Tetelestai – It is Finished!

In my pursuit of trying to simultaneously play catch-up and get a little ahead in my school work, I almost let Easter weekend slip by without even reflecting on what it means for my life and the world.

Good Friday and Easter Sunday are days we set aside to remember what happened on the cross thousands of years ago. In His indescribable goodness and grace, God the Father chose to accept the crucifixion of His only son as punishment enough for all the sins you could ever commit, and because of that, you can be forgiven and clean no matter what your past looks like. Jesus fulfilled the Law and paved the way for everyone to share the glory of God’s goodness forever and ever, without having to feel condemned or guilty or judged.

What amazing grace! To be able to know that I am an adopted son into God’s growing family, and that he is actively making me holy through the sanctification process, forgiving me no matter how many times I fall short… that is some amazing grace. For him to look at me and call me righteous because of the sacrifice Jesus made.

That is freedom from legality and rules, and an invitation to build a true relationship with the Creator of the Universe. It is the Gospel! It is Good News, indeed. Thanks be to God and to our Savior, and to the Holy Spirit that draws us to them.

It is so easy, though, to judge others based on what sin I believe they are committing, and make that my focus in interacting and/or praying for them. I find myself falling into that more than I’d like to, and I’m not proud of it.

But doesn’t that mean I’m not fully trusting Jesus when, in John 19:30, he exclaims on the cross “tetelestai” (which we translate to “It is finished.”)?  There, Jesus is telling us that his task of defeating sin is finished. The debt caused by our disobedience is paid in full. It’s over. Done. Period. The end.

A question I need to ask myself, then, especially this weekend, is whether or not I truly trust Jesus with the task of dealing with the world’s sin. It seems like a simple question, but the implications are more significant than you may think.

In John 3:17, Jesus says:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Jesus was not about bringing judgement on people because of their sin. His ministry sought to save the world from their sin. How often do we find ourselves judging others, though? If we’re being honest, its a lot. The truth is, we all sin and no sin is greater than another. The same grace that we cling to is offered freely to all.

Even that one person who you think is just the worst.

In complete disregard and defiance to the other religious Jewish leaders, Jesus forgave an adulterous woman who the Pharisees wanted to stone to death, drove away those who were accusing her, and told her:

“Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” – John 8:11

Later, while he was dying on the cross, Jesus spent time praying for those crucifying him and forgave the sinner being crucified with him:

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” – Luke 23:34

And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” – Luke 23:43

Jesus had mercy on even those who were killing him, and grace for someone who was rightfully being punished as a criminal. We don’t know what the charge of that criminal was, all we really know is that it didn’t matter to Jesus what the man did as long as he was truly sorry and seeking Jesus.

This is what I should model my witness and life after. This is the Gospel we should preach! Let us learn from Jesus instead of the Pharisees!

If I am truly to live a life worthy of my calling (see Ephesians 4:1), I should be loving people unconditionally, encouraging them towards a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Other people’s sin should affect my relationship with them little, if any, especially if they don’t have a relationship with God. How can I expect someone who doesn’t know God to know why not to sin against Him? Once they know Him and form a relationship with Him, the Holy Spirit will be the one to convict them if they have areas in their life in need of change, not me.

I should be praying, more than anything else, for people to experience the amazing love and grace and forgiveness that I am reflecting on today.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross so that I could live a life judging and pointing out the sin in others’ lives. Jesus died on the cross so that sin could be defeated and so that I could point others to the love and grace of God. We all need grace. We all need love. Will I trust God and the Holy Spirit enough to convict His own people as He sees fit and stop wrongly placing that responsibility on myself? Do I believe Jesus when He said “it is finished”?

Just a thought.

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“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” – John 19:28-30 (ESV)

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Good Mourning

Few people know this about me, but I love to listen to rap while I’m on the road. Andy Mineo, Lecrae, and Trip Lee take turns riding shotgun during my short daily commutes to school, work, and home. The other day, Andy Mineo’s “You Will” started playing on my Spotify, and tears started rolling down my face. Immediately, my thoughts went something like “What is wrong with me? This is rap. This is upbeat. Why can’t I hold it together? I’m crying over nothing.”

I must have played that song on repeat a dozen times during the eight months my father received cancer treatment, and I owned every line of the lyrics. I believed my father could be healed, and I believed that my Father in Heaven would if His will allowed it and my faith was strong enough. The song hit home, and it hit home hard.

It became evident to me at that moment how much I have been neglecting my journey through grieving my father’s death.

I have a difficult time allowing myself to grieve. Not only do I not allow myself to grieve, but if I’m being honest with myself, most days I just don’t want to. I don’t want to face the fact that he’s gone and I’ll never share another memory with him. I don’t want to face the fact that he spent his life believing that I would be great and make a difference, but won’t be able to see me live that out. I don’t want to face the fact that my children won’t know him.

It’ll be two years next Thursday, March 3rd. In the nearly two years that my father has been dead, I have filled nearly every moment of my time with stuff so I wouldn’t have to think about him.

I think I’m protecting myself from hurt, but I’m really not. I’m hurting whether I like to admit it or not. If I don’t confront my hurt, it’ll eventually come out whether I like it or not.

Like while I’m jamming to Andy Mineo in the car.

Or while I’m pulling shots of espresso and it’s so evidently written on my face that my co-worker and dear friend pulls me aside and asks if I’m okay. Or when I zone out during a lecture at school and the professor assumes he’s said something that really worried me. Or in the hospital room when I obsessively check a patient’s oxygen saturation because I spent the last 48 hours of my father’s life looking at his fluctuate until he passed away.

It’s the elephant in the room. The spirit always remembers, even if the mind tries to forget.

I’m kidding myself by thinking I can just fake it until I make it. I can’t. None of us can. It’s a lie. When we’re not okay, we’re just not okay, and that’s okay.

Because what am I really doing to myself when I refuse to grieve? I’m robbing myself of joy and I’m robbing God of His glory.

When I’m so caught up in not wanting to face never creating new memories with my dad, I rob myself of the joy I shared with him while he was alive. I should be intentionally remembering him and enjoying all those moments. There is healing in that.

When I’m so caught up in thinking about how my dad isn’t around to see me get through nursing school and become the healthcare professional he believed I could be, I rob myself of feeling good and proud about myself. It should be enough to me that my wife is proud and God is proud. It should be enough that my dad would be proud. I can’t be afraid of graduation just because he won’t be there. I can’t just refuse to walk that day. I have to confront this head-on before I let it rob me of all the good that God intended for me to enjoy.

God intended for us to lean on him while we mourn. He promises to be there. Neglecting my journey through grief is robbing myself of His comfort, and robbing Him of the glory that will come through my faith. Jesus says it plainly:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
– Jesus Christ, from His sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:3,4)

By avoiding the issue, I’m not giving God an opportunity to comfort me. I’m not claiming my inheritance – the Kingdom of Heaven. Who am I to turn away the Creator? Especially when He intends to do good to me? I’m undermining the healing power of the Gospel. I’m denying others around me and the kingdom of God the testimony of a Christian mourner. I’m like Rachel, who turned away her comforters because she felt as though her loss was inconsolable (Jeremiah 31:15).

But it is not. No loss is inconsolable.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
– John (Revelation 21:4)

In His revelation to John, Jesus offers us complete healing, comfort, and joy in the life to come, despite all the sin we may have let ourselves fall into. He not only forgives, but offers us the most precious gift – Himself for eternity in paradise.

How can I appreciate this amazing grace and gift to come if I don’t acknowledge it when I’m going through something that – for lack of a better word – just plain sucks? I can’t claim a promise if I don’t realize that I need it.

I mentioned in my post entitled 2015 that though I failed to last year, I want to be more intentional about confronting my journey through grief and share my experience with those around me.

This isn’t me asking for attention or sympathy at all.

This is me, laying it all on the table.

Maybe you’ve been through a loss, too. This is me saying to you that you’re not alone. It’s okay not to be okay. We’ll get through this together, and it will be good.

As in all things, there is good in mourning.

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“Lord, there’s nothing you can’t do, / [There’s] nothing in this world too big for you. / So when they say you can’t, / I know you will. / I know you will.” – Andy Mineo

Sin Left A Crimson Stain; He Washed It White As [Diamond Pearl]

My dad always told me not to forget to wash my car or change the oil. One of the very last memories I have of him involved him teaching my brother and I how to change the oil in a car by ourselves. He had stage IV cancer, was on oxygen, and yet, during a cold winter day it was important enough to him to get outside and walk us through it. Ever since, I make sure I get the oil changed every 3-6k miles in my car and my wife’s truck.

Washing my car, though, is another story. No matter how much he told me to keep my car looking nice, I tend to keep it on the back-burner. If you saw my car lately, you probably wouldn’t have described it as Diamond Pearl. You’d think of it as more of a… Tree-Sap-And-Bird-Poo Grey. Embarrassing, really. I went to my first hospital clinical rotation today, and I don’t know if I was more anxious about seeing patients for the first time or the possibility of someone wanting to carpool with me.

So, I made it a priority to wash it today, and I was amazed at how much junk had built up and how harder it was to wash it all off compared to if it had been just washed a week or even a month ago (instead of only-the-LORD-knows-how-long ago).

But, it got me thinking.

Sometimes, I treat my faith the same way I treat my car. I go days or even a week without really sitting down with the Father. Junk builds up – some of it without me even knowing. It gets harder and harder to face Him because I’ve gotten out of the routine of it. I start to realize I’ve slipped a little off the path. When I finally pour my heart out to Him and ask Him to forgive me and guard my heart against the Enemy, I feel so much relief and peace. A burden lifts off my shoulders and Jesus washes my junk away.

Not all routine is legalism. My faith could use some routine. Just like how washing my car regularly prevents me from having to scrub so hard to get the junk off, maybe if I came to Him regularly, my junk wouldn’t build up so much and it wouldn’t get harder to get over myself and face God with my imperfections. We all need Him daily. We have to fill up on the Spirit if we’re to pour His love out to others and guard ourselves against the Enemy.

Praise be to God, though, that even when I fall… even when I fail to seek Him daily, He still is faithful to forgive me. Jesus said on the cross that “it is finished,” and he meant it (see John 19:30). How amazing is that grace? I am so undeserving.

Sin left a crimson stain.
He washed it white.

Thank you Jesus, for Your amazing grace.

Psalm 51:10-12

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” – Psalm 51:10-12

10 Things in 2013 to Thank God For

Last year proved to be full of trials for Kaitlin and I; but too often we dwell on what went wrong and not on what went right. The list of reasons to praise God in 2013 goes far beyond ten items, but it’s a good start (though it is not in any particular order, as always):

10. We have an amazing, loving church to lean on and grow with.
West Rome Baptist Church has become for us the family that every church needs to be, especially within our Growth Group (our fancy word for Sunday School Class). All we feel from the moment we enter the doors is love, and the friendships we have gained are true blessings. Whether we need to be sharpened and reminded of God’s truth or simply need to let it all out in the open and be completely transparent and honest, God has used our church and church family to strengthen our faith and help us feel His love. When I broke my leg in the accident and was out of work for over two months, our Growth Group all pitched in to help us, cooking us meals and even raising money to help pay hospital bills (they didn’t hold back any love either, they raised over $2000).
9. Monk (Also, Netflix (until they stopped streaming Monk (which was too soon, so not Netflix, actually))), Ducks, Reba, and George Lopez.

These guys kept me company for months while I was bedridden and bored out of my mind. I probably would have lost that mind I was bored out of, if not for their help. I’m thankful for clean, funny shows. Why is it so hard these days to find them?
8. Our God, the Provider
I cannot tell you how many times I looked at our bank account in shock because the numbers just didn’t add up. In our favor. The only explanation was that God was providing as He promised. He was not letting us go down like that. There is no other way I could have been without work for 3 months, up to our knees in debt to hospitals, and still be able to afford to care for ourselves. God was in control and provided all our needs, putting money in the account that literally could not have been there, helping our Sunday School class raise over $2000 to help pay costs, etc. Our God was true to His promises to us, though we were undeserving. To say I am thankful is an extreme understatement, for sure.
7. Toyota (because nothing beats Toyota (besides maybe BMW)
We came into 2013 without a car in our name. Both of our vehicles were totaled during the previous month, so we were either using rentals or borrowing from family. In February, we found a Toyota Avalon XLS at an unbelievably great price from the original owners, who took great care of it. In the fall we found a Toyota Tundra Limited (Access Cab), which is also in great shape and an incredible deal. It sounds weird and I hesitate to say that material things can be associated with God’s glory, but I do know this: God knew a need we had and was faithful to provide that need for us through these two awesome Toyota’s.
6. Creation (and our dear park ranger friends who make enjoying State Parks a reality)
 

 

Most of our bestest dates happen while camping. Being totally immersed in God’s creation never fails to bring us a sense of tranquility and awe. God created this Earth and the life upon it and called it good! Why do we spend so much of our life inside buildings and in cities, completely shut off from the beauty in nature? As soon as my leg was healed from my wreck, we took as many opportunities as we could afford to go camping. Black Rock Mountain has been our favorite so far. If you’ve never been, go!
5. Weekends (and jobs that don’t require us to work on the weekends)
I may have to set my alarm for 3:50am every morning, and it isn’t always easy being responsible for teaching Spanish to every child at school, but it only makes the weekends more glorious and special to us. Being able to leave work Friday and know we will have a few days to rest is a blessing that not everyone is able to enjoy, and I am very grateful for that.
4. The love of our families
I thank God for families we can depend on and lean on in times of need. I also thank God that we both have parents who love each other and everyone around them. It’s hard to find marriages that last as long as our parents’ have, and it is a great blessing to have such loving examples to follow. 
3. Owl City
Who can listen to Owl City and not feel good inside? If you find them, tell them to call me. I don’t believe them.
2. The Mustard Seed Mission and our many missionary friends in Nicaragua

 

Not only did Kaitlin and I have the amazing opportunity to serve Christ in Nicaragua, but we did so in the company of a God-centered host family that housed us, cared for us, and prayed for us. I am so thankful for that experience and for the opportunity to return! Visit SendZackandKaitlin.com for more information on our next missionary journey and how you can help us get there!
1. Jesus
Jesus dies for my sins and saves me every single day. Being saved isn’t a one time event, it’s a sanctification process and I’m thankful for every moment of it. I’m thankful for being able to constantly walk in His grace, covered by His blood. I’m thankful He calls me friend and that God calls me son. I’m thankful that no matter what, I have His Spirit in me so that I can do great things through Him and never be far from His guidance or comfort. 2013 (and every year before and every after) was made possible by Jesus.

Tales of a Nicaraguan Missionary Journey: Part 1

Goodnight1… it’s been a while since I’ve updated this thing! Writing/blogging is something that I really enjoy, but spare-time seems to have evaded me recently. If I ever do come across free time, I like to spend it with my wife anyway, so the blog unfortunately gets shoved to the back-burner. It didn’t help that until yesterday my computer hasn’t worked reliably, either. My shift at the bakery shifted back to the early morning (5am – 1pm), and I reformatted my laptop, which worked like a charm! Long story short, I now have the time and the laptop to dust off this blog and crank out some posts**. Here goes nothing…

As the title suggests, I have done some missionary work in Nicaragua since my last update. I might as well shut this thing down if I don’t share that journey on here! God rocked my life so much that week that if it doesn’t inspire me to write, nothing will. Kaitlin and I (yes, we BOTH got to go! It was our first time as missionaries serving together. Awesome! Just awesome. Anyway, this parenthetical situation is getting a little out of hand…) served in Nicaragua during the week of June 9th, but our journey getting there began about a year earlier, when God started putting a strong yearning in our hearts to find a mission trip to go on together. Later that year, our church, West Rome Baptist, announced several mission trips taking place during the summer. We just knew God had a place on one of those trips for us. We decided together that day that we would go on one of them, but had no idea of the obstacles in store for us. This brings me to the first lesson God taught re-taught me:

If God calls you somewhere, He’ll make sure He gets you there.

In December of that year (2012), two car accidents less than two weeks apart totaled both of our cars. The second accident sent me to the hospital with a broken leg, and put me out of work for nearly three months. The driver at fault in the second accident was driving under the influence of alcohol, and had no insurance. Not only did we have to buy two cars, but also carried the responsibility of the hospital bills. He didn’t have insurance, and the uninsured motorist policy on my wife’s car did not include medical payments. We were on vacation, and lost the amount we paid in advance for the remaining three nights there. Needless to say, it was a hard situation to soak in. At this point, with all the unexpected expenditures and lost income, saving up for a $2800 mission trip seemed way way out of the picture.

However, God doesn’t really care about any “picture” we conjure up in our minds. He doesn’t see things the way we do.

Our insurance company didn’t budge on covering the medical bills. We couldn’t blame them, though. We didn’t have the coverage. If you are reading this and are unsure if your uninsured motorist policy covers medical payments, FIND OUT ASAP! It’s definitely worth the extra $20 per six months, and the percentage of people who drive without insurance is getting pretty ridiculous. In the United States, 14.29% of drivers are uninsured. That comes to about one in seven drivers! In Georgia, that percentage is about 16% and in Tennessee (where my accident took place), it spikes to 24% (ranking third in the nation!)2. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more likely that the person who hits you on the road has no insurance, so please, I encourage you to get as much coverage as you can afford.

Our insurance company was very generous, however, in reimbursing us for our totaled vehicles and letting us use rental cars for as long as we needed. We were given more than the cars were worth, and were able to quickly use that money on new cars and medical bills. My agent even listened as I vented about the situation when it was going on, and we were able to carry a great conversation. He followed up and showed he truly cared! If anyone out there is looking for some great, affordable coverage, Liberty Mutual insurance is where it’s at! My agent is Crawford Adam. You should look him up! I don’t usually advertise or anything like that, but my insurance company took care of me when I needed it the most, and that says alot!

About a month after the accident, our growth group3 at West Rome Baptist got together to fellowship. Ever since the accident, members from our group showered us with love. They took turns bringing us dinner, prayed for us constantly, and never stopped encouraging and caring. We didn’t think any group of fellow believers could ever match the faithfulness and love of ours, until we went to that night of fellowship. There they presented Kaitlin and me a check. It was for $2300. Yeah, that’s $2300, not $230. Two zeros! We were overwhelmed by their generosity and sacrifice. They collected money within the group without us knowing, and were able to bless us far more than they would ever know!

Not too long after that, I got a phone call that turned things around for us even more. At the time of the call, I was helping my friend Marigrace make her wedding invitations. Being out of work and bedridden drove me insane; it was a blessing every chance I got to get out of the house, and I was very grateful for her family, who not only offered to let me stay with them during the day, but picked me up and gave me a ride whenever I needed one. I was sitting at their table, taping pictures to cards, when I got a call from my wife, who told me that her boss wanted me to work at her school until I went back to my usual job. Her boss, Mrs. Shemi Kumar of the Montessori School of Rome, had been diagnosed with breast cancer a year prior and was cancer free, but still finishing up treatment. She had to leave for a while as she recovered so she hired me as her substitute. The very next day, I was grading papers and teaching anatomy to a classroom full of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. The unexpected income was definitely an answered prayer! Sharing the commute to work with my wonderful wife was an added bonus =]. In no time at all, the doctor cleared me to go back to work, and I returned to my job at Great Harvest Bread Company. My boss was so gracious to hold my position, and I am very grateful for her for that.

Needless to say, God provided for us during our time of greatest need. We knew in our hearts that He was calling us to missions in the summer, and that He would provide for the costs of that as well. There were two trips, one to Mexico and one to Nicaragua. After days of praying, God broke our hearts for the people and nation of Nicaragua. I put in my request off from work, turned in our applications, and paid our deposit. We had NO idea how God was going to provide for the remaining $2500 balance, but we knew He would!

While I was still working at the Montessori School of Rome, Kaitlin and I were contacted by a man who we house-sat and pet-sat for last year. He wanted us to watch his house and animals for two weeks in May and offered to pay us over $1000. Is God not amazing? Our family also provided very generously for our trip, and with a little sacrifice on our part, we brought our balance to zero with weeks to spare before our flight.

Sure, there were setbacks. Major setbacks. Accidents, loss of income. Hospital bills4. I left out the part where we found out that tax increases (and increases in our income) caused us to owe over $400 in state and federal taxes this year. Also, the man didn’t tell us that one of his three horses is a mustang that takes hours to be caught and put in his stall, while another of his horses founders frequently (and did so on our watch). That last setback wasn’t financial, but it still kinda sucked. Throughout the whole journey, though, was God’s reassuring voice of promise, His unfailing shower of blessing, and His passion in our hearts for missions. He never let us go, and certainly provided for us in miraculous ways.

God always provides. Even in the face of extreme tribulation and seemingly hopeless situations, God’s promises are sure. His love never fails, never gives up, never runs out!

The LORD called us to Nicaragua, and He was faithful to get us there, despite everything the Enemy could through at us. How great is our God?

Taken of a storm coming at Fort Mountain State Park5. The view was so much more beautiful in person. It turned out to be a powerful storm, but watching it coming we couldn’t help but be reminded of the power of our Creator. Even in the midst of a storm, His greatness, power, and beauty is evident.

To be continued…

-Zack

**Blog posts subject to change. Mostly grammar corrections, which I usually make as I catch them, which can happen suddenly without notice, perhaps in the time it takes you to read this. If you see changes, do not be alarmed. You are not crazy. This has been a public service announcement.

1. Meant as an exclamation, not a greeting.

2. Insurance Research Council data from 2009. That was four years ago. I am far too lazy to find current data. Does that make me a lazy blogger? Probably.

3. Fancy word my church uses for Sunday School. We do, however, experience a ton of growth together.

4. We still haven’t seen even the tip of the iceberg of those, even 7 months later. But we know God will provide! He is so good!

5. Fort Mountain State Park is located in Georgia, not in Nicaragua. Just for the record.