Embrace the Moments

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 4 C’s of a Diamond Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Ways to Raise Brave Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Developing a Healthy Work / Life Balance

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

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

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

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

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

Holy Week

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

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

Palm Sunday – The Triumphal Entry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday Evening – Jesus Anointed at Bethany

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

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

Wednesday – The Religious Leaders Plot to Kill Jesus

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

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

Thursday – The Last Supper and the Garden of Gethsemane

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

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

Thursday Night – Jesus’ Arrest & Trial

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

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

Friday – Jesus’ Crucifixion and Death

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

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

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

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

A Purple Slide

Seven years ago, our church was meeting in a movie theater. The movie theater was an amazing place and God moved in a mighty way; however, we knew we could not stay there for the long term. God was calling us to a new place – a “promise land” of sorts – that He was preparing for us. As His people, we prayed, we imagined and we believed.

During the year, we asked people to share their “Wildest Dreams” for God’s church. It was so exciting to hear people express dreams such as: “A place where people can immediately feel God’s Presence.” “A place where we are discipled in God’s Word and then sent out in missions all over the world.” “A place for preschoolers, children and students as we raise up the next generation in Christ.” “A place where we can do ministry in our community 7 days a week.” It was awesome hearing people share their “Wildest Dreams” for God’s church.

One Sunday morning as people were sharing their “Wildest Dreams” on video, someone asked my 3 year-old daughter, “What is your ‘Wildest Dream’ for God’s church?” My daughter, Grace, immediately responded, “A purple slide.” We all laughed, but she was serious. She even reiterated that she thought wherever we went there needed to be a purple slide.

The more we thought about it, the more we realized that God was speaking through her. “A purple slide” was not just an afterthought, it was God calling us to reach children, our community and to be a place where people have fun. “A purple slide” represented God’s heart for His church. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14. Along with this, one of our core values at Rolling Hills is “Joy.” Core Value #5 – “Church will be enjoyable. Joy will permeate everything we do.” What says this better than a purple slide?

God has provided us with an incredible building – more than our “Wildest Dreams!” A wonderful place in order to raise up fully mature disciples in Worship and the Word. A place for ministry 7 days a week. A place where you can truly feel God’s Presence. We even have tenants who pay for our mortgage.

This past Sunday at Rolling Hills, we opened our new Preschool, Children and Student space. This has been a huge undertaking, and God has been so gracious. Through the generosity of God’s people and His amazing blessing, we now have fantastic space dedicated to preschool, children and students. Multiple classrooms for children to learn the Word of God, little potties so teachers do not have to leave the room and can maximize learning time, stages for worship, TVs for curriculum and an incredible playground for children to just have fun coming to church! Thank You, Father!

And, like the cherry on top, God blessed us with “A purple slide.”

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Isn’t that just like God?! He always exceeds our expectations. He does, “immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine.” Ephesians 3:19. I love being on this journey with Him. Every day He is doing something new in your story and mine. Our God is awesome!

Now, my prayer is for all the children who play on this purple slide. Growing up, my family belonged to a great church. What made the church great is that the people loved Jesus, loved each other, focused on God’s Word and invested in kids. I am a product of their investment! It’s easy to just focus on adults (after all, they are the ones making the decisions and paying the bills), but the churches that invest in children are the ones impacting the future! The purple slide shows that children matter! Our God is our Father, and He is so generous to us. Even when we can do nothing in return, He graciously pours out His love! I pray for every child to be impacted with the love of Jesus! I pray for God to raise up a generation who will live their lives for Him! I pray for children to have “Wildest Dreams” for God’s church like “a purple slide.”

Daddy Daughter Ball

One of the highlights of my year is our annual “Daddy Daughter Ball.” It is amazing! Being the dad of three girls, this is one of the days I want to do really well. I love seeing them so happy and having so much fun! Now that my oldest is 10, I am realizing how quickly time flies. We all dress in our best, and we have a great time!

The girls start getting ready as soon as they get home. They curl their hair, paint their nails and put on their new dresses. When they are ready, I come to the door with flowers for each. We go to dinner together, and then off to the Ball.

This year’s theme for the Ball was “Winter Wonderland.” The decorations were amazing, and everyone looked beautiful! We danced for three hours (being the dad of three little girls, I never get a break :)). The girls laugh, twirl, and have an awesome time. After the dance, we go get ice cream and talk about how much fun we had. I love seeing them so happy.

One day soon, I know some hairy-legged boy is going to come knock on my door and ask to take one of my precious girls on a date. I pray I have set a high standard. I pray they know how a girl should be treated, and that they don’t settle for less. I tell them all the time to make sure whatever boy comes around to make sure he treats you well, and that he loves Jesus even more than you.

I love my girls! I hope they still want me to take them to the “Daddy Daughter Ball” even when they are 12, 15, 18 and 30. However, as their dad, I also know my job is to prepare them for the man God has for them one day. This means that I love them so well that they don’t have to try to find love in just any boy because they never received it at home. And, it also means that they don’t lower their standards, but that they are willing to wait for God’s perfect person for them. In addition, I do pray for the boys they will marry one day. I pray they treat the women in their lives with love and respect. I pray they are godly young men who one day, as God allows, will take my granddaughters to the “Daddy Daughter Ball.” And, if I am able, we can all be there dancing together :).

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3 Keys to being a Great Dad!

This week we launched the Men’s Leadership Network. Over the next 7 weeks, we will cover topics designed to help men grow. This first week’s topic was “How to be a Great Dad” and I interviewed Jeffrey Reed, the Director of LifeWay Kids. Jeffrey leads a large team at work and teaches/speaks about parenting across the country. Jeffrey is a great leader, friend and partner in ministry at church. Even more so, Jeffrey is a great dad! He has four amazing kids. You can see the entire interview below, but here are three keys that came out of our time to be a great dad:

1. Spend time with your Heavenly Father – Whether you grew up with a good earthly dad or not, we all have access to the perfect Heavenly Father. All of our earthly role-models in fatherhood are flawed. None of them are perfect. Even the earthly dads mentioned in the Bible made mistakes. And, the fact is, none of us are perfect either. We all make mistakes. When we do, we need to admit those mistakes, ask for forgiveness, learn from them, and move on. The more we grow in our relationship with our perfect Heavenly Father, the better dad we will be to our kids. We need patience, love and grace – all of which we receive from God.

There are times that we need to stop and pray – pray before we speak, before we discipline and even before we engage our kids. Every day as we pull into the driveway and before we walk into the house, we need to ask God to fill us with the same love that He has for us. We need to focus on God’s love and His grace. Time with our Heavenly Father every morning is the biggest key to becoming a great dad.

2. Schedule time with your kids – For most of us, our lives revolve around our calendars. If we don’t schedule it, then it’s not going to happen. So, we need to schedule the most important things first. Before all the meetings and extra-curricular activities, we must schedule time with our kids. Obviously, birthdays and holidays are important, but also things like, “Dinner at home tonight with the family.” Or, “Family Devotional on Sunday Evening.” These are important as well.

Our kids grow up fast. We do not have a lot of time. And, the fact is, everything competes for our time - from work, school, sports, to so much more, it seems we do not have time for much else. Yet, one day soon, our kids will be grown and gone from the home. Then, we will wish we did not “major in the minor” and miss the important.

Scheduling time is essential. Whether it’s a “Daddy / Daughter Date Night” or taking your son to a baseball game, it needs to be on your calendar. Even consider prioritizing a trip once a year with each child in order to have some special one-on-one time. Get this – as dads we work so hard to provide our kids with “stuff.” But, the fact is, your kids don’t want stuff – they want you! Scheduling time is another key to being a great dad.

3. Pray for and with your children – Maybe you are not one who likes to pray aloud. This is an area in which you can grow. Praying with your children at night or in the morning will become you most special time. Even simple prayers make a huge impact. Not only are we asking the Lord of All Creation to provide & protect our children, in the process of praying over them we are speaking blessing into their lives and precious hearts.

There is power in prayer. Praying for your children often will impact them, and it will impact you. Texting your child that you are praying for them will brighten their day. Telling them what you are praying will invoke courage in their souls and spirit. Our Heavenly Father invites us to pray. We want our kids to know that we love them, but even more we want we them to know that God loves them. God will be with them throughout their lives. As dads, we want to always be pointing them to their Heavenly Father.

These three keys will help us be great dads! And, here’s a bonus: Love your wife well. We are demonstrating to our kids what marriage looks like. The way we love our spouse will impact their dating life, how they love today and in the future, and will shape so much of who they are. Handling conflict in a healthy way, being faithful in the hard times, and loving consistently will develop strong emotional lives for our kids.

We only have a few years with our kids at home. Let’s make the most of this time, and let’s become great dads!

 

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!

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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 www.justiceandmercy.org 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.

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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.
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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.