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My Personal Reflections on 2013

In 2013, God was good. But that’s true every year, isn’t it? His good character never changes. Ever.

But life changes for us, and it changes in our world. And through that constant condition of change, God’s goodness carries us. I’m reflecting this morning on how our world has changed and how my life has changed in the last year, and it’s been a BIG year! Let me celebrate a few things…

DrewWe had a baby.

And he’s precious. I don’t mean to brag but… well, okay I DO mean to brag… Drew is probably the happiest baby I’ve ever seen. He smiles and laughs and lights up a room with his happy eyes. He goes days without crying, loves people, and has a contagious belly laugh that infects others with joy.

We have two other children who are awesome. Ella is smart, sweet, and loves Jesus. She tells everyone about her faith and her church and she’s growing up into a godly young woman! She’s the daughter of my dreams. Sam is, well, Sam. He’s cool, sweet, and funny. He’s hyper, dangerous, and wild. He’s all “boy.”

We finally got married.

Okay, that subheading was for shock purposes. We’ve been married 16 years and I think we’ve hit a stride and grown this past year in ways that make me feel like a newlywed. Angie is the love of my life. As I wrote in the dedication page of my new book, Angie is the love of my life, whom God has used to re-wire me in all the right ways.

Our marriage has gone through a lot of maturing. There were moments when Angie would say that “we’re in the fight of our lives.” We both saw that season as both the best and the hardest period of our lives as a couple. And in God’s grace, we’ve found a stride.

I adore my wife. And in 2013, I fell harder in love with her than ever. I feel as if I married her all over again. And if I could, I would!

We’ve continued planting a church.

We’re life-ers. In other words, we’ve been planting Grace Hills with the intention of retiring or dying while serving northwest Arkansas. So it’s time to officially announce my retirement!… tentatively effective in the summer of 2042.

In the last year, we’ve added Meredith (who leads our Kids’ ministry), Jorge (who leads in outreach and local missions), and Angie (who directs our operations and recovery ministry plans) to our staff along with Michael (who will be leaving in the summer to plant a Grace Hills daughter church). We’ve also witnessed the re-birth of a student ministry under Brian and Melissa, served hundreds of hours with local organizations, baptized a dozen new believers, and sent fifteen people to Honduras. And from leading the Honduras trip to being a really, really good friend, Neil continues to bless my soul! His co-leadership at Grace Hills is pretty cool to watch. He sings and plays, yes, but he personally disciples and leads too.

Though I’ll write more about 2014 elsewhere, I’ll just mention that in the upcoming year, we are launching a second weekend service, sending two families off to Papau New Guinea and another out in our region to plant churches, and officially beginning a Celebrate Recovery ministry.

I’ve written a book.

I was approached by Jevon, a talented Editor with Charisma House, asking if I would consider writing a book under their Passio label, which markets to young, creative types. I began and completed the marathon of book-writing and finished Rewired, which is set to release on February 4, 2014. You can read more about the book here.

I’ve met and ministered to church leaders.

In 2013, Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox grew by about 7,000 subscribers and pastors.com’s traffic and reach soared. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. What’s really thrilling is what happens behind-the-scenes as Pastors are connected to other Pastors and people are helped.

Every day, I email new subscribers asking where they serve, what they’re passionate about, and how we can serve them. Out of those emails, we’ve helped church leaders break growth barriers, deal with depression and burnout, solve problems and crises in their churches, and reach more people for Jesus.

I’ve grown.

Writing a book, editing a website, and preaching sermons is the stuff I think about in terms of accomplishments. But the bigger story is that 2013 was a year of tremendous personal growth in my life. I discovered victory over some long-term struggles, came to see myself as a broken man in need of rescue and recovery, and re-discovered what intimacy with Jesus looks like all over again.

Has it been a good year? It depends on who you ask. It’s been a tough year for those who have lost jobs, lost loved ones, and lost their freedom in various parts of the world. It’s been a horrific year for those enduring persecution and genocide, for those who have remained in slavery and bondage, either literal or spiritual. And I suppose it’s been a good year for those who have made a buck, built a career, grown a family, etc.

I’m hesitant to call it a “good year.” What I will say, unequivocally, is that in the year 2013, God was very, very good. And I’m fully expecting Him to keep it up… forever.

If you don’t know Jesus, or if you don’t know if you know Jesus or not, please, please, reach out to me. I can’t promise you a good year, and God doesn’t do so either. I can, however, promise you that God is good. You can trust Him!

Bless the Little Children

This cartoon cracks me up, but illustrates the point well.

One of the sweetest scenes in the Bible is the little children gathering around Jesus to sit on His lap. The Bible describes the scene this way,

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and pray for them.

– Matthew 19:13 (NLT)

What I love about this scene is the picture of Jesus’ personality that comes through. There was something about Jesus that kids loved. He wasn’t an intimidating, judgmental, cynical man who looked down on them for being kid-like. He reveled in their joy, their innocence, and their simple trust.

Here’s the short question – have you cultivated the kind of joyful personality that blesses children and causes them to want to draw near you? If not, it may be that you’re struggling to bless adults too. And if we fail to bless others with our smile, our gentle touch, and our encouraging words, we may just fail to create a space for the sharing of the gospel of love.

Last Night, 5,000 Children Died

Not in a flood.

Not in an earthquake.

Not in a wave of tornadoes or a political coups.

But from hunger.

Hunger. It’s that feeling that gnaws at our bellies in the morning because we haven’t had our cheerios yet. But for millions, hunger is a lifestyle with no hope. Today is World Food Day. It’s a good day to become aware of some things…

World Food Day Child Hunger

Via Save1.

And once you know, it’s time to do something. I leave it to your own conscience and God’s leading as to what your next step is, but here are four possibilities:

  • Pray for compassionate caregivers to be able to feed more hungry people.
  • Investigate what Save1 does. They’re for-profit, but they support nonprofit organizations in a way that uses business smarts for good.
  • Feed hungry people through great organizations like Samaritans PurseCompassion International, and World Vision (our family sponsors a little girl named Nana through World Vision).
  • Post the above infographic on your own blog today. Here’s the source link.
Now, go.

 

I Am a Foreigner

Happy Kids from the Dominican Republic

Some smiling, happy kids in Santiago, Dominican Republic, who spent the day with us, learning about Jesus and hugging us randomly.

I don’t like that word. I don’t like to hear people called “foreigners” on American soil. And frankly, I just don’t care that much about the politics of immigration. I’m a Christian, a stranger and a foreigner in this culture. My citizenship is in another kingdom, so I’m odd and strange because of my beliefs and values.

Right now, I’m a foreigner in a more real sense. I’m writing this in my hotel room in the Dominican Republic. I’m on a mission trip, visiting Pastor Aridio Garcia and his church, Iglesia Bautista Nueve Espenaza. My task tonight was to take a Haitian translator (he’s tri-lingual) door-to-door and invite people to a Bible study, which I would later lead at a local family’s home.

At one door, the man of the house was a little upset that my Haitian friend had brought these “Americano’s” by and another group of guys around the corner felt the same. I’m not entirely sure about the source of their feelings, but Antoine tried to explain that the locals don’t always like to have “Americano’s” come down to tell Dominicans how to live. I get that.

It wasn’t personally upsetting to me to experience that rejection. I understand. But it did help me, if only a little, to identify with what it is like to be the foreigner, the intruder into the culture of another people. While most of the people here are extremely friendly and receptive, that welcoming attitude isn’t universal.

America’s ethnic landscape is changing rapidly, and it has many people afraid that we will lose our identity, our security, or our “way of life.” Such is the history of the human race. Wars have been fought over less. And it is out of this fear that we often become unwelcoming. We tend to look at those with a different shade of skin color or a different accent or language and mutter things like:

  • If they’re going to come here, they should at least learn the language.
  • Have you seen the way those people live? That’s just not how we do things here.
  • You just can’t trust those people.

We have plenty of stereotypes and prejudices, all based ultimately in fear displaying itself as anger.

But I’m a Christian. I’m a pilgrim, a foreigner, a stranger in a land that is ultimately not my home, just as Abraham borrowed a cave for the burial of his wife in a land he himself would never call home. And as a Christian, my attitude toward guests and immigrants from places beyond our borders is different. For example, I believe that:

  • We are all one human family, descended from a sinful Adam.
  • I deserve hell for my sin as much as anyone else on the planet.
  • The cross leveled the playing field for everyone.
  • Jesus died for a church that would be very diverse.
  • As an ambassador for Christ, I am to welcome everyone with a smile and with grace.
  • I am glad that God is bringing the mission field to us.
  • I have something to learn from people of other cultures.
  • I have nothing to fear. I’m eternally secure because of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
  • When a neighbor comes needing bread, I’m commanded to share what I have.
  • English won’t be the primary language of heaven.

So if you can’t embrace people coming to America with loving, open arms, don’t bother complaining about it to me. I’m thrilled when I look at the people walking into my church every week and I see multiple colors and hear different accents. It’s beautiful, and it’s the way heaven will be. If you can’t enjoy it here, you aren’t preparing yourself well to enjoy it when we get home to heaven with the whole, mutli-colored, beautiful family of God.

For now, I’ll take my spot among the foreigners. I’m pretty sure that’s where Jesus likes to hang out.

Love Kids? Interested in Church Planting? Take a Peek

Children and MessesAt Grace Hills, a new church in northwest Arkansas, we’re going to be investing heavily into kids. After all, Jesus certainly did. He loved them, cherished them, and ultimately died for them. We believe serving kids well and helping parents to disciple them is one of our chief callings in northwest Arkansas.

So we’re looking to add an intern (or volunteer staff member) to our team who will specialize in children’s ministry. Here’s the description according to our website:

As a new church plant in northwest Arkansas, we highly value kids, and we believe God is going to give us a great team of leaders to minister to families. We are currently accepting applications for an internship with Grace Hills that comes with some out-of-the-ordinary leadership responsibilities.

The successful candidate will be responsible for helping to initiate and launch a brand new children’s ministry, and therefore needs to feel a definite calling toward children’s ministry. This position may develop into a paid staff position very soon. We are seeking a current college student or graduate.

The ideal candidate will be:

  • A committed Christian desiring to observe and contribute to the work of the church.
  • Prior experience working with kids.
  • Willing to take on responsibility and work with a team.
  • Highly motivated and efficient.
  • Enjoy working in a dynamic, fast-paced environment.
  • Available to work at minimum of 15 hours per week and comfortable working remotely.

Special benefits include:

  • Academic credit (if applicable).
  • Cell phone stipend ($50 per month).
  • Professional development budget.
  • Frequent laughter. Occasional tears.

Interested? Email me or use the form below…

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