Sunday, July 20, 2014

Why be a Pastor when I can be an Insurance Agent? (The Preface)

Weird question? Maybe.

When I was 18, I went on a road trip with two of my best friends. Growing up, we caused a lot of trouble. One time, we soaked a tennis ball in gasoline, lit it on fire, and played hockey. Another day, we decided it would be a good idea to race down a very steep hill on scooters. I ended up in a street drain. When we got bored one summer, we figured out how to make gun powder with simple ingredients from the convenience store. And then we blew things up. We were great friends.

Believe it or not, what bound us together was our love for God.

On that road trip, we talked about what we wanted to do with our lives and how we could make an impact in this little world. One of our stops was Boston. When we first arrived, we decided to rest and soak in the Boston atmosphere in Boston Commons. It was beautiful and historical and just relaxing. A man walked up, just as he had done to the people sitting beside us, and handed us a flyer for a night club. On the flyer, there were women with just about nothing on their bodies. My eyes opened wide and I threw the flyer away faster than the guy had given it to me.

As we walked around Boston for the next few days, I realized the depravity of humanity in a way I had never realized before. I saw people wasting their lives as they went from one strip club to the next only to stop for a couple shoots in between. My heart was broken and I didn't know what to do with it. Over the next several weeks as we closed up our trip and settled back into our routines, I wrestled with this feeling inside of me.

After a lot of praying and talking to friends, I decided the most logical thing to do was move up to Boston and plant a church. Why plant a church? Because that's what you do if you are really sold out for God, or so I had always imagined. This was the beginning of what I felt was my calling.

I attended Cedarville and worked at a great church for the four years I was there. I studied, read books, and started networking with other excited Christians for the purpose of planting this church in Boston. I had a focus.

Before I started dating Lauren, I told her that if she wanted to seriously date, she had to be ok with moving to Boston. She said that she was on board, which I took to mean, "Yes, I will marry you!" And the rest is history.

Boston was my focus and I had determined that Boston was my "calling," until I realized that it wasn't.

Lauren and I went up to the Boston area to figure out where we were going to live and what we were going to do. We attended a fantastic church and met some great people we thought would be life long friends. We found a place to live that was a bit (maybe very) over our price range, but we had faith that it would be ok and that God would make it all work out. And He did.

The week after we got back, the business that I owned crumbled. This was going to be our income when we moved to Boston. Both of my employees informed me that they weren't going to be sticking around for long because their hearts were in the non-profit world. That was fine, but it just meant that I didn't have anyone else on my team to help me with the business. Later that week when I thought it couldn't get any worse, our largest client backed out of a substantial deal that set us back months.

And then that Friday we found out we were pregnant and that natural family planning doesn't work.

That was a rough week. Not only had my past years work crumbled like a landslide, but my means of stable income disappeared. It was incredibly exciting to find out that Lauren had a little baby forming inside of her that looks a bit like her a bit like me, but at the same time, it was terrifying! I didn't have a stable income to have a baby! I had never been a dad before. How do you even do that? How do you provide for three people when you feel like your scraping by with two? I cried out to God, "What in the world!? What am I supposed to do? I thought you wanted us to go start a church in Boston or at least serve there!? Why are you doing this to us? What should we do?"

God brought one verse to mind, "Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."

This verse stung, because I realized that moving to Boston was not a financially smart choice when I had school loans to pay, a pregnant wife, and no full-time job or solid prospect for a job. I realized that it didn't matter what I had felt God was calling me to, I needed to do what He has explicitly commanded me to do. So I began praying and asking God for wisdom on how I could best provide for my family.

God led me to my father-in-law who offered me a job as an insurance agent and I accepted. It wasn't what I thought I was going to do, but now I'm beginning to see why God wrenched my heart in Boston, allowed me to have a top-notch biblical education at Cedarville, gave me the opportunity to serve His people in the local church, crumbled my business, and brought me to Michigan. It was all to be an insurance agent?

(This is the first snapshot of my journey and how God has taught me what it means to have a ministry of reconciliation in a dark and sin craving world. Don't worry, I'll try to explain this title a bit better in weeks to come.)

Monday, October 7, 2013

Campaigning for Promotion

"Because we children of Adam want to become great,
He became small.
Because we will not stoop,
He humbled Himself.
Because we want to rule,
He came to serve."

                                                       - J. Oswald Sanders

The above poem convicted me this morning of the desires of my heart and I wanted to share the following as an encouragement and a challenge to you as we, together, try to figure out how to live the lives we were meant to live.

Spiritual leadership is tricky. It is a balancing act and I admit that I often fall. As a man who wishes to be a spiritual leader in the places God has placed him, I often find myself "campaigning for promotion," as Sanders puts it. I aspire to be great. Don't we all? We have this desire for success and greatness. We don't want to have bosses, we want to be the boss! We don't want to be submissive to authorities over us, we want to be the authority that others have to submit to! Most of us are always, or at least most of the time "campaigning for promotion." 

But why is this wrong? Doesn't God want us to excel in the fields He has sovereignly placed us in? Doesn't He want us to be the best men and women that we can be? Yes. But we often thwart God's design for how success was meant to be. Success was and still is never to make our name great. Success is always to make God's name great and blare his name from the roof tops. 

However, I must admit that I don't always do this. Often times when I get to the "roof top," when I get recognized for an achievement, receive a compliment, or get promoted, I look down instead of looking up. I look down on the people under me and try to get their attention to look up at me in all of my proud glory. I look down, hoping that the people under me will appreciate me, like me, respect me, and say that they want to be just like me. I look down when all God wants me to do is look up. He wants me to look up at Him and see His glory. He wants me to look up at Him and see that He is the reason I am standing here. He wants me to look up at Him and direct the people around me to look up as well.  

But most importantly, He wants me to realize that I am not on the roof top. Isaiah 64:6 says that all of our righteous deeds put together are still filthy rags to God. We are all on the same playing field. If you haven't placed your faith in Christ before, it doesn't matter how much good you have done, you works are still filthy rags before a perfect and holy God. If you have placed your faith in Christ alone, then the only reason you have for boasting is in Christ. The only reason I can say or do anything good is because of Christ.

If there is one thing that I have learned in my life it is that God knows way better than me, yet I think my plans are better. I pray that God would continue to humble me and put me where He sees best, not where I think is best for me. He is infinite, I am finite. God, give me grace to never forget this. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Anything and Everything

When I turned 18, I did what every normal 18 year old did. I got inked! My parents, especially my mom, were less than thrilled. They tried to talk me out of it again and again, but I was 18! It was my God given (or at least American given) right to get a tattoo! And so, despite my conservative heritage, I sat in a chair for 3 hours as a tiny needle went into my arm thousands of times. I love America. They protect children from being tortured and allow stupid 18 year olds to "live and learn." Do I regret it? Never.

Several months before my 18th birthday, I came up with the concept for my tattoo. I decided that I wanted a cross made of twisted up nails with a crown of thorns around the top. I didn't just want a cross though, that would be to plain, I wanted something to explain the significance of the cross. It wasn't until three days before the inking went down that I decided on a verse to put underneath the cross. I don't know how I decided on it, but I blame it on God. This is the verse that is etched on my arm:

John 15:13 - Greater love has no one than this, that one lay his life down for his friends.

I didn't realize the appropriateness of this verse until I went to prison. Yes, I went to prison. As a visitor, but still.

I was talking with one of the inmates and was asking him about his tattoos. His name was Sean and each tattoo he had told an elaborate story and brought him back to a moment in time. Even though Sean had more tattoos than I could count, each one was significant. I had no idea how I was going to relate to this guy and then I realized I was inked up too! I felt pretty cool. I showed him my tattoo and he admired the clarity for a minute and then he asked me what the verse said. I quoted the verse to him and then God started doing his thing.

"Did you have a friend die or something? Is that why you got that tat?" Sean inquired. I almost said, No, it's just a Bible verse that I got... And then it hit me! Yes! Yes, I did have a friend that died! That's exactly why I got the tattoo.

I went on to explain to Sean how I should have died, but even while I was on bad terms with this guy and deserved to die, He saved me. "Believe it or not," I went on to say, "This man also died for you so that you could live forever. He wants to make your life new, give you purpose and save you from destruction. He wants you to live for Him and not for yourself. And when you do, you will be living the life you were meant to live all along. You don't have to live for yourself anymore! You can live for someone so much greater, God."

I watched as this man sat there and wept. I had just watched him rep 30 pull ups 5 times and do 100 push-ups like he was stretching. But God spoke to Him right there in that moment and was able to break though his tough facade like no one on earth could. He told me that He wanted that relationship and he professed Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

Soon after I finished talking with Sean, he went and brought about 10 of his friends over to where I was at. Sean said, "Guys, you got hear what this guy has to say!" They admired my tattoo for a minute and then I was able to present the gospel to all of them. It was a sorrel moment. I was 20  years old and 10 convicts who were locked up for murder were standing around as I talked about a man who was murdered for me. It gives me chills remembering the moment.

I corresponded with Sean for a while and was pleased to learn that he got plugged into a small group of believers in prison. As for the others, only God knows their hearts, but I still pray for them when I think about them. They heard the gospel that day, but it had nothing to do with me.

God used me. All I was was a vessel. All I am is a vessel. Our Father has a relentless love that knows no bounds. He wants to redeem everything and everyone back to Himself and he uses anything and everything to redeem His children, even an impulsive tattoo. What an awesome God we serve.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Are we submitting to the will of God?

Last week, I had the privilege of preaching at University Baptist Church. Preaching is a lot of fun, but the real joy for me is being able to dig into the Word and really begin to understand its riches. 

In the book of James, James digs into Christians hard. He doesn't beat around the bush. He pulls what we around the office like to call a "Mark Driscoll." Every time I read through James, I stand convicted! The Christian life isn't easy and believers often get off course. James is making sure believers are on the right course and people who process faith really are believers. 

In the end of Chapter 4 of James, he asks us if we are submitting to God. Are we submitting to His will for our lives or are we trying to plan out our lives without first seeking God's will. In other words, are we living for His kingdom or ours? The following is the conclusion to my sermon.  

"Submission is merely a bi-product of our humility. When we are humble, we submit. When we are proud, we do not submit. Christians and non-Christians alike tend to think that submitting to God’s will is more of a horrific obligation if you want to follow Jesus. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Submitting to God, the One who knows everything, is the obvious choice. He brings freedom and life. If we don’t submit to Him, we are going go fail over and over again. We will plan out our lives only to be disappointed that they didn’t turn out the way we had planned them out in the end. But, however, if we begin by submitting to God’s will, we will live the life we were meant to live. A person once said, “I am scared that if I submit to God’s will He will make me do something dangerous.” The irony of this is two fold. We don’t have a choice in submitting to God’s will. He will make it happen one way or another. But the second is that the safest place to be is in the middle of God’s will. This is because the will of God comes from the heart of God. Is God a good God? Yes. Is God a loving God? Yes. Then we know that if we are in His will and not our own, even if things don’t seem to make sense in our small “vapor” brains, we will live the best life we could possibly live for His kingdom and not our own. Most of God’s will we can learn in the Bible and we can hold each other accountable for that. But the second part is that we must listen to the Holy Spirit’s leading in our life and follow Him. It is when we follow God’s will that we will live the lives we were meant to live. Our will is always from pride and selfishness, but God’s will is always from His love and perfection. Let’s choose today to make the obvious choice. Let’s humble ourselves and follow God’s will. It is here that we will experience the fullness of life."

To listen to the whole sermon, you can go to and click on June 30th's message. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Live through me

Have you ever seen something that you've seen a million times and then all of a sudden, it's like you're seeing it for the first time again? I know for me, this happens when I look at my wife sometimes. We'll be sitting on the couch or playing a board game on the floor and I'll look up and everything will just stop. My jaw will drop and I'll kind of just look at her in that "Wow, is this real life!?" kind of way. It's like I've just seen her again for the first time.

Recently, I've been reading the book Forgotten God by Francis Chan. His thesis is that we, the Church, have forgotten a part of God, the Holy Spirit. We have focused so much on Jesus' life and sacrifice and the Father's control and will that we have neglected the Holy Spirit. We have been missing out on a crucial and life giving part of the Trinity because we have forgotten Him and ignored His presence. This book has made me really start praying to the Holy Spirit. I have begun praying for His presence in my life and along the way, I have come to grips with the fact that the God of the universe literally lives inside of me... by choice! He loves me so much that He wants to live in and through me so that I can live the life I was meant to live! This truth is rocking my world.

Focusing on the Holy Spirit's role in my life has made me read Scripture with different lenses. In my devotional times, I have been reading through Matthew. This morning I read Matthew 25 which is a passage I have read and meditated on many times in my life, but today was different. It was if I was looking at Lauren again for the first time. Everything just kind of stopped and I thought, "Wow, is this real life!?" I had been reading this passage and had missed the point of it so many times!

The passage I am referring to is Matthew 25:34-36. Here's what it says:

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

When I read this, several questions popped in my head: Why do the righteous ask the same question that the unrighteous people ask (Yellow)? Why does Jesus give them totally opposite responses (Green and Blue)? 

And then I had the aha moment! The believers were doing all of these good deeds because the Holy Spirit was living inside of them and working through them. They didn't even realize that they were doing anything special or out of the ordinary. This means that they didn't just hear a sermon and whip into gear, it means that they naturally did the will of God and naturally wanted to help the least of these.

If you are anything like me, you're evaluating the snot out of your life right now. Am I doing the will of God naturally? Do I want to help the least of these without even thinking about it whenever I see a need? Am I a believer or am I just walking the walk and "doing" everything my pastor has been telling me to do?

Hopefully you're don't test positive to the last question, but maybe you do. Then what? Jesus wants to be the Lord of your life! He doesn't want to just be a social benefit, He wants to be your God and live through you! You will start doing things that you never even dreamed of doing naturally because the Holy Spirit will be working through you. When you are changed by God, something happens. You're life will never be the same again.

For me, I know that I believe in Jesus and trust in Him; He is the undeniable Lord of my life. The problem I often face is wanting to actually do something. Sometimes I see a need and think about helping for a minute, but then I shut up the Holy Spirit. I push it deep deep down until I don't hear Him anymore. I don't want to look weird in front of all my friends if I go sit beside that homeless man. I don't want to stress my family out if I give a little more money. I don't want the possibility of looking like a fool and failing. I don't want to step out of my comfort zone. I don't want to take on someone else's problems; I have enough of my own. I don't want to get hurt. I don't want to take an unknown risk. I don't want to, I don't want to, I don't want to!

Have you ever said any of these things when you feel the Holy Spirit tugging at your heart? I know I have. And I am ashamed.

I don't want to quench the Holy Spirit any more. This passage in Matthew 25 really makes me think and ask questions. It makes me test my faith to see if it is real and then convicts me to not just hear but do. The passage in 1 John that I quoted the other day is very pertinent here. 1 John 3:17-18 tells me that I can't just love in word and talk, but in deed and truth. I must allow my faith to be active. I can be saved and just quench the Holy Spirit, but then I am not living the life I was meant to live. I want to live in light of the God of the universe living inside of me. I want to do good naturally and without even thinking about it because the Holy Spirit is guiding my every move and living through me.

God, I want to be, no, I am you're hands and feet. Live through me.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Where is my treasure?

Many of you don't know this yet, but I have recently started a business with my good friend Dan Doyle. This was a huge answer to prayer for Lauren and I, but something I never expected to get into; we're making toys! Starting a business has been quite an adventure, but along the way, the devil has seen opportunities to take truth and twist it just a little bit at a time.

When you don't have a lot of money and then all of the sudden you own a part of a business that has the possibility of making a lot of cash, your mind has a way of dreaming. What would it be like if I made a million dollars? What would I do with all of the money? Where could I go? Where would I send my kids to school? What would my vacations look like? What would my house look like? Where would I eat out? What brand name cloths and groceries would we want to start buying? What car would I drive? And on and on and on.

But then the Holy Spirit began speaking to me through great friends like the Doyles, Pastor Casey, and my wife. No one said to me, "Watch out! Don't get greedy with money!" Each of them just had small chunks of wisdom that the Holy Spirit connected for me. When I listened to the people around me, people whom I love and respect, the Holy Spirit uncovered something in my life I hadn't even realized.

I was succumbing to worldly wisdom and being deceived by the devil.

I was believing the lie that I needed a better car, a better house, better food and cloths. I was believing the lie that I had a right to a better life. After all, if I worked for the money, didn't I deserve a good life? Wasn't it just a blessing from God? Come on! If King Solomon could buy everything his heart desired, can't I? This is where Satan took a truth and twisted it. Just like he did to Eve in the garden, the devil was making me feel like God wanted me to have something and that I deserved a better and fuller life. That is true, but it is how he tried to fulfill that truth that he deceived me.

The devil whispered in my ear, "Zach, you can have a fuller life if you just enjoy God's blessings and enjoy his creation. In fact, enjoy all of his creation! Enjoy everything to the fullest!" How great does that sound? What is wrong with this lie? Is it even a lie?

The devil is tricky. He doesn't always say, "You should go kill that person," or "Steal that money right from her hand!" No. He's not that dumb. Rather, he lies to us in what he doesn't say. When I began to uncover what the devil was telling me, I realized that he wasn't lying to me directly; he was just taking verses out of the context of the Bible. The devil was doing the same thing that he did to Jesus when he tempted him. He was taking truths out of the context of Scripture.“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone." (Matthew 4:6). Jesus responded by quoting another verse: "Do not put the lord your God to the test." (Matthew 4:7).

When I heard what the devil was telling me, I asked myself, "Is this consistent with all of Scripture?" The answer was a resounding no.

Matthew 6:19-21 says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

And 1 John 3:17-18 says, "But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth."

These two passages rocked my world. Was what the devil said about me deserving a fuller life true? Yes, but it is achieved when we live for God's kingdom and not our own and it often doesn't look like what we think it should. We will have a fuller life when we do his will! But what is his will?

God's will for us is that we realize that this world is not our home and spend our money accordingly. God's will for us is that we spend money where He would spend money; after all, it's all His anyway. God's will for us is that we live with an eternal mindset and not get trapped in the lies of this world.

How will I spend my money? First of all, I will realize that it is not mine to begin with. I will, by God's grace, spend money on what Jesus would spend money on. The way I spend money should show that this world is not my home. I need to give until it hurts and use my money to advance God's kingdom and not my own.

Where my treasure is, there my heart will be also. I don't want my heart to be in this broken world. I desperately want my heart to be in God's eternal kingdom! Therefore, it is so important that I spend the money God has entrusted to me for His kingdom and store up eternal treasure. It is so important that I do not listen to the twisted truth from the devil but run everything through all of Scripture.

Where is your heart? With God or in this broken world? That will be answered when you ask yourself this question: Where is my treasure?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Hello World

Hello World,

I have finally decided to get a blog, but here's the problem I'm facing: I want to be a blogger without just being noise. There are approximately 5 trillion blogs right now (I say approximately because I have no idea how many there are) and I don't want to just be another one... but by definition, I am. So, I will get right to the point.

If you would like to treck along with me through life and hear how God is challenging me, sanctifying me, rocking my world, and exciting me, I would love for you to follow along with my posts and interact via the comment thread. If you just want to read these posts, that's cool too. I can't promise the ideas and challenges that pop in my head will always move you in the same way that they move me, but I think that we can all learn something from each other's lives. So, my prayer is that you will in some way be positively influenced and challenged by reading these thoughts, questions, and challenges from this broken and imperfect person just trying to figure it all out like everyone else.

Here we go. In just a bit, I will be writing my first ever blog post (besides this introductory poser post). Will it pierce through the noise? Probably not. But what God does in my life is always worth shouting about.