5 Ways to Prioritize Christ in your Home this Christmas

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

1. Make Christ Visible

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

2. Establish New Traditions

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

3. Share Love

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

4. Read the Christmas Story

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

5. Have a birthday party for Jesus!

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

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

Merry Christmas!

The Wrapping Station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

We all have so much for which to be thankful! Today, I am thankful for Christ, His faithful love and amazing grace! Our God lavishes His love on us and His blessings are “pressed down and overflowing in our lives! Thank You, Lord!

In addition, I am thankful for all the amazing people God has placed in my life. For the wonderful family, friends and church community, I wish I could write a hand-written thank you to note to each and every person in my life. God has been so gracious to bless me with an incredible wife, three beautiful little girls, godly parents, incredible friends and a church family that is passionately committed to making a difference for Christ in our day and in our generation.

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Along with all of this, there are blessings after blessings that flow from our God above. From having clean water to drink, to a computer and a car, there are so many blessings that I take for granted each day and never stop to say, “Thank You!” If I were to write every blessing down, I would be here all day, so I am simply trying to be mindful and live a life of gratitude to my God.

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What are you thankful for today?

This Thanksgiving, carve out some time to truly be thankful. In the midst of the food, football, family and friends, find a place of solace that you can spend time thanking your Heavenly Father for His goodness and grace in your life. Recount some of your blessings and give Him the praise He deserves. There is power in being thankful. You quickly move past your present circumstances and focus in on the heart of a God who promises to “never leave you and never forsake you.” What you have in your relationship with God through Christ is enough to be eternally grateful!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am thankful for you today!

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“Let the word of Christ dwell in you…”

What “word” dwells in you?

I recently heard a woman share that when she was in third grade she brought home a test from school with a “99″ on it. She was so proud, and she couldn’t wait to show her dad. When she walked in the door, her dad was reading the newspaper and she ran over to show him her paper. He looked at and said, “Why didn’t you get 100?” Then, threw the paper on the floor. From that point on, every day she believed she was only a “99″ and she would never be good enough. She has been haunted by that “word” and has exhausted herself in trying to be perfect.

What “word” dwells in you?

Maybe it is a “word” that someone said to you in elementary school or middle school and it has defined your life. Maybe it was a “word” by a coach, a parent or even a boss, and it has forever shaped what you believe about yourself. Maybe it was a “word” from a former boyfriend or girlfriend or even an ex, but it lives on in your sou and spirit. We all allow “words” to dwell in us. So, the question is…

What “word” dwells in you?

Many times these “words” are said to us flippantly and then quickly forgotten by those who said it. Like the father who commented on the girl’s paper, there was no malice just a passing comment that he probably never remembered saying. Yet, the implications have been enormous. Many “words” are unintentional, and sometimes “words” are even said in jealousy or spite. Most of the time, these “words” carry no truth at all. Yet, we harbor these words in our hearts for years. They dwell in us, and continue to control us for years.

“Words” have power.  The “words” we say to others, and the “words” we allow to dwell in us. We must always be aware of what we say to others. We must guard our tongue and allow only good things to flow out of us. And, we must not dwell on the “words” of men, but dwell on the “words” of God.

Writing in Colossians 3, the apostle Paul challenges us to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” What is the “word” of Christ? What does Christ say about you? Christ says:

- “You are loved”

- “You are accepted”

- “You are His masterpiece”

- “You are valuable”

- “You have purpose”

- “You are fearfully and wonderfully made”

- “You are redeemed”

- “You are forever secure”

- “You are His!”

Let these “words” dwell richly in you. Hold on to Christ and to what He says about you. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Think about what God says about you, and it will change the way you see yourself. We all struggle with this, and yet it is an area where we determine whose “words” dwell in us.

What “word” dwells in you?

 

Perspective

We all go through difficulties. And, not one of us likes it. However, we all will face challenges in our life . Whether through decisions of our own or through things that happen to us, we all experience hardships in this world. We live in a fallen world. We all know we will face struggles, but so often we only see hard times as something to avoid. Yet, many times, it is in the suffering and difficulties that we see God do His greatest work in our lives. If we are honest, probably the times we have felt closest to God, and the times where our faith grew the most, occurred in the most difficult times of our lives. James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trails of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4. Now, not many of us “consider it pure joy” when we go through difficulties in our lives; yet, I believe God wants us to have a different perspective.

Challenges build our character. Spiritual growth is similar to physical growth in the sense that the resistance is what makes you stronger. In working out, you push your body to lift more weight or to run a greater distance in order to tone your body. If you don’t have any resistance, then you grow lazy and flabby. Spiritually, “the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” The apostle Paul matured to a point spiritually where he could write, “I rejoice in what was suffered for you…” Colossians 1:24. We may have a long way to go spiritually to arrive at the point where we “rejoice” in suffering, but learning to have a different perspective when hard times come will definitely change the way we live in the midst of the difficulty.

Struggles makes us more like Christ. God’s goal for every believer is “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son,” Romans 8:28. Jesus went through tough times, so why should we think we will be any different? The apostle Paul wrote, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10. When we go through hard times, may we see these as opportunities to become more like Christ. May we love, forgive and offer grace to others, as well as, to ourselves in the midst of our sufferings.

Suffering grows God’s church. The second century church father, Tertullian, wrote, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Suffering is a part of how God grows His church. Through persecution of the saints, but also through the example of the saints in the midst of suffering. I was talking with a godly man at church who has been suffering with cancer for over two years. Yet, when I asked him about it, he responded, “While it is not easy going through the treatments, I would not trade my cancer. It has brought me closer to God than ever in my life, and it has allowed me to share God’s story with so many others who I never would have met.” Suffering is where Christians seem to thrive and the depth of God’s church grows.

Maybe today you are going through a tough time. Maybe relationally, financially, spiritually or in some other area of your life. While I am sure it is not easy, and I am sorry you are facing this, it is expected. God never promised that everything would be easy. In fact, Jesus said in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Our problems are very real. Yet, how we view our challenges, struggles and suffering is completely up to us. Most of the time, it is simply a matter of perspective.

It is like looking at a tree. If you stand real close all you see it the broken bark – the brokenness, the defects, the shattered pieces. This is where we seem to live with most of our problems. They are constantly in our face, on our minds and in our hearts.

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However, as you take a step back, you realize – there is growth. The bigger picture shows that growth is happening in the leaves, the branches and the roots. There is something deeper going on besides just the brokenness.

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Another step back, and you realize a greater work is happening. This tree is growing strong. The roots are deep. The branches wide. There is something bigger taking place.

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And, finally, another step back and you see an even greater story. A story of creation praising a Creator. A story of God’s blessing the growth that abounds.

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Maybe today you and I need to feel the gentle hand of our God lifting our chin and raising our perspective. Maybe we have been living with our problems and suffering so close in our face that we can’t see the bigger picture of what God is doing. We may not be to the point of “rejoicing in our suffering” as the apostle Paul, but maybe today is where God changes our perspective on suffering.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

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And, be thankful…

We have a wall in our home that has become our “Thankful” wall. Between November 1 and Thanksgiving, each person in our family writes one thing they are thankful for each day and clips it to the wall. You cannot repeat; each one has to be something different. On Thanksgiving Day, we will take some time to read through all the “thankful” cards and give praise back to our great God. This is one way we are trying to help our family, in the midst of everything else that is going on, to be thankful.

What can you do to help yourself and/or your family to truly be thankful this Thanksgiving?

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“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”

Colossians 3:15

(After Thanksgiving, our “Thankful” wall will transform into our “Advent” wall as we prepare our hearts for His Arrival at Christmas!)

 

7 Principles of Spiritual Leadership from the Old Testament Kings

Although we may not think about it often, we are all spiritual leaders. If you are a parent, then you are a spiritual leader. At your workplace or in your neighborhood, you are a spiritual leader. At church, teaching, leading, serving, you are a spiritual leader. We all have areas of spiritual leadership. Therefore, how do we lead? We all have one chance – one opportunity. So what does the Bible teach us about being spiritual leaders in our day and in our generation?

As you study the Old Testament of the Bible, you find 42 kings over Israel and Judah. These spiritual leaders, in their day and in their generation, give us a good source of spiritual leadership. In all there were 42 kings who ruled. Their stories are found in 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles. The most well-known and best king of all was a man named David. David was known as a man after God’s heart. He was not perfect, but he loved God with all of his heart and for all of his life. After David came 40 other kings. Only 8 of these are called “good” kings, and only 4 are exceptional – being compared favorably to David. God’s heart is for us to men and women after His heart.

Here are 7 Principles of Spiritual Leadership that we learn from some of these kings:

  1. Spiritual Leaders pray for wisdom. When David’s son, Solomon, became king, God made him an incredible offer. God said, “Solomon, you can ask me for anything.” And, Solomon, instead of asking for money, long life or death of his enemies, asked God for wisdom. Solomon commented that he was young, and he was not sure how to lead. God was so impressed that Solomon asked for wisdom that God not only granted his request, but also added to wealth and long-life to him as well. Solomon went on to become the wisest and wealthiest man that ever lived.

Maybe you are not sure how to be a great mom or a dad. Ask God for wisdom. Maybe you are not sure how to best lead your employees at work. Ask God for wisdom. Maybe you are not sure how to teach children at church. Ask God for wisdom. Spiritual leaders pray for wisdom every day.

  1. Spiritual Leaders listen to godly counsel. Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, comes to the throne. The elders and wise counselors suggested that he respond favorably to the people who were worn out from all the hard work under his father. Instead, Rehoboam listened to his buddies – the young men who were arrogant. Rehoboam made a terrible decision in not listening to the wise counsel, and the nation ended up being divided in two.

You need godly counsel around you. Who do you have in your life that provides wise counsel? We all will face difficult decisions in our life. Whether in our relationships, financially, spiritually or simply in general, we need people in our life to provide wise counsel. This is why it is so important to be involved in church, in a small group, have godly parents, and others in our life. Ask God to bring godly people into your life, and then listen.

  1. Spiritual Leaders develop godly character. When the nation was divided, the Northern Kingdom of Israel chose Jeroboam to be their king. Jeroboam was appointed by God early in his life to be a king. However, instead of trusting God and growing in his character, Jeroboam tried to accomplish God’s will in his own personal way. He never grew in his godly character, so when the opportunity came to lead, Jeroboam failed miserably. His first decision as king was to make idols for the people to worship so that they would not go to Jerusalem. He led out of fear instead of faith, and led the people away from God.

Character is who you are when no one is watching. Developing godly character begins now. It begins with every decision you make. If you are single, but you want to have a goldy marriage one day, then it starts now. It starts with how you treat the women (or men) in your life. It starts with your thought life. It starts with your faithfulness. God is more interested in who you are and not just what you do. Spiritual leaders become people of integrity, grace and love. You grow your character now so that as your leadership capacity grows, you have the depth of character to support it.

  1. Spiritual Leaders have crucial conversations. Asa became the king at a critical time in Judah’s history. Following 60 years of spiritual decay, Asa stepped in and confronted generational sin. His father and grandfather had been terrible kings. They had led the people away from God and His desires for them individually as well as a nation. In addition, his grandmother was exerting a lot of influence, and she was ungodly. Instead of simply following the bad pattern, Asa had a crucial conversation with his grandmother and stood up to what was wrong. Through his faithfulness to God, he led the entire nation back onto the right track.

All of us will face times when we will have to stand up for what is right. These are not easy times, but these are times that demonstrate leadership. Leaders lead. Sometimes these times come in our family, like they did for King Asa. We must confront generational sin, and not simply allow it to continue through us to the next generation. This could involve crucial conversations with our parents, grandparents and/or children. Also, we may face a time like this at work where we have to speak up for God (even if it costs us a promotion or our job). It is easy to lead when times are easy, but spiritual leaders have to lead in good times as well as tough times. Standing up for what is right is what will define us as leaders.

  1. Spiritual leaders expect God to do miracles. King Hezekiah was in serious trouble. The Assyrians had conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and they were headed toward Jerusalem. The Assyrians had conquered everyone they faced. Hezekiah went to the Temple to pray. He even sought out the prophet Isaiah to ask him to pray for the king and the nation. God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and answered with a miracle. In one night, the Lord put to death 180,000 Assyrian soldiers. Hezekiah won the battle without ever pulling a sword or shooting an arrow. Hezekiah expected God to do a miracle, and God answered.

There will be times in our life when we are desperate. Whether facing struggles financially, relationally or even with our careers. The odds may seem overwhelming. But, spiritual leaders never forget about God. The fact is, our God is greater than anything we face in this world. Where God is, there is always hope. Spiritual leaders learn to expect God to do miracles. They are passionate about God’s glory, and they never forget that God can and will do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine.

  1. Spiritual Leaders admit and repent when they mess up. Manasseh was a king that started off terrible. He followed the pattern handed down to him by the generations, and he took to sin and led the people astray. He forgot about God and tried to live life his own way. Yet, when he was confronted by his sin and realized the consequences of his actions, he turned his life around by turning back to God.

We are all human, and we will all make mistakes. Our sin is ever before us. The fact is, we will all sin. The question is, how do we respond when we sin? Do we try to cover up our sin and continue in it? Or, do we admit our sin and turn back to God? Spiritual leaders admit when we mess up and make mistakes. Spiritual leaders are constantly confessing, learning from our mistakes and then moving toward God. Even King David, the greatest king in Israel’s history, sinned in a huge way. Yet, David repented (Psalm 51), and he turned back to God. Even at the end of David’s life, after adultery and murder, David (because of his confession and repentance) was called “a man after God’s heart.”

  1. Spiritual Leaders know and grow in God’s Word. Josiah was only 8 years-old when he became king. At 16 years-old, he began to seek God (like his forefather King David). At 26 years-old, God’s Word was discovered in the Temple. The Temple had been run down at this point, and when Josiah was having work done on the Temple the workers found God’s Word. They brought the book to Josiah who read it to the people. God’s Word then became the signature of Josiah’s life.

God has entrusted His Word to us. Spiritual leaders succeed because they know the Word of God. As God told the people when they came into the Promise Land, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:8-9). As spiritual leaders, our call is to know God’s Word and grow in His Truth.

 

God has called all of us to be spiritual leaders. God is for us, and He wants us to succeed. May our God find us faithful to be the spiritual leaders He has called and created us to be in our day and in our generation.

Justice & Mercy International Gala Recap

This year’s Justice & Mercy International Gala was absolutely amazing! God moved among us, and we celebrated His work in so many lives. We are seeing our God transform lives for His glory in Moldova, the Amazon and throughout the world. What a joy to be in a place where our God is moving in such a powerful, life-transforming way!

Here are some of my favorite highlights of the evening:

* The Greater Story. Kelly Minter served as our emcee for the evening. Kelly’s personal investment in the work in both the Amazon and Moldova is contagious. Her love for the Lord and her heart for the poor came through in a beautiful, yet powerful, way. The Story of God’s heart for the poor and His love for us came through loud and clear. Thank You, Father!

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* Mike Minter. Mike is the Senior Pastor at Reston Bible Church in Washington D.C., and Kelly’s dad. Mike is an incredible communicator and pastor. He leads the Pastor’s Conference in the Amazon each February. What amazes me is Mike is 70 years-old! He could easily retire and call it in, but He is more passionate today about God’s work than ever before. I love His passion for Christ and the legacy he is leaving by investing in the pastors, the poor and the needy in the Amazon.

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* Video of John Pacubalo. John is the one who built the million-dollar community center, 14 schools, and did amazing work in villages throughout the region. John went home to be with Jesus just a year and half ago. His video of “God has called me to release worship to the poor” is so powerful! When he says, “And, I didn’t see this until I was in my 50′s! I wish I had understood this sooner in my life!”

* Alina and Sarah. These are our two JMI National Directors. Alina, our National Director in Moldova, and Sarah, our National Director in the Amazon, were both here and shared of the work in their countries. These are incredible women of God are passionate followers of Jesus and amazing leaders. God is using our indigenous staff teams to impact so many orphans, the poor and forgotten.

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* Dr. Ming Wang. Dr. Wang is a world renewed in laser physics. One year ago, precious Maria arrived from Moldova. Dr. Wang operated on Maria, and God used him to help restore about 30% of her sight. After the event, watching Dr. Wang dance with Maria was so powerful and moving.

* Former orphans I knew in Moldova. As I looked around the room, I counted five former orphans that I had met at orphanages in Moldova. How amazing to see the difference in these precious children’s lives. Through the love of Christ and the blessings of families here at Rolling Hills, we are seeing lives transformed for Christ. When, one of these former orphans (now married and a mom), pulled out her debit card to give at the end of the evening, I about lost it.

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* Jazgul. This amazing young woman having the courage to share how she was abandoned by her father, beaten by her mother, and almost sold before ending up in the orphanage was awe-inspiring. Now, she is studying at Lipscomb University – this is a miracle! And, she wants to finish her degree, so she can go back and help others.

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* The closing video of our Transitional Living Kids. The goal is not to bring everyone to America, but to have homes in order to help kids in their own country. Hearing one of our boys, share his story of being an orphan, but now the impact of the Transitional Living Home to help him learn about Jesus, be discipled, learn English, and have job skills training. Then, Egor says, “Someday I am going to be President of Moldova!” What orphan could ever say that. This is truly giving kids “A Hope and a Future.” And, you know, Egor just might be President of Moldova one day!

* Generosity – What I loved about the Gala was simply seeing the generosity of so many. From the volunteers who served dinner (most of whom have been on a mission trip to one of these places), to the table hosts who invited friends and family to come hear what God is doing, to the Rolling Hills Staff Team who set-up and did whatever needed, to our awesome JMI Staff who made the whole night happen, to everyone who gave money so that we can continue to serve the orphans, the poor, and the forgotten! I am in awe of a God who allows us to serve Him and to be a part of something so incredible! Thank You, Father! And, all glory to Your Name!

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The Synergy of Spiritual Growth

I love the word “synergy” because it means, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” To me, this is an important word in our spiritual maturation. Synergy is where our spiritual life blossoms in depth, richness and joy.

Some things just go together – Apple Pie & Ice Cream; Thunder & Lightning; Peanut Butter and Jelly. Now, all of these things can stand alone, but there is a “synergy” when these combine.

To me, God’s Word and Prayer are like this. They can stand alone, but there is a “synergy” when they go together. Many times people say, “I just don’t get the Bible. It doesn’t make sense to me.” Now, try this: before you read God’s Word, pray. Simply ask God, “Open my eyes to Your truth today.” The result is amazing! God reveals so much to you. The Scriptures literally come to life.

Again, sometimes, we can fall into a “habit” of simply reading God’s Word out of a duty. We don’t have time so we fly through a chapter in order to get a check mark. Prayer slows us down. It centers our mind and heart on God. Prayer opens us to His Spirit having free reign in our thoughts and desires. In addition, reading God’s Word keeps our mind from wandering to other thoughts in our prayer life. God’s Word keeps us focused in our time with the Lord and not distracted by the things around us. Both are important.

I have a 5th grade daughter. Each night is filled with helping her with homework. We have the textbook, but often I say, “What did the teacher say about this?” You see, they go together. You need to textbook, but you also need the insight of the teacher. The Bible is so much more than a textbook. It is the instruction of the Holy Spirit that enlightens our heart to His truth. The “synergy” that results is amazing. You grow in your knowledge of God’s Word as well as your love for the Author, God Himself.

As we all have experienced:

Knowlege without Application leads to Frustration

But,

Knowledge with Application leads to Transformation

As you read and pray, God opens your heart to how He wants you to live out His Truth.

Now, there is a third part that makes the synergy even stronger, and that is community. Like adding whip cream to the apple pie & ice cream which brings the sweetness; or rain to the thunder & lightning which brings the power; or the bread to the peanut butter & jelly which brings the structure; studying God’s Word and praying in the context of community brings the sweetness, power and structure to the disciple. God longs for us to be “fully mature disciples of Christ.” This happens as we grow deeper in HIs Word, more diligent in prayer and more faithful in community.

How is your spiritual life? Is there an element of these three that you are missing? Make a daily commitment to grow in these areas, and I promise you will experience a “synergy” in your spiritual life that will transform you to be more like Jesus.

Spiritual Defining Moments

Our life is a journey, and there are “defining moments” along the way. Like mile markers on a highway, these dot the landscape of our journey and give our life depth and perspective. Some of these “defining moments” are good and others are not, but each one has a profound impact on shaping who you are today. Think about some of those “defining moments” for you:

  • Maybe it was moving as a child – you loved where you lived and the friends you had, and then your parents moved. You remember starting over. It was a defining moment. Yet, you look back and think how different your life would have been if you had not moved.
  • Maybe it was graduation. Your life could have taken so many different paths.
  • Maybe when your parents divorced.
  • Maybe your first job.
  • Maybe it was the death of a loved one – your mom, dad or a loved grandparent. It was the hardest thing you ever endured, and it changed your perspective about life.
  • Maybe it was when you married – wow, that changed your life!
  • Or, maybe the birth of your first child.

At some point, I would encourage you to create a “life map.” A “life map” highlights these defining moments in your life. As you reflect on your journey thus far, you can feel God’s Hand of mercy and blessing. You can see His faithfulness through the good times as well as the tough times. In fact, it is probably in the tougher times of your journey that your faith grew the most and you felt closet to the God.

Spiritually, I believe there are five major “defining moments” that shape the lives of passionate followers of Jesus. Obviously, there are many others along the way, but these five distinct “defining moments” seem to occur in spiritually mature Christ-followers. The first, and greatest, “defining moment” spiritually is obviously salvation. Salvation is being made right with God by receiving His grace. This is not about what we do, but about what He has done for us in Christ’s death and resurrection. Salvation comes as God draws you to Himself, you yield your life to Him. Now, what makes this so important is salvation changes everything. Salvation transforms you both now and for eternity. Every decision from salvation forward should be about bringing glory to God with your life.

The second spiritual “defining moment” is when you go public with your faith. The Bible teaches, “repent and be baptized.” Baptism follows your salvation experience, and is a public commitment of an inward faith. Many people say, “Well, I was baptized as an infant.” That is great. However, when you think about it, that was your parent’s decision. That was a commitment they made to raise you in the Lord. This can be called, “Family Dedication” or “Baby Dedication.” You were not 6-months old saying, “Baptize me!” Therefore, baptism is your decision. Your personal commitment to go public with your faith in Christ Jesus. While baptism is not salvific – essential to your salvation (you can die without being baptized and still go to heaven – just ask the thief on the cross) – baptism is a defining moment in your faith journey.

The third “defining moment” spiritually occurs when God gives you a clear vision for your life. This could come 5, 10 or 20 years into your spiritual journey. And, there can be different calls along the way, but the fact is that God wants to give you a clear vision for your life. As you look at people in the Bible, this happened. A burning bush, a sheet being lowered down from heaven, the voice of God through a prophet and a still small voice, God is always inviting people to be a part of what He is doing. The fact is, God will speak to you, if you are willing to listen. There comes a “defining moment” in your journey when you clearly know what God is calling you to do. There is a specific call that God has for your life – maybe it is vocational ministry, investing in a country where you went on a mission trip, teaching a certain age at church, writing a book, a blog or a song. Whatever the call, when you hear it you know it, and you have to make a decision whether you are willing to fulfilling God’s purpose for you.

The fourth spiritual “defining moment” comes when you fully commit your life to God. Again, this comes down the road in your spiritual journey, but there is a “stake in the ground” moment when you say, “No turning back. My life is fully His.” No longer do you have time for the trivial. You are fully invested. No longer do the same temptations consume the bulk of your thoughts, your mind if firmly planted in Christ. You commit to be a godly wife, husband, mother, father, servant of Christ, come what may. Through good times or adversity, there is no going back. You are His. It was said of King Asa in the Old Testament, “Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all of his life.” 1 Kings 15:14. This doesn’t mean that you are perfect. You still make mistakes. But, you are always falling forward into the arms of Jesus. Christ is “enough” for you, and you are investing the rest of your life in knowing and serving Him.

The fifth spiritual “defining moment” is the day when you awake in the arms of your Savior. When we pass from death to life, we will see Jesus face to face. No more pain. No more sorrow. Eternity with the One who loves us more than we love ourselves. When we hear those words, “Well done, My good and faithful servant,” we will simply stand in awe of Him. Everything in us should long for this time, and everything we do should prepare our hearts for this. What we do here impacts eternity.

In addition to these major spiritual “defining moments” there are many others along the way. That is great thing about God, He is always working in our lives. God is not finished with any of us. He is still writing our story. Every morning I wake up and say, “God, what are You going to do today?” He is so creative and every day He seems to do something new. There is so much joy that comes with being on this journey with Him.

Hold on to Him today, and know that the best is yet to be in your life. And, who knows, today may even be a “defining moment” for you.