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!

photo4 photo7

Our JMI Sponsored Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer Camp

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

14479232523_96b761864f_z

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

1. God moves

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

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

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

14455795491_b4350beda1_z

2. Relationships last

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

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

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

14459395692_6b7e427a56_z

3. You see God’s best in kids

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

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

14272515890_cc78056226_z

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

1. Carve out time to hear from God

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

2. Build Relationships

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

3. Invest in the next generation

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

Thank you, Father, for Summer Camp!

Generations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raising Godly Children

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

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

How do we raise godly children?

1. Give your child a solid spiritual foundation.

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

2. Create memories.

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

3. Discipline children in love.

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

4. You!

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

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

Mother’s Day

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

Jeff mom

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

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

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

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

Happy Mother’s Day!

Dating and Marriage

Through the years, I have had the privilege to walk with hundreds of couples through the dating process, engagements and into marriage. I love seeing God bring couples together! It is such a joy to stand with people as they seek God first, and then join together in marriage with the love of their life. Single adults constantly ask me, “So, how do I find the right guy or girl?”

This past Sunday, we launched a new series at Rolling Hills called “Happily Ever After.” The feedback to this first sermon has been so overwhelming, I thought I would share some of the points from Sunday. If you are a single adult, and you want to be married (or re-married), here are some things to remember:

1. Be prayerful.

Start praying for God’s person for you. Many times we forget this step, but God created Eve for Adam. Adam had nothing to do with it; in fact, he was asleep! The challenge is that we follow the way of the world – we want someone who is “hot,” or “rich” or “successful” – yet, God knows us best and He longs to give us “the desires of our heart.” When we put Him first in prayer and trust His will for our lives, things always work better than we could imagine. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the patten of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Prayer is how we are “able to test and approve God’s will” for us. Don’t settle for God’s “good” will or His “pleasing” will, but wait for God’s “perfect” will for your life.

2. Be patient.

God always reveals His will in His timing. There is such a societal pressure to be engaged or married by the time you finish college. This works great for some, but not for others. Sometimes you do not even know who you are yet, until you have had time be on your own. I was 33 when I got married. I dated a lot in college, but after I graduated I was fully focused on ministry. I always thought I would get married, but I did not have the time to focus on it. At the age of 29, someone asked me, “Are you okay if you never get married?” At first, the question caught me off guard. But, as I pondered it, I realized that I was truly going to be okay if I never married. In my own personal life, I had to be able to say, “Christ is enough for me.” In your life is Christ enough? Single or married – is Christ enough? You can never look for another person to fill that void in your life. Work on your relationship with Christ first. This is the most important relationship in your life. When you are at peace there, then you are more ready for God to bring the right person.

3. Be purposeful.

Put yourself in places to succeed. If you want a godly man or a godly woman, be where they are. Never lower your standards just to get married. Being in a bad marriage is terrible! It is not worth it! You only want to be married if it is God’s will for your life and the right person. Therefore, being faithfully involved in Church is essential. Yes, you meet great people, but even more important you keep God first in your life. Also, places like eHarmony are a great connection points. Always be honest about your faith and what you want to see in a future spouse. Make a list of all the qualities you desire in a future spouse, and do not waver. Now, be realistic, but don’t compromise on the major points. Look for someone who loves Jesus more than you. If they love you more, at some point you will fail. When you do fail, they will not have the foundation of love and grace. Only in Christ will your future marriage blossom.

4. Be pure.

Even if you are not married, a healthy marriage begins now. It begins it begins with what you allow in your mind. 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.” Keep yourself pure – mentally, emotionally, and physically. Pornography erodes your capacity for intimacy. Keep your mind focused on the things of God. Learn to be content whatever the circumstances.

Overall, remember, it is okay to be a single adult. Embrace the time you have as a single adult to do ministry. God does call some people to be single – Jesus was a single adult, and the apostle Paul. Many of the leaders in our church are single adults. Those leading out in ministry and missions are single adults that God is using in incredible ways for His glory. It is about your mission and purpose. God wants to use you where you are in life! Trust that He will fulfill His purpose for you. Allow Christ to be enough for you.

 

The Power of the Cross

Holy Week is always a special time as we walk with Jesus to the cross and beyond. However, for many long-time followers of Jesus, sometimes the gravity of the price paid for us loses its power in our lives. We can grow numb to all Jesus endured for us on the cross. This following post from Lynn Hendrich was a great reminder to me, and I pray to you as well. Lynn & her husband, Steve, went on their first international mission trip with us two years ago to Moldova. There they met precious Maria. Lynn instantly fell in love with Maria. Maria was blind, and Lynn felt God’s call to help. Lynn & Steve worked with Dr. Wang here in Nashville. About six months ago Lynn & Steve brought Maria to the States for an amazing journey of healing and faith. Through the generosity of Dr. Wang and the power of God’s healing touch, Maria is starting to see. But, also, God is moving in Maria’s heart. Here’s what Lynn wrote on Monday of this “Holy Week:”

“Over the past several weeks I’ve “caught” Maria watching a movie on her computer.. Behind closed doors:)I walk into her room to check on her and there she sits at her desk, tissues in hand and tears streaming down her face.As I walk closer to her I can see what she is watching and I’m caught off guard as to what I see. All by herself she has searched and found a movie in her native language….Romanian. Well, again tonight I come into her room to find her weeping at this movie she cannot get enough of. Friends and family… This movie she is watching is a movie of the life of Jesus. She weeps when they betray him and spit on him… And she just can’t understand why they would beat him and crucify him. Questions like.. Why would he endure that for me are asked and as we try and explain to her why HE did that for every single person on the face of the earth… She just weeps more. We tucked her into bed and she prayed a beautiful prayer and continued to cry through her prayer. I looked at her beautiful face tonight and was so ashamed at my own personal numbness to this season we are entering into. Why don’t I weep and cry anymore when I think of what HE did for me? Sometimes I really believe that God uses children to help us see what truly matters in this life. As we enter Holy Week.. May we be ever mindful and more sensitive to exactly what Jesus endured for us… And maybe even shed a few tears in gratitude for the salvation he offers us through his death and resurrection. Happy Easter with much love and thankfulness for you!!”
Wow! May this be encouragement to us all of the depth and gravity of this Season. May we never grow numb to the incredible love and grace of Savior! May you experience the rich, abiding power of the cross in your life this Easter.

 

Priorities

Life is busy. Ask most people how they are doing, and the response you receive is, “I’m so busy.” This has become the mantra of our American lives. We run from one appointment to the next. We are in meetings, taking kids to sports, and trying to keep up with laundry. Life is simply busy. However, we must never confuse activity with accomplishment.

Most of us believe if we could just have more time, we would be able to do all we need to do. But we all have the same amount of time. Therefore, it is not really about time – it is about priorities. How do we maximize what we have been given? The challenge for all of us is to not let the immediate, pressing needs rule our lives, but to focus our time and energy on what really matters.

God first. Our first priority always must start with God. This is how life functions best – when God is at the center of our lives. Jesus said the greatest commandment is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) (“strength” here means all your “umph;” “your gut;” “your passion.”) Keeping God first is a challenge. There are so many other demands on our time and our mind. Starting and ending the day in God’s Word as well as prayer throughout keeps us centered on Him. In the midst of the job, the laundry, the dishes and all the normal demands of life – keep God first. If you do not get anything else done in a day, but you love God a little more and your know Him a little deeper, then you will have had a successful day.

Spouse second. If you are married, or you would like to be married one day, your spouse is intended to be your next priority. This is a real struggle with most people. While dating it is easy to make this person a priority; in fact, the danger in dating is to not let this person move into first place before God. However, once married, priories tend to change. Men tend to move career ahead of spouse (and sometimes God), and Women tend to move children ahead of spouse (and, again, sometimes God). The reality is that jobs will change and children will grow up. You and your spouse are together “until death do us part.” Keeping your spouse as a priority means scheduling time together and communication. Remembering what it was like when you first fell in love? Ephesians 5 tells us that our marriage should radiate to the world how Christ loves the Church. Does your marriage do this?

Children third. Children are a gift from God, but we always have to remember they are His. We have the privilege to raise them and give them a strong foundation in Christ, but they are never meant to be worshipped or idolized. So many parents find their identity in how their kids are doing – in school, sports, theater, etc. Our identity should always come in Christ alone – what God says about us, and that is that we are His. He loves us with an unconditional love regardless of how much we weigh, what we look like or how our kids perform. We are called to love our children with the same kind of unconditional love. Discipleship is always more “caught” than “taught.” As children see your love for God (that He is first in your life), then they will understand what it means to have a foundation in Christ. Also, when children see that your spouse is our next they will understand what a godly marriage should look like and they will desire that for their own life as well.

Keeping these priorities is a key for a healthy life. This will allow us to say “yes” to what is important, and “no” to the things that are not. Without priorities, we are busy, but we are unproductive. We all have one shot at life; one opportunity to live this life for the glory of our great God. Let’s not miss it. Yes, laundry is important and so are dishes, sports, social media and so much more. But, when God, spouse and children are in the right order, everything else will fall into place.

Take some time to evaluate: What are your priorities?

I love being a Dad!

I actually woke up this morning thinking, “I love being a Dad!” As I reflected over the past several weeks, there have been some amazing times together of laughter, learning and life.

UnknownUnknown-1

The Daddy / Daughter Ball – This is an annual highlight in our house, but this year was extra special. This is the first year with all three girls! Kate is now “officially” old enough, and we tore it up! We had an absolute blast! I was actually sore the next day because we danced so much :). I pray often for the men they will marry one day, and I pray I am teaching them the standards they need to see in a godly man.Unknown-3Unknown-2

Sledding – We had one day of sledding this year, and we made the most of it. Not a lot of snow, but school was closed and we took off to our secret sledding spot. The girls went crazy, and we had an amazing time. I pray they are learning to enjoy life. Life can be hard and there is always more to do, but I believe God also wants us to enjoy life. We will never get this time back, and I want my girls to love being kids.

Our “Next Steps” talk – As a church, we called everyone to take a “Next Step” spiritually. It has been awesome to watch people make first-time commitments to Christ, to be baptized, to go on mission trips, to read the entire Bible, to tithe and even to give one-time gifts as well as 24-month pledges to the Lord. The night before our “Commitment Sunday,” Lisa and I sat down with our girls. We prayed together, and we told them the commitment Lisa and I were making for the next 24-months. We gave them each a commitment card and asked what commitment they wanted to make to the Lord. I will never forget this special time of watching our girls taking their “next steps” as they grow spiritually. Thankful!

Unknown-5

Feed My Starving Children – This is the second year our church has hosted a mobile packing event for FMSC. With over 500 volunteers on a Saturday, it is incredible to see God work as we pack meals for the hungry children of the world. Also, it is a special time to serve alongside my girls as we teach them to serve others. We have been blessed in order to be a blessing. I pray they always know the importance of serving and giving. As a church, we packed over 100,000 meals! It was an exciting day, and I love serving with my girls!Unknown-4
Unknown-7
Unknown-10

Family Devotionals – As a family, we are taking a “daily step” and reading the Bible together. It is so great to see our girls growing and learning. Grace asking, “Daddy, why does Jesus sometimes say, ‘Don’t tell anyone I healed you,’ and other times He says, ‘Go, tell everyone?’” Great question from a 10 year-old. Mabry seeing the power of God in the feeding of the 5,000, and Kate knowing the rainbow is a sign of God’s love and faithfulness. In addition, there is something powerful about hearing your kids pray. As they pray each night at the close, to hear them pray for God to “heal Mr. Brent of his cancer,” “take care of Ms. Danielle’s dad,” and “thank you for Nana and Papa.” As a parent, you heart wells up with love when you hear your kids pray.

Unknown-13

Being a dad is such a blessing! I know I only have a few years to teach them foundational truths about God and His Word, and I cherish every moment. Also, being a dad makes me appreciate even more my earthly dad as well as my heavenly Father. I am blessed beyond measure, and it is such a joy to share the love that has been invested in me with my girls. I love being a Dad!

Unknown-11