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

When You Can’t Do Life On Your Own Anymore

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

Do you want to improve each room you walk into? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need God’s help.

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

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

EXAMPLE ONE

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

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

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

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

I know that now. 

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

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

Hold that memory. 

EXAMPLE TWO

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

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

This time I’m calm. I’m chill. 

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

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

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

What’s the difference?

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

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

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

I relied on my own strength and impatience came out. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I believe you can.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

Curing Our Hurry-Sickness (Becoming More Patient).

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Whoever is patient has great understanding. (Proverbs 14:29)

Or as 17th century English statesman George Savile wrote, A person who has mastered patience is master of everything else. 

We all need a little patience. We have succumbed to what scholar Dallas Willard calls hurry-sickness, when talking about our culture. We have a sickness of hurry.  

I thought this 5G, high speed, high tech culture promised me with all this convenience at my fingertips, life was going to slow down? I thought I was going to slow down and enjoy more of the things that mattered?

It only seems to have sped things up. It seems to have amplified this hurry sickness. High speed really does mean high speed.

And when our patience runs out, watch out. 

It’s a husband who sends a verbal thrashing at his wife and she still loves him, but she’ll never forget how hurt she was over that tirade he gave her. 

It’s when a wife sends that look at her husband when he frustrates her, or has failed her again, making him feel pathetic. 

Its’ when an impatient dad yells at his kid during the sports game because dad is mad over his kid not doing as well as the other kids. 

It’s an employer who is more in love with profit and reputation than they are toward their employees, and over every mistake they lash out. 

There is always a high price to pay for impatience. 

With how full our schedules are and with the many plates we are spinning, there are a couple things we forget about those around us. And when we do forget these things, our patience with others begins to wither away. First, 

We forget that people are more important than our time.

This is the parable Jesus tells of the Good Samaritan where most people passing by an injured man on the road are unwilling to help him. They forgot that others are more important than an agenda or a schedule. 

God has thrown the flag on me many times when I have forgotten this. 

One example is due to my own distraction and procrastination. 

I left later than I should’ve for a meeting with someone. I ran into traffic and I became that guy, you know, they guy swerving through traffic, frustrated at the drivers around me. 

And then every car came to a standstill. There was a funeral procession that was going past me. 

And my immediate reaction was, You’ve got to be kidding me. This is going to take forever!!!

Soon after I felt convicted by God’s Spirit saying, Z, are you kidding? This funeral procession can’t go slow enough for the people in that line who are grieving a loved one being gone. 

I had forgotten that people are more important than my time. 

Author John Ortberg talks about his struggle with hurry-sickness, he writes this, 

We must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives. This doesn’t mean that we will never be busy. Jesus often had a lot to do, but He never did it in a way that severed the life-giving connection between Him and His Father. He never did it in a way that interfered with His ability to give love when love was called for. He never did it in a way that caused Him to treat someone as an interruption. Jesus was often busy, but never hurried.

Has your schedule kept you from spending time with God each day and centering yourself on what matters? 

Has it kept you from checking on others? 

Has it kept you from date nights with your spouse or from one on one time with your child or appreciating an employee or taking a friend out who needs someone to talk with? 

Being hurried all the time isn’t just a blurry schedule or a cluttered mind, it’s a disordered heart. When your heart is disordered, you prioritize the wrong things. 

Love always takes time and hurried people don’t have time. 

When time becomes more precious to us than people, you won’t find patience there. 

The second thing we forget when life is blurry – 

We forget that people are more important than our possessions.

I was visiting an elderly woman, a widow of 20 years. She’s a Christian woman, 78 years old. She lives in her home with her 55 year old son is divorced (twice) and single, currently unemployed and isn’t a Christian. 

Her son wanted to show me something on his mother’s property so he, his mom and I walk out to the detached garage behind the home. The son opens the wide garage door and inside are two identical 1968 Dodge Charger R/Ts. One Dodge was red with black stripes, one was blue with white stripes. These are pristine classic cars. 

While we were looking at the son’s cars, his elderly mother set her hand on the blue Dodge Charger and leaned against it, to rest. Her son, in front of me, sternly says, Mom! How many times have I told you not to put your hand on my car?!?!?!

Mom was embarrassed. 

We went back inside and the mom shared with me that she was having to go back to work part time as a nurse practitioner to buy groceries and pay her utilities. 

She’s a widow. 78 years old. House is paid off. She allows her son to live with her. He doesn’t work. He’s got two classic cars worth around $70,000 each. But she’s going back to work to provide.

The son had forgotten that people are more important than possessions.

When you’re a follower of Jesus, the Holy Spirit will continue to gently and sometimes bluntly remind you of these two things: People are more important than your time and people are more important than your stuff.

One of the most familiar chapters in the Bible is 1 Corinthians chapter 13. You’ve probably heard it quoted at weddings – it’s all about love. The church I get to be a part of did a series on 1 Corinthians 13 to cement that our church was going to be a powerful movement of selfless, sacrificial love.

It’s a chapter about love. What is the first thing that is said about love? It’s the most famous writing about love. What is the first thing it says describing love? 

Love is patient. (1 Corinthians 13:4)

If you really love someone, you are patient with them.
By its very definition, love is patient. 

Do you want your children to know you love them?
 Be patient with them. Don’t be frustrated with them. 

Do you want your parents to know you love them?
Be patient with them, don’t be annoyed by them. 

Do you want your spouse or your boyfriend/girlfriend or your employees or your siblings to know you love them? If you love them, then cut them some slack. Don’t be harsh, see how you can help.

When we stop looking at our watch and our schedule and our goals, and when we stop looking at possessions and stuff, and we choose to look at people – people with souls – and we choose to help people, we then receive perspective, wisdom and understanding. 

Time is going to go away.
Possessions are all going to burn one day.
People have souls that will last forever. 

If you want to be more patient with others, try to see their side of things. Put yourself in their position. 

There’s a reason that person is difficult. There’s a reason they are harsh. There’s a reason they are selfish. There’s a reason they are melancholy. If you try to seek out why they are like that, where you understand them further, then you’ll become more patient with them.

The people who are difficult to love in your life, they weren’t born that way. It’s because of sin. They chose sin and sin has been done to them. -Once you get to know them and their story, once they trust you enough to talk about their past and their parents and their struggles, then you start to think about how you can encourage them and serve them and help them.

Could I invite them to church with me?
Could I pray with them?
Could I buy them a gift?
Could I write them a note?
Could I make them a meal?
Could I offer them insight?
How can I love them?

Because, love is patient.

Patient people take the time to understand someone, why they are the way they are, and choose to love them anyway. More than your time. More your stuff. More than yourself. 

And by doing so, you yourself will be cured from hurry-sickness.

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

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