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“What is This?” | Everyday Manna from Heaven

The Old Testament is all about God preparing His people for the Messiah. It’s a people longing for people and the story of a God of salvation and deliverance. This is so clear as God, through 10 plagues, delivers His people from slavery in Egypt and takes them on a journey, through the desert, to the Promised Land. Along the way, God teaches His people to trust Him.

Now, sustaining a million-plus people in a desert for 40 years is not a small undertaking. But, God. God supplies their every need. He gives them “manna” (this bread-like substance from heaven for their food and nourishment), quail and even water from a rock. Manna literally means “what is this?” for when the manna showed up, the people were surprised and had no idea what it was. Yet, God sustained His people with manna, and He grew their faith in Him.

Exodus is the most powerful book on salvation in the Old Testament.

Now, fast forward to the New Testament.

Mark begins his gospel not with the birth narrative, but he immediately moves to Jesus’s earthly ministry. In Mark 1, Jesus is teaching at the synagogue in Capernaum. It says, “The people were amazed at His teaching, because He taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (Mark 1:22) During His teaching time, Jesus heals a man from an evil spirit. Then it says, “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this?’ A new teaching – and one with authority!” (Mark 1:27)

“The Torah” – the first five books of the Old Testament – does not simply mean “The Law,” but is better understood as “The Teaching.” Jesus came and taught in a different way than the “teachers of the law.” Jesus was concerned about the people – physically and spiritually. He came not only to bring deeper insights into the Law, but to bring life to the people through the Teaching. Salvation. Life-sustaining and transforming salvation.

The contrast was so evident that the people realized this was different. “What is this?” – this is what they longed for. This was what the entire Old Testament journey was preparing them for. This is life that was truly life. Not religion (the Law) but a relationship (the Teaching and the Teacher). The One who came to fulfill the law and to bring life – physical and spiritual.

Our story mirrors the journey of the Israelites.

We all stand in need of salvation. We long for physical sustenance and spiritual life. Jesus told the people in John 6:34, “I am the bread of life. he who comes to Me will never go hungry, and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty.” Jesus meets our deepest needs. When we were slaves to sin, Jesus brought deliverance. He sustains physically in the wilderness while He leads us to the Promised Land. He is the “author and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Are we still amazed at His goodness in our lives? Do we thank God every day for the bread He gives us to eat that sustains us physically? Jesus even teaches us in the model prayer to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Everything we have comes from Him – daily He meets our physical needs. And, are we still amazed at His Teaching? Are we hungry for God’s Word and are we growing spiritually? Jesus came to teach not simply for knowledge, but that we might have life. His teaching is meant to draw us to the heart of a God who provides healing and salvation for us. How amazing that the Israelites waited for the Messiah and Jesus is born in Bethlehem. The name Bethlehem literally means, “House of Bread.” Jesus meets our deepest physical and spiritual needs. He truly is “the bread of life.”

Never lose the wonder of what God is doing in you. Just as the Israelites were surprised and overjoyed for the manna, and the people of Capernaum were amazed and overwhelmed by His Teaching. So, let’s be a people who never lose the sense of awe that comes when we realize that the God of all Creation sent His Son into the world to save us. Stay hungry for His teaching and see your life sustained, but also transformed.

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

Changing a Country

My first time to Moldova was in 2003. On that trip, I knew that God had a huge heart for the precious orphan children I met and a huge calling for us, a baby church in Middle Tennessee. I must admit that before that trip, I knew very little about this small country in Eastern Europe. But, it was the statistic that 60% of girls trafficked into prostitution in Eastern Europe come out of this country of 4 million and then meeting some of these vulnerable children that truly grabbed my heart. Not only the girls, but also the boys are in danger of trafficking, organized crime and even suicide. I have returned every year since my first trip and our church, Rolling Hills, has been sending mission teams multiple times a year. By God’s grace, we have had a front-row seat to see Him change an entire country.

Camps for Orphans and Vulnerable Children with Mission Teams

unspecified-1I am writing this on a plane returning home with one of our summer mission teams. From the first year, the prioritization of taking mission teams from Rolling Hills and other churches has been the basic building block. By hosting camps at various orphanages throughout Moldova, we have been able to share the Gospel and to see countless young men and women commit their lives to Christ. Having a spiritual foundation is the essence of a person’s worth and value. Christ has transformed their lives with His love, just as He has for each of us. We have seen God changing Moldova, one life at a time.

Mission teams have also allowed us to connect with children in order to hear their story and see the depth of their need. Through individuals who have served on one of our teams, we have been able to meet physical needs with clothes and food as well as to foster on-going discipleship by connecting Christ-followers in America with these children. This has allowed us to meet pastors in area villages who have helped identify the need. I am so thankful for the hundreds of people who have gone to Moldova to serve – God has used you and continues to use your prayers, love and support. You are a part of God’s bigger story for this country.

Sponsoring Children

After a few years of taking mission teams to serve in Moldova, we quickly realized that we had to do more. These kids were coming to know Christ, and we were able to give food and clothes, but they had long-term needs at the risk of not being met. In 2008, we started a non-profit called Justice & Mercy International. The first role of JMI was to hire a National Director and begin a sponsorship program. This sponsorship program has solidified the connection between an American (sponsor) and a vulnerable child in Moldova. This sponsor becomes a surrogate “parent” to the child providing resources for clothes, food and advice. Through letter writing and connecting a JMI staff member with the child, the child’s future is being impacted. Today almost 400 children are being sponsored through JMI in Moldova.

Different from great organizations like International Justice Mission (IJM) who rescue trafficked children from brothels, we are endeavoring to be on the front end – protecting the children and preventing them from ever having to experience the hurt and tragedy of this abominable situation. And, by God’s grace, it is working. Lives are being saved – spiritually and physically!

Transitional Living Homes

Through JMI, we were able to start a Transitional Living Home for when children outgrow and have to leave the orphanages at age 15 or 16 – their most vulnerable time in life. Today, we have a home for girls (The Grace House) and a home for boys (Boys to Leaders). The Transitional Living program is two to three years of providing a place for the child to live, a mentor (House parent), enrolling in additional school (“college”), teaching them English and spiritual discipleship. We have over 30 girls and boys currently living in our transitional living homes.

Independent Living

unspecified-3After the children graduate from the Transitional Home, they can move into an independent living apartment with others from the program. This allows them to learn how to live in an independent setting with the help of a social worker, vocational director and additional education. We have close 20 boys and girls in independent living apartments. It is exciting to see these kids growing up, exceling in school and attaining jobs in areas of influence – education, local churches and even government jobs.

By God’s grace, it is working!

Last night was an amazing celebration for JMI in Moldova. Our Mission Team shared in a graduation party at the Grace House for 11 graduates of the Transitional Living program. With caps and gowns, the graduates came out onto our stage in the back courtyard. With about 80 people present, we applauded the graduates for their hard work, prayed over them and blessed them. There was not a dry eye in the place. It was incredibly special!

unspecified-2Graduates like Ejor. Ejor grew up in the orphanage in Baltsi. He came to know Christ through one of our Rolling Hills mission teams. He has been in the JMI program for three years, and his English has progressed to the point where he now serves as a translator for JMI. In fact, Ejor leads worship at the Camps that our mission teams host in different orphanages and villages. Kids in Moldova are drawn to Ejor, and God is using him to impact the next generation there.

Graduates like Elijah. Eli grew up in the orphanage at Internat 2. This was our first orphanage in 2003, and we served at this Camp for 9 years in a row. I have watched Eli grow up. I met him when he was 8. He told me at graduation, “You were the first man who ever said he was proud of me.” These kids, just like all of us, simply need someone to believe in them. Eli was also one of our translators for the week and leading other kids to Christ.

unspecifiedAt the graduation that night, Elena and Ion came to visit. Elena was one of our first girls in the Grace House in 2010. Since she graduated from the program herself, she has gone on to marry Ion (a godly man) and just completed her Masters in education. Next month, Elena and Ion are the leaders of a Camp at their Moldovan church for 125 children in their community.

After the graduation, we had a big celebration. We had a Moldovan band, and all 80 of us danced traditional Moldovan dances. We had a cake to celebrate the 5-year anniversary of the NGO status of JMI’s work in Moldova. I stood looking around at everyone laughing and having so much joy, and thought, “Only God.” Only God can change an orphan’s life and only God can change a country.

We certainly have a long way to go, but we take motivation from the fact that Moldova used to be known for sending orphan and vulnerable children into the sex slave trade, and now we are seeing Christ transform these young lives so that this country will be known for sending missionaries for Christ. Through the leadership of these young followers of Christ who are now getting jobs in education, business and government, and volunteering in their local churches, with American mission teams in orphanages and sponsoring vulnerable children themselves, we are seeing a new Moldova emerging – one with a hope and a future. God is changing this country, and we all have a part to play in His bigger story for this country. Get involved and join in what God is doing. Don’t miss it – God is changing a country!

 

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.

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The Birth of the Men’s Leadership Network

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About a year and half ago, on a golf outing with some guys from church, I found myself in this conversation:

Golf buddy: “I was reading in Esquire about how guys deal with the death of their own father.”
Me: “Really? What did Esquire have to say about this?”
Golf buddy proceeded to tell me some of the things the article unfolded about how men handle this experience emotionally as well as the pressure they feel now being the one to take care of the family.
Me: “Is Esquire where you go to get advice about dealing with issues unique to men?”
Golf buddy: “Where else am I supposed to go?”

It was then and there that the Men’s Leadership Network was born.

I knew we had to do something to help men with the unique challenges they face. I knew we had to help equip them to understand how to handle life from a Christian perspective. God created us and gave us His Word, and so He is a much better source for men than Esquire, GQ and any other self-help magazines. After this conversation I brought it up to some men on our church staff and we began to develop topics that would be relevant to all men. “How to have a great marriage,” “How to be a successful dad,” “How to balance work and home,” “How to manage money instead of having money manage you,” “How to become the spiritual leader of your home,” and, of course, “How to deal with the death of your father.” These were all topics that we knew men needed help on in order for them to truly succeed.

There is so much pressure on men today. First, they feel the weight of trying to care for their wives, children, parents and more while being successful at their jobs as well as their spiritual lives. Second, there’s an enemy who does not want them to succeed. Satan uses tactics like pornography, money, and more to destroy their self-esteem and their marriage. Finally, men compare themselves to others and don’t feel like they measure up. They are well aware of their own short-comings and then compare themselves to everyone else’s highlight reel – thanks, social media!

The aim of the Men’s Leadership Network is to not only address the questions that guys are asking, but to connect them to Jesus Christ. As Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” By interviewing Christian men whose experiences and training have made them well-versed in these topics, we were able to help others learn what the Bible says about it and how to respond as a godly man. We know that the impact on marriages, children, careers and generations will be immeasurable. God created men to succeed and it is only in Him that we truly find our worth, value and ultimate success. Let’s pray and help men become all that God desires and intends. Let’s be the spiritual leaders that God called and created us to be. Let’s change the world!

So, to my golf buddy’s question, ‘Where else am I supposed to go?”

To the Men’s Leadership Network. Join in every Thursday Morning at a location near where you work – Franklin, Cool Springs and downtown Nashville. For more information, check out www.mensleadershipnetwork.com.

Our next semester of Men’s Leadership Network begins tomorrow, April 7th. We have an incredible line-up of speakers and relevant topics that all men face. From learning how to leverage our influence, to dealing with the upcoming Presidential election from a Christ-centered perspective and even how to be a spiritual leader when someone close to you is walking through cancer, the topics are powerful and important.