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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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A Different Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving will be different.

Growing up, Thanksgiving was always a big deal. We could never “skip over” Thanksgiving to get to Christmas – we always emphasized Thanksgiving in our home. Mom and dad both cooked, but it was dad who cooked and carved the turkey – he would always give out samples along the way, so we could be salivating for his masterpiece. After the big meal, we would watch the Cowboys football game and fall asleep on the couch. Growing up in Texas that is just what you did. Even after I married Lisa, we would still always go to Texas for Thanksgiving. It was tradition, and our daughters loved it! One year, dad even made fajitas (along with the turkey) because my girls were not much for turkey, but they loved fajitas. “Hey, it’s San Antonio,” he would say. When my parents moved to Tennessee a few years ago, it was still dad carving the turkey (and/or fajitas), us watching the Cowboys game and everyone falling asleep on the couch.

This year will be different. There will be an empty place at our table, and we will need someone else to carve the turkey. My dad went home to be with Jesus in January, and this will be our first Thanksgiving without him. We all miss him.

Now, I know for many of you, this may also be a different Thanksgiving. Maybe it is not a parent, but a grandparent or a friend. I am praying with you and for you. Yesterday, I officiated the funeral for a 29 year-old mom who was killed by a drunk driver. It was heart-breaking and I couldn’t help but think how different this Thanksgiving would be for her family.

Maybe this Thanksgiving will be different for you not because of the passing of a loved one, but because you will be in a different place. Maybe it is a different location or a different place emotionally or spiritually. Maybe not a bad place, but just different. Life moves on. Things change. Loved ones go home to be with the Lord, people get married, family members go to in-laws’ homes, people move. Nothing stays exactly the same. Every year is different in some way.

Regardless of this being a different Thanksgiving, there are still some things that will be the same:

First, it is still Thanksgiving, and I am still thankful. Even though I miss my dad, I know I will see Him again. This life is not all that there is. As 1 Thessalonians 4:13 tells us, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” Because of God’s grace, I do not grieve as one who has no hope. I know I will celebrate the greatest Thanksgiving meal in history with my dad (the Wedding Feast of the Lamb), and for that I am thankful.

Second, the God who is Sovereign over all never changes. Even as everything else in life changes, God is still the same. He loves and He cares. My God sees and He knows what is going on in my life and in my heart. He knows this Thanksgiving will be different, but He will still be with me. I love Him and His love for me will never change.

Finally, I still have so much for which to be thankful. It is easy to focus on what I have lost instead of seeing all that I still have. My God has blessed me – and all of us. He has lavished His blessings on us with His love, family, friends, food (too much food), a couch to fall asleep on and so much more. I choose to still celebrate Thanksgiving this year.

Yes, this year Thanksgiving will be different. And, because of that:

I will cherish it more.

I will be more aware and be more thankful.

I will tell people more how thankful I am for them.

I will spend more time with God since He is always there for me.

And, I will embrace the moment because there will never be another Thanksgiving exactly like this one.

Wherever you find yourself this Thanksgiving, be thankful. Know you are loved and cared for that day – and every day of your life – by a God who never changes. As Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “Yes this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”

God is with you and for you. Also, I am praying for you. May our God fill you with all joy and overwhelm you with thankfulness this Thanksgiving – regardless of how different it may be. As Tim Keller writes, “Our Christian hope is that we’re going to live with Christ in a new earth, where there is not only no more death, but where life is what it was always meant to be.” Remember, the best is still to come. There will be bumps and detours along the way, but our heavenly Father is preparing a Feast for us. He gives us samples along with way – a sweet time with family, an amazing time of worship, listening to the prayer of a child – but one day we will celebrate a Thanksgiving meal in complete perfection. Hold on to the hope you have in Christ and embrace each moment you have with family and friends on this earth. Every Thanksgiving is different, but it is all simply to prepare our hearts for perfection. Your Father is preparing something really special for you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

 

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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.

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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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.

My Top 10 Highlights from the Summer of 2016

My Top 10 Highlights from the Summer of 2016

Let me start by saying: I love summer! I love the time of ministry, missions and special time with my family. I love the change of schedule, pace and even the warmer weather. While every summer is special, this past summer seemed to top some of my favorites so far. Let me share why:

My Top 10 Highlights from the Summer of ’16:

10. Our summer study of the book of Daniel at church. What an amazing time of digging deep into God’s Word. If you missed any of the sermons, go back and watch the podcasts…you won’t regret it!

IMG_52269. Mabry’s Birthday Celebration. My middle daughter turned 10 – double digits! We had a “Fiesta” themed party with a taste test for the best queso (with me having grown up in San Antonio, our family eats a lot of Mexican food). Plus, a special trivia game: Facts about Mabry. I love her!

8. Rolling Hills Summer Camp. Camp is always so special to me, and this one was one of the greats! So many children and students making life-long commitments for Christ. My wife, Lisa, and our 3 daughters loved it. The Rolling Hills Family Ministry Team did a wonderful job! Read about camp here.

7. Incredible week with just our family. The summer is always full of friends and ministry, but it was so refreshing to just be the five of us for one week. We had new adventures, discovered a new beach, laughed a lot, ate even more and just loved being together!

IMG_45866. Taking Grace, my oldest daughter, to Washington D.C. for her 12th Birthday. Lisa takes the girls somewhere when they turn 10, and I take them on a two-day trip somewhere when they turn 12. Grace turned 12, and we had an absolute blast being together and learning. Read about it here.

5. Baptizing a friend and then watching him turn around and baptize his daughter. I love seeing life-change in people. And, when a dad yields his life to Christ it impacts the entire family as well as generations. I’m thankful for so many being baptized this summer!

4. Beholding the sheer beauty of God’s creation  in Yellowstone. We joined some friends at the beginning of the summer, and it was my first time to Yellowstone. Wow! God’s creation is breath-taking. Bison, Moose, waterfalls, and more. I’m still filled with awe!

3. The last night of our Moldova Mission Trip celebrating the graduation of some of our JMI Transitional Living students. Absolutely incredible! It is awesome to see God changing lives before our eyes. Read about it here. If you have never been on an international mission trip with JMI, then at some point – go.

2. Opening the box of my first book – “Immeasurably More.” I never planned to write a book, but God said, “Tell My Story.” It took a long time, but I am so excited to share what God has been doing here with others. Simply, asking our God to use it to impact lives for His glory.

IMG_49331. Baptizing my youngest daughter, Kate. As a dad, it just doesn’t get any better than this! Every time I watch this video I tear up. I love my daughter and my God so much! What a gift that, because of Christ, we will be together forever. I am so proud and thankful for my Kate. Read about her baptism here.

All glory to our great God!

What were your summer highlights? Take time to write them down. If you just move on to the busyness of the fall, then pretty soon you won’t even remember what God did in your life, family, and ministry. It will just be another summer and another year gone by. Take the time to celebrate what God has done, and thank Him for His blessings in your life. I am so thankful!

“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!

 

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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

 

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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!