Tagged faith

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2016 – The Year of Immeasurably More

2016 – What a year, and what a God! This has truly been the year of “Immeasurably More.” When I think about what God has accomplished in my life as well as at Rolling Hills Community Church and through Justice & Mercy International, I am simply in awe of Him. What all has God accomplished in your life this year?

Here are my Top Ten God-Experiences of 2016:

  1. Kate’s Baptism – baptizing my youngest daughter on Father’s Day – as a parent, it just doesn’t get any better than that.
  2. By God’s grace, was able to share the story of life-transformation through God’s church with others through a book called Immeasurably More – It has been amazing to see God transforming people’s lives for His glory and I love the stories of His people that can be read about in the book.
  3. Watched God provide the funds for another Transitional Living Home in Moldova – we have 10 precious orphan girls and a house mother ready to go into this new home.
  4. Church packing 108,000 meals for Haiti – I got to serve with 500 volunteers from church to pack this many meals, mostly for children in Haiti after the hurricane.
  5. Biblical Study Tour to Israel – I journeyed with a team of 25 from church for 2 weeks throughout Israel with our guide, Yoni. It sure is life-impacting to see the Bible come to life.
  6. Mission Trip to Moldova – a wonderful experience every summer, but this year was extra special with our Transitional Living Home Graduation Celebration.
  7. Pastor’s Conference in the Amazon – I thank God for my time with these amazing pastors and their wives for a week as well as the incredible team from the States. God’s mercies stretch beyond measure.
  8. Vacation with my girls – from taking my oldest daughter, Grace, to Washington D.C. for her 12th birthday to new places with the five of us, we had the best time! I love my family and am blessed to be their husband and dad.
  9. Father & Son Bowl extra day for the fatherless – the Father & Son Bowl is a highlight every year, but adding the extra day for the fatherless was the perfect next step for this amazing ministry.
  10. Wedding vow renewal for Dolly & Carl – an unexpected addition this year, but it was so special to officiate at Dolly Parton and Carl’s 50th Anniversary Wedding Vow Renewal. I am thankful for their marriage & influence.

Praise God for each of these moments, as well as His many other incredible blessings! It wasn’t all easy, however: 2016 was also a tough year in that my dad went home to be with Jesus. I truly miss him, but I know that he is experiencing the “Immeasurably More” life in heaven…right now! I am so proud and thankful for him.

This is my Top Ten – what about yours? What did you see God do in your life this year?

I pray your 2017 is even better. I pray you press into God even more, and see Him do miracles. I pray that you grow in your love for Him and for those around you. I actually pray that 2017 is your best year yet! Stay strong in the Lord. Give Him praise and follow Him all the days of your life. He is with you and He is for you.

Praise God for 2016 and blessings on you in 2017!

In Christ,

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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.

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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.

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.

Love must be sincere. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.

Praying for Orlando

Yesterday, our hearts were broken over the mass shooting that took place in Orlando that left 50 people dead and 53 hospitalized. All of these people were created in the image of God – those in the night club and the one who committed this heinous act. As Christ-followers, we pray for the families of those tragically killed and injured. In addition, we pray for all the churches in the Orlando area that are ministering to their community right now. May Christ bring peace to our nation and to our world that is so desperately searching for answers.

In 164 days so far this year, there have already been 133 mass shootings – hard to fathom, isn’t it? The fact is, we live in a world of hate. Our world seems to scream, “hate those who are not like you.” Yet, as Christ-followers, we are called to love all people. “For God so loved the world…John 3:16 tells us. “If anyone loves, he is like God because God is love.1 John 4 tells us. Regardless of people’s behavior or beliefs, God loves them, and we should as well. God is the only hope in this world of hate. The more hate rules, the more people die. But, in the end, love will triumph. As we love like Christ, hearts are changed – and our world is changed.

When something like this happens, our immediate reaction is anger. Many people lash out. In a case like this, people can turn against all Muslims, even though the radical Islam only characterizes a small number. Instead of responding with hate toward the hate we experience, we must learn to respond with grace and love. We should not stereotype our neighbor, but we should love our neighbor. As Romans 12:9 says, “Love must be sincere. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.”  We are called to abhor the evil and we do this by bringing it to God. We must allow God to administer justice and redemption. We cannot fall prey to the same hate that we see around us. Instead, we must reach out to those who are different from us and respond in love.

While our government struggles with how to battle terrorism and other mass shootings, as Christ-followers, we must pray and support our leaders. In addition to prayer, we should be willing to engage by being active in our community, state and country. It matters who we vote for. It matters what we stand for. Being informed and active is important. Living for Christ and engaging in civil affairs can help protect and instill values that impact the world in which we live. We cannot isolate ourselves, but this should be a calling for us to become even more engaged and outspoken.

In addition, we cannot fall prey to fear. As mass shootings become more and more commonplace, we must never grow numb to the threat around us; yet, we must not allow fear to rule our lives. We live in a growing world of fear, and we can become paralyzed in this. But, our faith is not in the people of this world, but in our Sovereign God who is in control. Our children are growing up in a world of fear. Helping them process and understand this is so important. Recent studies show children today are experiencing more anxiety than ever before. Teaching our kids about Christ and pointing them to Jesus is essential. “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-discipline.2 Timothy 1:7 For them, and for us, abiding in Christ and allowing His Spirit to fill us is the only way to stay steadfast in this world of hate and fear.

Unfortunately, these tragedies will continue to be a reality. We live in a fallen world. And, as much as we pray for peace, the truth is that we have an enemy who wants to “steal, kill and destroy.John 10:10 The influence of darkness and sin will be an eternal battle until our Savior returns putting an end to it all. Thus, for now, we must continue to pray and share Christ with those around us. Regardless of life-style behaviors or religious backgrounds, we must love all people. In the process, we will see our God change this world one life at a time.

Overall, we must not run from times like these. We must not bury our heads in the sand, and act like nothing happened. As Christ-followers, this is our time. We must pray – “the prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective.James 5:16; we must love, and we must engage. In the power of God’s Sovereignty and filled with the love of our Savior who died for all, we must run to the darkness. We must stand with those hurting in times of crisis and point people to Jesus, so that all men will know that there is Hope, and there is a better way. Instead of giving in to this world of hate, we can hold out Christ and see God transform lives and bring peace. And, isn’t this what our country and world so desperately need right now – love and peace? Where else will they find this? Only in Christ Jesus.

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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.