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.

Louie

My freshman year in college at Baylor University, I heard about a new Bible Study that was starting. A guy named Louie had recently graduated seminary, and was coming to Baylor to lead a weekly Bible Study in an apartment clubhouse. When I went the first time, I never would have guessed what God would teach me through Louie over the next four years, or how He would use this man to impact a generation for Christ.

“Choice” Bible Study quickly grew out of the apartment complex. We moved to a small auditorium on campus, then to a church building across the street and finally (for my tenure) to Waco Hall. By my senior year, we had close to 800-900 students coming (about 10% of the campus at that time). It was an amazing time of spiritual growth, discipleship and being part of a movement of God.

It was also an incredible time of spiritual growth. God used this time to give me a love for worship and His Word. I was blessed to grow up in a very mission-minded church, so I had a solid foundation in Christ. God built on this foundation a heart for worship. Before, worship for me was something you watched – it was spectator time. But, during this time I learned to see worship as a response back to God for who He is and for what He was doing in my life. I learned that my entire life was meant to be a response back to God – to live a life of worship.

In addition to worship, I thank God for this time of discipleship. Every Sunday being at church, and then every Monday night digging into God’s Word was something I only now realize as a huge spiritual blessing. Louie was (and still is) an amazing Bible teacher. He taught books of the Bible and passages of Scripture and brought them to life. In addition, he was always practical. My purpose in life, daily disciplines, and joining God in what He is doing have been foundational truths for me. To be discipled by Louie for four years was truly a gift from God.

From “Choice,” Louie launched the Passion movement. The first Passion event was in Austin, followed by Ft. Worth and then the “One Day” event in Memphis. By this time, I had graduated seminary and was now serving as a Youth Pastor. I remember driving students to these events and watching God use people like Louie, Beth Moore, John Piper and others pour spiritual truth into me as well as into the students I was now discipling. To watch these students grow in their love for the Lord, their heart for worship and their passion for God’s Word was awesome.

What I have always appreciated about Louie is his genuine love for Jesus, his passion for worship and his faithfulness to his call. Louie felt God’s call to raise up a generation in Christ and he has given his life to fulfill that mission. By focusing on college students, God has used Louie to help shape a generation in worship and His Word. Since “Choice” at Baylor, Louie has started a record label, planted a church in Atlanta, and continued to do Passion events. All of these endeavors have only fueled the heartbeat of Christ into the next generation. This past January, I believe there were close to 64,000 college students at the Georgia Dome for Passion ’14, and through “Six Steps” Records, the worship music Louie helps create has impacted churches throughout the world.

Eugene Peterson wrote a book called, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.” When one is faithful to the call God gives them, the difference that can be made is incredible. For us, I believe there is a huge responsibility to understand what God has called us to do and then to be faithful all of our days.

I am thankful for the influence of Louie Giglio on my life as well as on the lives of countless others for Christ. God has used him to shape a generation. I pray that I will be faithful to Christ, and faithful to my call. May God’s Kingdom be advanced and lives impacted by His love and grace. All glory to our great God!

“Yes, Lord, walking in the way of Your laws, we wait for You; Your Name and Renown are the desire of our hearts.” Isaiah 26:8

Jazgul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Life-Change

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

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

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

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

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

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Life-change. Thank You, Father!

Sabbatical

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

 

My Hero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Jesus!

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

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2. Family!

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

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

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

3. Friends

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

4. Her church

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

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5. Vandy

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

6. Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multiplying Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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