Are We Trying Too Hard?

This is a post born out of a little bit of frustration with people, and a little bit of concern for the average pastor. As I scroll through Facebook and Twitter, I can’t help but notice the amount of promotion that pastors do for their churches. And I get it, we do the same thing, but does there ever come a time when we say enough is enough?

I mentioned Facebook and Twitter because those are the platforms I’m on, but many pastors are active on several more. It’s become part of the job, along with their other normal duties.

Many of them lead small groups in their homes. Many of them are active in their communities. And many of them run themselves crazy visiting people in various situations.

All in the name of, hopefully, reaching people for Christ and helping them take their next steps.

And I get it. It’s what we do, and I love getting to do it.

But there are some days when I just want to throw my hands up, because it feels like I want more for people than they want for themselves.

Do you get what I’m saying?

Like I shouldn’t have to sell people on wanting a better life.

I shouldn’t have to sell “Christ-followers” on serving or giving or showing up to church more than once a month.

I shouldn’t have to sell parents on taking their kids to student ministry or adults on getting involved in a small group.

If Facebook was around when Jesus was walking the earth, I don’t think He’d be on there begging people to come hang out with Him.

I just don’t get that from Him.

He seemed like a pretty straightforward guy.

Hey, if you want to follow me, take up your cross and deny yourself. If not, no biggie, I let you know what would happen if you didn’t.

Oh, those guys didn’t like what I said about eating my flesh and drinking my blood, too bad.

At what point do we say, look, you’re responsible for your own spiritual growth?

We’ll show you the steps to take and provide the resources you need, but the rest is up to you.

If you fail we’ll help pick you back up, but we can’t do it for you.

Nothing we say or do or post is ever going to take the place of someone just wanting more for their life and a closer relationship with Jesus.

Occasionally, I have these moments of frustration that I just need to share. I’m not sure if it changes anything, but it helps me feel a little better. If you need to do the same, leave a comment below, and while you’re here make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more in your inbox each week.

Marriage, Ministry, & Valentine’s Day

Guest Post: Tim & Heather Key

We, as ministry professionals, spend our lives serving the needs of others.  This person is lost and needs Jesus, that family is having a crisis and needs counsel, and yet another brother or sister in Christ has gone to be with the Lord.  Who has time for romance when serving the almighty God?

With Valentine’s Day upon us, perhaps it’s time to reflect for a moment on our relationship with our spouse.  This may be the one day of the year that your spouse looks forward to more than any other to gain your undivided attention.  That special card, their favorite flower, or perhaps their favorite box of chocolates.  Those things are wonderful.  But what if Valentine’s Day could come more than once a year?  What if these special memories could become part of your daily walk?  Is that even possible?  Here are two things that we have learned in our 26 years of marriage:

1) You don’t need a holiday to celebrate your love

We have decided that our entire year can be a celebration of our love for each other.  Gifts come and go at random intervals.  We seek to engage each other through date nights and other activities on a regular basis.

This is perhaps something that everyone can do, even with small children.  It does require some planning because you will need a babysitter a few evenings per month.  One of the best ideas that we’ve seen is to find another couple with children and trade babysitting for date nights.  This can be the most economical method.  Even if you must hire a sitter for a few hours, the time away from the kids can be just enough breathing room to recharge your love tank for each other.

You don’t even have to go out to a restaurant.  The goal is to ensure that you are spending quality alone time with your spouse and without interruption.  There were a lot of times that we just weren’t able to afford eating out or doing anything that cost additional money.  We would work out something for the kids to do with a sitter, friend, or family member for a few hours and just stay home, watch a movie, and whatever else might happen.  Sometimes we just took a nap together because we were exhausted.

One of Heather’s favorite things to do was going to the lake, sitting on the levy, and talking.  In order for me to get her undivided attention, I had to remove her from the home.  All she sees at home are things that she needs to be doing around the house.  It can be difficult for some people to just unplug from the mommy role and switch to the loving wife role.  It helps to understand how your spouse operates and plan accordingly.

2) Take a vacation together without the children

We also plan to have at least one quality vacation together without the distractions of life and children.  We just recently had our first 2-week vacation ever.  We spent a few days in Florida acting like youths riding all the roller coasters at Universal Studios Orlando and SeaWorld.  We then ventured off on a 7-night cruise to the Western Caribbean.  The memories that we made and the time that we spend together cannot be measured.  There is nothing in the world like having this kind of dedicated time to spend and share with the one that you love most.

We realize that a 2-week vacation without the children can be quite impossible when you have children at home.  Our youngest daughter moved out on her own in 2016 leaving us empty-nesters.  The way we managed to take vacations alone looked very different over the years.  Here are some suggestions from what worked for us:

  • One Night with You – this works well if you have children under 5 years old.  Just focus on taking one night away to keep your fires burning. Try and do it more often, at least once per quarter.
  • Weekend Getaway – We did simple weekend escapes as the kids began to age a little more.  Nothing fancy at all.  Reasonable hotel in a city not too far from home for connection, focus, and rest.  We tended to walk around shops and have reasonable meals or catch a movie.
  • Extended Getaway – We only took a single week long vacation alone before our kids were old enough to take care of themselves.  In 1999, we took a trip to Niagra Falls.  The girls were 8 and 6 at the time and it was way too stressful for them and us.  As our oldest reached her mid-teen years and matured, we were able to take these longer vacations to the mountains or other places.  It was much more enjoyable when you didn’t have to worry about them so much and could really relax together.  The kids will not be happy with you for not taking them along but the time away from them to focus on your relationship will make you both better parents.

We have not always had this level of balance in our marriage.  We wrote about the tragic marriage that we had in the early years of our ministry work on our blog.  The good news is that we found a balance in our lives to have a rich marriage, stable children, and remain consistent servants to our calling in the ministry.

So many of our brothers and sisters who serve the cross struggle in their marriage and family relationships.  We are living proof that it doesn’t have to be that way.  This doesn’t mean that we always agree on everything or that we like to do the same things.  In fact, the opposite is true.  We don’t usually enjoy the same types of entertainment and our ideas of quality and relaxation time can be quite polar sometimes.  But what we have gotten correct in our relationship is that we enjoy spending time with each other.

We recognize that our differences in life are okay.  God made us different as a compliment to each other.  Areas that I am weak, Heather is usually stronger and vice-versa.  If we were both just alike, one of us wouldn’t be needed…  Think about that.  Embrace the difference and enjoy each other’s strengths.

My wife and I committed our lives together and God blessed our union with two wonderful daughters.  They came from our passion and love.  He didn’t call us to be unstable, miserable, and destructive in our behavior in a way that destroys our family.  No, He established us as a reflection of Christ’s relationship with His Church.  To raise our daughters to know who He is and how to establish their own godly marriages and families.

So, give your relationship with your spouse a priority in your life.

  • God never intended for us to sacrifice our marriages and families on the altar of the church.  Though the work we do for our church and community is important, our responsibility to our spouse and families are greater.  Don’t allow your work, even in ministry, to rob your family.
  • Be a father or mother who is deeply engaged in the home and raising of the children.
  • Establish good boundaries so that you give to your spouse due benevolence.  Don’t just give your life mate the leftovers and scraps.  Serve your best every day and make your relationship a reflection of the true love that God intended it to be.

Your children, your friends, and your ministry followers will then see a true servant of God who has the peace of God displayed before them.

It is our prayer that your marriage is blessed beyond measure.

Tim and Heather Key are the founders of LifeTravelers.us Marriage Blog. They have been married for over 26 years, have two daughters and are expecting their first grandson. Their passion is for helping couples overcome the struggles of marriage.

My 2016 Year in Review

Today, December 22nd, 2016 I turn 36 years old. You don’t have to worry about sending me a card. You can just leave me a comment at the end of this post. Facebook wished me a happy birthday this morning, and they also reminded me to post my Year in Review.

Your Facebook Year in Review is a photo slideshow of different things you have experienced throughout the year. Although they say a picture is a worth a thousand words, I think sometimes it’s just better to write things down. So, I present to you my 2016 Year in Review.

  1. I read through the Bible this year. It wasn’t the first time I’ve done this, but it was the first time in a long time.
  1. I had the opportunity to preach at three great churches: Strong Tower Church, Generation Church, and Refuge Church.
  1. I started praying with my daughters before bed. This was one of the best things I’ve ever done. If you have young children, I highly encourage you to start doing this.
  1. I helped launch a second Strong Tower Church location in Lafayette, Tennessee.
  1. I met Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church, one of my favorite preachers and authors.
  1. I ate my first elk burger on my first trip to Indianapolis, Indiana, while visiting Justin Davis who just launched Hope City Church.
  1. I watched the entire Star Wars Saga for the very first time. I haven’t seen the newest movie yet, but I plan on it.
  1. I went on a family vacation to Santa Rosa Beach, Florida that included my wife’s brothers and sister and their kids.
  1. I went jet skiing for the first time while on a church planters retreat in Savannah, Georgia.
  1. I took my wife to an all-inclusive resort in Cancun, Mexico to celebrate our ten-year anniversary.
  1. I saw two of my favorite artists in concert, Dave Barnes and NeedtoBreathe.
  1. I went on a vision trip to Kenya with Compassion International and started sponsoring my first Compassion child.
  1. I went on my first African Safari where I saw elephants, zebras, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, lions, and more.
  1. I took dance lessons to celebrate my wife’s 30th
  1. I ran a 5k…ok walked most of it, but still I’m getting older.
  1. I wrote over 100 blog posts.

Looking back over this list I have to say, 2016 has to be one of my best years ever. To say I’ve been blessed is an understatement.

I’m not crazy about getting older, but if I keep having years like this one, I won’t mind nearly as much.

How was your 2016? What were some of the highlights? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. And don’t forget to subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss any of the tips on church growth, leadership, and more I’ll be delivering to your inbox in 2017.

A Christmas Conundrum

Ah, December, what a great month to do ministry. People are more cheerful, they’re more giving, and they’re more likely to invite their friends and family to church, especially for Christmas. But what do you do when Christmas day happens to fall on a Sunday like it does this year?

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The simple answer would be to go ahead with service as usual. I mean Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’s birth.

But it’s not that simple because you and I both know that a large percentage of people will not show up to church on Christmas day.

So, what’s the answer? I think you have four different options this Christmas.

  • Celebrate on Christmas Sunday.

It makes sense to go ahead with church on Sunday. You’d be hard pressed to find a better day to worship Jesus. You realize your crowd is going to be down, but it will be an incredible blessing for the people who are there.

  • Celebrate on Christmas Eve.

More and more churches are moving to Christmas Eve services, and some would argue that Christmas Eve can be a bigger day for your church than Easter. That hasn’t been the case at the church I serve, but I can see how this makes sense for some churches.

  • Celebrate on Another Day of the Week.

We’ve decided to hold our Christmas Services on December 23rd the past few years. This gives our staff, volunteers, and congregation the 24th and 25th off from church to spend as they wish. We believe we get a higher attendance this way because people don’t have to decide between church and family obligations.

  • Celebrate the Sunday Before.

Some churches elect to cancel services for Christmas weekend, and celebrate Christmas the weekend before. This does give your staff and congregation time off, but you also lose a week’s offering by doing this.

Some churches can afford to do this. We’ve never been one of those churches.

I don’t think any of these options are better or worse than the other. The important thing is finding out what works best for your congregation.

Christmas is a great time of the year, and I hope your church makes the most of it, whichever day you choose to celebrate it.

So, I’d love to know, what day are you celebrating Christmas? What have you found that works best for your congregation? Let us know by leaving a comment below, and if make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox every week.

Meeting Pauline

Day 5 in Kenya

Today was a little different than the past few days because it was Sunday, and Sunday means you go to church. The church we went to was located within one of the largest slums in Nairobi, but you couldn’t tell it by the way they worshipped. What amazes me is how these people can have so little, yet are able to worship God with such passion and joy. It’s something the American church can learn a lot from.

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After church was one of the best moments of the trip, we went to lunch and I got to meet my sponsor child, Pauline. Just to be transparent, I didn’t sponsor a child until I was invited on the trip and learned that I would keep the opportunity to meet her, an opportunity few sponsors ever get.

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I learned that Pauline was called a miracle child. Pauline is currently 5 years old, and didn’t walk or talk until she was 3 1/2 because of malnutrition. Luckily, Compassion stepped in and made her a part of the program. Had they not stepped in, there’s a good chance Pauline wouldn’t be alive today. Pauline lives in the slums with her mother who suffers from epilepsy, and an older brother who makes sure she gets to the Child Development Center each week.

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It’s impossible for me to ever convey the environment many of these children grow up in. Pauline had never drank out of a glass, let alone eat at a restaurant. She doesn’t know any of the Disney characters, she had never seen bubbles before, and she had never even tasted candy. Most of the children’s families that are sponsored through Compassion live on less than a $1.25 a day. When you’re here and you see the conditions these children are growing up in, it can look like a hopeless situation, but there is light coming out of these dark places.

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Take for instance, Jey Mbiro who spoke to us tonight. Jey grew up in one of the largest and poorest slums in Africa. When Jey’s mom was unable to provide food for his family he took to the streets to beg for food and money. He eventually got arrested for stealing and put in prison at the age of 9. In prison he prayed to God for a way out of prison and poverty. Upon his release he thought he would once again have to go back to the streets, until he was invited into Compassion’s Child Development Program. He would graduate from the program, go on to college, and have a successful career in music in Kenya. He is now a youth pastor, and DJ living in Atlanta, Georgia, and also speaks on behalf of Compassion. He is just one of many success stories coming out of the ministry of Compassion.

Hey, if you just stumbled upon this post, I want you to know I’m in Kenya with Compassion International for a week. I wanted to document my experience to share with my family and friends and anyone else who may be interested. I will be back sharing my thoughts on leadership, church growth, and more next week. If you want to follow along with the blog, make sure to subscribe to get email updates delivered to your inbox each week.

Travel Day

Getting to Africa

It’s 1am in Nairobi, and I just laid down in bed. We have a meeting at 8:30 in the morning so I’ll make this short. Let’s face it, 17 hours of flight time doesn’t have a lot of highlights.

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Nashville to Atlanta is a really quick flight. 38 minutes from take off to landing.

Atlanta to Amsterdam not as quick, luckily I got a window seat beside a talker.

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Yes, that is a person under that complimentary Delta blanket. No, she is not dead, this is just the natural reaction to flying for 8 hours in a 3×3 foot box. A box that the guy in front of me decided wasn’t enough and kept trying to lean back as far as possible as if there wasn’t another person with no leg room right behind him. It was so bad I had to keep grabbing my drink cup because his chair kept ramming into it.

Luckily dinner was on the way.

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I was given the choice between chicken and pasta. I went with chicken, the safe choice. Little did I know it would be served in a cat puke puree. Thank goodness for the sea salt brownie, not pictured because I devoured it. The guy a row over devoured his meal like it was his last, I was tempted to ask him if he wanted the rest of mine.

I feel like I’m being too negative. Did I mention I paid $16 for wifi service that didn’t happen to include streaming services like Netflix? I learned that when they sent me the confirmation, which also informed me wifi only worked within the continental United States.

But all in all, it really wasn’t that bad. I did have a good book to read.

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Donald says we all should learn to live a better story, but there’s a problem.

“Here’s the truth about telling stories with your life. It’s going to sound like a great idea, and you are going to get excited about it, and then when it comes time to do the work, you’re not going to want to do it. People love to have a lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen. But joy costs pain.” 

It’s been a great book, I encourage anyone who’s wanting to live a better story to pick it up. You can find it here.

Hopefully I’ll have a better story for you tomorrow, but for now I hope you find joy in my pain.

Hey, if you just stumbled upon this post, I want you to know I’m in Kenya with Compassion International for a week. I wanted to document my experience to share with my family and friends and anyone else who may be interested. I will be back sharing my thoughts on leadership, church growth, and more next week. If you want to follow along with the blog, make sure to subscribe to get email updates delivered to your inbox each week.

Adventure Awaits

When I was 15 years old I took a school trip to Europe. We spent two weeks touring the countries of Germany, Austria, Italy, Monaco, France, and England. I had my first experience with alcohol in an English pub, experienced my first topless beach, and visited a monastery that held a piece of the cross Christ died on…at least they claim. It was an adventure I’ll never forget.

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As we get older it seems the opportunities for adventure get fewer and fewer.

The opportunities that do come along we often let pass by because of fear, responsibilities, finances, or a combination of these things and others.

But when an opportunity came along to travel with Compassion to Kenya for free, I jumped at the chance.

So, for the next week or so I’ll be documenting my adventure on the blog. This will help me process everything I experience, while sharing it with my family and friends.

If you have no interest in my adventure, no hard feelings, I hope to see you back here in a week or so.

For everyone else, get ready to go with me on a journey across the world, my flight is leaving soon.

I’d love to hear about the biggest adventure you’ve ever been on. Let us hear about it in the comments below. And if you don’t want to miss out on a single update, make sure to subscribe to the blog and get email updates along the way.

Living Life in the Rearview

Is it just me, or does your best thinking happen in the shower? I’m not sure if it’s the scalding hot water opening up my pores or the ten minutes alone without a child screaming, “Daddy!” Either way, I try to make the most of it. For me, that means dreaming about the future and trying not to live in the past.

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Not that there’s anything wrong with the past. The past has been very good to me. Sure, I have a few regrets, but overall life has been great.

I just never want to get to a place where I think my best days are behind me. I never want to live life in the rearview.

Do you know why they make windshields so big, and rearview mirrors so small?

It’s because what’s in front of you is way more important than what’s behind you.

Spend too much time looking in the rearview and you’re bound to crash. On the other hand, never look in the rearview and you may be doomed to repeat your past mistakes.

So, what’s a good solution? Keep both in the proper perspective.

Windshields should be big. Don’t lose sight of what’s in front of you. God has promised to give you a hope and a future. Don’t take your eyes off of it.

Rearviews should be small. Not matter how great or bad your past was, it’s the past. Don’t get stuck there, but also don’t forget the lessons you learned along the way.

So many churches are living life in the rearview. They love talking about the good old days but have no plans to improve the days they’re currently living in.

And let’s not forget the other mirror in your car, the vanity mirror. You know the one hiding behind the sun visor? Because every once in awhile you need to take a good look at yourself.

Are you still doing ministry for the right reasons?

Are you frustrated with where your church is?

Are you taking too much credit or too much blame?

I once heard a pastor say, “If you blame yourself for every decrease, you’ll credit yourself for every increase.”

Where’s your focus? Are you looking forward, or are you looking back?

Don’t live your life in the rearview.

Which mirror are you most focused on? Why? Let us know by leaving a comment below, and make sure to subscribe to the blog for tips on leadership, church growth, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

4 Traits of Pastors that Persevere

Have you ever noticed how resilient little children are? For example, my three year old daughter just got a Barbie Dream House. Not for her birthday, not for Christmas, just because she demanded it. Now, I didn’t get it for her because I’m just as resilient as she is. I told her no over and over again. So what did she do? She talked her grandparents into getting it for her. She then proceeded to play with it for about three days before moving on to her next demand.

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I’m not even mad about it. First, it didn’t cost me anything, and second I’m impressed by her persistence. She knew exactly what she wanted, and she wouldn’t back down until she got it. That will come in handy later on in life, although I’m not looking forward to her becoming a teenager.

As pastors and leaders, I believe we can learn a great deal about perseverance through our children. Many of us, myself included, love coming up with new ideas and plans, but we stink at following through on them.

I bet right now you can think of at least one good idea you’ve had that you never followed through on. Go ahead, write it down, and make sure to come back to it later. Or maybe you tried it, and it didn’t work the first time so you gave up on it.

Go through this enough and it won’t be long before you give up on trying anything at all. For some of you that’s your story. You’ve given up when God has called you to persevere.

I want to see that change. I want to see you persevere. Here’s how you can get started:

  1. You own it.

No more excuses. No more blaming others. No more waiting around for someone to tell you what to do. From this day forward, you take control of your life and how you react to problems and adversity.

  1. You gather the right people around you.

Being a pastor can be one of the loneliest positions you can have. I’m telling you that you’re not meant to do this alone. Find a friend that you can confide in. If you can’t find one in your church, find one online because every pastor needs a sidekick.

  1. You find the silver lining.

It takes absolutely no effort to find problems. Those who persevere learn how to see the positives. Maybe no one showed up to our event, but our volunteers did a great job setting things up. The offering was really low this week, but we had five first-time guests. Always look for the positive.

  1. You focus on what you can change.

There are some things you’re just never going to be able to change. You have to learn to let them go and focus on what you can change. There are some people who will never change. Quit stressing about it, and let God handle it. Put your energy into the things you can change, and don’t waste your time with the rest.

Being a pastor is hard. I’ve written about it before. Unless you begin taking the right steps, your chances of surviving ministry are slim. I hope we can change that. I hope you’ll choose to persevere.

What’s one great idea you’ve had but have never put into practice? I’d love to hear about so leave a comment below. Plus if you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on leadership, church growth, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Change and Church Health

Have you ever noticed that no one cooks as good as your mom? You may not want to admit it in front of your wife, but there’s just something special about mom’s cooking. Especially if you grew up in the south and had the pleasure of experiencing beans and cornbread.

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Unfortunately, over the past few years my mom’s cooking isn’t as good as it used to be. We still have beans and cornbread and all the stuff that comes with it, but the flavor isn’t what it once was. Something’s changed.

My parents are getting older, and my dad’s health isn’t what it once was. In the past few years he’s been diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure, and has had to have multiple stints put in to open up arteries in his heart.

In order to live a long life, his diet had to change.

This means sweet tea is now made with Splenda, potatoes are baked instead of fried, and a lot less salt and fat in the pinto beans.

It certainly doesn’t taste as good to me or him, but we both realize it’s either change or face a shortened lifespan.

Many churches are facing the same choice, change or face the consequences.

But change isn’t easy for a variety of reasons. Here are just a few:

  1. Tradition

First, let me say that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with tradition. None of us would be were we are today without the great Christian men and women who have gone before us in ministry. The issue arises when we are so in love with the past that we’re not willing to make the changes necessary to reach people today.

  1. Risk

Every change involves risk. The bigger the change, the bigger the risk. The smaller the church, the bigger the risk. It may be that the change that needs to be made may be the very thing that used to bring people to the church. Many pastors are able to see what needs to change, but they’re not willing to risk losing key members of the church in the process.

  1. Uncertainty

Some people fear the dark because they can’t see what’s in front of them. Change has the same effect on people. When you’ve been doing ministry a certain way for a long time, it’s hard to imagine how you would do it any other way. For example, the cake walk may not be the best way to raise money anymore, but at least you know how to put one on.

Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have, and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up. 

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My dad understands that if he wants to be around to see his grandchildren grow up, then his diet had to change. For many people in the church, we need to come to that same realization.

If you want the church to be around for the generations coming along after you, you have to be willing to change. It may not taste as good as the beans and cornbread you ate when you were growing up, but it will increase the life expectancy of your church.

Do you have a success story about change in your church? I’d love to hear about it. Please leave a comment below, and make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on leadership, church growth, and more delivered to your inbox each week.