Pastors’ Conference in the Amazon

They come from villages throughout the region. Pastors, young and old, along with their wives, canoe for days in order to learn and grow their ministry. These are some of the most incredibly kind and committed men and women I have ever met. And, their stories are amazing! They love Jesus so much, and they serve in one of the most challenging places in the world – the Amazon!


The Pastors

Pastors like Diegou. This pastor’s village is located on the Amazon near Peru and Columbia. He heard about the conference and he has always wanted training to help him lead his church and family. He has 6 children and 2 grandchildren. He ministers in a village where he has about 50 adults in his church and over 60 kids. When Sarah, our National Director for Justice & Mercy Amazon, contacted him, he responded that he wanted to come, but didn’t have the money. She told him that we would cover his cost if he could just get to Manaus. He prayed because he did not have the money for the boat ride to Manaus. It is 170 heias (about $65) for a boat from his village to Manuas (it takes about 3 days to arrive and 5 days for the return trip, since it is going against the current). The boat stops at different villages and carries over 800 people. He prayed about what to do, and he heard God say, “Go fishing.” So, he took his brother and went fishing. That day they caught enough fish to put in baggies and sell in the market. They had 20 baggies of fish which they sold for 10 heias each. He said, “God gave me to the money for the boat and 30 heias more!” He was so excited! I marveled at his faith and commitment. I asked him at the end of the week if it was worth it, and he responded, “More than worth it. It is the best I have ever experienced. I can’t wait to take all God has taught me this week back to my family, church and village. My cup is full.” Then, I asked him, “How are you getting home?” He responded, “I don’t know. But, I believe God will provide!” God did provide, through the generosity of others.

Pastors like Lazaro. This pastor grew up with his dad as a tribal witch doctor. As a young boy he would cut himself and perform demonic rituals. His dad ultimately died, and four women in his community began inviting him to church. He was a young teenager and his life was filled with drugs and satanic ceremonies. But, these women keep praying and inviting. He went to church one week, but he grew so physically sick when he walked in that he had to leave. He threatened to burn the church down, but the women kept praying. One day, God broke into his life. He went to the church, and his eyes were opened to the Truth. He committed his life to Christ and told God he would do whatever he called him to do. A couple of years later, he felt God calling him into the ministry and he started to pray more and more fervently. God would place people in his village on this heart, and he would go tell them about Jesus. At 11:45 am one day he was praying, and God told him to go to this man’s house. He was known to be a harsh man, but Lazaro went. The man opened the door and yelled at Lazaro to leave. The next day, at the same time, God said again, “Go to this man’s house.” He went, and this time the man opened the door and put a gun in his face and told him to leave. The next day, at the exact same time, God told Lazaro to go again. This time, the man grabbed Lazaro and pulled him inside. He said he would cut him up in little pieces if he ever came back again. Lazaro said, “Okay. But, before I leave, let me ask you – God, keeps telling me to come to you every day at this time. Can you tell me why?” The man looks at Lazaro, and then breaks down crying. He said, “For the last 3 days, I have been trying to kill myself at this time and you keep showing up. I guess God really does care.” The man gave his life to Christ. And, Lazaro, is the pastor in this village.

Pastors like Gutenburg. Gutenburg had a terrible life growing up. No father. Drugs, gangs and life on the street. He was arrested multiple times. Finally, he found himself in the hardest prison of Brazil. In prison, he heard about Jesus, but he harden his heart to Christ. One day in prison, there was a knife fight between him and another guy. He remembers the knife fight, and the next thing he remembers is waking up in the morge. The mortician screamed when Gutenburg sat up and looked at him. He had been dead for a few days. He was transferred to a medical center and subsequently released from prison. He committed his life to Jesus, and is now pastoring in very poor and difficult area of the jungle – an area known for drugs and sex trafficking. Because of his background, God is using him to impact many of the hardest criminals for Christ.

photo 4-2

These pastors, along with many other pastors and wives, assembled at the John Pac Center in the middle of the Amazon for a time of teaching, learning, prayer and renewal. The John Pac Center is owned by Justice & Mercy Amazon (a ministry of Justice & Mercy International) and is used to service the needs of pastors and villages in the Amazon. Along with 15 schools, two boats and an indigenous staff team, our God is using JMA to impact this part of the world for His glory.IMG_2275

photo 1 photo 2-2

Our Team

We were blessed with an incredible team to teach and serve these awesome men and women of God. People like Kelly Minter (author of “Wherever the River Runs” and Women’s Bible Teacher), George Mhondero (Worship Leader from the UK), Mary Katharine Hunt (Executive Director of Operations for JMI), Rachel Trammel (JMI Sponsorship Director), Francie (Chairman of the JMA Board), Mike & Kay Minter, Mike Weagle, Mike & Patricia Myers (Reston Bible Church in Washington D.C.), Leo Alhstrom, Chase Baker, Harold Pinto and myself (Rolling Hills); Julie Dewee (Videographer & fellow supporter of the ministry), Winston (a great pastor from Manaus), Alex (a Brazilian evangelist), and our Justice & Mercy Amazon Staff Team.

photo 2 photo 3

The Conference runs from Monday evening through Friday morning. We teach sessions throughout the entire day. From theology sessions – this year, “Grace vs. Works” – to practical leadership – this year, “Developing and Multiplying Leaders,” to break-out sessions on worship and preaching. The conference really is top-notch. We try to make it as good as any conference here in the States. The days are completely full and everyone gives their all teaching as well as learning. The nights are powerful, inspirational and filled with encouragement for these pastors and wives.

As Pastor Mike Minter says, “We go to teach them theology, doctrine and how to do church. They teach us about Jesus.” These men and women have little to no money. They sacrifice everything for the calling of Christ. They truly love Jesus and the people in their village with all their heart.

The Need

One pastor’s wife thanked us so much for the bar of soap we gave out. She said that they do not have soap in their village. One wife told us that she borrowed the nicest clothes from all our neighbors in order to look her best for the conference. Many talked about when the Amazon floods (5 months out to the year) and how this impacts their church and community. They talked about the water coming into the church, the problem with snakes and having to take canoes around because the roads are covered. Then, they told us about the clean-up from the receding waters and the erosion of the church buildings, and even their own homes.

Yet, through all the struggles, they never complain. They continually say what a joy it is to serve the Lord. They talk about the people who are coming to know Christ and the difference they are seeing in their village. They pray with passion and thanksgiving.

Impacting one pastor ultimately transforms hundreds in a village and thousands through the generations. These pastors are the gateway to the villages and to the entire Amazon region. They let us know about special needs children in their area. They share with us who needs food bags. They meet the physical and spiritual needs of so many.


The Human Chain

One of my personal highlights from this year was the human chain. Feeding 80+ people 3 meals a day in the middle of the jungle for the week is not an easy task. So much food has to be brought in by boat. The other challenge is that the John Pac Center sits on top of a hill about 100 feet. There are close to a 100 steps to the center at a 45-degree angle. It is steep!

Our team arrived before the pastors and their wives in order to set up the center. We brought up the sound system, established the office, registration center, kitchen and more. When the pastor and wives arrived, we went down to welcome them and to begin the long haul of bringing up the food, water and supplies. The task was overwhelming. There was so much, and it was steaming hot out in the jungle.

However, what happened was amazing! A human chain began to form. The pastors and their wives saw what was happening, and they wanted to help. From the boat on the Amazon River to the top of the 100 steps, we formed a human chain. Those of us from the States and the UK intermingled with jungle pastors and wives as well as more well-off volunteers from churches in the city of Manuas. We started passing up cans of food from one person to the next. Bottles of water, chairs, tables, fruits, vegetables and even a grill all came up the human chain. It was hot and the boxes were heavy. Yet, through the sweat, there were smiles. For over an hour, we worked and it set the tone for the week. We are all in this together. All loving Jesus and called to a ministry of service. Learning from one another. Everyone is important and needed. This is the Body of Christ!

photo 1-2

Foot washing

The last night we had an awesome experience. We had an amazing worship time followed by Alex sharing an encouraging word from Luke 10. After this, I read from John 13 about Jesus showing His disciples the full extent of His love by washing the disciples feet. We told the pastors, and their wives, that we wanted to wash their feet. This was one of the most powerful times we had all ever seen. These pastors could not believe it. The men, of our team, washed the pastor’s feet while the women, of our team, washed the pastor’s wives feet. They wept. No one had ever served them like this. They sobbed. It was transformational and honoring all at the same time. God overwhelmed us with His Presence, and none of us will ever be the same.

IMG_2317 IMG_2321

photo 3-2

How you can help:

  1. Pray for these pastors and their wives. They are on the front lines of ministry. God is using them in an incredible way, and lives throughout the Amazon region are being impacted for Christ. Pray as they return to their families, churches and villages to love and serve those in the Name of Jesus.
  2. Sponsor a pastor or a child in the Amazon through JMI. Your donation will make a huge difference! This Pastor’s Conference is not cheap, and it happens because of generous people like you. You can go to to find out more.
  3. Go on a mission trip to the Amazon. The region is beautiful, and the people even more. As you share the love of Christ with others, your life will be changed. Come experience what only God can do! Our God is at work in the Amazon – thank you for joining Him!

The Real Super Bowl

Eight years ago, 15 players. Last week, 1,287 players. The Father & Son Bowl has become, for me, the Real Super Bowl. Seeing dads connecting with their sons. Watching men bringing a boy of a single mom from their workplace out to play. Experiencing the joy of a nine year-old catching a touchdown pass and witnessing men, on both teams, high-fiving and lifting him up while he smiles from ear to ear. Hearing kids say, “This is my favorite day of the year.” And, celebrating as one man in the church shares his testimony about Jesus and challenges dads to live their lives for Christ. To me, this is what it is all about.


Now, I understand the Father & Son Bowl doesn’t bring in huge tv ratings or rake in billions of dollars. But, as I think about the impact on generations, I believe that the Father & Son Bowl is making an eternal difference. In fact, who will remember who even played in the Super Bowl in 20 years, 50 years or especially 100 years? Who will remember the half-time show? However, ask a child about the memories of the relationship with his dad or granddad – that will last forever! The Father & Son Bowl is impacting marriages, children and generations. In addition, through the donations of the men that play, thousands of dollars are given to Justice & Mercy International to share the love of Christ with the fatherless throughout the world and donations are also given to local orphans as well. Lives are being changed for eternity. Stories are being re-written for Christ. Forevers are being awakened.
Feb42015Post Feb42015Post3
One ordinary person, Darin Clark, with his wife Caree, work tirelessly to put on the Father & Son Bowl. They have the help of hundreds of volunteers from Rolling Hills, but this is a labor of love. Darin doesn’t get paid $40 million like the commissioner of the NFL; in fact, Darin doesn’t get paid at all. Darin loves Jesus, loves his family (4 sons), loves his church and he loves his community. He is passionate about making a difference in the lives of men, and God is using him in an incredible way.
Who knows what God will do, but I imagine one day having a Father & Son Bowl in every city. I imagine many men coming to know Christ and many families healed. I dream of men being the leaders they were called to be in their homes, churches and communities. And, all of this around a game of football that may never be televised around the world. Now, to me, this is a much bigger deal and the impact is eternal.

Seize the Moment

Seize the Moment3 Seize the Moment2 Seize the Moment

It was a Moment. Unique. Nothing like it. Powerful, yet simple. Something that stays with you… and even shapes you.

Ever since my parents moved to Nashville about two years ago, we have been talking about driving down to Birmingham together to see my nephew play basketball and my niece cheer. This sounds like an easy endeavor, but my dad was sick for a year, the games always fell on a tough night during the week, and there seemed to be an eternal challenge of coordinating the schedules of multiple busy people.

But, this past Tuesday, we did it. We pushed past all the excuses – “not feeling well,” “it is too far for just a basketball game,” “we will get home too late,” “we don’t have time” – and we just went for it. We left at 12:45pm in the afternoon, drove 3+ hours to get there and then watched Brayden play his basketball game. We watched the first half of the next game in order to see Bekah cheer at halftime. Then, we got back in the car, stopped to pick up fast food. Then, we drove all the way home, returning at about 11:15pm. That might be easy if we were college-aged, but not so much for two 84 year-old grandparents.

10 hours, 400 miles and seeing the joy of a grandfather watching his grandson score 13 points and a grandmother seeing her granddaughter cheer – priceless! I love my family – I am so proud of my niece and nephew! They love Jesus, and they are living their lives for Him. My sister and brother-in-law are godly parents and leaders in their church & community. My parents have invested in us and given us all a strong foundation in the Lord. And, you know, there will never be another moment exactly like this. I pray my dad’s health stays well, and we can go to a game next year. But, next year, Bekah will be in college. Times change. People change. Opportunities come and go. Seize the moment!

There will always be excuses in life. There will always be reasons why you will not try to do something. But, I challenge you: seize the moment. This is what life is made of – moments. Memories last. People matter. You don’t always get a second chance.

Whether it is doing something crazy for your grandparents, children, wife, husband or life-time friend – Do something. Don’t wait and live with regret. What moment do you need to seize?

How are you Growing in Prayer?

“Prayer is the vital breath of the Christian; not the thing that makes him alive, but the evidence that he is alive.” – Oswald Chambers

Prayer is an incredible gift of God. Just think about it – the God of the Universe, the One who holds the world in His hands, is inviting you into a relationship with Him! Prayer is our communication with the Sovereign God of All. Prayer is the vital breath of a believer. It is speaking, but it is also listening. It is two-way conversation. The way you grow in any relationship is to spend time with someone else. So, how are you growing in your prayer life?

As Jesus teaches His disciples to pray in Luke 11, Jesus reveals that prayer is rooted in the goodness and grace of a Sovereign God who invites us to call Him “Father.” For some people this is a struggle. Knowing God as “Father,” is difficult because they did not have a great earthly father growing up. Yet, God is the perfect “Father.” Think about everything a perfect dad should be, and apply that image (and so much more!) to God. When we begin to understand God in this light as Father, the realization of the relationship draws us to pray. We recognize our provision, our protection, our learning all come from God, our Father. And, as our Father, He loves us and wants the best for us. Prayer invites the God of the Universe into our mess and brokenness. He opens our eyes to His transformation, grace and love.

Prayer changes things, but even more prayer changes us. God’s Word teaches, “Nothing is impossible with God.” And, through prayer, we see miracles unfold. We see lives changed, healing happen, and prayers answered. But, in the process, prayer changes us. We move from trying to carry all our burdens (along with the strain and stress) to laying our  fears and anxieties at His feet. Prayer is essential to our faith and spiritual growth as a disciple of Christ.

So, how do we grow in our prayer life? For so many, prayer is a struggle. If you are currently struggling in your prayer life (and we all do at different points in our spiritual journey), here are some helpful ways to help you grow:

  1. Find a “certain place.”  In Luke 11:1, when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, they observed Jesus praying in a “certain place.” For Jesus this may have been a rock or a tree overlooking the Sea of Galilee. But, what about you? Find a “certain place.” This could be kneeling by your bed, in your office or a place in nature. Find a place and make it the place you meet with God. After a while, even if you are traveling and you cannot be there physically, it will become a place where you can go in your mind. Find a place.
  2. Set a specific time. Figure out your optimal time to meet with God and schedule a daily appointment with Him. If you are not a morning person, then don’t beat yourself up because you are not good at praying in the morning. If you fall asleep when you pray, don’t make your prayer time at night. When are you most alert? Schedule a time to meet with God each day, and show up. When we schedule meetings, doctor’s appointments, dinner dates – we always show up. Therefore, schedule time to pray. It is of the utmost importance.
  3. Follow this pattern: A.C.T.S. ACTS is a simple acronym for: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. As you look at the pattern Jesus teaches in Luke 11, you can see this unfold. Spend the first few minutes in your prayer life simply adoring God. Think about how beautiful, amazing and wonderful He is – and shower Him with praise. Then confess any sin in your life. Is anything blocking your prayer life today? Next, be thankful. List off all the ways God has blessed you and the things He has lavished on you. Finally, supplication – ask. Ask for what you need. Your Father knows, and He longs to take care of you.
  4. Start a prayer journal. At different stages of my own personal walk, I have used a prayer journal. I have found this to be an incredible tool to keep me focused in my prayers. Whether in a notebook, an iPad, a phone, etc., writing your prayers to God creates focus and attention. In addition, it is an awesome resource to look back to see how God answers prayers. So often, we forget. We are already on to the next crisis, and we never stop to say “Thank You!” to the God who hears our cries and answers our requests.
  5. Consider Fasting. In Mark 9 a man brings his son, who has an evil spirit, to Jesus’ disciples but they cannot heal him. The man then takes the boy to Jesus who does heal him. When the disciples ask why they could not heal him, Jesus responds, “This kind can come out only by prayer (in most texts) and fasting.” (Mark 9:29). Sometimes there are strongholds in our lives that can only come down by concentrated prayer and fasting. Fasting is denying ourselves something, such as food or media, in order to pray and concentrate on God. It may be from sun-up until sun-down or 3, 7, or even 40-days. But, when the urge for food (or whatever you fast from) arises, we are moved to pray. If you have never fasted, try it. You will be blown away by the spiritual intimacy which comes from it.

These all will help you grow a stronger prayer life, but always remember the hope is to learn to pray all the time. “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). God’s will is for you to have a deep, growing, passionate relationship with Him. Prayer is your connection with the God who loves you. The goal of prayer is always God, Himself.

So, how’s your prayer life?

5 Ways to Prioritize Christ in the New Year

The New Year brings new opportunities for growth and development. So many people make New Year’s Resolutions (which is great)! However, most New Year’s Resolutions center around things like dieting, exercise or saving money. Yet, how can we prioritize Christ in this New Year? Here are five ways that I believe will help us focus on what is most important and truly life-impacting:

1. Daily time with Jesus – So often we say, “I’m too busy to read my Bible and to pray.” The fact is – we all have the same amount of time. It is not a matter of being too busy, rather a matter of our priorities. Carve out 10-15 minutes each day to spend time with Jesus. Read a passage in the Bible (if you need a reading plan, then check out the Daily Step) and pray. Prioritize time with Jesus each day, and you will see a dramatic difference in your attitude and life.

2. Worship on Sundays – God taught us in the Big 10 (The Ten Commandments – Exodus 20) to “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8). We need to start every week off with God. Worship is essential for focusing our “mind’s attention and our heart’s affection” on Him. Each week becomes our spiritual nourishment and our mark of obedience. Make sure Christ is the priority each week by giving Him the first of your time, your attention and your worship.

3. Community – Spiritual growth happens in the context of community. Jesus invited 12 men to be His disciples. He did not just invest in one at a time, but He knew that they would learn from each other. We need others to hold us accountable and to encourage us as we prioritize Christ in this New Year. If you do not already have spiritual community, then join a Small Group and invest your life with other believers. As the African proverb says, “If you want to run fast you run alone, but if you want to run far then you run with others.” The spiritual life is not a sprint, but a marathon. Run with others as you grow in Christ.

4. Serve others – Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). If you prioritize Christ in this New Year, you need to find some way to serve others on a consistent basis. Investing in the least, the last and the lost is where you identify with Christ the most. Find a way to plug in locally with opportunities to serve as well as internationally. Serve in your home, your church, your community and your world for Christ. You will see Christ in the face of the poor and broken.

5. Financially - We have been blessed. And, we are not just blessed for us to amass more and more stuff, but for us to be a blessing to others. Therefore, make sure the first check you write each month is back to Christ. The Bible talks about giving our first 10% to God. This is so important in helping us prioritize Christ in our lives. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 6:24). Tithing and giving helps us prioritize our devotion to Christ, and Christ alone!

As we begin this New Year, I pray this is your best year yet! I pray God does an incredible work in your life, and that grow deeper in love with Him. I can’t even imagine all our God has in store for us!

I challenge you with the words that King David challenge his son Solomon, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you.” (1 Chronicles 28:20). What a powerful word for all of us as we begin this New Year! Prioritize Christ in 2015, and know that the best is yet to be!


Reflections on 2014

Praise God for an amazing 2014! As I reflect back on the year, there are so many things God did, and I am simply thankful. Along with growing closer to Jesus this year and awesome time with family & friends, here are my top 10 personal highlights!

  1. Lives Impacted for Christ – By God’s grace, I had the privilege to baptize my second daughter, Mabry. As a parent, there is nothing in the world that compares to baptizing your own child. Seeing faith become their own is something you pray for each day. In addition to Mabry’s baptism, there were also amazing friends who were baptized this year. Along with baptism, it has been a joy to see new people at church, the blessing of amazing people in our Small Group, as well as lives touched for Christ in our community, Moldova, the Amazon and South Africa.
  2. Launching a new Campus – Our new Rolling Hills South Nashville Campus is amazing! The Core Team is compromised of so many incredible servants of Christ and personal friends. Watching the way they have invested their lives for Christ in making a difference has been awesome to see. In addition, I am thankful for Jason Hale (Campus Pastor), David Curtis (Worship Pastor), Ashley Powell (Children’s Minister) and so many others who have stepped out to share the love of Christ with this part of South Nashville. Way to go, team!
  3. The blessing of 27 additional acres for our Franklin campus – In 2014, God allowed us to buy the 27 acres of land just to the north of our building. When we moved into this WareHouse, we dreamed of buying an additional 5 acres for future parking and an outdoor playground, but God gave us an additional 27! In our wildest dreams, we could have never believed 6 years ago, when we were meeting in a movie theater that God would so graciously provide us with 40 acres of prime land just south of downtown Franklin, plus a beautiful building for worship & ministry as well as tenants who pay for our mortgage! Unbelievable and only God!
  4. JMI Transitional Living Home – By God’s grace and the generosity of so many people, we were able to pay off the new $260,000 Grace House in Moldova in 2014. Now, today, we are able to impact so many amazing young men and women for Christ. Seeing these precious orphan children having a “hope and a future” is all worth it! They are being saved, physically, from trafficking and other overwhelming challenges, and they are spiritually coming alive in Christ! God is allowing us to be a part of His work to transform this entire country for Christ!
  5. Pastor’s Conference in the Amazon – In February of 2014, I was able to be a part of our JMI Pastor’s Conference. What an incredible time with these godly men who pastor churches in villages throughout the Amazon. Their love for Jesus and their commitment to His call was so inspiring. These godly pastors do not have access to the same resources or education as we do, but they have a deeper love and reliance on God’s Spirit than most Christians I have ever met. And, while they face unbelievable challenges, they are filled with joy and God is using them to transform lives for His glory!
  6. Sabbatical – In 2014, I took a four-week sabbatical. It was such a special time to be with the Lord, with family, friends and to gain a greater perspective. It has been an exhilarating, yet fast-paced 11 years in planting RHCC. The time to reflect, celebrate and even look forward to the future was perfect. I love my God, my family and His church here at Rolling Hills! I am blessed beyond measure!
  7. New Staff Team members – This past year was filled with a lot of change in the addition of new staff team members and the transition of a few. I stood at our Staff Christmas Party in December and looked around at a room full of awesome people that I love. Between staff and spouses, we had 51 people and I simply rejoiced at the team God has assembled. I am filled with joy to be able to lock arms with these godly men and women and to serve our Lord together! There are awesome days ahead here at Rolling Hills!
  8. Father / Son Bowl – 2014 witnessed the sixth annual “Father/Son Bowl” with over 1,200 dads & sons. How amazing to watch this dream of Darin Clark, from 15 players after church one Sunday, to where it is today. Our God is impacting lives in our community, and I love seeing the strengthening of families and the life-change that can happen for Christ on a football field!
  9. Our own RH Summer Camp – This past year was our first ever “Rolling Hills Summer Camp” for elementary, middle and high school students. It was fantastic! Being a Student Pastor for years, it was so invigorating to see all these future leaders diving deep into God’s Word and just having a blast being together. God has given us a privilege to raise up the next generation in our community for Christ. I am so thankful for Nic, Chase, Anna, Kristina, Jen, Kenley, Ashley, Jenn and all the amazing volunteers who serve in our preschool, children and student ministries.
  10. Next Steps – In 2014, so many people at church took a “Next Step” in their spiritual journey in three areas: Reaching Out, Growing Up, Giving All. Seeing people commit to following Christ in baptism, reading God’s Word daily, serving locally in missions, going on mission trips and investing in God’s work is so exciting! These commitments will impact generations. I love being in a place where our God is so alive & moving and in a place where people are so passionate about responding to Him.

As I reflect on all God did in 2014, it makes me even more excited about what our God will do in 2015! Our call is to simply hold on to Jesus! He is the “author and perfecter of our faith.” As William Carey said, “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” What an incredible God, and the best is yet to be!

Merry Christmas!

From my family to yours:

Simmons Card 2014 Front[3]

Simmons Card Back[6]


May you experience the peace of Christ today and May you be overwhelmed by His Presence and Love.

Please know how thankful we are for each of you and for the difference you make for His Kingdom! Blessings on you today, and may Christ be alive in us every day of the year!

“But the angel of the Lord said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.’”

Luke 2:10-11

Anicee’s Painting

Several weeks ago, the story of this incredible little girl, named Anicee, was posted on USA Today. You can watch the story here.

After seeing this story, our Executive Pastor, Kent Vincent, thought about how much Anicee, and her parents, reminded him of Sara Ezell. As you may have read from previous posts on my blog, Sara is one of my heroes. Sara suffered with the same disease as Anicee and her parents. Yet, it did not hold Sara back either. Sara was at Rolling Hills from almost the very beginning teaching our preschool children. She spent her entire life in a wheelchair, but by the grace of God, her determination and the sacrifice of her family, she graduated from Vanderbilt University in both her under-grad and masters. She worked for Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital for years and made a huge impact for Christ in the lives of everyone who knew her. This year, Sara went home to be with Jesus.

As we build-out new preschool space at church, we made the decision to dedicate the new indoor playground in memory of Sara Ezell. She taught so many children (and all three of my girls) that all people matter to God. She would say, “Some people have legs and others have wheels, but everyone is fearfully and wonderfully made by God.” Preschoolers would enter her class afraid of her – since she seemed different in a small body and a large wheelchair – but they would spend time with her and not want to leave her class. She raised a generation to know that everyone is important and valuable. Our dream is to have an ADA accessible playground in Sara’s name in the middle of our new preschool space.

After Kent saw this video, he asked Steve Horton, our Lead Pastor of Communications, to contact the family to see if Anicee would paint a picture in memory of Sara to hang in the new space. After searching google, Steve was finally able to locate Anicee’s mom’s email address. He sent the information about Sara and directed them to Sara’s Facebook page (which is still active). Within an hour, the mom responded – Yes! Anicee would love to paint a picture of Sara for the new space. Steve informed them that we could not pay $50,000, but we would buy the materials. By the way, Anicee has a painting hanging in the White House. Anicee agreed, and she went to work.

What always defined Sara Ezell was joy. When we opened our new church building, we asked 8-10 people to come onto the stage and paint in white paint on a black piece of plywood one word that describes your relationship with God. Someone wrote, “Redeemer,” another wrote, “Savior,” and another wrote, “Father.” Then, Sara rolled out on stage in her wheelchair. She took the paint brush and painted the word, “JOY.” Then, she put a smiley face in the middle of the “O.” I started weeping. She was woman who could complain and demand, “Why me, God?” She could be angry or bitter about her condition. But, instead, Sara chose Joy. The fact is, Joy is a choice. We choose our attitude.

Without knowing any of this, Anicee painted a picture to be displayed in our new preschool area and she titled it, “Sara’s Joy.” How awesome! The painting is a girl (Sara), running (not in a wheelchair) in a field with balloons. It is probably what Sara is doing in heaven today. Surrounded by children, like this playground, and leading the joyful expression of worship to our Heavenly Father. Anita’s painting is perfectIMG_1627

I love how God works. I love His attention to detail, and HIs fingerprints of joy in our lives. I love how He brings a little adopted girl in Colorado to impact the lives of children in Middle Tennessee. I love how God uses people like Anicee and Sara to show us that nothing is impossible. And, to show us that Joy is a choice. Whatever circumstances you are going through today, think about Sara’s life along with Anicee’s painting and choose Joy in Christ!


5 Ways to Prioritize Christ in your Home this Christmas

The Christmas season is absolutely wonderful, but it can also be very busy. During this time of year, we add to our already crowded lives so much that many times we miss the “Christ” of Christmas. So, how do we prioritize Christ in our homes? Among all the gifts to be bought, cards to be sent, cookies to be baked, trees to be decorated, friends and family, how do we make sure to focus on Jesus? Here are five ways to prioritize Christ in your home this Christmas:

1. Make Christ Visible

Along with a Christmas tree in the living room and shiny lights on the outside, also make sure Christ is visible. Take the time to set up a nativity in your home. If you do not have one, then go online or to a store and buy one. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just something to remind you and your family of what Christmas is really all about. Maybe it is a star or angel on top of the tree. Maybe a cross in the front yard (without the price Jesus paid for us on the cross, there would be no Christmas to celebrate). Maybe a sign of joy, peace or love. Maybe Christmas cards hung where you can see the family and friends who love you and show you Jesus. Somehow, make Christ visible in your home this Christmas.

2. Establish New Traditions

ChristmasBoardAll of us have traditions that were handed down to us by our parents and grandparents. From how many gifts you open on Christmas Eve to what you have to eat for Christmas dinner, our season is filled with traditions. So, why not establish some new traditions in your home that will focus everyone on Jesus? For example, an Advent Calendar is a great tradition to establish in your home. Each day, leading up to Christmas, you have a Scripture to read or something to do in order to prepare your heart for His “arrival.” Or, maybe it is a tradition of, as a family, giving to a needy family for Christmas. Instead of simply buying multiple gifts for everyone in your family, allow one person to pick a need – angel tree, a well in another country, a family in your community – and do something for them. In addition, maybe you have everyone write a scripture verse that meant a lot to them this year on a Christmas ornament. Or, write in a journal “What did God do in my life this year?”, and store this with your Christmas ornaments so you can read it each year. Just think – the exciting part is whatever tradition you choose to establish, it will carry on for generations.

3. Share Love

Let’s face it, everyone is on “edge” during the holidays. Emotions are at a all-year high. When things are good, they are really good. When things are hard, they are really hard. Therefore, the greatest gift you can give to your family this Christmas is to share love. Be patient and be kind. It is amazing to me that the people we love the most are often the ones to whom we are most harsh. We will “put on a happy face” as we go to parties and other gatherings, and yet we can be short to those we love the most. This Christmas, share love in your home. The words, “I love you” are not implied words. Say these words, write these words, and live these words. Take time to cuddle, laugh and hug. Every night when my girls go to sleep, I pray over them. I always close my prayer with, “And, may they always know God that you love them and that their daddy loves them.” Make sure that even more than the gift you wrap under the tree, that everyone in your home knows you love them and God loves them. Long after the presents are forgotten, love is what will remain.

4. Read the Christmas Story

The birth of Jesus is recorded in two places in the Bible – Matthew 1 and Luke 2. Before all the gifts are opened on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, take time to read through the Christmas story with your family. Be creative on how you read it. Maybe you can have a grandparent read it and the children act it out. Maybe you can have a child read it while you set up the nativity. Maybe you can pass the Bible around and have everyone read one verse. What is important is that you the true meaning of Christmas is heard in your home. While Christmas movies like It’s A Wonderful Life, Elf, Christmas Vacation, and White Christmas are fun, focusing your family on Christ by reading the true Christmas story is what will have a lasting impact on your home.

5. Have a birthday party for Jesus!

Christmas is the birthday of Jesus. Therefore, celebrate! Find someway to have a birthday party for Jesus. If you have children, then you may want to invite them to help you make a cake for Jesus (or brownies or cookies). Put a candle on the cake. Sing “Happy Birthday.”  For all of us, we can give Jesus a gift. Whenever you go to a birthday party, you usually bring a gift. So, think about what you can give Jesus this year in order to celebrate Him. Along with this, write Him a card. Take the time to write down all the ways He has blessed you and express your joy and love to Jesus on His birthday. Whatever you can do to celebrate will reinforce the fact that Christmas is all about Jesus in your home.

During the “most wonderful time of the year,” make sure that Jesus is prioritized in your home. Don’t let the Christ of Christmas get lost, but be proactive in establishing the prominence of Christ and watch the impact as the love, joy and peace of Christ comes alive in your family and friends.

Merry Christmas!

The Wrapping Station

Several years ago, we were in our worship planning time for Christmas talking about how to best share the Good News of Christ with people who do not yet know Him. We talked about having great Sunday morning worship experiences, and even a wonderful Christmas Eve service. However, it quickly dawned on a few of us that if people are far from God, then they would probably not be at our church services. Much like God making the incredible birth announcement of the Messiah to a bunch of shepherds, we thought “Where are people who don’t go to church at Christmas?” Then, it hit us – the Mall!

While we may know that Christmas is about Jesus – He is the “Christ” in Christmas – most people just think it is a great time to buy family and friends gifts in order to tell them that they are special. Therefore, we figured most people will be at the mall buying gifts for those they love. What better place to go meet people and share with them the Good News that the greatest Gift of all has come to us! As the angel told the shepherds, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10

We then went to the mall to ask if we could set-up a table and wrap gifts for free. At first, the mall management was reluctant. They had people before who charged for wrapping – $5, $20 even $50 a gift! They were pretty skeptical that we wanted to do it for free. And they also thought we would not staff it or make it look nice. In fact, they were a little discouraging. They made us pay the full-price for a “kiosk” rental area for the month and they put us “out of the way” where it was hard to find. However, by God’s grace, they let us do this, and we were excited!

The first year we arrived at the Cool Springs Galleria on Black Friday with our six-foot table, some wrapping paper, and a few amazing volunteers. We had no idea what we were getting into (I think God does that on purpose). For the next 27 days, we wrapped gift after gift after gift. We ran out of paper, out of table, out of bows, and out of boxes. We would replenish and keep going. It was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time!13588_10152062921268879_227628771_n 1486797_10152065482398879_429981064_n

People could not believe it was free. When we would finish wrapping they would ask, “How much?” and we would respond, “It is free. We have received the Gift of Christ at Christmas, and this is our way to give a gift back to you.” They looked at us like we were crazy. :) Some people would throw down money (which we would kindly give back). Others would thank us profusely and tell us how much it meant. Others would go to the cookie store and bring back cookies for us. Still others would ask us questions about “why?” and this would lead to spiritual conversations! Praying with people in the center of the the mall became a regular occurrence.

The first year was so amazing that the mall asked us to come back the next year. They even waved the fee for the kiosk and gave us prime real estate outside of the food court. The response, they told us, was overwhelming with how much people appreciated this service and how they couldn’t believe it was a church.1800481_10152861813868879_2958857167628369387_n

Now, going on our fourth year, the Wrapping Station has become a huge part of the way we engage our community for Christ at Christmas. We wrap gifts from Black Friday to Christmas Eve, and last year we literally wrapped over 25,000 gifts for free. Our people at Rolling Hills are so full of joy and grace, and they love serving Christ and our community. We have a video each year to get people excited as we go to share the love of Christ with others. I love God’s church, and I love seeing God make a difference in the lives of others for His glory through His people.

As I heard someone say recently, “If you go fishing, you need to go where the fish are.” Yes! If we are to share the love of Christ with others, we need to go to them. We cannot sit back and think that everyone will come to us. There is a world in need and Jesus told His disciples to “Go!” (Great Commission). In our lives, are we actively sharing the love of Christ with those who do not yet know Him? This starts in our home, our neighborhood, our city and throughout our world. It is Christ who transforms lives, and our call is to share His Good News. Let’s ask God to use us today for His glory!