Moldova – A Journey of Change

“A long obedience in the same direction.” – Eugene Peterson

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I am writing this post on the plane home from Chisinau, Moldova. We have been flying all day/night, so I am a little tired, but even more grateful. This was my 15th time to serve our God in this precious country of Moldova. When I boarded my first flight to Moldova in 2003, I could have never dreamed what God would do in this country, in His church and in my life in just 12 years. Through these years, so much has changed…

So much has changed in Moldova:

Returning from my first trip, I bought a painting in the art market. We were flying Air Moldova – an unmarked white plane simply with black numbers on it. We were dropped off in Germany on the tarmac by the FedEx and UPS planes. Once we made it inside the terminal, I realized I left my painting, so I ran to the closest ticket counter and asked a Lufthansa agent if she could call Air Moldova. Her response was, “Air Moldova, yuk!” I believe her statement summed up her attitude, as well as so many others’, about this small country between Romania and the Ukraine.

IMG_2945Back then, and still even today, Moldova was known for human trafficking. This poor country, with such beautiful children, is pillaged by evil people bent on personal gain. Even writing about it breaks my heart. It elicits emotions of anger, sympathy and prayer. The reason for much of it is the huge orphan population. True orphans, as well as social orphans, fill the country. Poverty (this is the smallest and poorest country in the former Soviet Union), extreme alcoholism and corruption all play a part, and the result is beautiful children that are left with no hope and no future.

The first year we served at a Camp outside of Chisinau where orphan children would go during the summer. The facilities were dilapidated and the children slept two to a single bed. I can still remember being there in the early years and fighting back tears. Most kids only had one shirt, one pair of pants and one pair of flip-flops. Many went barefoot throughout the day. Yet, they were beautiful, hopeful, longing for love and in desperate need to know that God, and someone else, cared about them.

IMG_3030Fast forward to today. While there are still thousands of orphans, the conditions have changed so much. Through more government involvement, American Christian Teams coming and the church of Moldova engaging, there has been a dramatic difference. Moldova is being transformed from the inside out. Many orphans are being clothed and cared for with clothes and better facilities. It is great to see kids wearing Rolling Hills t-shirts (and so many other English words) and having shoes on their feet. You can truly see a physical, as well as a spiritual difference.

There is still so much more work to do, but you can surely see a difference being made in orphanages as well as in the entire country. There is some new construction happening and more evidence that change is possible. Overall, I believe we are starting to see “Hope.” Before, smiles were few and far between. Now, we see kids laughing, playing and dreaming. Through JMI, Justice & Mercy International, I truly believe that Moldova is being transformed. There is a new generation that knows Jesus and has amazing potential. There is a generation that is starting to dream and to engage. I pray, and believe, that instead of being a country of human trafficking, Moldova will one day be a country of sending missionaries.

So much has changed in His church at Rolling Hills:

The first time I went to Moldova, we had about 100 people at Rolling Hills Community Church. We started with 15 people about 9 months earlier, and on our first mission team to Moldova we took 18 people. Little did I know that God would use that trip (and then sending teams at least twice a year from that point forward) to set the DNA of His church to be serving others.

Currently, I am sitting on the plane near some IMG_2917recent high school graduates from church who went to Moldova for the first time. They have heard so much about Moldova from church, and they were already sponsoring two children with the Student Ministry through JMI. Through the years, they have been on local and national mission trips developing a passion for what is close to God’s heart. They are so excited and ready to serve. Because of the commitment of the church to the work in Moldova, God is raising up a generation that loves orphans and the poor.

In Leviticus 23:22, God tells His people to make caring for the poor a priority when they come into the Promised Land. Then, He judges His people with the prophets for forgetting about the poor and the fatherless. “Learn to do right…defend the cause of the fatherless…” Isaiah 1:17. When Jesus comes, He tells everyone that “God has anointed Him to preach good news to the poor, bind up the broken-hearted, proclaim freedom for the captives and announce the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4. In addition, James 1:27 tells us, “The kind of religion that God our Father sees as pure and faultless is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress…” God’s call for His church is to be about the least, the last and the lost. We have watched God grow this heart here at Rolling Hills Community Church through caring for the orphans in Moldova.

I often think about the impact God is having in children and students in Moldova: hundreds of kids now being sponsored through JMI, thousands of orphans having been touched through camps and ministries, transitional living homes and more. But, it is also amazing to think about the generational impact as literally hundreds, if not thousands, of students from the U.S. here at Rolling Hills who are now passionate about what God is passionate about. Think about what God can do through these students.

Maybe the country that is really being impacted is our own.

So much has changed in me:IMG_3071

I am not the same. Moldova has changed me. By God’s grace, I grew up in a great church that instilled in me a heart for missions. But, Moldova has made it personal. Going each year, communicating with my sponsored children and developing friends in this country has brought the orphan to my every day life. Baptizing young adults in lakes, giving a bride away and looking into the face of hundreds of precious children as we give them food to eat in Moldova has brought me closer to the heart of Christ.

This morning in my personal prayer time, I was reading from our “Daily Step” passage in Luke 12. Jesus is teaching when a man yells out, “Lord, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus responds, “Who made me judge or arbitrator between you.” Then, He uses the opportunity to teach about what really matters. Jesus says, “Life does not consist in possessions.” Which is so true – but definitely not how I tend to live in the U.S. And, He concludes by calling us to be “rich toward God.” I have witnessed first hand that it is only God who can change a life (not money or possessions), and there is joy when you live life for what truly matters. You can’t come back to the States and live the same way once you have been to Moldova. As Mother Teresa said, “You see Christ in the face of the poor.”

When God gives you a call, stick with it.

  • A long obedience in your marriage. Serve your spouse, and invest in a great marriage!
  • A long obedience to your children. Raise great kids who love Jesus and go into the world to make a difference for Christ!
  • A long obedience to your church. Don’t bounce around; stay faithful and see the long-term impact as you serve and love.
  • And, above all, a long obedience to the poor. Going, giving, praying – God wants to use you for His glory all the days of your life.

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Who knows how your life will be changed and what God will do through you for His glory.

But, you have to get on the plane and keep following Christ.

Joy

Here is what many people do not realize: God wants you to have Joy in your life! In fact, joy is part of the evidence that you are living in Christ. However, if you ask people, few would say that they are truly experiencing joy in their everyday lives. Yes, there are moments of joy, but living each day with joy is something so few ever attain. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) Yet, most of us allow the burdens of this world and the maddening pace of life to rob us of this true joy. While I am far from perfect in this area, living life with joy each day is something I truly desire.

How can we truly experience joy in this world?

1. Perspective

This is the big one! Focus on what you have, not on what you don’t. Most people spend all their time trying to get what they want. We fall for this lie, “When I get ________________, then I will have joy.” The problem is – we never get everything we want! We buy a new phone, and the next model comes out 3 months later. We buy a new car only to see someone else with a nicer one. Even if we get everything we want, we spend most of our time trying not to lose it all.

The apostle Peter expounds on this in 1 Peter 1:3-9 by essentially saying, “Look at what you have!” You have salvation in Christ, and your eternity is secure (kept in heaven for you). Focus on what God has done for you! Happiness is based on circumstances, and we all know that circumstances change. But, joy is found in Christ, and Christ never changes.

The truth is, we are all blessed beyond measure. Each day determines your perspective. Focus on Christ and His love for you. Think about all the good things He has done for you: Salvation, Family, Friends, Home and so much more. As I go on mission trips around the world, I see that the people with true joy are many times the ones who have very little in this world. It is not more “stuff” that brings joy, but focusing on what you have in Christ.

2. People

People either bring us up or they bring us down. People, if we let them, exert power over us. The Bible says in Proverbs 13, “You are known by the company you keep.” So, are the people around you making you better or bitter?

So often, the people around us rob us of joy. We spend our lives doing two things: Comparing and Competing. We compare ourselves with everyone on Facebook and Instagram. We are constantly looking to see how we measure up. The problem is we are looking at everyone’s highlight reel and focusing on our own mess-ups. Nobody posts their really bad days or mistakes.

In order to have true joy, we must stop letting people have control over us. We must stop comparing and competing. Celebrate when good things happen to others. If we truly find our worth and value in Christ, then this becomes easy. Also, we must stop being consumed with what others think about us and focus on what God says about us. People will hurt us – intentionally or unintentionally. We cannot control what people do to us, but we can control how we respond.

As we become people of joy, it impacts the people around us. We become givers of hope and life. Instead of living as a slave to others, let’s allow the love of Christ to bring us joy and then become dispensers of His joy to others.

3. Purity

What do you think about the most? I believe that worry and stress rob Christ-followers of joy more than anything else. Isn’t this strange? Have you ever watched a little child play? They do not have a care in the world. They run, jump and belly laugh. They are so full of life and full of joy. They play without a care in the world. Why? Because they know their mommy or daddy has it all under control. Therefore, they do not have to worry. Why do we always forget that our Heavenly Father has it all under control?

Joy is a choice. A choice we make in our heart and mind. We choose to be joyful or not. We choose what goes into our mind and comes out of our mouths. What do you choose? Fredrick Buechner wrote, “The world is full of suffering indeed, and to turn our backs on it is to work a terrible unkindness maybe almost more on ourselves than on the world. But life indeed is also to be enjoyed. I suggest that may even be the whole point of it. I more than suspect that is why all the sons of God (and daughters) shouted for joy when He first brought it into being.”

We all have problems – we live in a fallen world. Our problems are very real and life can be challenging. Yet, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Do you enjoy your life or have the worries and stresses of this world choked out your joy? Will you choose joy?

4. Purpose

I believe, joy comes when you are living life on purpose. This is huge! When you are focused and investing in what God has called and equipped you to do – wow – that is when life truly comes alive! I see this all the time. When people are using their gifts to teach, to serve, to help others, you see their faces light up!

G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian.” How true! This is how the apostle Paul could talk about joy so much, even though he was shipwrecked, beaten, put in prison and more. He knew what God had called Him to do – he had a higher purpose. As you see the purpose God has called you to – being a mom, a dad, serving at church, ministering in your community, being a part of something bigger than yourselves, bringing glory to your great God – joy erupts in you!

I believe, this is why C. S. Lewis entitled his partial autobiography, Surprised by Joy. He never expected joy would be such a huge part of the Christian journey. Joy becomes the “signposts” of our spiritual journey as we grow deeper in Christ and live our lives on purpose.

5. Passion

Do you remember when you first fell in love? Joy and passion came alive in you! Every time you would hear the person’s name or think about them, there would be a smile that would come to your face. A. W. Tozer challenges us to build, “the inward habit of beholding God.” As you learn to grow this inward habit of beholding God, you begin to experience joy in the journey. You realize the depth of His love and grace, and you respond back in love for Him.

Jesus summed up all the commandments by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Matthew 22:37) God wants a love-relationship with you. Love leads to joy. Loving God elicits joy in your heart and life. Aren’t you glad our God is a God of joy? I am!

The fact is, God wants you to have joy in your life. So, the question is, do you? Do you have joy in your marriage? Joy with your kids? How about joy in your work? Joy at church as you worship the One you love? Overall, do you have joy in your life? I believe this is an area where we can show the rest of the world what our God is really like. To demonstrate to others that life can be different than simply being consumed with worry, stress, materialism and more. In Christ, there is joy.

May you experience the beautiful, deep, abiding, breath-taking, Joy that comes with living your life in Christ!

Love Makes All Things Beautiful

This is a post from my wonderful wife…

Grace and I were watching a HGTV show on demand. She said, “Let’s don’t fast forward through the commercials so that we can talk during those.” I said, “Okay, what do you want to talk about?” She smiled at me and asked, “Why do you wear make-up?” I came up with some answer and she said, “I don’t think you need it. I think you are beautiful without it. You’re beautiful mom.” 

I couldn’t even respond. I’m sitting there thinking ‘Who in this conversation is the parent? This is something I thought I would be saying to my daughter one day, not something she would say to me.’ And I’m also thinking ‘I don’t feel beautiful, but my daughter sees me that way. What?!’

How many of us moms are out there feeling not so great about ourselves when our children see us as beautiful?

I love her and am humbled by her words.

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A friend of ours responded, “Love makes all things beautiful.” I think this is perfect.

I love my wife and my girls. So blessed! Love really does make all things beautiful.

Heaven

Have you ever wondered what Heaven is like? I believe God wants us to know. Yet, there are so many misconceptions about heaven. When I was young, I would lie awake at night and wonder what I would do for eternity. I could not get my head around it. Plus, I thought it would be boring. Now, I love church – which helps, considering I am a pastor – however, I thought being in a worship service for eternity would be almost unbearable. In addition, I never wanted to play a harp or sit on a cloud all day. Yet, as I have studied God’s Word more and more, that is so far from the truth regarding the incredible place that God has prepared for us!

We are the first generation of Christians who have not longed for Heaven. Every other generation couldn’t wait for Heaven! They experienced problems, hurt, and pain, so they were excited about, and looked forward to, a place of perfection! Even though we have the same problems, hurt, and pain (since we live in this fallen world), we medicate ourselves. With drugs, money, travel, spas, and more we mask the pain. In addition, we do not know what the Bible actually says about Heaven, so we live with the misconceptions. Yet, when we actually understand Heaven, it changes everything about how we live this life!

What does the Bible teach about Heaven?

1. It is a place
Jesus told His disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” John 14:1-2. Heaven is a place. It is both spiritual and physical. It is in the continual Presence of God. He is the light of Heaven. God is Love, and we will be eternally in the Presence of everything good.

2. It is paradise
Jesus told the thief on the cross, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise.” Luke 23:43. Paradise literally means a beautiful, “well-kept garden.” Think about the Garden of Eden. Think about a perfect place where you can enjoy, eat, be in right relationship and share life.

Now, the Bible clearly teaches that if you are in Christ (Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”), then when you die, you will immediately go to Heaven. However, here is the amazing part: There is more to this incredible story! This Heaven will not be our permanent home. God is doing something even greater!

In the book of Revelation, God gives the apostle John a glimpse into His ultimate work because God wants us to know what it is like. He doesn’t want us to dread going to Heaven; in fact, He wants us to be excited about this place that He is preparing for us. Here is what John writes in Revelation 21:1-5, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then He said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'”

Think about this: “A new heaven and a new earth,” and “God is making all things new.” Do you know what this means? God is redeeming this world in which we currently live. One day Christ will return, and this current world will end (The “End Times”). He will banish satan for all eternity, and He will stop the pain, hurt and suffering we all endure (by the way, there are more prophecies about Jesus’ Second Coming than His first). At that time, God will bring Heaven to Earth. The Holy City – streets of gold, fine jewels, etc. – will descend to this earth. God will reside with His people and He will make everything new. We will have brand new, resurrected bodies that will never wear out. No more tears, and no more death. Forever in the Presence of God. (You can read more in Isaiah 60, 65-66 and Revelation 21-22). Think about all these “re” words in Scripture: Re-birth, Re-newal, Re-turn, Re-demption, Re-conciliation. God is Re-deeming and Re-storing us and His Creation!

 Now, Imagine Heaven:

  • Imagine a place that is perfect.
  • Imagine being in the Presence of God – fully known and fully accepted.
  • Imagine seeing your loved ones again – those who have gone before you.
  • Imagine having time to explore, see and experience waterfalls, mountains and places you have always dreamed of seeing.
  • Imagine all of our senses being fully utilitzed – not dulled by sin or the Fall. Perfect taste buds, sense of smell, sight in high def, feel and touch.
  • Imagine no more war or fighting, but just grace and love.
  • Imagine having a job to do, and it is in your sweet spot – your gifts and talents. Doing what you love and having the time. (Work was actually given before the Fall).
  • Imagine time to create, dream and build.
  • Imagine taking walks with your friends and having time to spend together.
  • Imagine animals and man in perfect harmony.
  • Imagine worshipping God with Christ-followers from every nation and tribe.

This is Heaven! This is our eternal home!

C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you get earth ‘thrown in’; aim at earth and you get neither.

D.L. Moody wrote, “Soon you will read in the newspaper that I am dead. Don’t believe it for a moment. I will be more alive than ever before.”

Heaven is better than we can dream or imagine! What we do here on this earth impacts eternity. Therefore, let’s live our lives here for the glory of our great God who has prepared this awesome place for us! Heaven!

Let’s Eat!

I like to eat! Now, I don’t know if I would technically be considered a “foodie,” but I do love to eat. I am not a vegetarian, – although, I have many friends who are – you will not see me on GMA asking people to get up early for a “big announcement” and the reveal being that I don’t eat meat (thank you, Beyoncé). No, I like food too much. All kinds of food. In fact, on trips I love finding good restaurants and enjoying local cuisine: Seafood at the beach, Steaks in Texas, BBQ in Tennessee, Pasta in Rome. Whatever the state or country has to offer. Obviously, one of my favorite days of the year is Thanksgiving – Oh, the feast! (I also understand about the sin of gluttony, so I try to avoid being too obsessed).

Have you ever thought about how much of the Bible is built around eating? From the Old Testament to the New Testament, this theme of food and eating is a huge focus. The fall of man centered around eating (taking the fruit of the forbidden tree) and the redemption of man was, again, centered around eating (“The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you…'” 1 Corinthians 11:23-24). The Old Testament can be summarized by man’s fellowship with God, man’s rebellion, and God drawing man back to Himself through feasts (The Feast of Passover, The Feast of Weeks, The Feast of Tabernacles, etc. – there are 7 major Feasts and Festivals given by God to His people in the Old Testament). The Old Testament outlines multiple feasts in order for man to remember and celebrate God’s faithfulness. The New Testament can be summarized as man searching for God, Jesus coming to meet man’s deepest longing, and then preparing a redeemed man for a great Feast! Jesus fed the 5,000, the 4,000, the disciples on the beach, and He calls us to share Communion, the Lord’s Supper, as a way to remember Him. There is a lot of eating in the Bible. This physical act is consumed by the spiritual as God meets man at His table.

The fact is, all of history will one day culminate in an incredible feast. The Bible calls it “The Wedding Feast of the Lamb.” Here’s what the book of Revelation says: “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!.'” (Revelation 19:9). Can you believe this? The biggest feast you ever had in your life will pale in comparison to the Feast that is coming!

Imagine for a moment “The Wedding Feast of the Lamb.” Imagine perfect taste buds. Think about having taste buds not dulled by sin and the fall. Taste buds that unpack every amazing flavor. Imagine the best foods of every nation. Imagine the greatest chefs and the perfect combinations. Imagine eating and not having to worry about calories or whether what you are eating is unhealthy. Wow! Freedom. And, imagine the joy of the celebration. Have you ever noticed how some foods just taste better when you are with those you love? Now, imagine perfect love, perfect peace, and ultimate joy = “The Wedding Feast of the Lamb.” God is inviting each of us and calling us to prepare for this Feast.

Next time you have a meal, think about God’s grace and His love for you. Say a prayer, and sincerely thank Him that you are able to have food to eat in a world where many do not (I believe that many of us who have so much in this world should wait to let our brothers & sisters in Christ, who have so much less in this world, go first at the ultimate Wedding Feast!). In addition, prepare your heart for this Feast that is to come for all who believe in Christ. Jesus said, “Take and eat in remembrance of Me.” I can’t wait to be there with you!

Looking forward to His table! Let’s Eat!

Embrace the Moments

The Moments. They come in all our lives. Like flashes of lightning, they burst on the scene illuminating everything in sight. I remember when my first daughter, Grace, was born. Time seemed to stop – for a moment. Holding her in my arms changed everything. It was a moment. Then, there were many more moments to come. Her first smile. Her first laugh. Her first steps. Her first day at school. And then, last night, was her graduation from elementary school.IMG_3880

IMG_4526_L9P5273 cropped 2 4x6IMG_0715 4x6 Last night was a moment. My little baby giving a speech in front of hundreds of people. Walking across a stage and announcing to the world, “Here I come!” As her dad, I was so proud. Yet, I wanted so desperately to hold on to this moment. Part of me wants her to stay in elementary school and not grow up. But, I knew this was a moment to embrace. To celebrate. And, that this moment had to leave in order for other, just as powerful, moments to be able to come.CArol and Grace 1 Grace IMG_0344

Time seems to go faster each year. The moments, if we are not careful, are lost among the deadlines at work and the routines of life. But they are there. And they are precious. Like a glimmering nugget of gold in rushing mountain stream, the moments shine forth in our lives. Embrace them. Hold on to them. Take mental pictures and mark the moments however you can.IMG_2706.JPG

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One of my heroes growing up was Jimmy Valvano. Jimmy V was the coach of the North Carolina State team that won the 1983 NCAA Championship game against the heavily favored Houston Cougars. When the buzzer sounded, there is this great image of Jimmy V running around the court in complete joy trying to find someone to hug! It was a moment.

A few years later, Jimmy V was diagnosed with cancer. At the ESPY awards, here’s what he said, “I will thank God for the day and the moments I have. They are precious. I urge all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have. To laugh, to think and to have your emotions moved to tears. If you laugh, you think, you cry that is a full day. That is a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week and you will have something special. Cancer can take away my physical abilities, but it cannot touch my heart, my mind and my soul.”

Embrace the moments. They are precious. Hold on to God and thank Him every day that you have these moments to cherish. Don’t always long to be somewhere else and miss the moments that are in front of you today. Because, before you know it, the little baby in your arms will be walking across a stage. Embrace the moments.

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The 4 C’s of a Diamond Marriage

I stared at my wife’s wedding ring. The diamond still sparkled like the first day I bought it. This week Lisa and I celebrated our fourteenth wedding anniversary. Yea! We are so blessed! As we were talking at dinner that night, her ring caught my eye. I thought back to how much time and energy I had spent picking out that ring many years ago. I studied intently the 4 C’s of a diamond – clarity, cut, carat and cost. Before I asked Lisa to marry me, I had no idea about what all was involved in choosing the right diamond. However, I did know how much I loved Lisa, so I went from store to store and looked at what seemed like hundreds of diamonds in order to find the right one for her. I studied intently all four of these C’s before choosing the diamond for her. It was more money than I had spent on just about anything else I had ever bought, but I am so glad I did. Now, fourteen years later, it still looks beautiful on her hand and it still communicates every day my love for her.

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Even more important than the ring I gave her, I want us to have a Diamond Marriage. When you look at the anniversary gifts you are supposed to give each year, the Diamond Anniversary is on your 60th. My goal is not to simply have a great ring, but to have a great marriage. If God will allow – a Diamond Marriage. To stay in love for 60 years! After watching my parents being married for 57 years and counseling hundreds of other couples, here’s what I believe are the four C’s to a Diamond Marriage:

1. Christ – A marriage is like a triangle with each person at the bottom and God at the top. As each person grows in their individual relationship in Christ, then you naturally will be drawn closer to each other. To me, this is the most important aspect to a healthy, growing marriage. Throughout our marriage, there are greater and greater demands on our time. With kids, career, sports, church, friends and more, many times the first thing to be dropped is our personal time with the Lord. However, this is what makes a growing disciple, and if you personally are not healthy and growing, your marriage will not be healthy and growing. Instead of always trying to “fix” your spouse, spend time with Christ and watch your marriage come alive.

2. Communication – Remember when you were dating? All you could think about was your future spouse. You wrote notes, chose songs and went on dates. Yet, so often, after you are married you stop doing these things. When was the last time you wrote a love note to your spouse? When was the last time you when on a date? Most of the time we stop “dating” because we don’t have the time or the money. But we must give our marriage the priority it deserves. Schedule the time and spend the money (for a babysitter), and go on dates! As Lisa and I talked at dinner, I was reminded of how precious time alone with my wife really is to me. I love being with her! Vacations are important – you need “family time.” And, Date Nights are just as important – you need intentional time with your spouse in order to grow a healthy marriage.

3. Church – The Bible says, “You are known by the company you keep.” This is so true. If you want to have a healthy, growing marriage, spend time with people who are healthy and growing in their own marriages. This is why, I believe, it is so important to be involved at church and in a Small Group. No one has a perfect marriage, but you need to be around people who are pursuing God and investing in their relationship. In addition, you need some older, more experienced, couples around you. Again, this is where church is so important. Finding a “mentor” couple will help you tremendously. We all need people who will pray for us and encourage us. We need to see couples who are modeling for us what a healthy, growing marriage really should be.

4. Celebrate – It is important to celebrate. Special occasions such as, Birthdays, Anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc. give a great opportunity to reflect and celebrate what God is doing in your relationship. As Lisa and I sat at our recent anniversary dinner, we strolled down memory lane. We talked about our wedding. Then, we walked through some of the major milestones in our journey together – the birth of each child, the planting of the church, parents, friends, vacations and more. Taking time to celebrate shows you just how far you have come. Each time you celebrate, do the following: Share a Blessing – Write a card (it is important to write it down); Speak a Blessing – Say, “Thank You” and “I love you” (these are not implied, and they need to be said at every celebration); Mark a Blessing – Give a Gift (give something that marks the celebration); and Pray a Blessing – Thank God for this special moment (hold hands and pray together). Grow in your love, and celebrate along the way.

Being married is a gift from God. So often “little” deals can become “big” deals in a marriage. We must always remember that the goal of our marriage is to “present one another perfect in Christ.” We cannot let the little things consume us and distract us from this incredible calling. As it says in the book Sacred Marriage, “God gave us marriage not to make us happy, but to make us holy.” When you bring together two sinful, broken people then there will definitely be some challenges and friction. However, always focus on God’s desire for your marriage. Don’t spend time majoring in the minor, but work, grow, pray and love each other well. God’s desire is for our marriages is to model for the world the way Christ loves His church.

Lisa&Jeff Wedding Photos

Invest your time and energy in the 4 C’s of a Diamond Marriage, and watch God bring your marriage to life! Make it goal to be in love for 60+ years! God wants you to succeed! God wants you to have a healthy, growing marriage. I love my wife, and I am so thankful for our marriage! I pray these 4 C’s will help your marriage be awesome! Blessings!

5 Ways to Raise Brave Kids

How do we teach kids to be brave – especially in the world we live in today? Just think IMG_2579.JPGabout it: our world has changed so much. I remember as a young boy growing up and riding my bike for miles through the city or Trick-or-Treating for hours far away from my home. The world is different today. In today’s world, this is neither prudent nor safe. As parents, we are afraid to let our kids out of our sight. We don’t want our kids to walk alone, be out at night or to be by themselves. Yet, we have this calling as parents to prepare our kids to be out on their own. Independent. And, a huge part of this is teaching our kids to be brave. But, how? How do we help them to learn to figure things out on their own? To be resourceful? This is a major challenge for all of us as parents.

Kids today are growing up in a world of fear. Whether school shootings, riots in major US cities or school-age kids being kidnapped in other countries – all of this leads to fear and anxiety. Kids are scared. Through the internet and tv, kids see people being shot, decapitated, and other acts of sheer brutality. Our society is become more and more medicated in order to cope with the fear in their world.

As parents, we must help our children learn to be brave in the midst of this fearful world. Being brave is a major part of the move from dependence to independence. This is a challenge for them, and for us. However, if we can manage this well, then we will grow healthy children who are ready to face the world. And, let’s be real. We want to grow kids who don’t just cope with the world, but change the world. We want to raise children who are tomorrow’s leaders. Kids who will bravely take on the challenges of the world, and through the love and power of Christ, will bring transformation and hope.

So, how do we do this? How do we teach our children to be brave? Here are five ways that can help us raise brave kids:

1. Pray – Try as hard as we might, we cannot be there all the time. There are times when are kids are at school or someone else’s house, and we do not have control. But do we really have control anyway? Their ultimate protection is not us, but God, Himself. As a parent, pray daily for God’s protection over your kids. Also, pray for God to help your kids become brave. This all begins with their personal walk with Christ. Helping them learn to read their Bible and be a part of His church is essential to their growth in Christ. As they grow spiritually, they will develop a strong spiritual foundation which will lead to a heathy self-worth and a boldness through Christ.IMG_2635.JPG

2. Teach – We must teach our kids that they are never alone. God is always with them. There will come a point when you cannot be there. As parents, our job is to prepare our kids for the real world. Prepare them to fly out of the nest. Joshua 1:8-9 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Have your kids memorize verses like this. Teach them that even when you are not with them, God is. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But, take heart! I have overcome the world.” He is greater than anything they will face in this life.

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3. Send – We need to send our kids to places where they can experiment with being brave. Something like Summer Camp or a Mission Trip can help accomplish this. These are simple, yet controlled, ways where they are out of the house, but still in the company of adults. These are places where they can learn to succeed even when you are not around. Places where they must learn to be resourceful and to make decisions for themselves.IMG_2605.JPG

4. Process – Our kids are going to hear about scary events. Whether they see bombings on the news or participate in bomb drills at school, there will be things that they will be confronted with at young ages. Kids need to talk about these things. Just trying to shield them all the time is not the best way. There are definitely times that you want to protect your kids, but there are also times you need to process with your children what this means. They need to know that these are isolated events that occur. They need to know what to do in emergencies, but that don’t need to live in fear. Talk with your kids.

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5. Stretch – Expand the boundaries each year. Maybe they could only ride their bike on your street at a certain age. The next year, allow them to ride within two blocks. The following year, expand even more. Gradually expanding their boundaries allows them to experience more freedom and gives them greater responsibility. Take them on hikes. Take them on vacations to new places. Give them greater challenges to face at each age of their life. This has to be intentional if we are to grow our kids. Allow them to volunteer at church or at a non-profit. As they grow older, encourage them to get a part-time job. Help expand your kid’s boundaries, so they learn to be responsible and confident.

There is no greater calling than being a parent. With our kids, we only have a few years to help shape who they will be for the rest of their lives. Raising brave kids is a huge part of our call. Our kids are the future leaders of our family, community, country and the world. We must empower them to be brave. We must challenge them to learn and to lead; and this takes being brave. As a parent, there will always be a tension between protection and empowerment, but we must find the balance without stifling their God-given call and potential. Let’s teach our kids to be brave. The result will be healthy kids who will, one day, step into the darkness of this world to bring hope and change.

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Developing a Healthy Work / Life Balance

One of the most challenging aspects for many people is how to have a healthy work / life balance. We are all busy. In fact, if you ask someone, “How are you doing?” Many times, this is what you will hear, “I am so busy.” We are consumed with life, and it doesn’t slow down. However, sometimes we can be busy and not accomplish what we truly desire. We all want more time in the day, but it will not happen. We cannot manufacture more time, therefore, we must learn to better manage the time we have been given.

Developing a healthy work / life balance is essential if we are to fulfill our God-given potential in life. Our lives will move from “busy” to “full” as we focus on what really matters. In order to develop a healthy work / life balance, we must implement three important strategies:

  1. Set priorities – What are the priorities of your life – God, spouse, children, career? You choose where you invest your time. Sometimes we feel like work is consuming us. Well, we have to set priorities. What are we trying to accomplish with our life? For most people, work should be a “means to an end” as opposed to the end itself. WE want to do a good job at work, but we also work in order to provide for our priorities – family, etc. Therefore, we want to do a great at what we do, but we don’t want this to consume us and leave us with no emotional or physical energy for where we truly want to invest in our lives. Time is analogous to money – we have a limited amount of money, so we have to make a budget. A budget helps us set priorities. Again, we have limited amount of time, so again we must set priorities. What do you feel like God really wants you to accomplish with your life? To be more like Christ, to excel as a great parent, to have a wonderful marriage, to achieve some career success, or something else? Setting priorities is essential. Set priorities and then bring your time, money, and energy around these priorities. Instead of letting everything else control you, you set the priorities.
  2. Set boundaries – We all want to do a good job at work, a great job at home and still have time for ourselves to enjoy life. Is this possible? Yes. First we set priorities and second we set boundaries around those priorities. Work can, and will consume you. Life can easily spin out-of-control. Therefore, put boundaries in so that you can protect what is important to you. Some boundaries may include:
    1. Don’t bring your computer home – work can take over family time. There is always one more e-mail to respond to or one more assignment to get down. Personally, I like to work when the kids go to sleep. This is a great time for me. But, sometimes this becomes a distraction and can take me away from my family. I can be “home” without truly being “home.” There are times I need to leave work at work.
    2. Be present – Whether you are at home or even at work, give your full attention and energy where it needs to be. You do not get this time back with your family. Therefore, be emotionally as well as physically present.
    3. Don’t stay on your cell phone on vacation – This is so important. If you are to be present, you have to set some boundaries. Otherwise, you will not accomplish work or life well.
  3. Be intentional – Once we set priorities and boundaries, next we have to be intentional to keep these. How do we do this? Let’s say that our priority is our marriage. Therefore, you must schedule time with your spouse. If we are not intentional, then work, kids, and busyness will rob our marriage. Schedule “date nights.” Make this a priority – once a week or at least every two weeks. Put in our your work calendar, and plan these in advance. If your priority is your family, then schedule vacations as well as special time with your kids. Again, if you don’t plan it, it will not happen. If your priority is a new career, then be intentional to carve out time to do the research, planning and study necessary now to be where you want to be later. Again, if you are not intentional, it will not happen.

Overall, we must learn to manage the seasons instead of striving for balance. Realize there will never be “balance.” If we wait for a 50/50 between “work” and “life,” you will never achieve it. Instead of balance, understand that life comes in seasons. There are seasons when work is exceptionally busy – deadlines, projects, tax season, etc. There are seasons when you need to more focused at home – birthdays, anniversaries, vacations, etc. Instead of trying to be balanced every day, strive to manage the seasons. This changes at different stages of our life. As our children grow up, the demands change. As we have more responsibility at work, the demands change. The fact is, this is a constant battle for us to fight – but, the fight is worth it! This will help give your life focus.

God has a great plan for your life. In order to reach your full potential, you have to learn this skill of developing a healthy work / life balance. So many people burn-out. They fall short. God wants us to run the race, and the race of life is a marathon, not a sprint. Let’s put into practice what God is teaching us, and commit to make the most of our lives for His glory! The best is yet to be…

Holy Week

This week is Holy Week: The week we journey with Jesus to the cross and the tomb. As we prepare ourselves for the greatest day in history, this coming Sunday morning, when our Savior conquered death and rose from the grave! In order to experience the triumph of the Resurrection, we must prepare our hearts with the gravity of the price that was paid.

Walking with Jesus to the cross opens our hearts to all He endured for us. “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Jesus endured spiritual, emotional and, of course, physical suffering for us. Feel the tension building as we go through this week. May we grow in the depth of our understanding of His love.

Palm Sunday – The Triumphal Entry

(Matthew 21:1-1, Mark 11:1-10, Luke 19:29-44 and John 12:12-19)

Jesus makes it very clear that He is the Messiah! He comes at Passover (“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” John 1:29) and on the back of a donkey (Messianic prophecy from Zechariah 9:9).

Monday – Jesus Curses the Fig Tree and He Cleanses the Temple

(Matthew 21:18-19 & 12-13 and Mark 11:12-14 & 15-18)

Jesus shows that it is not about what you look like on the outside, but what God does in your heart. He makes it very clear that it is not about “religion,” but about a “relationship” with God through Jesus Christ.

Tuesday – Jesus Teaches in the Temple & His Authority is Questioned

(Matthew 21:23-23:39; Mark 11:27-33 & 12:1-44 and Luke 20:1-21:4)

The drama is building. The Religious Leaders are confronting Jesus, and He is not backing down. The confrontation is coming. Everyone must give an answer: What do you believe about Jesus? Is he just a great man, prophet and teacher OR is He the Messiah, the Son of God?

Tuesday Evening – Jesus Anointed at Bethany

(Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9 and John 12:2-11)

Those who are committed to Jesus stay faithful. When we are forgiven much, we love much. This extravagant act of love is still talked about today. Is Jesus the Love of our life and the Joy of our heart?

Wednesday – The Religious Leaders Plot to Kill Jesus

(Matthew 26:14-16; Mark 14:10-11 and Luke 22:3-6)

Jesus lived 33 sinless years. By His goodness and grace, He forces everyone to make a decision – our will or His will. Do we want religion OR are we willing to accept Jesus?

Thursday – The Last Supper and the Garden of Gethsemane

(Matthew 26:17-29 & 36-46, Mark 14:12-25 & 32-42; Luke 22:7-20 & 40-46 and John 13:1-38)

Jesus shares the Passover meal with the disciples, whom He loves. He makes it very clear that “His Body” is the bread broken for us and “His blood” is the new covenant poured out for us. Jesus is willing to pay the price for our sins, so that we can have an eternal relationship with God.

Thursday Night – Jesus’ Arrest & Trial

(Matthew 26:47-27:26; Mark 14:43-15:15; Luke 22:47-23:25 and John 18:2-19:16)

Make no mistake – it was not the religious leaders or the soldiers who arrested Jesus that night. Jesus could have called down legions of angels and stopped this at any moment. But, the Love and Grace of God took Jesus to the cross.

Friday – Jesus’ Crucifixion and Death

(Matthew 27:27-56; Mark 15:16-41; Luke 23:26-49 and John 19:17-30)

Jesus suffered and died for you and for me. He laid down His life, so that you and I can truly live. “For the wages of sin is death” Romans 6:23, and death is eternal separation from God. Jesus took our place; He stood in the gap. He made a way for us to have eternal life. Thank You, Jesus!

As we read what Jesus endured for us, may we be forever grateful for His love, grace and mercy. This week should draw us closer to our God. My prayer is that we all grow deeper in our faith and more passionate about our relationship with the God who loves us more than we can ever dream or imagine.

May this Holy Week prepare us for living each day in the Love and Grace of our Savior!