A Letter to Izzy: a white father’s apology to his black child

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I am a Caucasian (white) male. My race, ethnicity and gender do not define me, they merely describe me. 

I am a father of a beautiful African-American (black) daughter. Her race, ethnicity and gender do not define her, they merely describe her. 

I am a white father to a black daughter. Her name is Israel Cate. Her name has meaning. She was purposely given the names she has. 

The name Israel means: With God there is victory. My wife and I knew that being a black female, Izzy was going to have more of an uphill battle when it came to the way people related to her, gave her opportunities and viewed her. We wanted her to know in her core that there is only victory with God – only identity and purpose – in the way He views her. If she is going to succeed in her desires and dreams, it will be because of Him. If she was going to heal from the pain that is coming her way by being a non-white female, it would be because of Him. 

Her middle name Cate means purity. When her own choices stain her, when this world throws it’s trashed opinions onto her that are about her, when she is dismissed and left out due to appearing different, because of God’s love for her through Jesus, God sees her as perfect. As pure. As stainless. 

I have been praying about what to say her about her life. Already in her world, at 6 years old, there is heartache due to her being black. 

What I am hoping to do with this post is convey what I am personally sorry for to her and also what has hurt my heart in what others have said and done. I can apologize for myself but I cannot apologize for others. Instead, I will simply say my heart hurts seeing what I’ve witnessed. 

Let me look in the mirror first. 

To Israel Cate: 

I am sorry I have not been a proactive learner of the dynamics in being a white father to you as a black child in a country that still has much unrest and undertones racially. I am sorry that it has taken circumstances in America, and even death, for me to learn more, read more, have more conversations about racial equality, justice and reconciliation. I should have been doing these things more throughout the six years of your life. I am sorry for being a reactive, pharisaical leader of you. 

I am sorry that when you are in my office at work, and you look at the poster on the wall that has a quote and a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. that you don’t recognize who that is or what cause he was predestined to lead. 

I am sorry that as a family we instinctively watch television shows like Full House and Little House on the Prairie. While these shows are mostly wholesome and have good lessons to share, I am sorry you very rarely get to see someone who looks like you as you continue to see people who look like your mom, myself and your older sister (who is white). I am sorry for being an unintentional father during our down time as a family. 

I am sorry that when we went to go visit your birth-mother when you were 5 years old, that I did not make 110% sure she was able to meet us at the time and place we had agreed to meet. I know when she did not show up to meet us, it broke your big heart and left a scar there. I am so grateful for your birth mother and what she has done for our family in giving us you – and I want you to have a possibly close relationship with her as you grow and when you are grown. I am sorry for not nurturing more of a relationship with her since she did not show up to be with you a year ago. I will extend forgiveness and grace and be in constant communication with her. 

I am sorry that I used to spread the message to others that I was colorblind. My intentions were to show that I loved all people equally, no matter their appearance. What I now know is I was showcasing that your unique, specific, beautiful ethnicity was being ignored. You are black. I see you. I want to point that out in you in a positive affirmation and not sweep your race away in a quick, hidden way. For me to say “I’m colorblind” is to not acknowledge the specific way God has created you.  

For these things I am sorry. 

My heart hurts as well on what I have witnessed from those around me. 

My heart hurts that when we informed extended family members that we were going to be able to adopt a black child, we were asked, “Why would you ever want to do that?”. 

My heart hurts that through our nation-wide adoption agency, there were two categories to choose from to adopt a child. You can either adopt a non-black baby or a black baby (this is how these were worded). There are so many babies born to black women that are not being adopted by people in our nation that they outnumber the amount of babies who are not African-American. 

My heart hurts reflecting on a meeting I had with elders at a church in Tennessee. When I informed them of the exciting news that God had added a second child to our family, and then showed them your picture as an infant, one long-time member, a leader in the church, said, “Oh, she’s black? Okay. Just make sure you raise her right because 1 out of 4 black women have abortions and we don’t need more of that.”. 

My heart hurts remembering when you were a few months old and our family attended a county fair. I was holding you and trying to eat an ice cream cone at the same time, and a mother and her adult daughter were oohing and aahing over you. They came close to see your adorable face and the mother asked, “What’s her name?”. When I told her, “Israel Cate”, she responded, looking at her daughter, saying, “Thank God he didn’t name the child one of those long, confusing names those black people name their kids.”. 

My heart hurts when people assume you were born in another country. I tell them you were born in the country of Virginia. 

My heart hurts when people wrongly assume that your older sister is biological and you are adopted. Both of you, in God’s providential plan, are our daughters through infant, domestic adoption. But, next to you, your sister “looks” like us. It’s said continually and we are sorry that you hear those comments and feel left out. Remember, with God alone there is victory. 

My heart hurt at Thanksgiving one year, when many of your aunts and uncles and cousins were gathered around the table, having a good meal. Your sweet two year old cousin looked around the table and said out loud, “Everyone is white. Izzy is brown.” And that was an innocent observation on his part. He’s learning his colors. I was confused when all of your aunts and uncles laughed out loud. You looked at me unsure why people were laughing over the fact that your cousin had stated your skin was brown. 

My heart hurts that you are the only black person many of our family and friends know and love. 

My heart hurts when having conversations with other white pastors in the community on how diverse their churches are and they blame the lack of diversity on the fact that either their community isn’t diverse (which, through my eyes, I see diversity all over. They have scales on their eyes that only allow them to see people like them) or, the lack of diversity in their church is due to the fact that “those people” have “their own churches” to worship at. My heart also hurts that these white pastors are posting pictures of them and people of color with them when all of these pictures are people they met briefly on a mission trip, not someone in their local community. 

My heart hurt and was enraged when you and I went for a short run through our neighborhood last month. Our run took place after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot to death while jogging. When you and I jogged by a man who was outside his home we both overheard him say, “That’s smart, dad. Run with her. Keep her safe.” I was not happy with my response to him as I noticed the Confederate flag on his pick-up truck.  

My heart hurts that I get worried when you are outside playing away from our home.

My heart hurts when you and I were playfully wrestling in the home shortly after George Floyd had been murdered. While we were tickling and laughing and jumping – as I rolled over you to make you laugh and you felt my weight, you said, “I can’t breathe.”. I was horrified inside and stopped wresting right away and began praying for the day when I sit down and walk you through some of these tragic events that are happening.  

My heart hurts that just like people in our nation were praying for Sandy Hook, praying for Paris, and they were praying for Las Vegas – the reaction of most people is going to be a phase in terms of standing up for racial justice. 

My heart hurts that as you grow older and learn more about your heritage, our nations’s history, the present day shortcomings and lack of progress, that I will be bewildered and at a loss for words for the many questions you will have. I am here to process your emotions with you. I am here to work toward making the desires you have for a better world with you. 

I will listen to you. 

I will be in tune to your feelings. 

I will continue to ask you specific questions about how your day went. 

I will provide reminders on how much you are loved by God and by your mom and I and by your sister who is utterly protective of you. I am thankful that she sees you. 

I will strive to correct the wrong done against you. 

I have one other apology: I am sorry that I have never been the subject of racism. Though I try to understand and pray to empathize through what you will endure, I will be a step removed. I will feel powerless. My heart aches that I cannot fully ensure your well-being through the myriad of elements in this life when it comes to this ignorant (at least) and hateful (at most) comments and actions those near you choose. 

I want you to know any attack on you is an attack on me and against God Himself. I want you to know that the pain caused by others, unintentionally or purposefully, does not need to be repaid with revenge. We will love. We will be peaceful.

“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9)

“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)

Thanks for reading. Thanks for learning. Thanks for seeing a side you don’t normally see. You are loved. 

Z

5 Things Children Need In Order To Have Contentment

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I remember taking a humanities class where the professor had us watch this movie from 1994 called: Bullets Over Broadway. 

This movie was the start of cultural post-modernism and still affects the way most people who aren’t captured by Jesus’ love think. It even got turned into a musical. 

The main character in the movie is played by John Cusack. He lives in the early 1900’s in downtown New York City. 

He has a girlfriend but he also has this temptation and opportunity to have an affair. 

He’s talking to his friend named Sheldon, and Cusack says to his friend, “I want to have this affair, but I don’t want to feel guilty for being unfaithful to my girlfriend.” 

And this is what Sheldon says, this is his advice: 

“Guilt is crap. It’s made up. A real artist creates his own universe.”

Remember how in 1 Corinthians 13, verse 6 it says that love does not demand it’s own way? 

Well, Cusack does. He has this affair with this other woman, doesn’t tell his girlfriend about it and then he finds out later that his girlfriend cheats on him with another man. 

And Cusack loses his mind. He’s all, “How dare you betray my trust. How dare you go back on your commitment. How could you be unfaithful?

He says, “Who were you with?”
And she says, “I was with Sheldon.” 

Because Sheldon says an artist creates his own universe.

(This movie came out 25+ years ago so any spoiler alert thoughts can be put to rest. You’ve had time to see it.) 

The driving point of Bullets Over Broadway is what’s wrong with the human race. 

People not devoted to Jesus are creating their own universe by saying, “Who’s to say what’s right and wrong?” They create their own moralistic codes to live and usually it’s based on how they want to feel in the moment. 

In April, 2018, GQ Magazine published an article, by the editor himself, entitled: “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read.

Number 12 on that list was “The Bible”, calling it overrated.

The article went on to say that there are some good parts  of the Bible but it’s not the finest thing man has ever written (I agree, since man didn’t write it).

I consider the Bible the only compass that leads to contentment. Without the Bible pointing us to Jesus, we would be headed down the path of creating our own universe, our own moral standards, and that path leads away from love.

When you’re watching a movie or reading an article or listening to a friend’s opinion, just know that culture’s worldview is set by creating their own moralistic universe of what is right and what is wrong and you need to get back to God’s Word and align yourself to what He says. 

Because what He says is said in real love and true wisdom. 

Yes or no: When you read your Bible on a daily basis, do you give more love to others verses days and weeks you go without reading the Bible? We know the people here can’t experience life without first experiencing God’s love for us. 

Specifically, our children can’t experience real love and true wisdom without us experiencing those things from God first. 

My wife and I catch ourselves as parents feeling like, “Oh my goodness. We give so much to our children. We give so much to them and they give such little back.” 

But this is what unconditional love is. You don’t love and serve and forgive and be patient and bite your tongue and train what is right and clean up messes and endure heartache and stay up late at night and worry yourself silly and invest time and energy into them and pray for them daily because they can give you something in return. 

You do it because you love them unconditionally. 

Before our kids know what love is behaviorally, they have to experience love first from the behavior of those closest to them. 

Whatever your opinion of statistics are, I read a study that shared this one:

Between the ages of 18-28, 80% of people who have a faith in Jesus choose to walk away from Him permanently. 

And they never come back, because they weren’t equipped by their parents, their mentors, their church family to handle the temptation, stress, and hardship that comes with growing up. 

Only 20% either stay faithful to God or eventually return to Him.

To do so, what children need is not academic success, athletic or artistic accolades, more likes on their social media posts, romantic love or even the desires of their hearts and dreams. 

Here are five things they need in their lives continually in order to experience real love, true wisdom and a life full of joy and peace: 

(1) A Loving God  

I want my children and your children all to know Jesus intimately close where they can trust Him at all times and they can known His guidance and believe His power is available for them even at the youngest of ages. They will know that they don’t have to do life on their own, that God is for and with them.  

(2) A Loving Book 

We call this amazing book, the Bible. It will point them in the direction of a lifestyle that leads to legacy. If they know their Bible, they will lead a life that is full of life and purpose and distinct compared to the rest of their friends and the world around them. If they keep the Bible in their minds and follow Its instruction, they will be able to work through disappointment in a mature way and stay strong in down seasons emotionally. Their compass in life has got to be the Bible, it cannot be their own heart. 

(3) A Loving Parent 

This is critical: each parent sets the spiritual pace and expectation of their child. 

As Paul wrote to Timothy, Imitate me as I imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Who spends more time with a child of a church, the teachers and volunteers in the church or the parent of the child?

In a recent study, (where are my mom’s at?), in a recent study 1/3 of children ages 8-12 said they wish they could spend more time with their moms.

Same age range, ages 8-12, it doubles for dads. 2/3s of children wish they could spend more time with their dad. 

In this same study, (52,000 students were polled) 9 out of 10 middle school and high school students said they have no desire to see their parents take a lesser role in their lives, but a greater one.

Parents need to step up. They’re going to be gone before you know it and I’m afraid the norm in our culture is to keep our kids so busy and so happy that life gets so blurry that we forget our main priority is to train them to be faithful.

The job of the leaders and volunteers in a church is not to babysit your kids. Their job is also not to make sure your kid makes it to heaven in the end. No, their job is to equip parents and grandparents and guardians to know how to make a daily, influential investment into the lives of their kids. Your responsibility as parents is to do everything you can daily to make sure your kids love Jesus while they’re in the home and are faithful in that 18-28 age range, – and our leadership’s responsibility is to help you do that.

(4) A Loving Friend 

Every kid and teen needs at least one close friend who shares a common faith in Jesus and that friend will be there for them during church activities, but also will take a stand with them at school and as they get older, will stand with them on the weekend and during the summer when the spiritual pressure builds up. 

If each of our kids had a radical, faithful friend to stand with, it would be more difficult for them to walk away from God and toward the world. 

(5) A Loving Voice 

When I say our children need a loving voice, I mean someone who is older than them, who will encourage them in love and challenge them in truth from God’s Word and will care for them enough to hold them accountable to be there for them when life gets difficult, lonely, or sin looks appetizing.

A loving voice gently shares the truth in love.

In the church let’s not say the cheesy line that children are the future of the church. I’ve not a fan of that belief. The children are in the church now, they’re part of the church now, they have a role in the church now and we need them today and tomorrow.  If they’re going to worship with us tomorrow and love on others tomorrow and be there with Jesus tomorrow they need right now:

A loving God (Jesus)
A loving Book
(Bible)
A loving Parent
(mentor)
A loving Friend
(transparency)
A loving Voice
(truth in love)

Your kids, the kids of your community, they need these things. You need these things as well. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

3 Practical Steps for Thriving Relationships

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Everyone needs wisdom in their relationships. If you’ve got all of your relationships figured out and they’re thriving and are at peace and don’t need improving, we’ll see you on the next blog post. You can stop reading.

Every single person, no matter the age or stage of life, guy or gal, single or married, no kids, have kids, empty nesters, whether someone is in school or they work a job or they volunteer or have neighbors or have friends – all of us are in some type of relationship with the people around us. 

Sometimes those relationships can get complicated.
Sometimes we are the one at fault.  

We’re a bunch of imperfect people colliding together every single good day and bad day.

I want to give you four things that I have seen in my life, in the lives of others, that help manage and heal and help relationships thrive. I can tell you these work. I can also confess I’ve not always done them. And when I don’t do them, that’s when the conflict and the complications happen. 

(1) I will act, not react.

We all know what it’s like, when something doesn’t go our way, we instantly react. Our first emotion isn’t the healthiest one. Our first words aren’t the most helpful. 

Some people explode.
Some people walk out with a cutting word.
Some people are loud.
Some people shut down. 

I heard about this married couple who got into an argument that led to them giving each other the silent treatment. Neither spouse was talking. 

Many times when there’s the silent treatment in marriage you will do everything to not speak first. If you’re bleeding out on the bathroom floor, you will crawl to your phone to dial 9-1-1 rather than asking your spouse for help, even when you’re dying. 

This couple giving each other the silent treatment, the husband knew his wife was an early riser in the morning. He needed to get up at 5AM to catch a flight for work, and had been having issues with his alarm, so what he needed from his wife was to wake him up at 5AM. 

But he wasn’t going to talk to her. 

He wrote a note: Please wake me up at 5AM and he left it by her toothbrush on her side of the vanity sink. He knew she would be brushing her teeth when she woke up early the next morning. 

In the morning, he wakes up. The sun is pouring in through the bedroom windows. He shoots up in bed, startled, looks at the clock. It’s 8:00AM. 

He’s missed his flight. 

He looks on his nightstand by the bed, and there’s a note. The note says, It’s 5AM. Wake up. 

Point for the wife. 

Before we react – to a spouse, to a child who doesn’t listen, to a coworker who dropped the ball, to a friend who is being unfair to you – before you blow up or give the cold shoulder, memorize this verse:

Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. [Psalm 141:3]

It’s a prayer that says, Lord, would you help me keep my mouth shut when I want to instantly react? 

Or, if you’re the silent treatment type of person, the prayer is, Lord, would you give me the humility to open my mouth and speak gently when I want to be quiet?

Acting is: Praying before responding.
Breathing before responding.
Apologizing.
Asking clarifying questions.
Speaking calmly. 

When we react, we get into the fight and name call and bring up past actions and we over exaggerate. When you react, you do not get those words back when a spouse or a child or a parent or someone at work hears them. 

Let’s watch the names we are calling each other and let’s watch saying the words “always” and “never” – you never and I always 

These are things I’m teaching my children. We don’t name call and we don’t express our emotions with “you never” and “you always” – because it’s not true. We want to stick with that specific incident. 

And, let’s watch the tone and the volume level we use. I can see the look in my youngest child’s eyes when my tone is too harsh or my volume is too high. You can’t unring that bell. 

Before you respond, if it’s a bit heated, take a walk around the block because you’ll never regret a delayed word that is said gently. 

Another piece of advice on this one is: Don’t get historical. 

It’s amazing that you’ve got people in your life who can’t find their phone or their keys but they remember something hurtful you said or did 10 years ago. 

As for you and I – when we are in an argument, we need to focus on the argument. We don’t need to get historical. 

In any relationship, Don’t get historical.
Watch your use of “never” and “always”.
No name calling.
Watch your tone and your volume. 

All of this is acting, not reacting. 

(2) I will focus on the good things in you. 

Sometimes we look at people and think, Right now there is nothing good I can find in this person. 

Here’s why that’s a lie: Jesus still died for them. And He saw something redeemable in their life. 

Satan is the author of all lies and one of the lies we believe that he tells is, there’s nothing good in this person, all I can see is the pain they’ve caused – that’s what keeps us from restoring the relationship. 

We need to back the emotional truck up a bit and say, Okay, there’s got to be soothing good in this person, something I can be grateful for with this person, what is it? 

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. [Philippians 4:8]

Is there anything about that in-law, about that co-worker, about that friend who hurt you, anything about them that is true or honorable or noble or right or pure or lovely or admirable? Instead of thinking about how they annoy you or are frustrating to you or are so different from how you are, think about the things laid out in the above verse. 

In the deepest of arguments, the way to climb out of the hole and get to a resolution is to focus on what is good in the person, praise them for that. Then they’ll be more open to discussing the issue at hand like a grown up. 

Even if it’s not an argument, when you highlight and highlight and highlight what is good in that person, they rise to the standard to compliment them for and you begin to truly see them as that good person.

This same advice is for spouses and parents and employers:

Instead of sitting down with someone and using words describing them in their current state, use words that describe who you know they can become. 

The words that we say to our kids, to our employees, those are the words that define them. 

(3) I will extend God’s grace toward you as I remember His grace toward me.

We all want God’s grace given individually to us – that’s an easy choice. We’ll take God’s forgiveness toward us, but it’s difficult for us to give that to the people around us. 

One way of recognizing if you are growing as a Christian, if God is transforming you, is to see the amount of grace you need verses the amount of grace you give out.

Jesus touches on this in His Sermon on the Mount. 

If you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. [Matthew 5:23-24]

As far as it depends on you – go make things right with that person – Jesus wants you to apply God’s grace toward that person. 

If you don’t deal with what’s separating you and that person in your life where things aren’t good, it will short-circuit what God is trying to do in your life.

People want God to move in their life and yet they can’t even give a pinch of grace to those around them when the way God wants to move in their life is by extending grace towards others around them. 

Every time I think about how much God has forgiven me, it makes it easier to forgive others. Every time I sit in solitude and think about how much God has given to me, it makes it easier to give to others. 

Every time I think about how much I need God in my life, it stirs a passion inside for those around me to see how much they need God and how much they need me to be like Jesus in our relationship so they can partly know what God is truly like. 

I will act, not react.
I will focus on the good things in you.
I will extend God’s grace toward you as I remember His grace toward me. 

Will there still be difficulties in your relationships? Will there still be bumps? Absolutely. But now we have a way to resolve things with people in a God-honoring way, and that always un-complicates things. 

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  

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

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

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

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

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

This is her advice.

Hmmm.

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

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

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

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

Boom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHY?

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z