BEST YOUTH MINISTRY BLOG POST OF 2012

If you get a chance today I would appropriated your vote.  I recently had a post nominated for the Best Youth Ministry Post of 2012 (ironically it is on preaching, 6 Steps To Help You Prepare To Preach).  You don’t have to vote for my blog. It is pretty easy to vote.  Some really cool prizes for the winner.  Thanks a bunch to all my readers.

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YOU ARE BLESSED – IMPLICATIONS FROM THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Last week a shared Blessed are you – Reflections from the Sermon on the Mount, and this week I wanted to follow up with a few of the possible implications. Like I said last week, much of this is still me thinking out loud and would love to hear thoughts and feedback. Understand we are on a journey, we are learning and growing. So here are a few thoughts from my journey.

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After Jesus describes this new righteousness he tells his disciples that following him will not be easy…

Matthew 7:13-14 NIV
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Growing up in a Church of Christ, I was basically taught what Jesus meant, those who are a part of the Church of Christ are on the narrow road and those outside the Church of Christ are on the wide road. Which if you take it to its logical conclusion the road then becomes the Church of Christ rather than way of Jesus. Maybe you experienced the same type of exclusivity within your faith tradition. Jesus is confronting within the Beatitudes, a religious system, which was elevated above God. Now of course they would never claim the system was above God, but truth be told, their system was their god. The synagogue, their savior. The reverence awarded them their hope. Their power, their salvation.

It is this system that beats people into the ground, convincing them they are not adequate of being with God. The system conveys to people, until you to become “righteous” like the rest of us, God will not notice you. The system portrays an impossible mountain to be scaled to sit at the feet of God. It is into this religious system which Jesus bring this “good news.” Jesus is challenging the assumption that those who look righteous and those who look like they have it all together, are the ones who are right with God.

It is into this system which Jesus offers hope and speaks with grace. Blessed are those who are beat down by the religious system, who don’t measure up, who aren’t “good enough,” for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn because of their own sinfulness, for they will be comforted. Blessed are those who don’t use positional power to assert their will, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who are truly desire loving God and loving others, for they will be filled. Blessed are those who show mercy to others, who don’t hold peoples pasts over their heads for they will receive mercy. Blessed those who seek peace and unity among other believers rather than creating more divisions, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because they are trying desperately to live righteous lives, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

It seems for the entirety of Jesus ministry, he stood in opposition to the religious organizations of his day. Why? Because their organization valued power over people. It valued prestige over humility. It valued outward appearance over the heart. So, why do the beatitudes still matter to us in 2012, just as they did the day Jesus spoke them on the mountainside to the crowd?

  1. Outward appearance is easy to fix, in fact we are quite good at it in our culture today. In fact our churches are filled with people who look amazing from a distance, but when you take the time to get close, you really start to see the cracks and imperfections. This good news is sent to those who embrace the brokenness.
  2. For church leaders, pastors and shepherd’s it is easy to fix the outside of people. It is an entirely different matter to help them fix the inside. For one it is messy, none of us are as shinny as we hope we appear. When, as a church we try to be, it creates a seemingly impossible mountain to climb to be right with God. As people come into our churches they see something or someone “they” could never be.
  3. Everyone, especially leaders, want to be great at what they do. We want to win; we want the biggest and the best. Ultimately, we want to appear to, at the very least, be adequate before God. We are so conditioned, by the world to live on a point system basis. We are constantly measuring our self. When we measure our self against other people, we are comparing what we know about our self, with what we don’t know about the other person.
  4. No one wants to be broken, and if we are broken we, at the very least, don’t want others to know we are broken. But the good news of blessing was to broken people. It was to the ones who were being persecuted for not playing the religious game. It was to the ones trying to live Godly and righteous lives in the midst of a system built on power and oppression.

The Kingdom of God is built on two simple commands, love God and love people. This is true righteousness. This is to be sought after. To follow Jesus is truly humbling because it means forsaking your kingdom to be a part of building his.

Matthew 5:20 NIV
20
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

BLESSED ARE YOU – REFLECTIONS FROM THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Over the last couple of months I have lived in chapter 5 of Matthew.  Never have I spent so much time in one place in scripture, working through and memorizing.  I have been amazed at the new insights that have surfaced.  So see my understanding deepen.  To this point I have completely committed Matthew chapter 5 to memory.

What has really amazed me are the insights I am gaining weeks and months later on certain sections.  Things I worked through 2 months ago begin to take on new shapes as I continue to add new pieces to the puzzle.  Even more importantly I am beginning to see the world around me afresh, as I look through new lenses.

NIV  Matthew 5:1-11
1Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

I have heard lesson after lesson on the Beatitudes, they typically have all leaned this direction…  If you want to be a part of the Kingdom of God you need to learn to behave this way… and fill in the blank.  In other words it becomes about you shifting your attitudes to and nature to conform with God’s way of life.

The more I have dug into this passage, especially in light of Matthew 5:12-16 & 17-20 the more I am convinced, we may have in some ways missed the point of what Jesus is communicating.  What if we were to read the first 20 verses through the lens of a religious system which Jesus is confronting rather than rather than everyday life.  Jesus is announcing a new kingdom here on earth; a new kingdom which most of the world will reject.  Before Jesus gets into our understanding of the law and the prophets, before he starts talking about being salt and light, he wants these disciples to understand they will be rejected if they live the way he is fixing to challenge them to live through the rest of this sermon.  It is an announcement of hope and an announcement of heart ache.  It is the pronouncement of blessing in the midst of hardship.  It is a new kingdom that will infringe on peoples understanding of who God is and probably more so, infringe on who they are and what they posses.

Verses 1 through 10 focus is very indirect.  Jesus is calling those who will follow him to understand there will be a price you will pay.  Why, because this kingdom will stand in direct opposition of all who are trying to further their own kingdom.  However, by paying the price, living in differently you will find unspeakable blessing.  Jesus then ties a nice little bow on the package for the disciple in verse 11 and the focus of the passage now becomes very direct.  Now, blessed are YOUBlessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  In other words if you are willing to follow my teachings, you should expect insults, persecution and lies to be pointed at you.  Persecution for what?  Persecution which comes because of your relationship with Jesus.

But why would your relationship with him bring difficulty, because the poor in spirit, the meek, the pure in heart, all seem pretty non-threatening to me.  Honestly, is there any characteristic in verse 1 through 10 which seem even remotely threatening?  So why persecution?  I think the answer really lies in verse 17-20.

Matthew 5:17-20 NIV
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

The Pharisees and Teachers of the law would see Jesus as a false teacher, one who was abandoning God’s law and had to be stopped.  Not only was Jesus, in their eyes, a threat to God’s divine plan, probably even more so, Jesus threatened the Pharisees and Teachers of the law because within their system they were set up as god’s.  They had the power, they were able to add to the law, they had control, and they had the money.  People looked at them and felt being people of God was impossible in light of how these men looked from a distance.  Jesus kingdom however, would directly oppose their kingdom.  This new kingdom Jesus was inviting people to be a part of would threaten the system of control the Pharisees and teachers were building because it was a system that exalted the powerful.  In this new kingdom the avenue to God the Father was not the religious elite, but an avenue which was open to all.

In this system, righteousness was all about appearance.  So maybe we could better describe verse 1 through 10 as the new righteous.  Jesus concludes verse 20, saying the ones who appear to be righteous, the Pharisees and Teachers of the law, really aren’t and if you buy into their system, striving for self preservation, power and control, then you will not enter the kingdom.  Now, this has numerous implications for us today as followers of Jesus, which I will tackle in part 2.

I am still working through so much of this in my own head and it seems like things are shifting daily.  This is simply an avenue to work through and try to sort out these thoughts.  I would love to hear your insights and thoughts from the Beattitudes.

DEALING WITH DISCOURAGMENT IN MINISTRY

One thing I have learned in ten years of ministry is there will be lots of disappointments.  Especially, for those of us in Student Ministry, discouragement will be abundant.  Students, parents, leaders, members will all let you down and the flip side, you will most certainly let them down as well.  So I am writing this to let all of my friends in ministry know how to fix the problem…..

Ready for it…

Get rid of all the people!

There you go.  If you eliminate all the people in your church, the problem of disappointment will be gone… unless you are a numbers guy.  Now of course I am joking but from time to time we all feel that way.  The problem is people, but this is what God planned.  Think about it, God decided to use broken and messed up people to help broken and messed up people.

So, if discouragement in ministry is inevitable, where is the hope in ministry?  Because, in the illustrious words of the late Charles Siburt, “there is no possible way to contort the human voice to make whining appealing to the human ear.”   So how do you deal with discouragement?

1. Focus on YOUR NEED for the Gospel.  One of the biggest traps I fall into in ministry is focusing on how much everyone around me needs to hear the message of Jesus, because they are broken and messed up people.  When we do we begin to see our self as a practitioner rather than a patient.  Unfortunately, the church has lost sight of this truth, expecting for those in ministry to not struggle as everyone else does. We find great joy in the appearance we present to people.  In doing this it is “self” that is glorified and not Christ.  Paul makes a point to point out his weakness…

 15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:15-16

People will follow the example we set.  If we are unwilling to admit our brokenness, it is pretty ridiculous to expect those we are leading to admit their brokenness.

2. Surround yourself with a close group of people you can share things with, who can help to encourage and pray for you.  For me there are several different circles.  One circle consists of people in our church, who know me and my ministry very well.  They know where I want this ministry to go.  They offer an open ear and loving voice.  They know my heart and genuinely care for me, not just what our ministry is doing.  These are the people I go to with leadership problems, thoughts, dreams.  I also have a close circle of 5 or 6 friends in ministry, who are in the trenches, we share ideas and dreams. We seek advice and counsel from each other drawing on the experiences of each other.  The most important circle though is my family.  This is also my first and most important ministry.  I have to focus on taking care of this relationship, because the health of this relationship, with my wife and children greatly affects my mindset in the rest of my ministry.

3. Our job in ministry is not to fill people up, it is to empty yourself.  Somewhere along the way someone convinced me it was my responsibility to fill people up to send them out.  They were wrong!  You have absolutely no control in ministry of how people with respond to the message of Christ.  Jesus told us, there would be people who hear this message and want absolutely no part of it.  There would be people who say they are a part of His Kingdom and would continue to choose other things.  So it floors me, that I get so discouraged when people chose other things over Christ.  And just maybe they are following their leader, if we are completely honest.  No matter how badly you want someone to know Christ; they might want nothing to do with Him.

Jesus has called us to build His Kingdom here on earth, not our own.  It is amazing how easily we confuse the two.  Discouragement is something we will always deal with in ministry.  Jesus did, Paul did, the apostles did, and the early church did.  Get use to it, but by all means do not give up on what God has called you to do and more importantly WHO he has called you to BE!

These are just a few examples of what I rely on, and of course there are many other principles out there.  So how do you deal with discouragement in ministry?

THE CORE: DEFINING WHO WE ARE & WHAT WE DO

Are we developing faith within the life of students that sticks?  Are we developing a “Sticky Faith,” a faith that will continue on after the walls of this church are in the rear view mirror?

It is our desire that Westhill would be place where the foundations of a lifelong faith in Christ are formed.  A place of life change, where students are introduced to Jesus and the world around them is radically shaken by the transformation they have experienced.

ENGAGE:
Following Jesus has never been about us, it has and always will be about building His kingdom.  The church was called, then gathered, then formed for the purpose of being sent out.  We are called to go and engage the world with the message of Christ.  We engage the world through serving those around us in our schools, our community and our world.  We share a responsibility to invite people to experience the story of Jesus through our life on display for all to see, as a city on a hill.

EQUIP:
The most important relationship in the life of a student is their relationship with their parents. We highly value this relationship above all other relationships in the life of a student. Since we place so much value on this relationship, we are committed to doing all we can to help equip and assist parents in every way possible.

CONNECT:
We are not simply a Student Ministry we are a part of a church. It is vital for students to find connections outside of our ministry to build relationships with other caring adults who are willing to pour into the life of a student to mentor and disciple them in their growth in Christ.

CREATE:
We strive to create an authentic family atmosphere within WSM.  A place to belong, to feel accepted, loved and a place where they are not judged. We desire to create environments where students develop relationships with other students and caring adults, who will help them to see a bigger picture of what the Kingdom of God looks like here on earth.

EMPOWER:
We want Westhill to be a place which models servant leadership for our students and then entrusts them to serve.  These students are leaders now, in their schools, in their home and in the church. It is our desire for students not to merely be here, but to find a place to plug in and serve. We want to create a safe place for students to lead and a safe place to fail within our ministry. We want to see every student plugged into a ministry within the context of our Student Ministries.  It is our desire as 11th & 12th graders they would serve in the same ministry in the larger church.

LEADERSHIP 101: CREATING CLEAR EXPECTATIONS

I feel like this is a lesson I should have gotten somewhere along the way, in school, grad school or a conference, somewhere but it is a leadership lesson I have been learning on my own.  As a leader what are your expectations for the people you are leading?


Often, I find the people I am leading do not meet my expectations.  Which can be very frustrating for a leader; especially, when they are teenagers.  Typically, we chalk it up to apathy or laziness and dismiss the possibly it could be our own fault they are not meeting our expectations.  This has been a challenge for me over the last several years with our Student Leadership group.  On the flip side there is nothing more discouraging than constantly trying to meet someones expectations you are unaware of.  It can only lead to failure and frustration.

This year, I decided to approach the expectations from a different angle.  I created a covenant for the students and the parents to sign, laying out exactly what I expect from students serving in this ministry.  After I handed out the expectations and asked them to sign and return, I had a conversation with a couple of our seniors in Student Leadership.  They were wondering why this was necessary, not in an upset way but a curious way.  They kind of understood these expectations.  So I asked them specifically, did you know I expect you to…  and I went through the list of expectations.  Several they understood from the beginning, some they had figured out over time and one they did not even know.  So why did it surprise me that my expectations often went unmet?

In leadership, often our greatest frustration comes from unmet expectations.  What if instead of looking at the people not meeting our expectations, we looked in the mirror at the one creating the expectations.  Expectations not being met?  Ask yourself, are your expectations clear?  How do they know your expectations?  Have you communicated the expectations clearly?  There is a great difference between expectations being clear in your head and the expectations being clear in other people’s heads.

So enter the covenant.  Here is what I came up with for anyone in our Student Leadership group.  What are your thoughts and/or feedback on the covenant?  How do you clearly communicate expectations?

Student Leadership Covenant

CRAVINGS – PART 3

Have you ever heard, the phrase “our entire life is worship,” or something to that effect?  My guess is, if you have been a follower of Jesus for a while, you have at least heard something similar.  It is taken from Romans 12:1

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.

Of course I believe it, but it is entirely different to live.  To have every aspect of your life and mind focused on Christ.  To make decisions, not based on what “feels right,” but on what Christ said.  I know every Christian over the age of 25 probably still has a WWJD bracelet tucked away in a drawer.  Who stops to think, before every little decision, what would Jesus do?  For that matter, how many of us stop to think before the big decisions?  Many times we make decisions based on what our mind believes to be the best option, based on our or others personal experiences.  So many times, I hear Romans 12:1 read or quoted, and the person will stop at verse 1 or simply glaze over verse 2, with little attention.

However, there is a phrase in verse 2, which is coming to mean more and more to me over the last couple weeks.

2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but BE TRANSFORMED BY THE RENEWING OF YOUR MIND. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Over the past several weeks I have begun memorizing larger sections of scripture.  Right now I am working on memorizing the beatitudes as I teach through them.  We are going section by section through Matthew 5 through 7, so I am memorizing one section each week.  As you memorize something, it is amazing how much it is on your mind.  As I am driving down the road or cleaning the house, these passages will come to mind, I will begin to recite them.  They are constantly on my mind.

These passages are so familiar to me, but as I have been quoting them more and more, I have begun to see more and more in them; things which somehow I have always missed.  I am seeing how passages connect to other parts of scripture and bring new light to my understanding on God’s word.  What is amazing to me is how my mind is being renewed.  My mind is being changed and my life is beginning to see transformations.  Small transformations, but my life is being changed.

Our minds are powerful and we make a choice as to what we will fill them with; Facts, movie quotes, song lyrics, conversations, sports statistics.  And not that these are bad things remember.  Is it transforming your life?  Of course it is, in some way.  But, does it draw you closer to Christ?  I can’t answer that for you.  What I do know, is that God’s Word has begun to consume my thinking and His word has the power to change who I am!

CRAVINGS – PART 2

The question I asked yesterday, will define who we are, do you crave the Word of God just as badly as the next breath you will take?  The Psalmist David says it this way…

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  2 I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.  3 Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.
Psalm 63:1-3 NIV

This past week I preached on the story of the Prodigal Son.  It is a story which has become so familiar to us we can easy gaze over it and miss much of the significance of the story.  So I decided instead of reading the story, I would memorize it and tell it just as if I was telling any other story in my sermon.  What was amazing to me, as I spent more and more time memorizing it, details and thoughts which I never picked up on began to become clear.  The more I dug into the story committing it to memory, the more depth I began to find.

I have always memorized scripture, although to some extent, over the last several years I have stopped focusing on the discipline specifically.  However, most of the time I memorize scripture it is a verse or two, never had I done a complete story from the Bible.  Yet, it blows my mind that I don’t.  Think about this, a person who really fights food cravings, always has food accessible.  They can always get to it and many times carry it with them.  Why not make God’s word so accessible.  So easy to access, you don’t have to turn on a phone or open to a chapter, you just know it to the point it is ingrained in you.

On Wednesday nights this Fall I am teaching through the Sermon on the Mount, so I decided this past week I would begin memorizing it, section by section as I teach through it.  I have a little catching up to do, since I am 3 weeks in, but I got the first two sections down yesterday afternoon and this morning.  As I said, I have gotten away from the discipline of scripture memorization over the last several years.  Not sure why, just lazy I guess.

What I am finding amazing is how much Matthew 5:1-16 is continually coming up during my day.  As I am driving in my car, I just keep repeating it.  It has been on my mind all day.  The same thing happened last week, memorizing the prodigal son.

I am constantly having conversations with others where they will say something and it will trigger a Seinfeld quote or Tommy Boy line.  The better we know the words of the Gospels the better equipped we are for the Spirit to speak to us during difficult times and through tough choices.  So here is where I am (all from memory)…

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountain side and sat down.  His disciples came to Him and He began to teach them saying,

Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil about you because of me.

Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven.  For in the same way they persecuted the prophets who came before you.

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt looses it saltiness how can it be made salty again.  It is no longer good for anything, than to be thrown out and trampled by men.  You are the light of the world, a city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl, instead they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before all men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.

My plan, following the Sermon on the Mount, is to begin working of Jesus prayer in John 15-17.  I want to challenge you, pick out a section of scripture and begin memorizing it in its entirety.  I would love to hear about your thoughts and experiences.

CRAVINGS

This Fall I am teaching a Sunday morning class of older adults in the auditorium.  I am really enjoying the class so far.  We are working out of the book of 1 Peter.  As I was studying this week for the class and preparing to preach something hit me.  I was reading in 1 Peter 2:2, Peter writes…

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.[1]

We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of our 3rd child.  He is EXPECTED in mid October.  While we are so excited about his arrival, there is another side we are not so excited about.  The lost of sleep!  The first few months of a newborn are extremely daunting.  Late nights, early mornings, and little sleep, because your life now revolves around someone else’s schedule.  A newborn baby, whose only possible way to communicate with you, is to scream and cry until their needs are met.  Yes, there are upset stomachs, dirty diapers and more, but most of the time, it is simple, they are hungry and want to eat.

Peter tells the believers, just as a newborn baby craves milk, you as a follower of Jesus should crave the Word of God.  Think about this.  A newborn baby craves milk because that’s what it needs to sustain them right now.  They are not asking for milk, because they understand how important milk is to their development and growth, but because they are craving food right now.

Do you crave the Word, as baby craves milk?  Can you go a day without it?  If you do go a day with out, does it consume your mind in the same way it would if you messed an actual day worth of meals?  Does it completely consume your life, in the same way food does.  We have an obese nation because of the way we consume food.  Do you crave God’s word in the same way you do a burger from your favorite fast food place or a great pizza?

We live in a time when the Bible is more accessable than ever before in the history of Christianity.  You can read it anywhere you are, in any format.  Print, Kindle, YouVersion, take your pick?  So the real problem is not can we get our hands on it but how could we possibly keep our hands off it?  So if the Word is our source of spiritual nutrition, how are you doing?  My guess is a lot are starving, the more important question, are you really missing it?  When the word is not at the center of our life, we spend a great deal of time making decisions based on what we think and feel.

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11 NIV)

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105 NIV)

What I crave most about God’s word is when He through His Spirit speaks to me.  When he uses His word written centuries before, to speak life into me today.  When He uses His word to challenge my thinking, to confront my indifference and rebuke my self-righteous attitudes.  His word is not just how we know about God, it is how we know HIM!  It is how He speaks to us.  Do you crave the word?

Part 2 will follow tomorrow!


[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. 1984. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.