13 Statements on Dating and Christianity

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Whether you’re 40 and single, or 16 and single, if you desire to be married, that desire is good and it’s from God, so align your emotions with what God wants for you, and not what everyone else is doing. 

Here are 13 biblical values I see when it comes to dating and Christianity: 

(1) Take Advantage of Your Singleness.

If all you do while you’re single is sit around a dream about marriage and romantic love and constantly search for it, you’ll miss out on what God wants to do in you right now while you’re single. I feel strongly you should finish your education before marriage – and get your theology firm about God before marriage. Give your time to travel and go on church mission trips and work hard hours in your career and pay off any debt you owe. Don’t waste your single years away.

(2) Don’t Pursue a Serious Relationship Until You’re Mature Enough to Marry. 

The movies and books and our friends are all about LOVE LOVE LOVE, vying to find that Prince Charming and that happy ending, but there should be a lengthy period of time in everyone’s life where we’re not thinking about crushes and romance and finding a spouse. 

You should be preparing yourself for marriage. Some single people need biblical counseling to overcome a habitual sin in their lives – whether it’s pornography, or lying, or stealing, or substance abuse – so they can mature as a Christian. 

If someone is a new or immature Christian, or if their just moving out of mom and dad’s home, or if they’re just getting into their career and this “bill paying” thing they’ll be doing  until death – these are all good reasons to delay a serious relationship until maturity happens. 

Until someone is mature enough to handle the responsibilities of marriage, they shouldn’t be in a romantic relationship. Instead they should be using their energy and experiences to mature. 

3) Don’t Set Your Expectations Too High or Too Low. 

Setting your expectations too low in a potential mate may lead to you making the worst mistake of your life. You’ll be miserable, and you deserve better. I don’t like it when people settle for just anyone due to low confidence, or because all their friends are getting hitched.

Now if you set your expectations too high, that can be futile as well. There was a period of time in my single life where I was only going get married to the actress Natalie Portman. It kind of narrowed my options down and had I stuck with it that silly expectation, I’d still be single and miss out on the person God wanted me to marry. 

I’m not a fan of Christian singles having a long list of what they’re looking for in a lover. I think making a list of what you’re looking for in love is idolatrous because it’s just made up of what you dream about over thoughts of Jesus. And that list is probably someone just like you instead of finding someone different from you that you can learn to love and serve. 

4) Don’t Even Think About Having a Romantic Relationship With Someone Who Doesn’t Love Jesus.

If Jesus is truly the center of your life, then a non-Christian won’t understand who you are, what you value, or even how to treat you the way God wants them to. 

If you’re in a relationship with someone who doesn’t care about Jesus, then arguing over their sin will be a mess because they have no standard of morality outside of their own worldview. 

Now, you can and should have non-romantic, evangelistic connections with non-Christians. Introduce your unbelieving female friends to Christian girls. Introduce your unbelieving male friends to Christian boys and pray for them date Jesus first before they date you.

If you’re in a marital relationship with an unbeliever, pray, pray, pray for them, be a Christ-like example to them, and keep your commitment to them. But know there will be difficulty because you submit to God and they don’t.

5) You Should Only Be in a Dating Relationship With One Person at a Time. 

The goal of a Christian who isn’t called to be single is not to be someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend, it’s to be married. 

I can’t stand the act of cheating. And even if it’s mutual to date around, it’s straight up mean to date multiple people at once, making them compete for your affection and attention. 

I also think being in numerous relationships at once is better preparations for adultery in the future and not a covenantal marriage. 

6) He Should Initiate and She Should Respond.

Any serious dating relationship should begin beautifully, and that beautiful genesis should be a man taking the brave step to kindly requesting an opportunity to get to know the woman better. 

Any Christian woman going out on the prowl herself needs to drop hints, but not initiate. Guys are dense, yes, but she shouldn’t become the leader.

7) Get Your Head Out of the Clouds and Notice Who God’s Put in Front of You. 

I get this feeling that Christian singles dream of some mythical person to be with when there are great single Christians in their church, or at their work, or somewhere right in front of them. In God’s plan, faithful awesome people are right in front of you. And while the girl shouldn’t chase the guy, she can put herself directly in front of him. 

This is what the Old Testament book of Ruth is all about. God providentially put Ruth in Boaz’s field, but they weren’t together until Ruth considered the counsel of older believing women, got all dressed up and put herself in front of Boaz, not to chase him, but get in his way so he noticed her, and it ended up being one of the sweetest love stories in all of history. 

8) Choose to Use Technology Wisely. 

Stop looking at images dealing with pornography. That’s stupid and destructive. If you’re addicted to that, find a Christian friend to truthfully hold you accountable. 

If you’re texting the opposite sex inappropriate statements, stop it.

If you’ve got pictures on social media that will cause someone else to stumble, take them off. Use technology wisely, as if Jesus is sitting next to you. 

9) Invest Yourself in a Dating Relationship Only if You’re Completely Attracted to Them. 

Duh, right? You should get excited and feel some butterflies and be attracted to them if you’re going to date them. 

But attraction is more than someone who is hot and rich and hot. Attraction to a person must mean you’re attracted to the whole person. 

Are you mentally attracted to them? Do you enjoy talking about faith and deep topics and like learning from them? Married couples could do well to remember their first few dates where it was all about learning about one another. Some of y’all cute married couples have stopped learning about one another. We never fully know God or our spouses on this side of heaven, so keep having great conversations. 

You should be financially attracted to one another so you both can agree on the kind of lifestyle you dream about. If their bank account is unattractive to you and that matters, that’s what I mean by being completely drawn to them.  

Above all you should be spiritually attracted to them. Do they inspire you by how much they love Jesus? By how much Scripture they know? By how loving and giving they are to others? By how pure they’re committed to being because they love Jesus more than they love their hormones? 

I’m “integrity attracted” to my wife – I love watching the Holy Spirit work on her through the time she gives to God through reading the Bible. I love watching the Holy Spirit work through her to help others. 

I’m “ministry attracted” to her as well, watching her be the church and serve others. 

10) Only Get Serious With Someone Who Agrees With You on Primary Theological Issues. 

As you get to know them better, get to know their theology better. It’s not enough to marry someone who calls themselves a Christian. If you want peace in the home, both sides need to have the same theological convictions. 

For my wife and I, here’s what I mean: We both agree the Bible is God’s Word – that every syllable is from God’s mouth.

We both agree that God is Trinitarian – Father, Son, and Spirit. We both agree that the Son, Jesus, lived a perfect life and died for His imperfect creation. We both have a protestant view of Scripture. 

We both agree on gender and family roles from the Bible – not from the 90’s, or the 50’s, or from our parents. The husband leads, the wife follows, the husband loves, the wife respects, and the children are a blessing from God. Our children aren’t ours, they’re God’s, and God has allowed us to care for them in a loving way to lead them to Christ. 

We both agree that baptism is a command to obey from Jesus and that means a body under the water and back up, not sprinkling. We both agree that elders who lead the church are holy men, not women. From day one of our marriage we have never missed a tithe (givingi God 10% of our after-tax income) which shows God we also view money as something we borrow from God and use for Him and the church and others.

We both agree Christians are to be in the world and not of it. We look forward to being around sinners and loving them, but not participate with them in their sin…..I could go on, but be sure you’re having these important conversations, and if there’s a core disagreement, don’t overlook it. Get into Scripture together and you’ll find that conversation might lead to a break up, or for y’all to grow in your faith together and become more knowledgeable about God. You should be allies with your potential spouse on core values, not enemies – plus, raising the children is good this way, and going to the same church as a whole family is beneficial. 

11) Protect Your Heart. 

Getting to know someone takes time, so let’s not say “I love you” on your first date as you’re pulling into Micky D’s. Protect your heart. 

If you give your heart away too quickly, you’ll find yourself trying to make the relationship work and be heartbroken in the end. It’s a momentous act to give your heart away, but it should only be done in the act of marriage.    

12) Marry Someone Who Will Enjoy Every Season of Life With You. 

I love my wife more today in my 30’s than I did in my early 20’s. We’ve grown through dating and working and moving and adopting and parenting and home buying and loving the church and I’m stoked about what’s coming our way next in life. I want to grow old with her. Don’t just think about how fun they are now, or how your wedding would be, or sex, try to think ahead for once at what every season of life.

13) Don’t have any sexual contact until marriage. 

Single Christians, whether teens or older, are prone to ask the question, “Where is the line on how far is too far?

This question irks my tater. How far is too far? The question is sinful because it’s asking how close can you get to sin without asking how close can you get to Jesus?

Ephesians 5:23 says, But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity….because these are improper for God’s holy people.

Not even a hint.

Massages don’t lead to prayer time. Being alone with the person you’re dating at night doesn’t lead to putting more clothes on. Not even a hint. 

It’s possible for single Christians to avoid sexual sin. It’s possible by the power and wisdom of Christ to remain pure. As theologian John Piper writes, “theology can conquer over biology”. It is possible to remain pure. 

Put Jesus above all, raise your children to love Him above all, and if you desire to please Him and pray, you’ll find love.

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Zach  

The Secret to Happiness (Part 1 of 2)

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Every single day we are inundated  with images and marketing and videos telling us how to attain happiness. 

Marketers are throwing ads at us through our phone, on Facebook, on billboards, on banners, on TV, at the bottom of every article we read – and what all of these ads are telling is in an underling message is that your life is miserable unless you have this product or this experience that they are promoting.

We fall for this all of the time. 

Some people buy a car thinking it will make us happy and it doesn’t anymore. 

Some people get a boat hoping it will make them happy and it’s too much work. 

Some people get a pool hoping it brings fulfillment and it has brought fun times but there’s still searching for what could satisfy. 

Some of you bought an ab roller back in the day, or a shake weight to improve your life and that didn’t make you happy, it made you feel less-than. 

We buy new clothes, new equipment, new technology.

Many think the next job change will satisfy.

All of us have fallen prey to the brilliant, shrewd marketing that is thrown at us saying that we need what they offer to be happy and we get it and it’s happy for a moment and then shortly after we’re not happy anymore. 

Instead of trying to buy our contentment, let’s go with this principle: 

Happiness Is More About a Who Than a What.

Happiness is found more in people than it is found in possessions.

We learn this at a young age. We come down the stairs as a child and we’re headed outside and mom asks us, Where are you going? What are you doing? – and we said, I don’t know, I’m just going to be with my friends. Because it didn’t matter what you were doing as long as you were with the people you wanted to be around. 

We took our youngest child to her pre-school open house one evening and she didn’t care about her new teachers, about the schedule, about the classroom. None of it mattered to her. She wanted to know if some of her friends from last year’s class were in her new class. 

She wanted to know if she had any friends who were going to walk this tour of duty she’s got to put in for the next 9 months. To her it’s about who is with her, not what are they going to do.

And it doesn’t really leave us as we get older – every junior higher, high schooler, college student, new career worker, new home owner, new family and on up – we want to know who is going to do life with us, not what about we going to do. 

If happiness were a what, we would’ve found it by now and would’ve bought 10 of them to be happy forever. 

When happiness becomes a what in our mind,
happy what turns into happy what’s next.

Happy what easily turns into happy what else is there that I can try?

Many of us and our friends are investing in what I’ll call Caffeine Happiness – happiness just for a while and then it’s on to the next thing we can grab to get us through the day.

At the end of our lives if God gives us a long life on this side of heaven – when we are old and tired – the regrets that we will have will have nothing to do with possessions. The only regret someone has when they are near death are relational regrets. 

I’m going to regret the people I didn’t spend enough intentional time with. I’m going to regret the relationships that were separated by sin that I didn’t try to restore but instead gave up on.

I was talking with a husband who was thinking about calling a divorce lawyer. He’s a father two two kids, both preteens, and I go, What’s going on? Why do you want out of this marriage? 

His response was: She just doesn’t “get”me. 

He went on to say, She doesn’t understand that I like my hobbies. I like spending time the way I like. I like my golf buddies, I like my cars, I like my business. She just doesn’t get it. 

And I went there, I said, Okay, let’s say you’re dying a slow death and you’re bedridden. Who is going to be there, your wife, or your cars?

I really have never met someone who, when about to die, ask, Can someone please bring me my golf clubs? I just want to hold my Scotty Cameron putter one more time.

What makes us happy – NO-THING (nothing).
There’s not a possession that can make you happy.
Happiness is a who. It’s not a thing, not a what.

The truly happy people in your life have this one thing (and I don’t mean happy people who are paid to be happy like those who work at Chick-Fit-A or any other guest services), but genuinely satisfied and encouraging and kind people all have this one quality: 

P E A C E

The happiest people I know have peace. They have peace in multiple areas of they relationships. 

And in the second of two blogs on this subject, we’ll discuss the three people we need to have peace with in order to have permanent happiness in our daily lives. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

Immigration and Christianity: 2 Cents on What’s Become Too Intense.

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In January, 2016, my family and I were living in the country of South Africa. South Africa is a country desperately obsessed with the United States. Once President Trump was sworn into the Oval Office, his inaugural speech was about protecting America first. 

Quickly after taking office, President Trump-led policies on immigration and new proposed laws started to become a reality, and, how much of the public eye interpreted it, Americans became increasingly xenophobic. 

Xenophobia is the intense dislike or irrational fear of people from other countries. 

South Africa at the time, like a younger sibling wanting to impress a big sibling, copy-catted America and became strict on immigration as well – except not through the courts or government – but in the streets. 

South Africa is referred to as the Rainbow Nation because of her wide acceptance of all nations. But, with nationals wanting to put their country first too, with a thirst for violence what ensued where protests, physical violence, theft, rape and murder. 

The college I was teaching at in the city of Durban, South Africa had a warm-hearted, bright student named Evic who was from the Republic of Congo. During this xenophobic rioting he was pulled out of a taxi cab and beaten by South African nationals, punched in his head multiple times to the point of a concussion and then left on the street.  

As Americans, my wife and I were concerned for the safety of our daughters – who were the only immigrants at the school they attended. It’s brought a different perspective into my worldview about how a country treats foreigners. 

Two years later after President Trump took office, immigration is still a sensitive, polarizing topic. I’m watching on social media my Christian friends, on both sides of the table, try to make the other side feel less-than with one-line jabs or links to articles proving how they are right. 

What is the biblical response to immigration? 

I don’t really care what the political or patriotic or personal response needs to be. What is a Christian’s directive, biblically, meaning, where does God want His people to stand when it comes to immigration? 

Immigration is a far longer issue than what’s it’s become in the Western World today. 

From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture is about immigration. I wish we could take the time to write down every single historical person in the Bible and note how many of them where at one point an immigrant.

Here’s a few: 

Abraham: God calls him to leave his home and to go to a different land. At the time, it was faith that moved Abraham and his family to a land he didn’t know, but he left everything behind to venture out. He becomes an example of trusting God when nothing else makes sense, especially the trials. As a foreigner. 

Joseph: As a young man he becomes a victim of human-trafficking. After being sold into slavery by his own family, he forcibly crosses over geographic borders and spends 12 years in prison, eventually rising out of enslavement, out of misery, to become the 2nd most powerful person in the world at that time. As a foreigner. 

Ruth: a widow from Moab, moves to a different land with her mother-in-law and gets employed gathering barley in the harvest fields. The ruler of this different nation notices Ruth, not because she’s from another nation, but because she has dignity and respect by the way she works diligently and loves others intently. As a foreigner. 

Jesus: The greatest immigrant in the history of the world. Let’s go out for a drink and you can tell me why you think otherwise. Jesus grows to be a single, male Middle Eastern refugee. He checks every single box of someone Americans adamantly opposed to immigration don’t want to enter into “their” country. 

Please don’t get excited about Christmas if you’re not praying for God’s will and care in this prevalent issue of immigration. How can we sing Christmas songs about a Savior who left heaven and came to earth and yet spew hatred or have fear toward the very people He came for? 

I’m wondering if Jesus were born today, would Americans welcome Him into their borders (or, more specifically, would He be welcomed in the neighborhood or even in the church we attend?).

This isn’t about your opinion about the country’s policies or actions for/against immigration. 

This is not about the frightening images or video footage on the news. 

This is not about crimes committed by immigrants. 

This isn’t even about whether someone loves their country or not.

This is about how you are right now with your neighbors who are different than you. 

And by “neighbors”, I mean your physical neighbors. The people you work with. The people your children go to school with. The people you live next to. The people who are different than you. When did they come over to your loving home for dinner? 

Oh.
Never?
Okay. 

Dr. Timothy Tenent, who is President of Asbury Theological Seminary, writes that, “The immigrant population actually presents the greatest hope for Christian renewal in North America.” He goes on to access that 86% of the immigrant population are likely to become a Christian if someone were to act hospitably toward them.

It’s almost as if this “group” of people America wants to keep out could be the very answer she needs for spiritual transformation. 

This is not a test of political security. This is a test of each Christian’s faith. It’s about what each Christian fundamentally believes about the Gospel and about the biblical worldview that each human is created in the image of God. 

Every single time a person who is marginalized by the majority is loved on, the mission of God advances. 

It starts with my family. It starts with your household. How we raise our children to think about those who are different than them. How we utilize our homes and resources to love those different than us. How we pray more fervently for cultural unity in the name of Jesus verses throwing darts at the other side just because they disagree with our point of view. 

I love you but I care about God’s point of view more than anything. 

In Exodus 22:21 (and again in Exodus 23:9) God says, “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”

If we are wanting to live a life that pleases God, this is where His heart is: “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:18).

I’m not trying to convince you of your opinion on immigration. I’m just asking you to buy a gift, write a card, or host a meal for someone who is different than you this season.

Let’s start there. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

Do People Who Commit Suicide Go To Heaven Or Hell?

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Suicide doesn’t have any national boundaries, or generational boundaries, or economic boundaries. It’s a phenomenon that transcends beyond any box we try to put it in. 

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
121 suicides occur in America each day. That’s 5 lives gone every hour.
For every suicide that is successful, 25 more are attempted unsuccessfully.
Men die of suicide 3 1/2 times more than women.
The highest rate of suicide is middle aged white males.
White males accounted for 7 out of 10 suicides in 2015.

When it comes to faith and eternal life, this is the question that is asked:    

Do people who commit suicide go to heaven or hell?

Suicide is a form of murder. Murder is a sin. Suicide is not an act of faith. It is an act of doubt that God still has good things in store for the individual in the future. It’s an act of disbelief that God loves them.

This is why the church must be a family that balances grace and truth. 

The more gracious people, (which can lead to shallowness), say those who commit suicide go to heaven because these people are full of love and mercy and want every to be in heaven. 

The more truthful people, (which can lean into legalism), say those who commit suicide go to hell because these people see things in black and white, that wrong is wrong and suicide is giving up on God.

If we say all are going to heaven, that might give someone suicidal permission to end their life believing they’ll be with Jesus, just wanting to leave the pain of this world. If we say all go to hell, that might depress a person even more, ushering them toward ending their life. 

In some reading I was doing earlier this year, a psychiatric professional said that there are two classifications of suicide. There is: 

Irrational Suicide
and there is
Considered Suicide

Irrational suicide is the act by someone with a serious, documented mental illness. 

Considered suicide is the act by someone with no mental illness. They’ve considered the act, they’re weighed the consequences and they still go through with the suicide. 

Does someone who kills themselves go to heaven or hell?

Just to give a couple of clarifiers: 

  1. Only people who believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior go to heaven at all. 
  2. Only God truly knows who believes in His Son and who doesn’t. It is up to God who receives eternity with Him or eternity in hell.

But you think about an irrational or a considered suicide – someone who loves Jesus most of their life, serves Him and loves others for decades, becomes ill mentally or depressed along the way and in an impulsive or thought-out moment, they harm themselves and end their life  –  

Heaven or hell?

I would try to answer this question with a question: 

Are people saved eternally by faith or by their last action?

Let’s say a guy in need comes up to you on the street and asks if you’ve got any money to give to him. You say “no” but in reality your pockets are full of cash. The guy in need gets angry and shoots you. You lied to him, you’re dead, it wasn’t repented of, but you were a Christian. Heaven or hell? 

If you’re on the edge of a cliff and someone pushes you off, and on your way falling to your death, you curse the person who pushed you to death, and you’re a Christian, heaven or hell? 

If a man lusts after a woman and that excitement causes a heart attack and he dies, and he was a Christian, heaven or hell?

Is someone saved by their faith in Jesus or by their last action?

Romans 10:9 says that, If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

It’s either you believe in Jesus as Lord and believe He is alive today and can save you from your sins (heaven)  OR you don’t believe in Him (hell). The Bible doesn’t speak of the last action. God’s above time. He’s concerned about you being His child. 

Four years ago I got a call from a Christian couple in their 60’s. The husband asked me to come over because their son, at 2:00AM earlier that morning, in his parents front yard, shot himself in the head, committing suicide.

I still remember seeing the red stain of blood on the front lawn as I walked into the house. 

I had no answers. Nothing to offer. I was in the home for 3 hours and there was more silence than there was speech. The mother was a zombie in her mannerisms. The father just kept asking the same things over and over to me: Is he in heaven Zach? Is my son in heaven? 

Their son professed Jesus as Savior and Lord most of his life. He had even won national Bible competitions, had attended Bible college. Over and over the father asked, Is he in heaven, Zach?

It was a considered suicide. Only God knows what happened to his soul. God’s grace has unknown bounds. 

What were the actions daily? What was his faith like in the weeks, months leading up to his final action? Where was his heart, focused on Jesus or focused on disbelief? 

This is why we’ve got to talk with our loved ones about Jesus every day because they are bombarded with mixed messages from their friends/music/co-workers/culture itself/movies/their own temptations. Leaders, parents, teachers and those with influence have got to keep repeating this: 

Those who take a step toward Jesus find wisdom and life, and those who don’t find foolishness and ruin. 

The instinctive response when life is hurtful or confusing is to wave our finger at God and yell at Him, to ask Him where He is or why doesn’t He love us. When you hear your loved ones accuse God because of how their life is going, that is a step toward depressive illness, a step toward hurting themselves. Remind them of God’s love. Show them God’s love. Pray for them to know God’s unconditional love for them. Getting angry at God is a disservice to the full and good life He wants us to live, the life Jesus came to die and rise from death for us to have. 

God says in Proverbs 8:35 that, “Whoever finds Me finds life and receives favor.” 

God is life. As long as someone is still breathing, they can commit their all to Jesus and be freely forgiven. 

Which brings ultimate peace. 

I want everyone to experience and know the peace that comes from believing in Jesus. No more doubt. No more depressive thoughts. No more disbelief that God is against you. No more lies that no one loves you. Just Jesus. And when there is Jesus, there is life. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

What to Consider When Adding One More Thing to Your Schedule

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Growing up my family didn’t have cable television. No ESPN. No MTV. No Nickelodeon. No TV Land. What we did have were three channels and a VCR (if you’re under 25 years old, Google, “VCR”). 

It seemed like whenever my mother held the scepter (the remote) while the television was on, the only two options on TV were: Little House on the Prairie and figure skating. 

I had a long childhood.

With each episode of Little House on the Prairie I watched as a kid, I would hide the tears because Charles Ingalls (“Pa”) would do something to soften my heart. Every single show he got me. 

I started watching Little House on the Prairie with my wife and our two young girls. We went to the library and got the seasons on DVD.  As binging provides, we zoomed through episodes and not long into Season 1 I noticed clearly how much things have changed since the timing of when the Ingalls lived. 

It really wasn’t that long ago when Little House on the Praire‘s pace of living was the norm. Things have sped up quickly and they continue to speed up faster each day. 

Think about how much little time we have to rest/reflect/repent/invest in our relationships? This blog takes five minutes to read and because of a frantic page, most readers who click on it won’t make it to this sentence because they’ve moved on to something else. 

We do well to keep our relationships busy and be around each other but we are poor at having qualitative conversations and making intentional memories. 

We do well to relax by watching TV or are addicted to scrolling through a newsfeed but we are poor at being still and having the spiritual discipline of solitude. There is little rest and pausing and praying in our day. 

I’m watching LHotP and I’m thinking, Nowadays the norm is 50 hour work weeks for dad and mom with a 30 minute commute and it’s home to give the kids drive-thru conversations and leftover energy.  

Most families don’t gather around the table while Pa plays the fiddle as they eat a home cooked meal, laughing together or learning a lesson from each other. The norm now is to eat on the go on your way to practice or eat a heated up meal after getting home late or eat in front of the TV and we make fun of the reality TV stars and that’s what we call “family time.”

We’ve got tee times and workout schedules and the kids and grandkids have so many activities that we dare not allow them to miss because they might get behind on something that won’t matter in 20 years to them and we’re rushing through the present-day life God wants us to live with Him as our calendar metronome gets quicker and quicker. 

The rhythm of our culture is what we’re adhering to and it feels normal to us. Here are some cultural beliefs that you and I have unknowingly, yet foolishly bought into: 

Action is better than rest. (FALSE)

Work is more important than home. (ERR!) 

Possessions are more important than people. (NOPE)

More is always better than less. (LIE) 

How we choose to spend time reflects all of these things.

Who believes with their schedule that rest is better than action, home is more important than work, people are more important than possessions, less is always better than more?

When it comes to adding something to your life – to your daily, weekly, monthly schedule – I would be very careful with that. Impulsively we add new commitments to our calendar and we don’t think how much it will affect what should be important to us.

Let’s say you have 8-9 different things to do during the week and you think, I’ll just add a 10th thing in my life, to my family’s scheudule. It’s just one more thing.

Author Steve Farrar talks about the way we view our time and our schedule with this concept called, The Fibonacci Numbers. The Fibonacci Numbers were named after a 14th century mathematician who came up with this new way of counting where it looks like this:

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It counts like this: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13,  21, 34, 55, 89, 144

You add the two numbers next to each other and go forward. So 1 and 1 is 2, and 1 and 2 is 3, and 3 and 5 is 8, 8 and 13 is 21, 21 and 34 is 55, 34 and 55 is 89, 55 and 89 is 144 and so on.

Stay with me. 

This way of counting is better to measure the pace and schedule of our lives and our family’s routine because we think in consecutive numbers, Well, I’m just adding a 7th thing to my schedule or to my family’s schedule. We had 6 and now it’s 7 with football or church consistently or gymnastics or a new show. According to the Fibonacci scale, it’s not a 7th thing, it carries the weight of 13 things (7 is 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13). It increases dramatically, in weighty, stressful fashion with each thing you add.

If you can think about the 7-8-9 things your allocate your time to – school, work, family, church, hobby, TV, Facebook, sports, shopping, reading. My schedule doesn’t reflect this every day, but if I were to prioritize what is important to me, my current 9 things would be: 

1. Devoted and faithful husband
2. Committed and present father
3. Being a consistent and generous friend
4. Being an eager student and teacher of God’s Word
5. Working bi-vocationally
6. Coaching recreational soccer
7. Taking graduate school courses
8. Exercising daily
9. Writing weekly blog 

That’s nine things easily.

What if I want to add two new things to my schedule? No big deal, right? I’m just going to go +2 to my life routine, and those two added items are: 

10. Swimming lessons for kids
11. Country line-dancing.

I just want to go from 9 things in my week to 11. On the Fibonacci scale, check out the number on the right when adding more to my schedule: 

1. Devoted and faithful husband
1. Committed and present father
2. Being a consistent and generous friend
3. Being an eager student and teacher of God’s Word
5. Working bi-vocationally
8. Coaching recreational soccer
13. Taking graduate school courses
21. Exercising daily
34. Writing weekly blog
55. Swimming lessons for my kids
89. Country line-dancing 

I just added 2 more things but I went from 34 to 89.
That’s a lot more added to our effort and mentality. 

When we keep adding things we’re not just adding to our schedule, we’re adding weight to our well-being. We’re adding he weight of coming through, the weight of not giving up, the weight of anxiety and putting on the good face for everyone. It’s not a 11, it’s an 89 and it’s going to crush us eventually. 

Here’s a true/false quiz (10 questions) to help us figure out whether or not we need more rest in our schedule. I’m trying to keep us honest here.

1. True or False: You’ve cut through a gas station to avoid stopping at a red light.

2. True or False: You don’t like to take vacations where there isn’t always something to do.

3. True or False: You frequently look at your phone or a clock nearby throughout the day.

4. True or False: In conversations you like to get right to the point. You don’t enjoy small talk.

5. True or False: People who talk slowly irritate you.

6. True or False: You become annoyed when the person at the checkout line in front of you chooses to pay by writing a check.

7. True or False: You often find yourself finishing other people’s sentences for them or interrupting people during conversation.

8. True or False: When you go to sleep at night, your mind often rehearses all the things I didn’t get done that day or what I have to do the next day.

9. True or False: When delayed and running late, you are irrationally upset.

10. True or False: You have difficulty finding time for things like a haircut or a physical or an oil change. 

We just live at this frantic pace and as we get older it doesn’t slow down, it only increases in speed. 

Because we’re not prayerful, because we’re arrogant, we think I can handle more. And if we’re not protective of our time and energy for what really matters in this life – God and people – we’ll watch life slip away and miss out on things like legacy, purpose, evangelism and the more we add the more devastating it’s going to be when we ask, How did this happen? Look what I wasted!

Jesus says it this way: 

“Are you tired? Worn out? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 / MSG)

God doesn’t get upset when you take a break. God doesn’t get disappointed when you tell someone no, I can’t do that for you right now because I’m needed somewhere else more important. 

If you say as a family, we’re going to eat a family dinner around the kitchen table 4 times a week for the rest of this year, no phone or TV, all intentional conversations, no matter what – most of the world might think that’s bizarre but God will smile on that commitment because you’re saying to God and family: Here’s what’s important to me. 

If you say, As a Christ-follower, I’m going to add attending worship weekly, but that means I need to let go of other things. I’m going to go from attending worship monthly or less to attending weekly, to give weekly, to serve weekly – because I’m showing God and God’s family that’s important to me. 

OR, I’m going to get up 10 minutes earlier to read a chapter in the Bible to start my morning off focused in prayer and reflection for how I want to live.

OR, I’m going to fast from something I lean on daily so I can pray in those moments I want to give in to sin.

As I look through the pages of the Bible there are a handful of instances that show why living this life of God’s rhythm makes so much sense. If you don’t run your schedule your schedule will run you. Be prayerful adding one more thing to your routine. I recommend adding rest and intentionality.  

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

Raising Our Standard of Giving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving away your money is part of following Jesus. 

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

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

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

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

That’s got me shaking my head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you are not tithing consistently, begin today.

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

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

I’ll let God be stark about it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They will be mugged by the mirror. 

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

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

Graham goes onto say: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They will be pick-pocketed by the past. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They will be robbed by relationships. 

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

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

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

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

Life doesn’t have to be that way. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Z