From Spiritual Growth

water-from-a-rock

Water from a Rock

img_5470Stunning in beauty; yet, harsh in reality. During the first few days of our recent Biblical Study Tour to Israel, we spent time in the Negev – the wilderness. We actually walked where the children of Israel walked for 40 years as they wandered around the wilderness coming out of Egypt and before entering the Promised Land. It is truly wilderness – hot, dry, very little rainfall and barren. Yet, God provided for His people for 40 years. Each day God gave them manna “bread” from heaven, quail, as well as water from a rock. It is incredible to see these places in the wilderness where these natural springs come flowing out of a huge rock. They are rare, but they are there. When the people needed water, God would call Moses to “strike” (or “speak to” – important to do what God tells us) the Rock. And, God would bring water to sustain His people back then – just like our God sustains us today.

img_5466Actually, much of Israel resembles this. The area around the Galilee is beautiful and can be lush (no wonder Jesus spent so much time there), but the rest of the country resembles the terrain of the wilderness more than it does the Galilee. Jerusalem is like this, the Dead Sea and the Judean wilderness. So, why did God choose this place for the Promised Land? Why did God call Abraham to this land? Why did He make this the most coveted of all the land for His people?

Well, first of all, this is the most strategic land in the world. It sits as a “land bridge” between Europe, Asia, Africa and India. It is the home of the most ancient spice routes. With the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, it has served as a huge commercial route for all time. Almost every major army has come through this area, with more battles being fought at Megiddo, the Valley of Armageddon, than anywhere else in the world. In fact, the last battle of history will occur in this place.

img_5479Secondly, there are a lot of natural resources. While the terrain is difficult, there are still places of great vegetation. From the springs of the Jordan River in the north, to the Sea of Galilee and the well-watered areas all the way down to the Dead Sea, it truly can be a “land flowing with milk and honey.” There are huge contrasts, yet sustaining provision. While none of it is easy, it is all there. It is beautiful and bountiful. But, still there are better nourished places in the world that are much easier to grow and develop.

So, why this place? When we asked our guide, Yoni, here was his response:
“What is so promising about the Promised Land?” reading Isaiah 45:6 while viewing the Judean wilderness after our camel ride. “In English it is very poetic, ‘so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me. I am the Lord and there is no other‘ (NIV). However in Hebrew the verse actually says “כי אפס בלעדי“ or transliterated, ‘ki efes biladai” which literally means ‘you are nothing without me.'” In other words, we are zero without God and he gave his people a land where they would often be reminded of their frailty and need of constant Heavenly help. If he had chosen someplace like Tahiti, people would have quickly forgotten about God. It is a simple formula.

img_5475God wants us to trust in Him. As God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt and led them to the Promised Land, He met them to say, “Don’t forget Me” when you come into the land – Deuteronomy 8. God is always drawing us to Himself. Even in the hard times, these are reminders of how much we need the Lord – and how God will take care of us – even providing water from a rock.

One of our team members, Matt Huitt, wrote:

“I was struck by how we kept seeing all those man-made irrigation techniques and it brought to mind Isaiah 41:17-20 ‘The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set junipers in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this,that the Holy One of Israel has created it.'”

We stood on the physical rock where our spiritual rock, Jesus, was struck, where “blood AND WATER” flowed out when the centurion pierced his side with a spear. Soon, in the new heavens and new earth, drip irrigation and step irrigation and any other source for capturing water won’t be needed. Just as Eden was watered by a river, so the whole earth will be watered by the new Jerusalem when God rights all wrongs and makes all things new.

Wherever you are in the journey of your life today remember that God can and will provide water from a Rock. He is with you and He is for you. Hold on to Him. Don’t forget about Him when things are plenty, but always remember He is the Source of all good things in your life. He doesn’t want you to be complacent. He always wants you to trust Him and need Him. Think about all He has done for you today. Especially, water from a Rock.

most-of-the-important-things-in-the-world-have-been-accomplished-by-people-who-have-kept-on-trying-when-there-seemed-to-be-no-help-at-all-2

Is God Enough?

There are times in life when we find ourselves in the midst of waiting. Now, we don’t like to wait. In fact, we live in an instant gratification society – fast food, microwaves, faster downloads, faster & faster communication through cell phones and social media – which makes waiting even more challenging. Yet, there are times in our lives when we find ourselves waiting. Maybe it is waiting on a marriage or a re-marriage, waiting on a child, waiting on a job or our dream job, or even waiting on God. So, what we do in the waiting?

There is an Old Testament book that is not widely known, but actually speaks to this idea of waiting – Habakkuk. Habakkuk is one of the 12 Minor Prophets in the Old Testament (not minor because they are less important, but minor because their books are shorter than the Major Prophets). Habakkuk’s name literally means, “to wrestle,” and there is a lot of rich content that resides in three short chapters. As you mine the depths of this book written 2,600 years ago, you find some solid truths that are incredibly relevant to the world we live in today.

Habakkuk calls out to God with two prayer requests (called “complaints”). The first centers around how the children of God in his day (the nation of Judah) have gone away from God. They were neglecting the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), there was violence and injustice in the land, and the leadership of the nation was corrupt. So, Habakkuk calls out to God and asks God to do something. Essentially, Habakkuk cries out to God, “Do you see what is happening here? Do you even care?” God answers Habakkuk’s prayer and says, “Yes, I do see, and I am sending the Babylonians to do something about it.”

Habakkuk doesn’t like God’s answer (sound familiar?), so he calls out to God again saying, “God, this isn’t fair. The Babylonians are worse than us, Your people, who you are punishing.” Again, God answers – Habakkuk 2:2-4, “Then the Lord replied: ‘Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright – but the righteous will live by his faith…”

God tells Habakkuk (and us) three things: Write, Wait and Live by faith.

First, it is so important to write down what God says to you. Studies show we forget 95% of what we hear within 24 hours. If we don’t write down when God speaks to us through His Word, a song, a prayer, a sermon or even a friend, then we will likely forget it and be right back in the same spot looking for an answer. Keep a journal, write a blog, have a notebook by your bed at night. God will speak to us – will we listen and will we remember? Think about this – maybe God was telling Habakkuk to “write down the revelation” as much for him as for us? When God speaks to you, maybe God is telling you to write down what He says as much for you as for your children or others who will one day read your words. There are many Christ-followers who have walked through tough times – like miscarriages, cancer and the like – and yet they have written blogs and books that have ministered to so many others. Write down what God is saying to you.

Second, God tells Habakkuk to wait. All Habakkuk could see is that Babylonians were coming and it looked bad (and it was). But, what Habakkuk didn’t know is that God (just like Habakkuk’s contemporary, Jeremiah, prophesied) was putting Judah in “time-out” (exile) for 70 years, and that He would return a “remnant” to the land. This “remnant” would rebuild the Temple and would prepare the way for the coming Messiah. God was writing a bigger story than Habakkuk could see.

God is writing a bigger story than you can see. God has not left you or given up on you. There is still breath in your lungs for a reason. God has a bigger plan and purpose for your life as well as for the world. Therefore, God says, “wait.” He is not finished yet. Don’t give up on God because He will never give up on you.

Finally, God says, “the righteous will live by his faith.” In the midst of the waiting, God is telling Habakkuk (and us) to trust Him. God is about a relationship, not religion. The Christian walk is about faith in God and God alone. Many times it is in the midst of the waiting that our faith grows the most.

The book of Habakkuk was written over a span of 60 years. Habakkuk learned to wait on God – not a “passive” waiting where you sit around, but an “active” waiting where you are about your Father’s business. Habakkuk prayed, read God’s Word and served the people in his day and generation. We are called to do the same in our day and generation. Be active in making a difference for His Kingdom in the present while you wait for God to fulfill His specific promises in the future.

After waiting on God, Habakkuk makes this incredible statement of faith: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” Habakkuk 3:17-18.

Essentially, Habakkuk comes to this conclusion – God is enough. If everything was taken away, God is enough. Is God enough for you? If everything else in this commercialized world in which we live was taken away, can we still rejoice because of our relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ? We must learn to wait on God – not simply for what we want Him to do for us, but because of what He has already done for us. As we live by faith, we fall more in love with God in the good times as well as in the hard times. We understand that God is for us and He will take care of us.

At the end, Habakkuk closes with this verse, “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the heights.” Habakkuk 3:19. It is in the prayer and waiting on God that our strength grows. It is in the faith of a Sovereign Lord where we learn to go to new heights in our spiritual life. God wants us to reach our full potential in Him. More than making money, success in our career or even having a family, growing deeper and stronger in our relationship with God is what enables us to accomplish all God desires. God used Habakkuk, in some tough circumstances, to impact others. God is drawing us close to His heart. He is telling us to “write, wait and live by faith.” In the process, we will grow stronger spiritually and we will impact others for His glory.

 

overcoming-roadblocks

Overcoming Roadblocks in Your Spiritual Journey

We all have them – roadblocks. There are things in our life that keep us from reaching our full potential in Christ. Some roadblocks we all face, like fear, busyness, image and more; while others are unique to us – our own personal struggle. But, we all have them. None of us are perfect; and none of us are immune. In fact, we are all a work in progress – and progress happens as we learn to bust through roadblocks in our life. So what is yours? Identifying your roadblock is the first step. Be honest. And then give it to Christ. It is Christ, and Christ alone, who can transform a life and bust down a roadblock.

Take a moment to watch this video. This is an interview with a good friend named Michael Turner. His story is powerful. God has done a miracle in his life, and I believe his story will help you bust through the roadblocks you face. God is at work in your life. Trust Him and be bold. The best of your life is still to come. Begin the breakthrough of a roadblock today.

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“She turned to the sunlight And shook her yellow head,And whispered to her neighbor_ %22Winter is dead.”

Spiritual Discernment – Inviting God Into Your Decisions

We make decisions every day – some are little and some are big. Deciding what clothes we wear, what food we eat, the music we listen to or even what we watch on Netflix are little decisions, but over time they make an impact on our life. In addition, there are some big decisions that we make – who we marry, what job we take, what house or car we buy and where we live that have huge implications. In fact, if you think about it, our life is pretty much comprised of the decisions we make – the little and the big. Discernment is important in every decision we make. Spiritual discernment is essential in our lives. God is sovereign and He has a great plan for our lives. Romans 12:2 says, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” This means that God has a “perfect will” for your life. However, by the decisions we make, we can end up settling for merely God’s “pleasing will” or even God’s “good will.” Yet, God wants the very best for us!

Knowing what God wants us to do and where God wants us to go is at the heart of every Christ-follower. But, how? How do we know what God wants us to do? This is discernment. Discerning God’s will in every decision we make. People often ask me for prayers or advice on decisions in their lives. Most of the time, this centers around the bigger decisions such as a job or even career change, a person they are dating and trying to decide if they are the one to marry, a decision about which college to attend or a large financial expenditure, like buying a house. I count it an honor to pray with them and for them in whatever they are facing and although their discernment process is their own journey, they are certainly starting at the right place. Here’s my 5-step process for gaining and growing in discernment with every decision:

  1. Pray about it – I believe in the power of prayer. God tells us, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8) God wants us to ask! Praying invites God into the decision. So often we set out to solve the problem thinking we don’t need God. But, God wants to be involved in every area of our life. No decision is too small or too big for God.
  2. How does it align with Scripture – God will not call you to do something outside of His Word. For instance, if buying a new car means you will take on too much debt, then it is probably not the right decision. Maybe you need to save more before buying the car, or you need to buy a cheaper car. Also, God’s Word teaches us not to be “unequally yoked;” therefore, you should not marry someone who is not a Christ-follower. They don’t have to agree with you on every doctrinal issue, but this foundation must be right. God gives us His Word to reveal His character and His will for us. Make sure that every decision lines up with His Word.
  3. Make a list of pros and cons – This is a part of spiritual discernment that many people skip. God gave us a brain, and He wants us to use it. Jesus said, “Be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.” Does the decision make common sense? Do the pros outweigh the cons. Maybe it is a new job – does your decision take into account the impact on your family, community, health benefits, personal growth – it is not always the job offer with the most money that wins. This even comes back to the food you eat and the things you watch. As the apostle Paul writes, “Everything is permissable (because of grace), but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Corinthians 10:23) Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. However, sometimes God calls us to steps of faith that defy logic. Be discerning.
  4. Seek wise counsel – We all have blindspots. We need others to look at decisions from a different perspective as well as to take the personal emotion out of it. Proverbs 10:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Don’t be afraid, or too prideful, to ask for help or advice. Ask people who you know will be honest with you. Also, be willing to go to a Christian Counselor who can help you discern. The most important part is making the right decision, not that you are right. Be willing to listen. Many times God speaks to you through others.
  5. Fast – When I have big decisions to make, many times I invest in some kind of fast. Fasting is when you give up food, social media or something else for a certain period of time (sun up to sun down, or even three days, a week, etc.) in order to not be distracted by the things of this world and focus on listening to God. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” God wants you to know what He wants you to do. Ask Him. And, then make the commitment to put yourself in a posture to receive from Him.

The Christian life is a journey of faith – and that is what makes it so exciting. It is learning to be dependent on God. Growing in your love for Him and your ability to hear His voice. This is discernment, and this leads to spiritual depth and greater impact for the Kingdom. Commit every decision to the Lord. God wants you to succeed. He wants you to know His perfect will for your life. Understand the importance of discernment in every decision you make. Follow this 5-step process, and I guarantee you will make wise decisions. And, now, let’s live it all for the glory of our great God!

 

Big Rocks First

Big Rocks First

I remember the first time I saw it, and I was mesmerized. There were five big rocks and a jar full of beans. His name was Hamp Pitts – a graduate of MIT and an inventor. He was the smartest man I knew (and maybe still is). He was a scientist and a Christ-follower. He took some beans and poured them into a jar. They came very close to filling up the entire jar. Then he asked, “Now, do you think I can get these five big rocks into the jar and close the lid?” No way. It was impossible. The jar was almost full already. There was no way he could add the rocks. All of us were perplexed, but Hamp was fully confident.

After a few moments of silence, letting the dilemma fully sink in, Hamp emptied the jar of the beans and placed the big rocks in first. Without saying a word, he began to pour the beans back into the jar over the rocks. As the last beans fell in, they came right up to the top. Hamp calmly took the lid and put it on the jar with the big rocks and the beans all inside. He simply said, “Put the big things in first.”

What a life-impacting principle. What we all do, especially this time of the year, is we cave to the little things. “The tyranny of the urgent” as some have called it. We fill our lives with the little things, and then we don’t have time for the things that really matter. Our schedules are packed with little things that are not that important, but that take our time, energy and attention away from the big things that do matter. At the end of the day, there is a difference between activity and accomplishment.

The solution? Put the big things in first. Don’t let your schedule run your life. We must prioritize what is truly important and put that into our life first. I believe our top five priorities must be:

  1. God – you need to spend time with your Heavenly Father. No one ever drifts into a closer relationship with God. You must be intentional. You must commit the first 15-30 minutes in the morning, or at night, to be with the One who is Sovereign over it all. If you don’t prioritize this, then you will never find the time. The little things will consume you; yet, this is your most important priority.
  2. Family – how much time do you actually spend with those you love the most? Think about it. Again, if you don’t schedule the time, the little things will keep you from truly experiencing the best things of life. You need to schedule date nights with your spouse. You need to schedule vacations with your family. You need “Family Fun Nights” and other times to just sit, talk and laugh. If you don’t schedule it, then homework, sports, tv, social media and all the other little things will consume your life.
  3. Church – you need the Body of Christ, and the Body of Christ needs you. Prioritize Sunday morning services, Community Group, Wednesday nights at church for your kids, etc. Church keeps you grounded and focused on God, His Word and His people – the three things that are eternal; everything else will fade away. Prioritize what will last.
  4. People – people matter. Don’t let your schedule consume you so much that you miss out on making a difference in the lives of others. Make time for your friends. You and I need godly people around us. As Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 tells us, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” Having great friends takes time. And, make time to help others. Schedule a mission trip or commit to sponsoring a child. Put this big rock named “People” into your jar; otherwise, you’ll never get around to it.
  5. Your potential – God created you, and He wants you to fulfill your full potential in Him. Always be moving toward the goal God has for your life. Carve out time to read, pray, write and dream. Don’t let the urgent drown out your deep desires. God created you to do and be your best. Refuse to settle for the excuses of “I can’t” or “there’s not enough time” to keep you from fulfilling your dreams. God is with you, and He is for you. Even if it is only 15-30 minutes a day, make sure that every day you are moving forward to accomplishing your God-given potential.

Truth is – we all have the same amount of time; it is just how we use it. We all have big rocks and little beans. It really comes down to how we put them into the jar of our life. It is not about more time – we don’t get any more time – only 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year. The people who achieve the true great things in life are the ones who prioritize the big rocks first.

A dad recently told me, “We let gymnastics rule our lives, and we forgot the things that were really important. We stopped coming to church, and we were not spending time with God or with our family. We were taking our daughter to gymnastics five nights a week, and we were stressed-out and falling apart. We had to make the decision of what is really important.” We all have to make that decision of what is really important. And, what you will find is that if you put the big rocks in first, then all the other little things find a way to fit in. You establish the priorities, and all the little things get done as well (or, the ones that don’t matter fall away).

Take time to look at your schedule. Evaluate it and be honest. Seasons in life change, so you need to take an inventory at the beginning of each new calendar year as well as at the beginning of every new school year. Do you have the five big rocks in your jar? Have you established the priorities of your life? If not, then take the time to make the change. You will be glad you did, and you might be surprised – but, everything will fit in the jar.

How God Persuaded Me to Write a Book

How God Persuaded Me to Write a Book

I never planned to write a book. It has never been on my radar. I love to pastor, and I love seeing God transform lives for His glory. Now, I do like to write, but always thought a book was way too much writing! Kind of like running; I like to run, but I have no desire to run a marathon. I always thought the same way about a book. My life is full and busy, with an awesome wife, three amazing daughters, an incredible church to lead & serve, and a dynamic, growing mission ministry called Justice & Mercy International. I could not imagine finding the time or desire to write an entire book.

But, God. For several years, I just had this prompting of the Spirit to start writing things down. To write down the miracles we were seeing at Rolling Hills, through JMI and in the lives of God’s people. So, I started making notes when things would happen. And, through the years, God kept doing more and more. Going back and reading some of it would leave me in awe of a God who accomplished the impossible.

Then, a few years ago as I was praying, I heard God say, “Tell My Story.” I thought, “Well, I preach each week and tell God’s Story, that must be what He means.” But I kept hearing His still, small voice say, “Tell My Story.” It certainly took me a while, but it finally hit me that God was calling me write a book to Tell His Story.

Of course, I came up with all kinds of excuses – “I don’t have the time.” “Who will want to read it?” “This is a lot of extra work for nights and weekends.” And, finally, after all the excuses, it all came down to a matter of obedience. Truly. Would I be obedient to God even when I didn’t necessarily want to do it or think it would “work.” For me, this is part of my story – this call to be obedient to God even when I am not certain of the outcome. This “faith” is the journey to which we are all called.

As you read the first five books of the Bible, Moses tells the story of God delivering the people from the land of slavery in Egypt over and over again. When you think about it, that was important – for the people to remember. As they would move into the Promised Land they would forget about what God had done and as new people were born, they would never know the story – unless it was written down. It was important for them to know of God’s deliverance, so that they would have confidence to trust Him in the future. There is power in knowing and telling the story in order to grow our faith and trust in our great God.Immeasurably More Cover

So, I wrote a book. I named it “Immeasurably More,” based on the theme verse of my life and of God’s church here at Rolling Hills:

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

Ephesians 3:20-21

Our God has truly done “Immeasurably More” in my life, in so many other lives, in His church at Rolling Hills, and in Justice & Mercy International, and this book is simply telling His Story. The stories in the book are from people I love dearly whose lives, like mine, have been transformed by the love of Christ.

My prayer is that our God will use this book to encourage others. I long for glory to be given to Him for all He has done and for all He will do. I pray that people will be drawn to Christ and their lives transformed – like mine and countless others in the book. And, I pray that this book will become a tool for people to take and give to their family, friends and others in order to share God’s story with a broader audience today.

I have no idea what God will do with this book. But, I love that it is all in His hands. I always thought that even if it helps one person, it would have been worth the time, energy and effort. When I shared with one of the book’s editors how I was praying for even one life to be impacted by Christ through the stories in the book, she simply replied, “It already has.”

The book “Immeasurably More” releases August 28, 2016. You can find more information at immeasurablymorelife.com. All the proceeds will go to further God’s work at Rolling Hills and in Justice & Mercy International. Please pray with me in this endeavor to Tell His Story.

What God has done is nothing short of miraculous. Lives being saved physically and spiritually. Lives transformed for the glory of our great God. It is only He who can change a life, so let’s pray He will use this tool to impact hearts and lives. The fact is, our God longs to do immeasurably more in each of us. Let’s trust Him, be obedient when He calls and live the life He has created us to live.

Let’s be faithful to our great God and in the process, we will truly experience immeasurably more.

 

 

 

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Kate’s Baptism

I’d like to share this with you!

I love being a dad, and this past Sunday was such a great celebration for our family as our youngest daughter, Kate, was baptized! At Rolling Hills we endeavor to do a video for each person being baptized talking about their salvation experience. For Kate’s video, Tom, our expert video directer, added footage of her actual baptism. I want to share this with you, and with the whole world! I am so thankful for the salvation we receive in Christ Jesus. He is our Hope and Life. And, when your child experiences this – there is nothing better.

I am humbled at what our God is doing, and thankful to serve Him with each of you. Thank you for the difference you make in my life, our family, God’s church and in His Kingdom. To our great God be the glory!

With a full heart and much love,

Jeff

 

Why This Father's Day is So Special

Why This Father’s Day is Special

Father’s Day is always a special day. In our home, my girls spend weeks making cards and working together on choreographing a song-and-dance. On Sunday afternoon, after church and some lunch, we all gather in the living room where the girls sing their songs, share their cards and give lots of hugs and kisses. It is always special.

This Father’s Day will be even more special. Yes, we will have time for the dances and cards, but also something more: we will be celebrating our youngest daughter, Kate’s, baptism! For the past two years, Kate has been asking spiritual questions. Seeing her sisters come to know Christ personally, being in church, and the times of talking about Jesus at home have been preparing her heart.

_MG_2642cAs Christian parents, we begin laying the spiritual foundation in our children when they are born. Through the books we read, the songs we sing, the prayers we pray and attending church. Lisa and I have been reading the Bible together with our girls since they were babies. We have moved from a “Read to Me Rhyme Bible” to the “Jesus Storybook Bible” as our children have grown. Every night we pray with them and over them. And, they have been at church since their first Sunday in this world. Through all of this, we have prayed for our God to draw each of our girls’ hearts close to His and that they would come to know Jesus personally. Not just about Jesus, but to have a life-long relationship with Him.

_MG_0505By God’s grace, each of our oldest two children have committed their lives to Christ and been baptized as an outward expression of their faith. As Kate, our youngest, started asking these questions, we knew God was working in her heart. As a parent, you feel this tension of wondering if your kids are too young to understand, but at the same time not wanting to stifle the Spirit of God’s work in their life. As our children start asking spiritual questions, it is important to take those seriously. Responding to their questions – not blowing them off. It is okay to say, “I don’t know. Let me find out and get back to you.” Making this a priority and being excited about their spiritual sensitivity.

_MG_1725As Kate started asking more and more questions, we prayed about managing this tension. Not wanting to do this too early and then her coming back five years later and wanting to do this “for real.” But, also not wanting to squelch what God is doing in her life and leaving her discouraged. As our discussions became more and more frequent, we signed up for the Kids Baptism Information Class at church. This class helps children process what God is doing in their life, and it helps parents with key concepts (like sin and salvation) that we want to help our children understand.

Kate prayed and asked Christ into her life several months ago – she was ready. It was so obvious God was working in her life. When we asked her about baptism, she said she wanted to be baptized on Father’s Day. We gave her other options, but she was adamant. As a dad, I can’t tell you how much this means. I have had the honor, privilege and joy to baptize my oldest two and now to baptize Kate on Father’s Day is incredibly special. As parents, we celebrate this spiritual marker – make a big deal!

I am so thankful for all the people who have partnered with Lisa and I in Kate’s spiritual journey. From her grandparents to her sisters and her teachers at church. From her first Sunday morning in the baby room at church to preschool worship and children’s ministry and community group. So many people have encouraged her and prayed for her.

I jokingly told Lisa, “My job as a dad is over – all my girls will have been baptized and I will have taught them all to ride their bikes! Now, you can take over and talk to them about body changes.” In all seriousness, though, the role of a father never ends. Even when our kids grow up, they will always need a parent to pray with them, counsel them and encourage them. Baptism is just the beginning of Kate’s spiritual journey. I am so excited to see how God will use this wonderful girl for His glory!

What makes this Father’s Day even more special is that we have a Heavenly Father who loves us and draws us to Himself through His Son, Jesus. He has saved all three of my daughters, and I am forever grateful. Our Heavenly Father deserves all the credit and the glory. I love my Heavenly Father. I love Him more every day, and I want to honor Him this coming Sunday, Father’s Day, and every day of my life.

_MG_5793In addition, this will be my first father’s day without my dad on this earth. I loved my earthly father so much, and I wish he could be here to see his granddaughter, Kate, being baptized. But, by the grace and mercy of my Heavenly Father, I know he will be watching this Sunday. He will be peering over the edge of heaven and staring down at a baptismal pool in Franklin, Tennessee. As Kate goes under the water, symbolizing her dying to her old way of life, and then as she comes up out of the water, symbolizing her new life in Christ, my dad will be high-fiving all of his friends and the angels in heaven. He will point to Kate, and then give all the glory to his Heavenly Father right there.

I am blessed to be a father. I am blessed to have a spiritual legacy that was passed down to me. Now, I have the opportunity to pass that legacy of faith in Christ on, and that is what makes this Father’s Day is so very special.

 

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Why I Encourage Every Parent to Send Their Kids to Summer Camp

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Yesterday, I was with a couple hundred children, students and adults at our Rolling Hills Summer Camp. Everyone was having such a fun time with smiles everywhere and lots of laughter. Worship was powerful and God-filled! At Rolling Hills, we put a lot of energy, resources and time into our Summer Camp, and as a result, we feel that it is one of the best in the country!

I truly believe every family should make camp a priority each summer for their child and student. Here’s why:

1. It’s Life-Impacting

Taking a week to be away from all their screens allows kids to truly hear from God (In fact, this could make a huge impact on all of us). Being away from all the distractions of social media creates an environment for students to focus on what really matters in life – God, their family, real friends and living a life that honors Him. Students are able to re-prioritize their life and make commitments to God that will have a profound impact on helping them become godly young men and women. Being a Student Pastor for 10 years, I witnessed many students return home from Camp different people. Their parents, family and friends would talk about the difference – “They used to speak to me so disrespectfully, but now they tell me they love me.” Or, “They used to treat their siblings like this, but now they include them.” It is life-changing.

2. It’s Relationship-Forming

Kids need good, strong relationships in order to be successful in life (we all do). First, kids need adults in their lives (besides their parents) who will speak truth, challenge and encourage them in the Lord. It is amazing how, as a parent, you can say something and your kids dismiss it, but someone else says it and your kids think it is the greatest thing they have ever heard! It is worth every penny to have other, godly adults affirming and speaking truth into your kid’s lives. Kids have enough bad influence from the world, they need godly influence. They need adults, both at Camp and afterwards, who will be available to them throughout the years, where they can ask hard questions and find godly answers

In addition, kids need friends. They need to be around other good kids who share their same faith in Christ and desire to live their life for Him. They have enough “peer pressure” at school, on social media and in the world. They need friends who will encourage and challenge them in the Word and in the truth of God’s love. Proverbs 13:20 can be summed up, “You are known by the company you keep.” This is so true for kids. Helping them develop godly friendships at church will impact the rest of their life.

3. It’s Really Fun!

Kids need to have fun. Kids are growing up in a world of stress and anxiety. In fact, research shows that more kids are struggling with anxiety and being medicated today than ever before. There are many factors, but the truth is that kids are having to grow up faster. There is so much pressure in the world from school, sports and even the tragedies they see on tv. They need to have fun, laugh and have a place to just be a kid.

Camp is stress relief. It is joy-filled. There are fun games, laughter and lots of smiles. Camp is spiritually transformational, but also emotionally invigorating. It is joy for the soul and so nourishing. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” Kids need a dose of Summer Camp to rejuvenate their spirit.

Throughout the summers ahead, I encourage every parent to make Camp a priority for your kids. Plan for it, save for it (I have three kids there right now and it adds up, but it is worth it), schedule for it and just do it. Do it for your kids, and, at some point, do it for you as well. Maybe you didn’t grow up going to Camp. At some point, be an adult leader. The adults have as much fun as the kids. Seriously, for all the same reasons for sending your kids to Summer Camp, you need to go yourself. Review the list, and put it on your calendar.

As I reflect on my own personal life journey, Summer Camp was always one of my favorite weeks of the year. It was at Camp that I made many friendships. It was at Camp in my 9th grade year, that I first felt called to ministry. It was at Camp that I developed a deep passion for God’s Word and prayer. It was at Camp that I grew exponentially in my faith. It was at Camp, as an adult leader, that I walked with many students as they made life-altering decisions for Christ. I am so thankful for Summer Camp.

To all the Campers at RH Summer Camp, but also at Camps all over the country this summer – I am praying for you! May our God move in a mighty way in your life and may you return home different because of your time with Him.

To all the adult Leaders at RH Summer Camp, but also at Camps all over the country – Thank you! Thank you for the difference you are making for Christ and His Kingdom. If you ever wonder if you are making a difference, just look at me and many of my friends who had leaders like you pour into us as kinds. You are raising up the future leaders of the Church, and I thank you!

Join in what God is doing and make sure Summer Camp is a priority for your family each year!

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.