From Community

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Three Imperatives for Every Christ-follower on Election Day

A short note for a Big Day…

The Bible tells us: “…if my people who are called by My Name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

Today is election day in the US – a big day in our country. There are unrest, concern and worry for some and hope for others surrounding this day. As Christ-followers, we are called to do three things today:

  1. Pray – God invites us to call out to Him. When we do, we affirm that He is ultimately in control. We ask Him to draw us close to His heart and for us to know that He will heal our land. We are, also, called to pray for our leaders. Today, we need to pray for both candidates as well as all those who represent us in Washington. Let’s join together and ask God to draw their hearts to Him through this entire process. That they submit their hearts and lives to the One who is ultimately in control. There is power in prayer. So, let’s pray.
  2. Vote – I hear from many people that they do not like either candidate, so they are choosing not to vote. But, our right to vote is a privilege and responsibility. There are many people who died to give us this right. We are so blessed to live in the United States. Whether you vote for either of the two primary candidates, a long shot candidate or even write someone in, simply voting at all is something we should do.
  3. Trust – Remember, our faith is not in a man or a woman, but in God. Throughout the centuries, there have been good rulers and horrible rulers, but our God has been the One who is consistent and faithful. He is sovereign over all. So, whatever happens today, trust that our God is greater. Trust that He is in control.

Pray, vote, trust. As Christ-followers, this is our time to engage: to undergird our country through prayer and participation and to be salt and light in a desperate time. And, through it all, to trust that God will fulfill His purpose for our nation and for us, individually. Let’s not spew forth hate, but hope. Let’s share with others the reason for the hope that we have in Christ. I am proud to be an American, but even more, I am proud to be a part of the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ – the true Ruler of all.

 

 

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Behind the Scenes of the 2016 JMI Gala

Every year we host the Justice & Mercy International Benefit Gala in order to raise money for all the mission work we do in Moldova, the Amazon and South Africa. It has become one of my favorite weeks of the year. Our National Directors – Alina, and her husband Vlad in Moldova; and Sarah, and her husband Magno in the Amazon – come all the way to the United States to attend and share about the work they do. These people are so special to me personally, and to our whole church family. In addition, we have people come in from Reston Bible Church as well as other JMI partner churches and so many friends from out-of-town who go on mission trips and invest in the work. It has become like a giant Family Reunion! All united in Christ and with a common desire to make a difference in His Name.

The Gala is our biggest fundraising event of the year and there is a lot that goes into making it happen. Our JMI and our Rolling Hills Staff Teams all work hard because we believe in what God has called us to. Along with this, it takes close to 100 volunteers – most of whom go on mission trips and sponsor children through JMI. The fact is, we all sincerely love the people we go to serve. The precious orphan children in Moldova, the pastors in the Amazon, the poor and forgotten in South Africa – they are truly our friends. We love them, and we know what a difference this night can make in their lives.

But, the Gala is also a lot of fun. When you are serving with people you love, united in a cause bigger than yourself and you see God do miracles in people’s lives, of course it’s fun! It is not work, but a calling and a passion.

Here are a few of the behind the scenes fun moments as we prepare for the Gala:

Taking our National Directors out to experience some good old American fun:

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Setting up in the auditorium with staff teams and volunteers – it’s all hands on deck

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Serving with people we love

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Praise God for allowing us to be involved in what He is doing in the world. When Christ is transforming lives there is nothing like it! There is no place in the world that I would rather be than serving our God with people I love and seeing lives redeemed for His glory. Thank You, Father! Get involved. Jump in because serving God is awesome! Go on a mission trip, sponsor a child, serve locally, but do something. You will have a great time serving, and God will impact lives through you. We are better together.

“I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” Psalm 84:10

Lastly, here is a message from one of our good friends about giving to JMI:

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Our actions and decisions today will shape the way we will be living in the future.

Why I am So Passionate About The Church

I love Christ and his church. I am more convinced today than ever before, that the local church is how God will truly transform the world. The world is changed one life at a time, and God uses his church to accomplish his will. In his divine sovereignty, He designed the church to be the vehicle of his love and grace to a world in need.

Recently, we walked through the first part of Acts in a series called “Unstoppable.” As we went through this series, I was reminded how deeply I love Christ and his church. He died for us, and then He gave us his church so that we would not have to go and grow through Christian life by ourselves. I am so thankful. Because of Christ and his church, our lives and our world has never been the same.

God’s church is more than a bible study, community group, house gathering or any other small group setting. It is more than a group of friends sharing a meal together and talking about spiritual things. These all have their place, but it exists within the larger context of the church. These all tend to be inward focused – which is a part of, but far from the whole of the church. Church, as someone once said, is the only organization that exists for those who are not members – the least, the last, the lost. The church exists to give glory to God, grow Christ-like disciples and to share His love with a world in need.

As you study, you will realize there are five core elements of God’s church:

  1. Worship – the importance of turning our attention from the things of this world, and putting our focus on God. Corporate worship has always been essential to God’s people as they gathered at the Tabernacle, the Temple and today in local churches.
  2. Discipleship – the goal of our lives is to “be conformed to the image of Jesus” (Romans 8:29) This happens in the context of community. Jesus discipled 12. We need people to teach us God’s Word, challenge us and hold us accountable.
  3. Evangelism – the church must be reaching out. Jesus’ last words were a commission to his disciples to “go and make disciples.” A group of people that is simply inward focused is not a church. We must always be reaching out to share the love of Christ with others by inviting people to church and sharing our faith.
  4. Fellowship – praise God that we do not have to go through life alone. God, in his sovereignty, gave us Christ and other believers to encourage us and pray for us. This is why being part of a community group is so important as a part of the larger context of the body.
  5. Ministry – the church exists to take care of the poor, the orphaned and the forgotten. We minister to one another within the body, but we must always be ministering to others in our community and the world. All of these elements must be present to be a church, and as a Christ-follower, we must be involved in all of these (not simply the ones we like the most).

Christ and his church go together. It is a package deal. Now, the church is not perfect – it is full of sinful people, but they are loved and redeemed by Christ, himself. Jesus loves his church, and so should we. People who say they are Christians, but are not a part of a church are not living as God calls them. In fact, I don’t think you can be mature disciple of Christ and not be a part of a local church. Jesus established the Church. He said, “Upon this rock (the confession of Peter’s faith), I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) The church is the body & bride of Christ Jesus. Followers of Christ united by the confession of our faith, “Jesus is Lord.” It is all of  us united in God’s love, redeemed by his grace and joined in his call.

We are better together. This is why God established His Church because He knows this. He knows we need a place to belong, but we also need a place from which to make a difference. When God’s Church is functioning properly, there is nothing like it! Fueled by the Holy Spirit, the church is alive! It is not an organization, but an organism – the hands and feet of Christ Jesus himself. We can serve individually, but imagine what can happen, when we join in our confession of Christ, and serve together. Tomorrow, I leave on a mission trip to Moldova and it is incredible what God has done in the lives of precious orphan children through his church over the years. This is not an individual or a small group, this is God using His church.

The fact is, we need each other. And, this is so evident to me this year, 2016. The church has been there with me through the tough time of the death of my father, and through the great time of baptizing my daughter. We lock arms and serve together, grow together and reach other together, but we also lock arms and “weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.” I am thankful for the difference God’s church has made in my life and in my family. I am thankful for the the faithful men and women who have taught me, helped me grow deeper in my own faith journey and allowed me to serve alongside them. I am thankful for so many passionate churches today who are impacting people for Christ across our community, our country and the world. I love being joined to a greater story!

And, today, we are the Church. We have been entrusted by the God of this Universe with his heart and love. Therefore, let’s give our best! Let’s lock arms together and go forward. No more small living or self-centered inward focus. God’s Church is not a country club or a social gathering, but we are ambassadors of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Therefore, let’s fix our eyes on Jesus and open our arms to a world in need. Christ is for us, and He loves his church! May He find us faithful.

Do something today that your future self will thank you for.

Why You Need a Community Group

Do something today that your future self will thank you for.-2

Last night was our final Community Group meeting for the year. Ever since we planted Rolling Hills, I have led a Community Group. This is one of my favorite parts of ministry. Seeing God work in people’s lives is so encouraging and invigorating. And, I truly believe life-change happens best in community. Jesus had 12 men to share life together and they grew deeper spiritually through their interaction with Jesus as well as with one another. Jesus gave us the model, and I believe this is how spiritual growth continues to happen today.

A few years ago, Lisa & I along with Tom and Angie Atema made the decision to have a new Group each year. This was very intentional. Before this, we had the same Group of friends. And, while we loved it, we felt like God was calling us to invest in others. So, we left the comfort of our friends and branched out into leading (with Tom and Angie hosting) a new Group – the idea being that we would invest in new people for a year, raise up a leader and launch them as a new Group the following year.

It has been amazing! It is not always easy. Ministry is messy – just ask Jesus. It takes a while to get to know new people as well as to learn to trust them. It takes a while for a Group to connect and gel. It takes a while to feel open enough to share your heart, your struggles and truly where you are spiritually with others. But, the beautiful part is when God moves among us and spiritual growth happens right before our eyes.

We have loved and continue to love all our Groups. We still see one another at church, cheer on the new Groups that launch and continue to share life together. Sometimes it may take two years or more, but launching new Groups is a sure sign of spiritual health and maturity. As well as a great way to meet new friends.

This Group we had this year has been amazing. We knew no one coming into the Group last August. Not one. And, yet, God bonded our hearts closely together. We have laughed a lot, and cried a lot. We have celebrated the greatest joys in life together this year – parents baptizing their kids and new babies being born. But, we have also walked through some of the darkest times together this year – the death of a parent and major struggles in marriage. Yet, all of these life situations have drawn us closer to God and closer to one another. The fact is, we were not meant to walk through these times alone. God gave us community for a reason.

Since it was our last night, we asked everyone to share how they have grown spiritually this year. One couple shared how they had just moved here last summer and had no idea what would happen. God blessed them with church, community and they have grown more spiritually these past 9 months than at any other time in their lives. We love this family.

Another person shared what a hard year it has been with having a new baby, tax season (being an accountant) and dealing with family challenges. She said, “I have been carrying so much ‘Momma Guilt.’ I have felt like a failure as a mom, in my job and as a wife. And, yet, I now know God is with me, and I can see me being who God created me to be again.” Only God.

I love this. Another person said, “I used to love my religion. I grew up in a strict, fundamentalist church. My extended family was, and still is, there. It was comfortable, and I loved my religion. But, now, I love Jesus. Not my former church or even Rolling Hills, but I have fallen in love with Jesus. He is first in my life.”

One more shared about how difficult this year has been. They have had marriage issues that are still on-going. But, they said, looking back now, I can see how God brought me to this Group because He knew what I would be going through this year. He knew how I would need community and godly people around me.

You were not created to do life alone. God wants you to experience Him and life through others. But, you must be intentional. It is not easy to sign up and go to someone’s home that you don’t know. But, trust God. Be bold and put yourself around people who will help you grow in your relationship with God and others.

Every year it is so difficult when we come to the end of our Group. We have fallen in love with these friends, and it is so hard to bless them and to see them launch a new Group. But, like a newborn baby it is awesome to see them grow. To see them trust God, raise up another leader and continue embracing life in community. This is the mark of a disciple – making disciples (Matthew 28). Baptizing, teaching and obeying Christ.

You need a Community Group. You need a place to grow and to belong. Be intentional. Don’t hide behind the excuse of “I’m too busy.” No you are not. It is a matter of priorities, not time. Then, at some point in your spiritual journey, you need to lead a Group. It is awesome to love, pray and invest in others! Step up and trust God to work through you for His glory. In fact, you will grow even more as you prepare, pray, and pour out your life into others.

My prayer over our Group last night is my same prayer for you:

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:3-6

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God has started something great in your life, but He is not finished with you. It is through a Community Group that God challenges you and encourages you. You need a Group. I need a Group. Life can change in a hurry. You need others to celebrate with you in the good times and to support you in the struggles. We grow spiritually in a Group. God has a great plan for your life. Trust Him. And, take the initiative to join a Group.

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The Power of a Volunteer

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Their names were Carl & Sue Moore. Carl worked for the Federal Reserve in San Antonio, Texas and Sue was a stay-at-home mom. But, to me, they were my 7th grade Sunday School teachers. Every Sunday they would be set up and ready when I arrived. They had games, snacks and a Bible lesson every week. They loved the Lord, and for whatever reason they loved 7th graders. Now, it takes a special person to work with middle school boys. But, they had whatever “it” is, and they invested their lives in raising up the next generation for Christ. Their Sunday School class had a huge impact on me spiritually that year. I fell in love with God’s Word, developed strong Christian friendships and witnessed the power of a volunteer.

Fast forward to this past Sunday night. At Rolling Hills, we hosted our first ever Volunteer Celebration event. It was incredible! 270 people gathered for a meal and and an amazing show. The entire night was meant to say “thank you” to those who serve and make such a difference each and every Sunday in God’s house.

Volunteers entered on a red carpet with people cheering. They came to a delicious meal by one of the best caterers in Nashville (a Rolling Hills volunteer himself). After dinner, the show started. It was an awards show with singing, dancing and, of course, awards. There was the “City Water” award to the volunteer who is everywhere. There was the “Nacho Libre” award to the worship ministry volunteer who is “The beeesssttt.” Then there was the “Officer Collins” award to the volunteer who makes the best first impression. We laughed, clapped and celebrated people serving and making a difference for Christ.

People like Lee & Saundria Keck. Lee & Saundria were presented the “Lifetime Achievement” award – kind of ironic for a church that has only been around for 13 years. But, they deserve it. Lee who retired from working with the State of Tennessee and Saundria who retired from LifeWay understood that you don’t retire from serving and volunteering. When we began the church they both had full-time jobs. Now, they volunteer full-time. Saundria was our first children’s leader when we only had 3 kids. When I announced one Sunday that we were leaving the Marriott to go meet at the movie theater, her and Lee drove straight to Lowe’s to buy rugs because she didn’t want these children she loved to be on a dirty movie theater floor. Saundria then started our Mom-to-Mom ministry which is for young moms and today has over 70 young moms coming each Tuesday morning. Lee has been leading a Bible Study for men, greeting at the door, and serving on about every mission trip. In fact, thanks to Lee’s contribution and help, there is a pastor in the Amazon who is using a canoe with Lee Keck’s name on it to travel from church to church to preach the Gospel. I love serving our God with these heroes and friends.

Ephesians 4:11 says, “It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

We can’t become “mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” without people doing the work of ministry. We need each and every person serving in their area of calling and giftedness for all of us to become all God desires and for His Church to mature. That has been true for me.

In my life, I am so thankful for Carl & Sue Moore and Lee & Saundria Keck. In addition, I am so thankful to serve alongside the 403 volunteers who so faithfully serve our God at Rolling Hills every Sunday as well as throughout the week. We are raising up the next generation of pastors, missionaries, Federal Reserve directors, workers for the State and stay-at-home moms who love Jesus and further His Kingdom. And, we are growing more like Christ in the process.

To all of you who volunteer in the Name of Jesus, thank you! Thank you for investing your life in what really matters! If you are not yet serving, jump in and join the movement. Find a place to serve at your church and transform a life for the glory of God. The amazing part is that most of the time, your life is the one that is changed.

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Preparing for the Presidential Election

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I grew up in a Republican home. My dad was a Republican, and this was the viewpoint that dominated our political discussions. I was taught that Democrats did not have Christian values. Therefore, you can probably understand how shocking it was to me when I was in high school to found out that my pastor was a big Democrat. I grew up in a large church, and I loved and respected my pastor, just like I did my dad. Now, what was I to do?

Nothing creates passion like politics and religion. What I have discovered is that so often we try to fit Christianity into a Republican or Democratic platform instead of being Christ-followers first, and then supporting a political agenda. Politics are not meant to be religion (although, for some it has become one). There are godly people on both sides of the aisle. And, there are God-given agendas in both political parties. We need to be fiscally responsible (good stewardship) and we need to take care of the poor (Jesus taught us this long before any political party). The government is intended to run our county while Christ should run our lives – both this life and the life to come.

This past week at the Men’s Leadership Network, our guest was Charles Overby. Charles is a man who has spent his life in politics. He was the head of the First Amendment Center in Washington DC, and hosted dinners for the Supreme Court Justices and Congress. He is now the head of the Overby School of Journalism and Politics at Ole Miss.

You can listen to the full interview with Charles here. What I appreciated about Charles was his desire to talk about politics in a civil manner. What has been lost, according to Charles, is humility. No candidate is perfect – we are all sinful, fallible people. Even the leaders in the Bible made significant mistakes. We must all learn to be dependent on God and to pray for our leaders. We need people who are humble, but who also represent our values.

We, as Christ-followers, need to be actively involved in our local, state and national elections. People died for our right to vote. We need to vote. We also, need to be able to engage in healthy conversations, whether in person or on social media, about relevant political topics. But, we should always do this with gentleness and respect. In addition, we have a responsibility to teach our children about politics and how to pray for our leaders.

My dad would watch Fox News exclusively. Now, there are definitely things I appreciate about Fox News, but there are good issues that are represented on the other side as well. When my dad would tell me, “Our country is just going downhill.” I would remind him, “Dad, we want our leaders to succeed.” Regardless of whether we agree with them on every point, we want them to make good decisions. The decisions they make impact our lives as well as the lives of our kids, neighbors and family members.

Over the next few months, we will hear more and more about politics. And, each time you hear a political ad, think about this – our God is Sovereign. Our God is greater than any candidate, election process or even the United States of America. We don’t have to live in fear of whoever is elected. We can live in faith that our God is ultimately in control. Therefore, be more passionate about Jesus than you are about whichever political candidate you support, and talk about Jesus as much as you do about the Presidential election.

Our God is in control, so we don’t have to live in fear, but we can live in faith. We can pray for our leaders, engage in healthy dialogue and point people to the One who can truly change our hearts and our nation. Let’s not get lost in the venom and the hatred during this political campaign, but let’s be people of love. People who love others regardless of their political candidate or choices. Let’s be followers of Christ more than of a candidate. Our God is greater.

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Life-Change

 

Our God specializes in life-change. With God, there is always hope.

I love having a front row seat for watching God change lives. It is amazing! Karen and Elliott were close to giving up last year – on their marriage and on their family. Enter our loving and caring God, and their lives were forever changed. They are a part of our church and Community Group, and it has been such a joy to walk with them in this journey.

Also, Tim. Tim is a wonderful husband and father. He is also battling stage 4 prostate cancer. He has become a great friend over the past year and his passion for Jesus is contagious. Listen to his story and allow it to encourage you the way it has encouraged me and so many others at our church.

Whatever you are facing in life, never lose hope. God is with you, and God is for you. Hold on to Him and experience His life-change in you. It’s not about what we do or don’t do. It is all about Jesus! He specializes in changing lives. And, it is awesome!

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Being Present for Others in Times of Crisis

Having recently experienced the death of my father, I have become more aware of the need and power of God’s Presence in times of crisis, but also the power of others—friends and family. Life can be hard, and we are not created to go through life alone. It is, however, a challenge for many of us to know how to minister to others when they experience difficult times. Many people don’t like to visit hospitals or think that they wouldn’t know what to say. But, know that, whether a relative, close friend, co-worker or even a casual acquaintance, your presence will speak volumes. You become the physical representation of Christ and there is healing power in your prayers and presence.

Here are some things I have observed about how to minister to others in times of crisis:

  1. Everything stops in times of crisis – Regardless of anything else that might be going on, when a family member or close friend experiences a loss or a crisis, stop what you are doing and respond. Your presence matters. Everything else can, and will, wait. Being at a home, a hospital room or even attending a visitation or funeral is something that people will remember.
  2. Do something – Often we think, “I don’t know what to say, so I will not say anything.” But, a visit, a voicemail, an email, a Facebook post or even a quick text just to say, “I am thinking about you and praying for you today” means so much. You can add a Bible verse or even a short prayer. It’s the simple step of reaching out that means a lot to those walking through a challenging time. They realize they are not alone. They know there are others supporting them through the struggle. Don’t talk yourself out of doing something. We can’t do everything, but we can all do something.
  3. Meet a need – In times of crisis, think about how you can meet a need. Food is often a big need. People have to eat. Bringing a meal by the home will make a huge difference. Many times there will be out-of-town company, and you can help the family in crisis. Think about helping with child-care or even cleaning a home. People offered these special touches to our family during my dad’s passing, and it sure made a huge difference. Even if we weren’t able to receive all the help, just knowing people were available and willing meant the world.
  4. Be creative – My dad being in CCU in the hospital for 5 days, meant a lot of time spent in the hospital room or waiting room for our family. My parents’ Community Group brought snacks for the and even dollar bills for vending machines. This was creative and so practical. Friends came up to relieve us and sit with my dad when we needed to take care of my mom or meet with doctors. Our Community Group brought us gift cards to restaurants near the hospital. Simple, but creative ways to minister, and these truly met huge needs when we were not in the state of mind to think of them ourselves.
  5. Prayer works – Personal private prayer makes a difference. I felt God’s peace through the entire journey because of the prayers of God’s people. In addition, people coming to the hospital and praying with us meant so much as well. You don’t have to be a prayer expert to pray. Prayer is just a conversation with God and affirmation time for the family or the individual going through the crisis. Along with this, writing prayer cards to people as well as to the children of those in crisis will encourage hearts and lift spirits. Prayer works!

I am so grateful for all the ways people ministered to us through my dad’s going home to be with Christ. Most of the time I am on the other side – ministering to others. But, this time people loved and ministered to me so well. The prayers sustained us and the community carried us. I am so blessed to know Christ and to be a part of an incredible community of family and friends.

Let’s love and minister well at all times, but especially in times of crisis.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

The Real Super Bowl

Eight years ago, 15 players. Last week, 1,287 players. The Father & Son Bowl has become, for me, the Real Super Bowl. Seeing dads connecting with their sons. Watching men bringing a boy of a single mom from their workplace out to play. Experiencing the joy of a nine year-old catching a touchdown pass and witnessing men, on both teams, high-fiving and lifting him up while he smiles from ear to ear. Hearing kids say, “This is my favorite day of the year.” And, celebrating as one man in the church shares his testimony about Jesus and challenges dads to live their lives for Christ. To me, this is what it is all about.

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Now, I understand the Father & Son Bowl doesn’t bring in huge tv ratings or rake in billions of dollars. But, as I think about the impact on generations, I believe that the Father & Son Bowl is making an eternal difference. In fact, who will remember who even played in the Super Bowl in 20 years, 50 years or especially 100 years? Who will remember the half-time show? However, ask a child about the memories of the relationship with his dad or granddad – that will last forever! The Father & Son Bowl is impacting marriages, children and generations. In addition, through the donations of the men that play, thousands of dollars are given to Justice & Mercy International to share the love of Christ with the fatherless throughout the world and donations are also given to local orphans as well. Lives are being changed for eternity. Stories are being re-written for Christ. Forevers are being awakened.
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One ordinary person, Darin Clark, with his wife Caree, work tirelessly to put on the Father & Son Bowl. They have the help of hundreds of volunteers from Rolling Hills, but this is a labor of love. Darin doesn’t get paid $40 million like the commissioner of the NFL; in fact, Darin doesn’t get paid at all. Darin loves Jesus, loves his family (4 sons), loves his church and he loves his community. He is passionate about making a difference in the lives of men, and God is using him in an incredible way.
Who knows what God will do, but I imagine one day having a Father & Son Bowl in every city. I imagine many men coming to know Christ and many families healed. I dream of men being the leaders they were called to be in their homes, churches and communities. And, all of this around a game of football that may never be televised around the world. Now, to me, this is a much bigger deal and the impact is eternal.

The Wrapping Station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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