The Presence of God was overwhelming

Have you ever felt the presence of God? 

I did today. 

We were in a Chinese medical office and we were waiting for Kai to be seen. Before he can leave China, he has go through a check up and have a TB test. 

As we were sitting, family after family starting coming in. I couldn’t help myself, I love meeting new people, so I started learning everyone’s stories. 

That’s when it happened. 

The Presence of God was Incredibly Powerful! 

I realized that this is the kind of place that Jesus was talking about…

‘For where to or three gather together as my followers, I am there among there’ ~Matthew 18:20 (nlt)

I talked with family after family and hearing their story was one of the most moving and profound moment of life I’ve ever experienced. 

Families who were on their second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth adoptions. 

Are you kidding me?

Families who were adopting children with severe special needs. Families who had taken a giant step of faith. 

And, it hit me. I know Jesus is here. Why would He not be? I mean, this is a Gathering of people who care for the ‘least of these’. 

‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me’ ~Matthew 25:45 (nlt)

The Presence of God was Powerful and Overwhelming. 

At times I had to make sure I wiped tears quickly so everyone in the room wouldn’t find out that I’m just a mess! 

Here’s the beautiful thing though, you can serve the ‘least of these’ anywhere you are! It hit me, I’m in China, but there are so many opporunties and moments back home to care for and to love and to serve the ‘the least of these’. 

The CHURCH made Kai’s Adoption a Reality

How about that for a headline!?! 

That’s the reality though, without the local CHURCH, Kai’s adoption would not have happened. 

Tracie and I weren’t in a position to afford this adoption on our own. Maybe that should have stopped us from pursuing it. It has stopped many. A few people expressed that opinion to us. Well, not face to face but on Facebook and to others. But, as we prayed about it, we just felt God’s overwhelming push to move forward and to ask the CHURCH to help. So, we did. We did it on Facebook. We did it through emails. We did it on my blog. We did it Face to face. 

And…the CHURCH DID!!!! 

Here’s what I mean by that. Not one Church is responsible for Kai’s adoption or one person or one family, but MANY. 

We had 6 year olds give $5. We had teenagers give. We had families give $20. We had some who gave thousands. We had people give from Central Michigan, the Detroit Area, Grand Rapids and up north. From…PA, IND, VA, CA, CO, NV, TX, LA, NY, OH, IL, WI, WA, FL, TN, KY, DC and some I’m forgetting about. 

But, Kai’s adoption couldn’t have happened without every one of those gifts. 

And, how about this…

99% of the people that gave were followers of Jesus. 

You know why? Because generosity is close to the heart of God! I mean, HE Gave HIS Son for us! Jesus gave everything! The Acts 2 Church gave to support each other. We, as the Church, are called to give! I believe we’re called to give first to God through the Local Church and then to give as God leads us to give. 

I love what Todd Clark said about generosity…

‘Generosity will make you rich not poor’

I have found that to be 100% true in my life. Embarrassingly enough, I fought this for years. I didn’t give because I thought that because I made hardly anything working for the church and because I gave so much time to the Church, that that was the same as giving financially. I was wrong. Dead wrong. There is a very strong and compelling reason that Jesus said your treasure is where your heart is. He knew that we struggle like crazy to Trust Him and He wants our heart. If we can’t put our finances ahead of our heart, we won’t experience all He has for us. 

I can honestly say that is true. I have experienced that. When you make generosity so common in life, like breathing, and you do that over time, whether times are good or bad, one day…

You will wake up and experience a waterfall of the Holy Spirits presence in your life. I have. It’s amazing. 

THE CHURCH MADE KAI’S ADOPTION A REALITY! 

And, actual Churches made Kai’s adoption a reality. This just completely blows my mind! It’s still had to wrap my mind around!

3 Churches, who really don’t know my family or I all that well (I mean, I have a friendship with their Pastors) took offerings to help us! ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?? So, we will always be in awe and so grateful to 242 Community Church in MI, New Bethel Church in IN and Canvas Church in VA. 

Then, Thrive Church in CA, who knows more of me and my Church because we’re in the same network of Churches, received an offering as well. ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?

Also, the night before we left, I asked some folks from my Church to gather and pray for us. And they did! And, they threw us a surprise shower to help with Kai’s clothes and toys and toddler stuff! 

THE CHURCH IS AWESOME!!!

The Church is responsible for this adoption. Of all the complaining and whining I read about the CHURCH, I’m sorry if I can’t join in! I love the LOCAL CHURCH! She is the bride of Christ. The local Church, when working right, is the Hope of the World. The Church preaches the Gospel. The Church gives people a home. The Church allows the generations to come together. The Church is a movement! The Church is the hands and feet of Jesus! The Church is the LIGHT to this dark world. 

That’s why it just shocks me that Christians have become so apatathic towards their Churches. But, that’s for another blog post. 

Here’s what I know…

A boy who didn’t have a family, now has one. A boy who didn’t have a Church home, now has one. A boy who wasn’t going recieve the level of medical care his PKU needed, will receive one. A boy who slep in a crip with 12 other kids, will now have 4 siblings. A boy on the other side of the world, one of the 17 million orphans in the world, now has a home. 

The Church did that! 

I love the Church. 

‘Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you’ ~ James 1:27

I can’t even process how ROUGH the month started but how AMAZING it finishing!

What a month! 

I’m telling you, this week started out ROUGH! I wonder how many people can relate? I actually wrote this BLOG POST talking about just being tired of pain! I know I’m not alone. I know people have rough weeks all the time, but this one, for whatever reason, just started out rough.

I take that back, the last 2-3 weeks have been on the rougher side. It kind of started on October 2nd. That was Thrive’s THREE anniversary and to be extremely honest, I had a very ROUGH morning that day.

Typically, our anniversary’s and big Sunday’s are my favorite, but something was going on inside my head and my heart and my soul. As soon as 8:30am hit, wave and wave of amazingly hard discouragement and disappointment just kept hitting me.

It was unlike anything I have ever experienced. 

Listen, I’ve been a Pastor long enough to know that its not an easy job. I get that. Satan is attacking, People attack, Life attacks and thats all before you wake up some days!

For whatever reason, October 2nd was really hard. Those lying voices in my head kept reminding me of all the people who have left Thrive, the people who have said negative stuff about me and the Church, all the initiatives we haven’t been able to do yet because of finances and then the 1 or 2 super colossally bad decisions I’ve made while being Thrive’s Pastor. Yes, I’ve made more. A LOT MORE. But, there are 1-2 that really stick out.

 

Here’s what happened though in my life:

God showed up big. People showed up big.

Here’s what I mean. God provided! He brought healing! He brought Peace! He brought love! He brought hope! The list below is just the short list of the amazing BLESSINGS God has brought my way. As you struggle with the rough moments, hold on, God has something for you! He has beauty that you can’t even imagine. He has healing that you can’t even imagine.

The Blessings that have found their way to our family…

ONE…A Found Hand Written Note in my Bible. It was left by an amazing Thriver and I have read her worlds over and over again! Such a blessing! 

TWO…Glasses for Bekah. A friend from TX messaged us last month and said she would love to bless Bekah with new glasses! Such a blessing! 

THREE…A Car. Yeah, no joke. A miracle. Both are cars are old and held together with duck tape. A dear friend gave us a car and said it was the best way they know possible for helping with our adoption. Just UNREAL! Such a blessing! 

FOUR…Gift for Pastor Appreciation. There is an amazing couple at Thrive who just bless so many people. Well, they gave me a gift for Pastor Appreciation month and with it, I was able to get some of the things my kids needed for school. Such a blessing! 

FIVE…Gift card for Shoes. A wonderful couple at church stopped me a few backs and gave me a gift card for a new pair of shoes. With 4 kids and two of them having PKU, shoes and clothes are on the low priority list for Tracie and I! Such a blessing! 

SIX…My parents. Yeah, I could fill blog post after blog post about all the amazing ways my parents help us all the time. They are just always there! Such a blessing! 

SEVEN…A mattress for Bekah. We’ve needed a mattress for 3-4 months for Bekah. There was unfortunate accident on her mattress with our cat. Last night, a dear friend texted Tracie out of the blue saying that she has a mattress for Bekah! Such a blessing! 

EIGHT…Approve, Certified and Sealed Dossier. This was HUGE. Many of our forms were set to expire this week before they were more than 6 months old for adoption process. Tracie, because of the amazing gift of a dear friend, was able to go to downtown Chicago and take the forms to the Chinese Consulate and get them sealed! Such a blessing! 

NINE…A trip to Chicago for Tracie. One of our best friends in the world, made it possible for her to take Tracie to Chicago to get our paperwork to the Consulates. It never would have happened without her help! Such a blessing! 

TEN…77 Puzzle Pieces for Kai.

This is the easiest and simplest fundraiser ever. We have two identical puzzles. They are pictures of Kai and our family. We’re asking that people sponsor a piece or two or three. Really, whatever amount they would like and that coincides with the puzzle piece. When someone sponsors a piece, we send it to them in the mail with a picture of the puzzle.

Then, we write their name on the other puzzle piece. When its completed, we will frame it and put it in Kai’s room for him to see all the people that helped bring him home!

We have been blown away and people are continuing to sponsor pieces.

Friends from all the country! Churches! Kids! Students! Its just been unreal!

Even though the month started rough. Even though this week started rough. God has provided. God has brought healing. God has reminded me of his love. God has showed up time and time again!

If you’re going through a rough time, hang in there! Stay close to Jesus! He will get you through.

‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’ ~Jesus

 

 

Parents…4 Ways to have an incredible school year with your family

Another school year is starting! It’s just crazy how fast the summer flies by! But, here we are and instead of just letting the school year start, I thought about putting together a plan for my family.

You see, I want this to be our best school year yet for our 11th, 9th, 7th and 3rd grader.

Before I go into the list, I guess I should lay the foundation to how our family approaches school and education. Because it’s a bit different than most.

  • It is NOT the school’s responsibility to teach our kids character. It is ours as parents.
  • School is not life. We’re a bit different here than most. We’re more concerned about our kids being actively engaged and involved with their Church than school activities. That doesn’t mean we pull our kids from sports or band or yearbook or all that stuff. School activities are just not our priority.

Here’s why: The Local Church is the most important organization on planet earth. Jesus loved the church enough to die for it. That means its pretty darn important. So, we try to model that importance to our kids and as a family. 

  • We understand that school becomes a mission field for our kids. I grew up in private Christian schools from K-12. I loved my experience. I loved the bible teaching and the chapels. If there were a great evangelical christian school in our area, we would pray about sending our kids to it. But, there isn’t. And, we think as our kids have gotten older and their faith has become more of their own, it’s been awesome to see them represent Jesus and their Church at their school.
  • Straight A’s and perfect attendance is not our goal for our kids. Our goal is for them to love Jesus, love their family, love their Church and live out the fruit of the spirit. Now, we push our kids to do great in school. So, I’m not saying we settle for less than A’s and B’s. But, if our kids got straight A’s and had no character and bullied kids at their school, we failed!

5 Ways to make this the best year yet!

ONE….Pray with your family EVERY Day! Yup, I know–I know, it kind of sounds impossible. Maybe its not for some of you, but my family falls way short on this and I wish it wasn’t so!

But, we’re going to make very attempt to pray together as a family…EVERYDAY! We did ok with this last year, this year we will do much better!

TWO…Eat dinner together at least 3 times a week. Again, for our family with 4 kids and lots of stuff going on, this has become harder and harder. But, like Andy Stanley says…we have to choose to cheat. We will cheat on other stuff and choose our family time this year. Something so cool happens when you all sit down and eat and talk and laugh and enjoy each other.

THREE…Sit down and write out a DREAM wall. Super easy, super important. Set goals for the year. Write down families and kids you’re going to pray for. Write down goals of who you want to invite to church. Write down goals you want to experience as a family.

FOUR…Figure out ways you can bless your kids teachers. I love teachers. After speaking at assemblies in schools, I gained a new perspective and love for teachers. So often, it’s a thankless job. Pray for your kids teachers.

We have spent a ton of time over the years reminding our kids that they can ask their teachers if they can help them. To thank them. To encourage them.

What am I missing? I bet, with this short list, we can have a great school!

Meet my friend Jess and the famous Slurpee Sunday tradition

I have an amazing friend named Jessica or Jess or as I try to pronounce it with an ‘h’…

Hessica. I don’t know why I do. It’s silly and I try to be funny with it. Its not, but she lets me do it.IMG_0231

Jess has been at Thrive since our very first Sunday, I believe. Or the second. But, either way, she has been at Thrive ever since. She hasn’t missed many Sunday’s in that time. She plays in the band. She has served in Thrive Kidz. She has helped set up at 7am on Sunday’s. And, she serves in One Youth! Actually, she’s one of the reasons One Youth got going and stayed going. She was the first adult leader and has loved and served students ever since.

If I had to describe Jess using one word, I couldn’t. It would just be too hard. Because I would want to use too many words, words like…

Faithful. Servant. Friend. Hero. Leader. Example. Loving. Caring. Believer. Amazing. Humble. Freaking Awesome. Lover of Jesus. Jesus Follower.

My wife and I have 4 kids and they all adore and love Jess.

Our 12 year old Zach is addicted to slurpees. There is a story behind that, but because of a special diet he’s on, we gave him his first slurpee pretty early on (like barely crawling, hahha) and he’s been hooked ever since.

Well, Jess and Zach have this cool tradition.

It’s called Slurpee Sunday.

After Church, before we’ll head to lunch, she takes Zach to his favorite slurpee place and they get a slurpee. As a dad who believes in having other adults be a part of our kids lives, this means the world. Some Sunday’s it’s probably a pain for her because Zach always remembers and is pretty persistent.

But, Jess is just faithful. Jess just loves. Jess just keeps investing into his life.

She cheered him on at his football games. She’s also taken our 16 year old to her favorite coffee place as well. And she has sat in the stands at many games from students from Thrive.

I was thinking about this today because last Sunday was slurpee Sunday and I was asking God to make me more like Jess.

I hope your kids have a Jess in their lives.

We’re praying for 25 people to Help us Bring home Kai. Would you pray with us?

If you haven’t heard yet, the Raitz family is adopting a little boy from China named Kai. You can read more about it here. 邹宏凯+(1)

We’re beyond EXCITED and HUMBLED! We pray everyday for the moment we’ll be able to bring him home!

That’s why we’re praying for 25 people to each give $100 towards Kai’s adoption fund!

To date, we’ve been able to raise about $17,000 towards his adoption!! Its just been unreal and we’re so humbled and honored God would move in peoples lives to help us bring Kai home!

But, we have about $13,000 to go! And, in the next 25 days…

We have to raise $2500.

Here’s why. What’s been raised so far has been applied to our Home Study process, adoption fees and the numerous extra things that have to be done for the adoption process.

We have to raise $2500 immediately for our next payment to the adoption agency that oversees Kai. That will help us make sure that Kai stays with the Raitz family.

If you can’t help financially, we would so appreciate your prayers!!

We’re getting closer and closer!! We’re waiting on our home study report and then we will submit our final paperwork to the US and China. Then we will also apply for a few adoption grants. And then we will wait for the final approvals and then wait for our travel window from China.

Then, we will fly to China, spend 14 days there and then…

BRING HOME KAI!!!!

We pray about the day we get to hold home everyday! We pray about the day we get to walk around the streets of China with him everyday! We pray about the moment we will load up on the plane ride home everyday. We pray about the moment we will land in Detroit and then head home and introduce him to our friends and family!

I pray everyday for the day we will get to bring him to our Church! I pray everyday for the family walks we will take! I pray everyday for the times I’ll play catch with him and watch him playing with his siblings.

We can’t wait! Thanks for being a a part of our journey!

Incredible Insight on Empowering Women Leaders from John Ortberg

I believe whole heartedly that both Men and Women have been given gifts to lead and teach in the Church. 

Recently I was talking to a Thriver and they told me they really loved it when we’ve had women guest speakers at Thrive. I kind of chuckled. They asked me why I chuckled. I told them about the time someone left Thrive Church because we have women Elders and we affirm the gift of teaching in women.

They chuckled. I didn’t chuckle at the time. It was crazy painful. Now I do chuckle.

One of the reasons I was passionate about planting Thrive Church was to create another Church and Community that empowered women to lead and teach in the Church.

Yes, Empower and Lead! 

I have worked hard to make that happen and I’m proud of it. Even in the midst of the negative voices, we’ve moved forward. I’m so excited that we have an amazingly gifted woman on our Sunday speaking team! Yes, it’s awesome!

That being said, there are probably going to be some folks who read this and disagree, that’s ok. But, if you’ve been thinking and praying about this, here are three great resources that have heavily influenced my thinking on this.

Great Blog Post by Perry Noble. ‘Should a Woman be Allowed to Preach’

Incredible Book by Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian. ‘Beyond Sex Roles’

Incredible Interview with John Ortberg.