Jazgul

I cannot recall the first time I actual met Jazgul. In my mind, it seems I have always know her. Every trip to Moldova, she is there. This quiet, unassuming, smart and kind girl who personifies the heart of Jesus. From the orphanage to the Grace House (our Transitional Living Home), Jazgul is simply a part of our extended family in this country we love.

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While I cannot recall first meeting Jazgul, I do remember the first time I heard her story. Jazgul’s story is heart-wrenching. When she was very young, her dad abandoned her and her sisters. After this, her mom tried to sell her and sisters, but at the train station she found that she was 10 lei short (about $3) for the train ticket. After this, she starved them until, by God’s grace, someone found out and they were able to go to the orphanage. Each time she has shares her story with a team or an individual, her voice quietens and her head falls.

Jazgul then shares how she would lay in bed at night in the orphanage and wonder what would happen to her. Children in Moldova have to leave the orphanage after 9th grade (about 15 to 16 years old). This is why the statistics are staggering about girls trafficked into prostitution, boys in organized crime and suicide. Little did Jazgul know that a Sovereign God was looking out for her, and He was raising up help for her in the form of a young woman from America.

When Ingrid first went to Moldova, many years ago, there was an instant connection with Jazgul. Ingrid had recently graduated college. She was actively involved in church at Rolling Hills, and went on this mission trips to Moldova not knowing what to expect. After meeting Jazgul, she immediately knew God brought them together. Jazgul needed a sponsor, so Ingrid called her parents and asked if they would help her do it.

It has been such a joy to watch their relationship blossom over the years. Ingrid, and her parents, sponsored Jazgul when she was in the orphanage. They then helped her apply and be accepted into the Grace House. They stepped up their sponsorship each year for her stay there. Once in the Grace House, Jazgul had a great place to live, and she heard the Gospel clearly. Jazgul gave her life to Christ, and she has never been the same. After two years in the Transitional Living program, Jazgul became one of the associate leaders of the program and began discipling the other girls in the faith. Jazgul also learned English and, this past summer, she led the other Transitional Living boys and girls as they went back into the orphanages to share the love of Christ.

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While Jazgul was faithfully serving there, Ingrid, and her now wonderful husband Dustin, were spending time raising money and filing out paperwork for Jazgul to come to the States to study. Jazgul passed her test, and she was accepted into Lipscomb University, where she has now started classes! When she arrived in the States a few weeks ago, she couldn’t believe it was really happening. She said, “All those nights in the orphanage, who would have ever believed I would one day be studying in America.”

Sometimes people think, “The needs are so overwhelming, I can’t make a difference.” You are right, the needs are overwhelming. The fact is, we cannot do everything, but we can all do something. This is life-change. This is Jesus working to redeem and to restore for His glory. I remember hearing Andy Stanley once say, “Do for one what you would like to do for everyone.” In whom are you investing? I am so thankful for Ingrid, and I stand in awe of a God who loves so well through those who are willing.

Two summers ago when Elena, the girl Lisa and I sponsor, got married, Jazgul was her maid of honor. This past summer, Jazgul was on my team and led worship at our Camp in Carpeni. I have watched Jazgul grow up, and God has an incredible plan for her life. She is so special to me, and I know she is a miracle from God. This note arrived in the mail just the other day.

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We can’t do everything, but we can all do something!

If you would like to sponsor a child, visit justiceandmercy.org. For only $40 a month, you can make the difference in the life of a child just like Jazgul. God used Ingrid, and God wants to use each of us. Thank you for investing in loving the broken and forgotten of the world. Lives are being saved both physically and spiritually for His glory!

Celebrating Life-Change

Children’s faces were pressed up against the glass. Hundreds stood around trying to peer into the area where the mother of four stood in the water. This was the culmination of a long journey, and at the same time the beginning of another. The first journey was difficult, so she stood with a sense of fatigue, but the new journey ahead was so invigorating that at the same time her face radiated joy. As 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone, and the new has come.” We were witnessing a holy moment. The passing of the “old” – sin, doubt and shame, and the birth of the “new” – grace, forgiveness and love. The woman in the water had recently given her life to Christ, and her baptism served as a beautiful outward expression of this amazing, deep inward faith in her Lord Jesus!

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Life-change. It never gets old. Seeing people’s lives transformed by the grace of God. Seeing people come alive on the inside, and then marveling at the transformation that comes on the outside. The joy, the love, the peace – only Jesus! I love this! I am addicted to seeing lives changed by the love of Christ.

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As we celebrated baptism the other night, life-change was so evident. An older brother stood in the water and baptized his sister. The little sister had been adopted into their physical family, and now she was adopted into our spiritual family. Life-change. A dad stepped into the water to baptize his daughter as his dad stood at the glass and watched. His dad had baptized him many years ago. Life-change. And, life-change impacts generations. Another mom was baptized as her little girls danced and cheered, “You did it, Mommy!” “I am so proud of you!”

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They kept coming. One-by-one more and more people entered the waters. Life-change. An amazing woman from our Small Group. Her and her husband (and two daughters) have been a part of our Group for two-years. I have had a front-row seat to see Life-change happen. Jesus has radically transformed her life, and the joy radiated from her face. She even whet on a mission trip to Moldova this summer – pushing past her fear, and allowing Christ to use her. She wrote, “I am so excited to be a follower of Christ, and I cannot wait to see what defining moment He has in store for me next.”

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The last one in the water was a girl named Maria. I first met Maria in an orphanage in Moldova two years ago. She was blind, lonely and scared. A family, Steve & Lynn, in our church brought her to the States. She had eye-surgery with Dr. Wang. And, through it all, she met Jesus. I kept thinking in my mind of Amazing Grace – “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I am found, was blind but now I see.” Life-change – physical and spiritual transformation. With tears in her eyes she went under the water, “dying to your old way of life,” and she came up out of the water, “raised to walk in a new life.” As with everyone else, the place erupted. Cheers for God’s transforming love. After Maria stepped out of the water, there were lots of hugs. And, then, came the birthday cake. It was her 16th birthday, and she has never had a birthday party. Hundreds of people joined in singing, “Happy Birthday to you!” Physical birth and spiritual birth – new creation in Christ!

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Life-change. Thank You, Father!

Sabbatical

The word “sabbatical” comes from the Hebrew word, “Shabbat” which literally means “ceasing.” The root is from Genesis 2 where God created for six days, and then He “rested” on the seventh. Throughout the Old Testament, there is this call to “rest” – Remember the Sabbath (Shabbat) day by keeping it holy. (Exodus 20:8). Leviticus 25 talks about the “Sabbath Year,” and this leads to the Year of Jubilee (every 7th Sabbath year). God created work and productivity, but God also created His “rest.” What is amazing is that more and more businesses and corporations are realizing the importance of this concept for the well-being of their people. In looking at the business and educational communities, you see more and more “sabbatical” times scheduled for the long-term tenure and success of people.
When we started as a church, we wanted this to be a part of our long-term strategy. Obviously, every “Sabbath” is a work-day for our pastoral staff; therefore, Saturday becomes our personal “Shabbat” as we work to provide “Shabbat” to othes on Sundays. In addition, we established in our personnel policy to provide pastoral staff an extended (one-month) sabbatical after an extended time of service. For the past four-weeks, I have been on sabbatical, and it has been a great time of ceasing and rest. I am so thankful for this time and for the support of our staff team.
Here’s what sabbatical did for me:
  1. Extended time with The Lord – Every day I spend time praying and reading God’s Word. This is foundational for me; it is how I start my day. However, I always battle my mind being filled with things I need to do. As a pastor, I spend a lot of time studying the Word of God. However, to sit, meditate and contemplate becomes challenging with the many demands on my time and needs around me. Sabbatical offered an amazing opportunity to spend time with my Heavenly Father; to listen, pray, contemplate and be overwhelmed  by His Presence. I connect with The Lord in the stillness and quiet, but also in nature (seeing His beauty). During my sabbatical, we were able to travel. I saw the magnificent majesty of God in His sunsets, oceans, mountains, rainbows, trees (a “rainbow eucalyptus” tree is incredible), animals (sea turtles, monk seals, alligators, spinner dolphins, macaws, and more). I love my Daddy! I love being with Him – listening, laughing, pouring my heart out and simply feeling His giant arms enveloping me. I am blessed!photo6photo3
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  2. Meaningful time with my family – Sabbatical was an amazing opportunity to spend time with my beautiful wife and three amazing daughters. Fact is, someone else can pastor the church, but only I can be the husband to my wife and the father to my girls. We had an amazing time together! There is something about pouring into your kids. Praying with them and over them. Reading books. Talking about life. Seeing creation. Grace, my 10 year-old, and I did a five hour kayak and hiking trip to a waterfall. We came home to celebrate Mabry who turned 8 years-old. 13 little girls filled our house, and we thanked God for friends. And, Kate, our 5 year-old, learned to swim in the deep end. Kate loves jumping off rocks into the arms of her daddy. I love my family! I love being with them, watching them grow, and teaching them about God & His Word. I love my parents and seeing them connect with their grandchildren. And, I love the amazing people God has put in our lives that are our church family. Praying for our church family friends while we are away as well as processing conversations during the time was so refreshing.photo2photo4 photo5
  3. Intentional time to contemplate the “Big Picture” – So often we spend our lives in routine; things have to be done. As a pastor, I spend my time on the pressing needs; from e-mails to hospitals to counseling, ministry is non-stop. These are all important. However, for the sabbatical, I attempted to pull out of the day-to-day and to focus on the big picture. This allowed me to pray and to process. “As a church, Rolling Hills, are we doing what God has called us to do?,” “What are the next steps for us, as His Body?,” “In missions, through JMI, are we making an eternal difference for the Kingdom?” These are some of the questions I asked. God definitely revealed some new thoughts and ideas, but overall it was really a time of affirmation of His blessing and work. In fact, I am more excited about what God is doing today at Rolling Hills and in JMI than ever before! After all the tremendous blessings on the past eleven years, I truly believe the best days are yet ahead.
Overall, I am thankful for my time of sabbatical. Time to rest and cease is important not only weekly, but throughout our life’s journey. I am committed to Christ for the long-haul. I want to “run the race marked out for me” (Hebrews 12:1-3) well and for His glory! Also, I am thankful for our amazing staff team and church family who encourage and support me as I endeavor to lead and love well.
I encourage you to examine your life. Do you need a sabbatical? Maybe it is only a day or a week, but make sure you find time to experience all God has for you.
Blessings on you today!

 

My Hero

On July 9, 2014, we lost our dear friend and RHCC Partner, Sara Ezell. We were honored to share in the life that she lived and had the opportunity to hold her Celebration of Life Service here at RHCC.

We celebrate the life of an incredible woman of God. While we all have heavy hearts and will miss her deeply, Sara brought so much joy and hope to all of our lives. We want to thank our God for a life well lived.

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Sara was born November 11, 1971. At 7 lbs, she was diagnosed with Osteogenesis Imperfecta – a very rare bone disorder sometimes called Brittle Bone disease. Though the diagnosis looked grim, Sara overcame every challenge sent her way. She graduated from Vanderbilt as Magna Cum Laude and received her Master’s degree in Special Education with a 4.0 average. Sara began working with children with disabilities and served as Disabilities Services Coordinator for VU students. She grew up attending First Baptist in Downtown Nashville, where she became very involved in the singles and children’s ministry before joining Rolling Hills. At RHCC, she taught three-year-olds each week.

Sara generously gave of her time to others and lived life to the fullest. We love her very much- ash she will be missed. But she is not gone. We’ll see her again in Heaven. But, for now, we celebrate the years God gave her on earth and how we cherish the difference she made in our lives. She taught us that joy is a choice. Happiness is an emotion, but true joy comes from the Lord.

As we prepared for her celebration service, it was overwhelming to see so many touching Facebook posts about how Sara impacted others lives for Christ. Gina, Sara’s cousin, posted this:

“Heaven has gained one of the brightest angels ever, my sweet cousin, Sara! Her entire life, while racked with unimaginable pain and difficulty, was a testament to the fact that you must always choose JOY! And she did! Every day! I will miss that about her, along with the best giggle this side of heaven! While I ams sad for those of us left behind to remember you, I am comforted to know that you are in heaven, dancing and laughing and experiencing perfect healing! A great reunion with our grandparents and with my mom must have been a sight to see! I love you Sara! In your memory I will continue to live my life in JOY! Thanks for sharing your life with us! Rest in peace until we meet again!”

Sara lived a life of Joy. I never heard her complain. Even though we all knew she was suffering, she never made life about her, but always laughed, smiled and gave joy to others. One of Sara’s last Facebook posts said this:

“26th H.S Reunion Saturday nite! I just need to cover the grey, marry a hot guy and birth a couple of kids in 4 days! NO PROB!”

As I reflect on Sara’s life, there are really 6 things that Sara loved…

1. Jesus!

When Sara accepted Christ, she never looked back. She had a close, intimate walk with her Savior. The joy of the Lord was her strength. She wanted to be baptized as a public expression of her faith in Christ- and while we didn’t know how to exactly go about it, she was determined. We shared in her baptism and it was such a special moment. She loved Jesus so much and wanted everyone to know!

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2. Family!

Sara loved everyone… but especially her nieces and nephew- Abigail, Evelyn, Gabriel and Madison. Her mom, dad, brothers and sister-in-laws were near and dear to her heart. Suzanne- great job! Chase and Jason- she loved you both so much. One of Sara’s last posts on Facebook was about you two:

“To the two men I know and love as fantastic fathers: Jason Ezell and Chase Ezell, Happy Father’s Day!”

Her family cared so much about her that they even went to the lengths to have a Benefit Concert to help pay off the remainder of her condo. Everyone worked together and we saw God provide in an incredible way. Chase told me when I was at the hospital that, “She was a gift to us. I am the man I am today because of Sara.”

3. Friends

Sara was a great friend. She was a bridesmaid in more weddings than I can count. People loved Sara because she loved so well!

4. Her church

I can’t imagine Rolling Hills without Sara. She has been here from the beginning. In fact, she was leading VBS last week and was at church this past Sunday. When Chase called to tell me that she was in ICU, we were so shocked because we had seen her just days before. Sara loved church… she was always present and involved, with no excuses. She became part of the launch team for the South Nashville campus, which showed even further that she was invested and involved in every aspect of the church. To honor Sara, we’ve decided that we will somehow dedicate the new preschool space to Ms. Sara. She loved her preschoolers dearly and poured into them each and every week. We are so thankful to have seen a life lived for service.

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5. Vandy

Sara was also passionate about her education. She graduated Cum Laude in her undergrad, and graduated with a perfect GPA for her Masters from Peabody. Following her graduation, she was hired by Vandy. I remember that she and I would compare notes on Sunday during football season-  and how perfect that Vandy won their first national championship this year for her to see!

6. Children

If you were to sum up Sara’s life and love, it would be with this word. Sara loved children. She taught all three of my girls, and they loved Ms. Sara! She loved serving with kids and teaching them about Jesus. She was just at VBS last week serving at our Backyard Kids Clubs in South Nashville. There were countless letters and stories that we have heard about Sara over the years, but I received this letter from a friend named Sarah after hearing about Sara’s passing:

Sara was such a blessing in our life. We didn’t meet Sara until we started working in the Children’s ministry at RHCC South Nashville. When South Nashville began, our son, Evan, was 2 years old and very rowdy. He was in Sara’s class. The class ages ranged from 2 to 5 and many weeks he was the only boy. He and Sara became fast friends. She would talk to him about dinosaurs and Star Wars. They would play light sabers with their fingers and she would play his favorite game of chase. She cared deeply for Evan, talking to me about his behavior and any bumps or bruises he may have had. As you know, motivating an almost 3 year-old to do anything is hard. Many times in the morning to encourage him to get ready for church, after trying so many other things, we would say “you get to see Ms. Sara!” He would jump up, run to the door, and be so excited to go to church. Sometimes at night, he would crawl up in my lap and ask to see pictures of Ms. Sara (pronounced Sawa) on Facebook. Evan loved Sara and will miss her very much. We will too.

In 2007, we were praying about where to move from the movie theater. We did an initiative called “Wildest Dreams” in which we asked people to write their Wildest Dreams for God’s church and in their lives. Here is an excerpt of what Sara wrote:

I want to communicate to young children (and everyone, I suppose) that they are fearfully and wonderfully made and that God picked THEM for a specific purpose that ONLY THEY have! Why would we not worship a God like that!??!

We can rest knowing that Sara is alive and well. She has traded her old body for a glorious new one. I’m sure she’s dancing in heaven, with children and angels alike! We celebrate with you, Sara. You lived your days well. Now you’ve seen Jesus face to face and have heard these words we long to hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant, enter into your rest.”IMG_0945

Praise God for the life of Sara Ezell and all we learned from her. Our lives are richer and deeper because of her. May we be inspired to never give up and know that nothing is impossible!

Multiplying Ministry

“You all are making a big difference,” said our Moldovan van driver. Boris has been our van driver ever since we started coming to Moldova about eleven years ago. He has served with us in the orphanages, learned English, and watched the ministry through the years. Boris served in the Russian army. He loves Jesus, he is a husband, a father, and a partner in ministry. He has had a front-row seat for impact on the orphan and vulnerable children of his country.

As a church, we have been serving in Moldova since our first year as a church plant – eleven years ago. Six years ago, we began a non-profit, Justice and Mercy International, in order to do a greater work in Moldova, the Amazon, South Africa and other places in the world. Yet, when we began this work, we all had very little idea of what God would truly accomplish for His glory.

One of the greatest miracles of JMI is the Transitional Living program. Last year, by God’s grace we were able to purchase a house in the capital of Moldova that we use as a Transitional Living Home for girls. It is a huge, beautiful home that is immeasurably more than we could have ever dreamed or imagined. In addition, we have a home for boys as well.

Children in the orphanages have to leave at age 15 or 16. They “graduate,” but they have nowhere to go. This is when girls are most vulnerable to be trafficked. The statistics are both staggering and heart-breaking. In addition, the boys are just as vulnerable. Many end up in organized crime, prison or committing suicide. This is where JMI does its greatest work. Children that are sponsored are assisted by our staff team of social workers, psychologists, social assistants to enroll in further schooling (high school), trade school, apprenticeships, and jobs. In addition, many can apply to be a part of the Transitional Living program.

Today, JMI (Justice and Mercy International) has work in eleven different orphanages in Moldova. Over 300+ orphan and vulnerable children are being sponsored, and almost 40 children are a part of our Transitional Living program and Graduate sponsorships. In the Transitional Living Home, students enter into a two-year program. They are disciple in Christ, enrolled in school, taught English and prepared for leadership.

This week, the impact of the Transitional Living was incredibly evident. Over the past three years of the program, these young leaders accompany our teams to lead Camps at the orphanages and the villages. This week, we had a group of the Transitional Living kids with us, and they were amazing! They led the singing part of the worship times and the dramas, shared their testimonies, helped in Bible Study, and assisted in crafts, music, recreation and life-skills. They were incredible! Their passion for the Lord was contagious, and the kids took to them with unbelievable joy. God worked in them and through them in a mighty way.photo3

Next week, our Transitional Living guys and girls are leading their first-ever Camp in a village. They have planned the worship times, the dramas, the Bible Studies, the crafts, and every other aspect. They are hosting, leading and making it happen. They have been trained for three years and now they are doing it. Wow!

This is what is so exciting to me. This is multiplying the ministry and seeing lives transformed in the process. These are the future leaders of the Moldova. The future pastors, teachers, JMI Moldovan staff team members, government officials and more. It is awesome to see what God is doing.

As Jazgul, one of our Transitional Living girls, who was just accepted into Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee said to our group on the last night, “I would have never dreamed when I laid in the orphanage in my 9th grade year knowing that I had to leave and had nowhere to go that God would bring me to Grace House allow me to meet Jesus and you all and now go to study in the States. God is so good to me.” Yes!

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Our JMI Sponsored Child

Sponsoring an orphan changes lives – the life of the precious child being sponsored, and the one who does the sponsoring. After the girl we sponsored with JMI graduated from the Grace House and, by God’s grace, married an amazing godly man, Lisa and I wanted to sponsor another child. We knew we would continue to help Elena, our previous sponsored child, for a few years to aid in the transition of being married and renting an apartment.

We have sponsored Daniella in Moldova for over a year, but I had never met her. We send e-mails to Daniella through our JMI Sponsorship Director, and I know she is being taken care of with food and clothes. Daniella is 6 years-old. It is obvious that she has something wrong with one eye. She seems to be able to see, but one eye is severely cross-eyed. Since we were doing Camp with children in her village this year, I was really excited about serving in her village and meeting her for the first time.

The first day at the Camp, I realized that Daniella was not there. Alina found out from some of the other kids that Daniella was staying with her grandmother in a remote village for the summer. The orphanage closes each summer for two months. The kids go to be with any relative possible, teacher or foster family that will take them. The government pays a modest $1 a day for whoever will take them in for the two months while they do repairs and maintenance to the orphanage.

Alina, our National Director, found out where the village was located…we were on a mission to find our girl. After Camp on the second day, Boris, our driver and friend, drove us to the village. Along the way, we passed many horses and buggies, ducks, geese, sheep, goats, and even had to wait as a herd of unsupervised cows decided to cross the road. We drove as far as we could but because the roads were so bad, we had to walk. Boris, our van driver and friend, Alina, our JMI National Director in Moldova, and I were on a mission. We walked washed out roads looking for this little girl’s grandmother’s home. We knocked on random gates and asked people if they knew where this 6 year-old was living. We were determined to find Daniella.

Finally, we come upon a house with a woman and some kids sitting on the porch. Alina asked the woman if they knew the girl. There was a little boy who responded he did, and his mom told him to go with us and show us the way. We followed this young boy until we came to the gate behind which was a scene I will never forget.

We peered over the fence and into the yard. There were ducks and geese everywhere alongside chickens. There was a dog chained up and barking. There were a few plants growing and a broken down outhouse. The little boy yelled for the grandmother and here she came – traditional Moldovan dress, head covered with a scarf and appearing to be in late 50’s, but looking much older. Alina told her who we were, and that I was Daniella’s sponsor and she lit up. She welcomed us and pulled the piece of wire from the fence post in order to open the gate and let us in. She called out who we were, and a ten or twelve year-old boy came out of the house, but he was soon passed by a running Daniella.

photo1When Danilla saw us, she stopped. She hid behind her grandmother. She would peer around at us with her one good eye and her one cross-eye. The grandmother invited us into the home. It was unlike I had ever seen. No electricity or running water (we had left the van by a well that I am assuming the entire village uses). We sat on a bed in a room that was only wide enough for two twin beds. There was another room, about the same size with a table, which was the kitchen (no stove or refrigerator), and another bed. The grandmother said she and Daniella slept together and Gheroge slept on the other.

As we talked, Daniella warmed up. She climbed into Alina’s lap and just wanted to be held. The grandmother shared how her husband died of cancer 14 years ago, and she was alone. I asked about Daniella’s mom, and she began to cry. She said that the mom had gone to Moscow after Daniella was born (we wonder if she was trafficked as she looked for work). She came back about two years ago. She was home for a week, and then they found her hung. Gheroge found her. There has never been a dad in the picture, so the grandmother said she is alone trying to take care of these kids. They live at the orphanage, but in the summers they are hers. She wept and we wept. Daniella held on tighter.

They brought out a few pictures to show us – one of Daniella’s mom standing by herself and then one of Daniella’s mom in a casket taken at her funeral. Daniella crawled into my lap and still held on to one of Alina’s hands. We asked if we could pray, and there in that little house we felt the Presence of God surround us as we prayed for this grandmother and these two precious children.

By this time, it was getting late. We had the van, and the team needed to be picked up from dinner. We went outside and took a few pictures. Daniella would not let me put her down. She did not want us to go. We walked to the gate, and I tried handing her back to her grandmother. She said, “No.” Then, she told her grandmother that she wanted to go with us. The grandmother looked at us as if to say, “Will you please take her?” In my heart, I was saying “Yes. We will take her.” But, I knew we couldn’t. Adoption, if it was even open in Moldova, would take years not minutes. By this time, Alina is crying and I am as well. I tried again to hand her back to her grandmother, and Daniella held on tighter. Finally, I pulled her off of me and the grandmother held on to her. We walked out the gate as Daniella screamed in Romanian, “Please. I want to go with you. Please let me go!” We walked away with tears streaming down our faces.

As difficult as it was to leave Daniella, I am so thankful for the JMI sponsorship. Because of this, I know this young girl, her brother (who is also being sponsored by a JMI sponsor at our church), and this grandmother will have food and clothes. I know that we will be able to talk with her and keep up with her whereabouts. I know that she will have the potential of being in the JMI Transitional Living program after she has to leave the orphanage. But, I know, most of all, that our God has a hope and a future for her, and He has called me, and my family, to be a part of His redemptive plan for her life.

photoSponsoring an orphan child does change lives. There are so many orphans and vulnerable children, like Daniella, who are in need. Together, we can make a difference. I encourage you to get involved. I pray that everyone reading this will sponsor a child somewhere in the world. There are many Daniella’s that are calling out for help, and there is a loving God that longs for all of us to be a part of His redemptive story.

For more information on sponsoring an orphan or vulnerable child in Moldova, please go to the Justice & Mercy International website at www.justiceandmercy.org.

Summer Camp

I love Summer Camp! This past week our middle school, high school & older elementary school students experienced an amazing Summer Camp. It was our first-ever Summer Camp run by our church. Our Family Ministry team rented a campground in the foothills of North Georgia and ran two separate, but concurrent Camps: one for elementary and another for Middle School & High School students. I had the opportunity to go for a couple of days, and it was incredible to see God move among such amazing students!

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Summer Camp has always been a big part of my spiritual journey with the Lord, from the time when I was a young camper attending Summer Camps in Texas. Then, I became a Student Pastor and began leading camps in Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and Georgia. Now as a Lead Pastor, I have the privilege to help lead a Summer Camp experience for orphans in Moldova once a year, as well as support our Family Ministry Staff as they lead our Rolling Hills students to Camp. As I reflect on the power of this one special week a year in my life and in the lives of others, here are a few reasons why I love Summer Camp, and a few things I believe we can all learn:

1. God moves

When I was in the 9th grade, I was at our church’s Summer Camp in the hill country of Texas. Following an evening worship time, I went to a chapel alone to pray. While there, I felt the overwhelming Presence of God, Himself. I remember hearing God “calling me to ministry.” I was not sure what that meant, but I remember saying to Him, “God, whatever you want me to do, I am yours.” I was weeping, and it was a total surrender moment. Years later I still look back on that defining time in my spiritual journey.

When students board the buses, all cell phones, iPads, iPods, DS, headphones, etc. are collected. They are given back at the end of the week, but I believe when the distractions are removed we can hear from God. I believe God is always speaking to us – encouraging us, reminding us of who we are in Him, challenging us to be who He called us to be, and even admonishing us on decisions we should make. The problem is, we can’t hear Him. We are so consumed with the distractions of the world. The noise of life blares in our ears and minds, and we cannot hear from the One who truly loves us. Removing the noise changes everything.

I love watching kids hear from God. I love watching them grow and become. There is power in those “holy moments” as the Creator of the Universe draws people to Himself. Life-change happens. It is such a privilege to watch this unfold. We simply become conduits of connecting students to the God who loves them more than they even love themselves.

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2. Relationships last

I still have the memories from my days as a camper because of the relationships. There is a common bond that is formed at Camp. Some of my closest childhood friends came from Summer Camp. We share this bond of Christ and His movement in our lives. Other kids and adults that I do not see anymore since the Camp days, are still people God used to shape my life.

Being around godly children and students makes a huge difference. We all understand, “You are known by the company you keep.” People have impacted my life along the way, and many of those came from Camp. Whether praying together and laughing through a pillow fight, God uses others to mold and shape us.

These are three things that are eternal – God, God’s Word and God’s People. Think about it – everything else will pass away. God will last, His Word, but also His people. Sometimes I think about Heaven being a giant Summer Camp. There will be amazing worship, there will be jobs for us to do, and there will be a lot of fun – all centered around God.

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3. You see God’s best in kids

We hear so much about what is wrong with society, but at Summer Camp you see the best! It doesn’t mean that everything is perfect and that no kid makes a mistake. But, I tell you that God is raising up a generation of children and students who love Him! At Camp, you see the passion in kids. You watch them worship their God, make life-transforming decisions for Christ, and love one another really well. It rekindles your joy for the future of His Church and the Kingdom. God is at work, and the future is bright. Now, there will be some incredible challenges facing these young disciples; however, you catch a glimpse of the power of God to change lives. I am so excited about the future here at Rolling Hills, as well as the Kingdom of Christ.

I love the kids and students here at Rolling Hills. I love that my children are growing up here. They have incredible leaders who are investing in them and wonderful friends who are helping them follow Christ. The best days are still ahead, and I am so thankful to be along for the ride with our Father.

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Now, here’s what we can learn and apply each day - 

1. Carve out time to hear from God

You don’t have to go to Summer Camp to hear from God, but you do have to get away from the distractions. You hear from God at Summer Camp because you are away from the “noise” of this world. We must figure out time each day to do this. Our prayer should not be, “God speak to me.” God is already speaking to us! Our prayer should be, “God, open my ears so I can hear You.” This happens as we turn things off and listen.

2. Build Relationships

Relationships are what will last. We become so consumed with work and things, but it is God and His people who will last for eternity. People matter. Each day, look at the people God has put around you, and think about the relationships that are being formed. Reach out to a godly friend and thank them today.

3. Invest in the next generation

God is moving in the children and students around you, so let’s all join God in what He is doing. If you are not going to a Camp this summer, then please pray for those who are. Can you volunteer to teach in children and/or student ministry? Can you sponsor a child to go to Summer Camp? What can you and I do to fan into flame what God is doing in this next generation? Get involved and watch God work through you for HIs glory!

Thank you, Father, for Summer Camp!

Generations

We are all leaving a legacy for generations. Whether we think about it or not, we are all making a difference for those we are around now, but also those who will come behind us. The question becomes, “What legacy are we leaving for generations to follow?”

In Genesis 2, God created man. Then, in verse 18, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” God created Eve for Adam. Verse 25 tell us, “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” There was amazing intimacy in their relationship with each other and with God. Being fully known and fully accepted.

However, after Genesis 2 comes Genesis 3 recording the Fall. Man sins. They felt shame. They covered themselves, and they tried to hide from God. Sin impacted their relationships now, but also their future relationships. In Genesis 4, Adam and Eve had two children – Cain and Able. One day, Cain and Able brought offerings to the Lord. The Lord accepted Able’s offering because Able had brought his best, but God rejected Cain’s offering since Cain simply brought his leftovers. Instead of making things right with God, Cain turns and kills his brother.

What we begin to see unfold is generational sin. Cain never stopped to repent. He commits the sin he learned from his parents, and he even began to pass it on. In Genesis 5:17, we see “Cain lay with his wife, and she became pregnant…” Generations. Sin being passed on. No one stepping up, confessing, repenting and breaking the cycle. So much so, that in Genesis 5:19, Lamech (Cain’s great-great-great-great grandson), “married two women…” The generational sin of desiring self-gratification over God’s way. This was never God’s intention – murder, polygamy, pride. Sin was being passed to the generations.

Maybe in your personal family history, you can see generational sin being passed. Every family has history. Maybe there is alcoholism that defines your family. Or adultery. Or anger. Some families are mired in this. It has been passed on, almost becoming an excuse. “Well, that is just the way we are.” “This is what happens in our family.” However, it doesn’t have to be like this. You and I have a decision to make. Do we continue the generational cycle, or do we confess, repent and find God’s redemption and grace. God can break generational sin.

Genesis 4:25 reads, “Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, ‘God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.’  Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.  At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord.” While Cain did not repent, Adam and Eve did. They determined to raise a new generation. How powerful to read, “At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord.”

Whatever has happened in the past is past. You learn from your past, but you determine your future – and your future generations. It is not easy, but it possible through Christ. There can be healing, redemption and restoration.

Now, look at the generations. From Adam’s line through Seth, there are 10 generations to Noah. Listen to what it says about Noah in Genesis 6:8-9“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord…Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” In spite of the sin of man’s disobedience, God was at work redeeming and restoring. God was making all things new.

This can happen in your life and in your family. Will you take time today to confess any generational sin in your life? Will you put a stop to it, and not allow it to pass on through you to generations to come? Think about the legacy you are passing on to those who are coming behind you. What difference are you making? Our God is faithful, and He will accomplish His purposes. Trust Him and be faithful – not just for now, but for your generations.

Raising Godly Children

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

As a parent, there is no greater privilege or responsibility than to raise our children up in the Lord. However, this calling seems to be more and more challenging considering the world in which we live today. As Deuteronomy 6 calls us, “impress these [commandments of God] upon your children.” Among all the demands on our time and everything that clamors for our attention, how do we accomplish this God-given calling effectively?

How do we raise godly children?

1. Give your child a solid spiritual foundation.

Many parents “outsource” their parenting. They defer to the church, to their child’s school, or even their sports teams to raise their children. While these groups and people can come around parents to help raise children, the spiritual foundation of a child needs to be the priority of the parent. The Church comes alongside parents in raising godly children, but ultimately this is the parent’s responsibility. As parents, we must model for our children how to follow Christ. We need to teach our children how to pray, read God’s Word, worship and serve others. This takes time and intentionality. When do we do this? As Deuteronomy 6 says, “Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” In other words, in every spare moment speak grace and truth into your children. More so than being a good basketball player, gymnast or soccer player, we want our kids to know Jesus so that whatever happens in life, they have a solid foundation in Christ.

2. Create memories.

After talking about this on Sunday, a family went home and had a giant mud slide in their front yard. Today they showed me pictures of neighborhood kids covered in mud and smiling from ear to ear. They said, “We were creating memories!” I love this. Fact is, we all have a limited amount of time with our kids. You can always have grass in the front yard when you are retired, but for now – enjoy it! Take vacations. Go places that your kids will remember. It doesn’t have to expensive, just be together. In your own life, what do you remember about growing up? What sticks out to you? Church camp, mission trips and youth group are a huge part of my memories. As parents, making sure our kids are at church and around godly kids is important to create friendships and Christ-covered memories. Now is your chance to help create memories for your kids that will last forever.

3. Discipline children in love.

Kids need boundaries. As parents, we need to help our children find those boundaries. Maybe there are a lot of grey areas for us, but kids are concrete operational thinkers who are not dealing in the abstract. They need to know where the boundaries are, so that they can (and will) test them. You always discipline out of love, never out of anger. Discipline means “I care.” In fact, the Scriptures tell us, “The Lord disciplines those He loves” (Hebrews 12:6). This is a challenging aspect as a parent, but one that is so important if we are to raise godly kids.

4. You!

Along with God’s gracious hand, you are the most important person in a child’s life. Your children need you. Discipleship is more caught than taught. Little eyes are watching everything we do. Being a parent requires personal sacrifice and even career sacrifice. However, it is worth it. We need to provide for our kids financially, but just as much emotionally and spiritually. Being present in their life is important. Your child needs to know that they are more important than your job or your cell phone. We only have a few years to make an incredible impact, so let’s carve out time and do it together. At some point read Deuteronomy 6:6-9, and see how many times it says, “you” or “your.” May God fill us with His Holy Spirit and allow us to be fully present in the lives of our children.

This verse in Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it” is such an incredible promise. Though our kids may take a round-about way in life – they will ultimately come back to the foundation that is laid in their life. That foundation is being laid right now by you. Praise God for His Sovereignty. We can’t mess up. We yield ourselves to Christ first, and then allow His Spirit to work through us in the lives of our children. Let’s raise godly children together.

Mother’s Day

On this Mother’s Day weekend, I am so thankful for my mom and my wife. God has blessed me with these two amazing women in my life. First of all, my mom is one of the most godly women ever. She raised me and my sister while teaching college full-time. She has always been active in church – leading, teaching, praying and serving. She loves Jesus, and she loves people with a joy that is contagious. I am so thankful for my mom!

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In addition, I am so thankful for my amazing wife. Lisa is an incredible mom! She loves our girls with incredible depth and consistency. Lisa prays for our girls, writes them notes in birthday books and lunch boxes, reads them stories and nurtures them faithfully in the Lord. Her love is a deep reservoir of grace and peace.Sun rays photo

Proverbs 31 talks about a godly woman. It goes through listing all the things a godly woman does, and the difference she makes in the lives of all she serves. This great passage of Scripture closes with vs. 28-31, “Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

I am a blessed man, and so are my three little girls. An incredible legacy of godliness is being passed on when one day my girls become “moms.” Today, I want to give my mom and my wife the praise they deserve!

For all the moms reading this – “Thank you!” You impact so many lives every day! Please know how much you are loved and celebrated both today and every day!

Happy Mother’s Day!