gas gave this man the reason he was looking for. Its’ called hope. 

Let’s play, Would God Rather? Would God rather I ignore the man next to me at the gas station who looks troubled so I can be on time to church worship, or would God rather, I take time for the man and walk into church late? 

Do we get it? Our selfishness and our schedule and our insular instincts cannot dominate our heart this time of year. 

In my circle of friends is a young mom who took the challenge to love others radically. She told me she left a tip for a waitress, whom she found out was a single mom, that was equivalent to a week’s worth of groceries for her family. That’s quite a sacrifice. 

It didn’t end there. 

While my friend was getting in her car to leave the restaurant, a homeless woman knocked on the driver’s side window. My friend rolled down his window and this woman in need said, Do you have $5? I need money for a bus ticket, I’m stranded and I need $5 to get home to my kids. 

My friend opened her wallet and gave the needy woman $10. 

Then my friend watched the needy woman get in a running car and speed away. My friend had been taken advantage of. It would’ve been easy to judge that woman, to think that she’ll get what’s coming to her. 

Except this is what my generous friend wrote to me in an email, 

I began immediately to feel compassion for that woman. I saw her as a deprived child crying out these words, “While you’re giving out love and prayers of generosity, would you save some for me?” The time this happened in our day was around 1:00pm and I don’t know if I’ll ever see this woman again but for the past 4 days at 1:00pm I have prayed for her. And not only have I developed a more compassionate heart toward what she did, God’s Spirit of truth has shown me that I am like that woman to Him. I’m the swindler that asks God for some forgiveness and He gives graciously and freely and then I turn my back on Him and run to my sin, speeding off. I’m the beggar who asks God to provide for me and then I spend everything He gives on my wants and pleasures. Thankfully God’s mercy isn’t dependent on my actions! He forgives. He forgets. He covers me in love. The very least I can do today and every day is cover other people in love. As for me, I simply want to join and love more people in an authentic way.

What about you?

This is the time of year people’s needs are exposed and their hearts are more open to those around them providing acts of generosity and love for them. Let’s get to it. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

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