Jesus Wept

The shortest verse in the Bible is only two words, but it speaks volumes. The first word being the Sovereign Saving Grace of God Himself, followed by the second word – almost unfathomable:

“Jesus wept.”
John 11:35

That is it. But, think about the power and the truth contained in these two words. The God of the Universe – the Creator and Sustainer of life – wept. He cried. He opened His heart and allowed His emotions to overflow.

Now, the context of this moment happens at a funeral for one of Jesus’ best friends, Lazarus. Jesus heard he was sick, but waited before going to him, because Jesus knew what He was going to do. He planned to do a miracle. He knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. This would be the last big miracle before Jesus would be arrested and ultimately crucified for our sins. He knew what He was about to do – and the message He would send would be very clear – so then why did He cry?

When Jesus arrived, He was greeted by Lazarus’ two sisters, Mary and Martha. He loved this family. I believe, when Jesus saw their hurt and pain, He was moved to tears. The emotion of the pain they felt welled up inside of Him. He did not weep for Lazarus or His own grief, but for those in mourning as He watched them go through this difficult time. Jesus loves completely. When He sees the hurt and pain caused by the brokenness of this world, He is moved to tears.

Throughout Scripture, great men of God have also wept:

  • David wept over the sin and brokenness in his own heart and life.
  • Jeremiah was known as the “weeping prophet.” Clearly, he cried a lot.
  • Nehemiah wept when he heard the walls of his beloved Jerusalem were broken down, he poured out his heart to God.
  • Paul wept on multiple occasions as he prayed for the churches that God had called him to plant. He loved them so much.

When you truly love, there will be times you are moved to tears. Sometimes, the tears come as you see people trying to satisfy their own lives without God. Sometimes, you cry because you know what God can do in the lives of those you love – if they will only let Him. Sometimes, you cry because you see people hurting in this fallen world. The truth is, if you truly love, then at some point you will cry.

In a society where “real men and big girls don’t cry,” the Bible paints a different picture. God created tears for a reason. Our spiritual heroes were ones who loved God and loved others so much that they were willing to allow their hearts to be moved. If you are a parent, you know this kind of love. Sometimes my eyes will well up as I watch one of my children sleep. I love them so deeply. May our hearts never grow so hard that we lose the love that moves us to tears. May we never grow so callous to our own need or to the hurt in this world that we fail to radically love like Jesus.

One of my favorite Jewish practices happens in times of mourning. In the passing of a loved one, friends of the family will show up and just sit. No one talks, they just cry together. This can go on for days or even weeks. Nobody has to worry about saying the wrong thing because they are called to just be there: “Weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15

This is the Power of Presence. Jesus was there. Jesus loved his friends so deeply that being with them in that moment moved him to tears. Jeremiah loved God’s people, the Israelites, so much that he wept. Nehemiah loved God’s city, Jerusalem. The apostle Paul loved God’s church. And, what about you and me? Who do we love, and how do we express it? Never lose the love and passion for the things of God.

When was the last time you cried? When was the last time you had your emotions moved in such a powerful way that the only thing you could do was to allow tears to flow? Let’s love God and others so deeply that we are impacted emotionally (just like Jesus). Do not let your heart grow hard. Practice the power of Presence with your spouse, your kids, your friends, people at church and even those you are praying for, even if you don’t know them. Don’t be so callous to God transforming lives that you don’t shed a tear at a baptism, wedding or funeral. These are holy moments – moments when the Divine is present in love – and this is worth our response.

Jesus wept. And, at times, so should we.

God’s Creation

It takes more faith to not believe in God than it does to believe in God.

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Last week, Lisa and I had the incredible privilege to take a cruise to Alaska. It was amazing and beautiful! As I stood at the base of the Mendenhall Glacier, I could not help but think about how it takes more faith to not believe in God than to believe in God. I love being in nature. When I am there, I feel so close to God. And, it makes me think about His amazing handiwork. Can you fathom how, if the earth was just a little closer to sun, we would all burn up? And if the earth was just a little farther away, we would all be frozen. But the earth sits perfectly, just where God placed it. I admired the beauty of the mountains, glaciers, oceans, wildlife and all I could do was to worship.

IMG_3282While in Alaska, we saw tons of whales (pun intended). We were on a whale-watching boat when our guide, Brenda (she was great, by the way, and very knowledgable. She also happened to introduce us to the man who wrote the book on birds of Alaska), taught us how to identify humpback whales. You see, all the backsides of their tales are different. They are like our fingerprints – each one unique.

Did you know these same whales in southeast Alaska swim 2,812 miles every year to have their babies in Maui, Hawaii? Every year! In this huge blue ocean, they don’t get lost, They spend the summers in Alaska and the winters in Hawaii (now, that is a great gig!). How does this happen? By chance? It takes the males about 30 days to make the trip, but the females and new babies take about 45-60 days to return. But, they all make it home. Amazing!

Also, salmon. Did you know that there are about 20,000 streams in Alaska where salmon are born. After they are born, they swim out to the ocean where there is more food. They spend time eating and growing. Then, when it is time, they swim back to the exact same stream to have their babies. Many die within one to two feet of where they are born. Now, think about that. How do they know which is the right stream? Chance? Experts say they can “smell” the right stream. Wow!

IMG_3257Now, how in the world can two rocks collide and create this? Being in Alaska, you just feel close to God! You learn more about “the food chain” and you see the intricacies of creation. I don’t believe that creation and evolution are mutually exclusive. God created a world that continues to evolve, grow and develop, But, for someone to miss God in the whole equation is mind-blowing. These things did not just happen.

Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–His eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that all men are without excuse.” Everything in creation points to the God of mercy, love and grace. Everything brings glory to our great God!

Think about your body…the way it works…for eyes to focus far away on a glacier and then up close to see a bald eagle fly – and our brain to process it all in a way to distinguish the difference. For our heart to pump blood, lungs to breathe the air provided for us, kidneys to process and dispose of waste. We are perfectly created beings living in a beautifully Divine-inspired world. Our God is greater.

IMG_3203Everything is in perfect order. Two rocks colliding, and this occurring, takes more faith to believe than actually acknowledging the Creator and Sustainer of Life. So, why do some doubt? Pride, arrogance or maybe the fact that some just don’t want to submit to Someone greater than them. But, whether we like Him or not, God is there. The Creator and the Sustainer of all there is. And, the awesome part of the whole story is that He is a God of Love.

Psalm 19:1-3 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the end of the world.”

The next time you are outside – look up, look around, look inside your body and praise the God who is worthy of praise! He created and sustains it all, and He is worthy of our praise! He loves you, and He is drawing you to Himself. Give Him the glory He deserves and rest in His love for you!

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How to Deal with Difficulties

We all face difficulites. These come as the result of living in a broken and fallen world. One day, it will all be made right. But, until then? Until then, we go through trials, struggles and difficulties. So, how do we make it? How do we handle the difficulties and hardships of this world? I believe the apostle Paul gives us an incredible pattern:

“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

1. Pray – Many times our first response when a crisis comes is to try to “fix” it. We try to fix our spouse, our children, our boss or whatever we are facing. Yet, Paul responds to his crisis by writing, “I pleaded with the Lord.” Pray first and pray often. God always answers prayer. He answers, “Yes,” “No” or “Not Yet.” Trust Him and pray. And, ask people to pray for you. Don’t walk through a crisis alone. Be open and honest. There is power in prayer and this is where you feel God’s Presence with you.

2. Believe – God responded to Paul by saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” We don’t know when (or if) God healed Paul. But, we do know that God gave him the strength to endure by reminding him of His grace. Always believe that God is at work. Even in our weaknesses, God is writing a bigger story. Believe in His plan and His purpose. As Max Lucado writes, “It all works out in the end. If it has not worked out yet, then it is not the end.”

 3. Learn – Paul learned to place his faith in God and to believe God was working even in the midst of his weaknesses: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”  Ask God, “Father, what do you want me to learn in this difficulty?” The fact is, you can be in a difficult situation and still be in the center of God’s will. Don’t think that God is mad at you. Listen, learn and grow. Many times our greatest difficulty can become our greatest ministry.

 4. Watch – This is the amazing part – in the midst of the difficulty, you will see God. “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.” Paul knew that in the difficulties he would see God. Look for God in the hardships. The gentle assurance of His presence will come to you through a scripture you read, a song you hear, a word from a friend or a sign you see. God will remind you that He is with you in the storm. You are not alone.

5. Trust – Trust that He is God and you are not. Trust that He has a bigger plan than you know. Paul understood this, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Trust that God is redeeming, restoring and working in ways that you cannot see. In His timing it will all become clear, but for now? For now, trust and hold on.

God is sovereign, and something greater is coming in your life. Always remember, the best is yet to come.

Moldova – A Journey of Change

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

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

So much has changed in Moldova:

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

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

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

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

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

So much has changed in His church at Rolling Hills:

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

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

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

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

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

So much has changed in me:IMG_3071

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

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

When God gives you a call, stick with it.

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

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

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

Joy

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

How can we truly experience joy in this world?

1. Perspective

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

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

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

2. People

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

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

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

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

3. Purity

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

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

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

4. Purpose

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

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

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

5. Passion

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

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

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

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

Love Makes All Things Beautiful

This is a post from my wonderful wife…

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

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

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

I love her and am humbled by her words.

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

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

Heaven

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

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

What does the Bible teach about Heaven?

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

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

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

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

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

 Now, Imagine Heaven:

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

This is Heaven! This is our eternal home!

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

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

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

Let’s Eat!

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

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

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

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

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

Looking forward to His table! Let’s Eat!

Embrace the Moments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The 4 C’s of a Diamond Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!