Kingdom Journeys

kingdomJourneysCover.jpgEvery once in awhile, we come across a great resource that we like to share with those of us who trust us. We don’t do this often, but when something significant comes to the surface, we like to spread the word. A couple weeks ago, a great book was released by Seth Barnes, the founder of missions organization Adventures in Missions. Adventures has been a friend of Awana Lifeline for some time, and we are excited about the work that they’re doing to mobilize generations of young people in ministry.

Seth’s latest book, Kingdom Journeys, tells of the kind of journeys that ought to be undertaken and the kind of stories that ought to be told. For years, people have thought our work at Awana Lifeline as crazy and beyond earthly comprehension — of facilitating reconciliation between inmate father and child, of challenging an incarcerated father to step up and live out his responsibility, of using the most broken in our society to challenge the most comfortable. Yet everything we do is Kingdom-minded. So it is with these kingdom journeys.

Pick yourself up a copy – you might be inspired more than you could ever imagine, to pick up your own two feet and go life a journey beyond your wildest dreams.

Kingdom Journeys can be purchased for less than 5 bucks for Kindle on amazon.com, here.

Fulfill Your Calling

Originally posted by Kevin White at Striving Father:


“Constant contact with our Creator is essential to fulfill our calling.”

-Pete Wilson

Speaking at the D6 Conference, pastor and author Pete Wilson speaks openly and honestly about abiding in God – that each of us need to connect with, to abide with, our Creator. He issues this challenge – “constant contact with our Creator is essential to fulfill our calling.”

It’s left me wondering – how often do we try to work so hard to fulfill our calling at the expense of our connection with the Creator? This is true regardless of what your calling is. If you’re a pastor, a leader, a ministry worker, a stay-at-home mom, a work-at-home parent, a husband, a wife, etc. So often we are knee-deep in trying to live out what is on our plate each day that we’ve forgotten about the One who gave us the plate in the first place. This doesn’t matter what the calling is – if we are going to fulfill what God has created and designed and is calling us to do today, we must remain constantly connected to our Creator.

Do you feel overwhelmed? Do you feel stressed? Do you feel like you can’t do it each day? As a parent, do you feel like you don’t have what it takes? If you are a parent, then God wants you to be all in — to do it with all you’ve got. Yes, this is exhausting and tiring and stressful and painful. Yet He has given you this blessing of children and He will give you what you need to thrive in that very place. Yes, there are moments where you’re doing all you can to keep the ship afloat, and in those moments remember this truth that Wilson also provides:  “The same God of this universe who gave you this calling to begin with is the same one who is going to give you everything to accomplish the task that He’s called you do.”

Don’t get discouraged. Don’t be dismayed. Stay connected to your Creator. For He will provide all you need to not only survive, but to truly thrive in this calling He has given.


For more information about Pete Wilson, follow him on Twitter at @pwilson or visit his Web site at http://withoutwax.tv/

For more information about the D6 Conference, visit http://www.d6conference.com/

What Greater Legacy?

In Lyndon Azcuna’s recent book Changing the Ending, he mentions, “What greater legacy exists than to influence generations of men and women to follow God with all their hearts, souls, and minds?”

That really has me thinking lately – what greater legacy is there?

If I work diligently to be financially sound and pass my children millions of dollars, what legacy did I leave?

If I build a business and pass them the keys, what legacy did I leave?

If I make a name for myself and our family and they inherit the associated prestige, what legacy did I leave?

Of course, none of those are necessarily bad in and of themselves, right? But if I build earthly successes either at the expense of – or with the absence of – spiritual legacy, I have missed my greatest responsibility and opportunity?

If my kids are walking with Christ and following him daily but don’t have financial wealth, will that be a success?

If my kids become missionaries and abandon a family business, will that be a success?

If my kids intentionally elude fame and prestige for the sake of humbly serving the poor, will that be a success?

What do you think? How do we measure success and a lasting legacy? What is the most important legacy you can leave?

A Humorous Look at the Turn Men’s Conference

Well-known leadership guru Michael Hyatt recently linked to a blog post about sure-fire ways to make sure your event is sold out. For our team planning the Turn Men’s Conference for next spring, a few of the principles struck a chord. While not every point is applicable, we thought we’d have a little fun with some tongue-in-cheek promotional language for what Turn could appear to be on the surface:

Come to our conference. We’re in the middle of nowhere, Louisiana. At least 60 minutes to the closest mall, and 58 miles from the nearest Starbucks (which is pretty incredible for a ministry-related conference!). There are plenty of lakes nearby and even a huge river, but if you dip a toe in or think about water skiing, you may very well end up alligator food. If you’re a yankee, you may want an interpreter to help you with the southern slang and you’ll likely get blown away with the hospitality that you won’t be used to. At Turn, the people who serve you are inmates with life sentences, and your hotel accommodations is a former death row prison cell. We know it may be hard to believe, but trust us – come, it’s an experience you’ll never forget. 

All joking aside, get ready to come to an experience that you truly will never forget. Registration for Turn begins mid-September. Get more information and sign up for updates at turnassembly.org or follow us on Twitter – @turnassembly.

Operational Values

Last week, Lyndon blogged about the importance of values in a family or organization. This week, I thought it might be appropriate to share the operational values for Awana Lifeline. Whereas our overall ministry values address the core of what it important to us, these address the focus of how we operate as a ministry.  In each instance, we have a question that each of our staff members ask themselves on a regular basis — this way we ensure values aren’t just nice wallpaper, but truly driving the essence of how we operate.

Servant Leadership

We model our lives after the Master – Jesus Christ. Our team members strive to serve one another at all times, acting with humility and grace as Jesus modeled for us.

How have I served someone else today?

Wise Stewardship

We are owners of nothing. God owns it all, we are just stewarding it for a season. So whether it is time, finances, relationships, or opportunities, we will wisely steward these things to the best of our ability.

Did I make wise choices with my time, interactions, and spending today?

Ethics and Integrity

One can only go so far publicly as they are privately. We live our personal lives and ministry lives with the utmost in high ethics and moral integrity. With this flows a great degree of personal responsibility and accountability.

Is there any decision I have made today that I would be embarrassed if my colleagues discovered?

Continuing Development

We are committed to sharpening ourselves and our ministry. Never settling for good enough or the status quo, we will continually develop our team and what we do to the best of our ability.

What have I done this week to improve my own character and leadership ability?

Managing Growth

We understand that not every need is calling from God for our ministry. We will measure and evaluate all the opportunities as they arise and wait on God’s leading and provision if this is where He would like our organization to serve. We will maintain the calling for our ministry and not be sidetracked.

Have I been tempted this week to pursue an opportunity that doesn’t align with our vision, mission, and core values?

While it’s good for you to have a glimpse at how this ministry operates, hopefully this drives a good set of questions for your personal life as well. Do you have personal operational values? If so, what are they? If not, why not?

A Value-Based Ministry

As a leader at home and in ministry, I believe firmly in the importance of leading based on values.

In the Azcuna household our values are as follows:

  1. Love God
  2. Love each other
  3. Honesty in all areas
  4. Generational faith
  5. Live as Set apart (for God)

This is what we believe in as the calling for our family. We’re not perfect but we’re definitely passionate about what we believe in, and continue to trust God in the process and our end goal.

In the same way, as a ministry, Awana Lifeline is passionate about what we believe in. We are very clear about our organization‘s reason for being (purpose); but we’ve also defined what “good citizens” look like in our organization – our values.

Our values (defined in behavioral terms) describe how our team members should behave as we pursue our vision and mission. Our team has created what a “good citizen” looks like, acts like, and sounds like in Awana Lifeline. Our values are as follows.

  1. Glorify God in everything we do – First and foremost we believe in God and that He deserves honor in everything we do. If not for Him, we have no existence.
  2. Prioritize the Gospel – We believe that the Gospel is not the first step in a “stairway” of truths, rather, it is more like the hub in a “wheel” of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A to Z of Christianity. It is the first and lasting solution to the issue that our families, churches, communities and world is facing. As we glorify God in all that we do, the gospel is the first thought in our solution to everything.
  3. Character in ourselves – We believe in the idea that we can’t lead others until we can lead ourselves. We are reflections and models of what we’re trying to do for God, and for this calling. This involves characteristics such as integrity and honor. To effectively serve others we uphold strong character within ourselves.
  4. Service to others – We believe as followers of Christ how we are to relate to others is through service. It is serving them as they buy-in to and pursue our mission.
  5. Excellence in our pursuit and relationships – This encompasses all that we do operationally as an organization, from how we manage our finances to how we answer phone calls to how we relate with others. We do it with excellence – not unto man, but unto God — thus taking our values full-circle to glorifying Him in all we do.

Each of us live out our day-to-day lives based on some value system. We don’t always articulate the values we hold, but when you look at our actions, they are merely reflections of the deep values we have within. For our ministry, we hope that our actions reflect this deep set of values that we hold. And if you ever see us living otherwise, please gently let me know.

 

Proud Parents

What do your kids do that make you proud? For most of us, our children will never be Olympic athletes, but do we have the pride in them as if they were?

Watching Olympic coverage over the last several weeks has left me feeling encouraged and inspired on a variety of levels. The pride of an entire country backing its athletes, the sportsmanship of hugs among winners and losers, the outright dedication to fight a battle to the thousandth of a second – all great aspects of this experience that comes only once every four years. Yet there is another level that I’ve observed as a parent — it’s seeing the reaction of parents watching their children, especially in the events with younger competitors. By now Aly Raisman’s parents are almost as famous as she is and the story of Gabby Douglas moving away from home to train for her Olympic career is heart-tugging when you consider the sacrifice it has taken to arrive at Olympic Gold.

But what about those of us whose children aren’t Olympic athletes? What about those of us whose children will never by first chair in a famous philharmonic orchestra? What if our kids never publish a book, run a business, travel the world? Can we look at our kids with confidence and encouragement and say, “that’s my kid and I’m proud of her!”?  Whether she’s four or 40, do the little day-to-day decisions they make force us to step bag, grin, and well up with pride?

Sure, everyone makes their own choices and some go a path that leaves us more frustrated than proud. Yet when the good days are there, do we look our kids in the eyes, snugly hold their hands, and say – “I am proud of you”?

If you don’t, what are you waiting for?

What would it look like if we did this more often?

Personal Excitement from Lyndon Azcuna

As we enter into a new fiscal year for Awana Lifeline, I’m also reflecting on the new season for my family. Halfway through summer, here are a few things I’m personally excited about:

Church – After moving to Southeastern Michigan several months ago, my family and I are now members of Fulkerson Park Baptist Church in Niles, Michigan. I’m excited about joining with a group of men who will make up the leadership team for the mens group we’re developing for the church. These men will provide leadership and support for the other men in our church. We want to support every man that goes to our church and help and guide him to be the man that God called him to be – the spiritual leader of his home.

Family – Starting in August, our oldest child Donna will be leaving our family for a year to travel with Life Action Ministries on one of their Road Teams as a music director. I’m excited that she will have a growing experience of seeing how God works, a greater level of responsibility, and an opportunity to be a servant leader in her role as music director. We’re very sad to see her go as a family but understand that she is serving God in this way. If you want to follow she will be blogging about her ministry experience at itsthecryofmyheart.blogspot.com.

Personally – My personal excitement is my upcoming study of the Sermon on the Mount. In my personal walk with God I love the study of God’s word – I’m a word-by-word study guy. Over the years I’ve dissected Romans (1-9), Galatians, and now I’m in Hebrews (Hebrews is a little challenging but so deep and rich). I use Precept Austin – which I highly recommend for the layperson. I’m only on Hebrews 6 at the moment but felt because of the message of the Kingdom of God I’m planning on pausing after Hebrews 6 to do the Sermon on the Mount study (Matt 5-7). It would be good to dig deeper on how we are to manifest His Kingdom here on earth now.

What are you excited about these days?

New Faith in Christ : Leonidas’ Story

At this year’s Returning Hearts Celebration at Angola Prison, journalism students from Union University had the opportunity to capture the event and the lives of fathers. The following story and photograph were captured from one of these students:


The annual Returning Hearts celebration provides an environment where fathers and children can experience Christ’s heart for reconciliation, but for one Angola inmate it was his opportunity to physically show his new faith in Christ.

Leonidas celebrated this year’s May 19 Returning Hearts as a new graduate of the Malachi Dads program. Prior to the program he had come into prison with a “one-track mind” — living life the way he thought was right.

“The most terrible realization is when you come to prison … that everything you’ve been living up until then has been a lie,” Leonidas said.  “I was allowing the devil to run my life. I was running off self-will. … Awana Lifeline taught me to put God as the center.”

The Malachi Dads program has helped Lowry find other avenues to be a better father, how to walk in the way of Christ, and is teaching him how to mentor and speak to his children. He said that before entering the program he could not speak to his son and now he has learned to have patience with him and take the time to tell him about God, something that they had never done before.

“It’s not a cakewalk but it’s definitely become a lot easier to break down the barrier between he and myself because of Awana … on how to not only be a dad but be a leader … a role model for my son and the only way to do that is lead by example,” he said of his relationship with his son.

In order for him to be a good example for his son, Leonidas said he felt it was necessary for him to complete the Malachi Dads program.

He writes his children often to tell them about what he has learned in class, his growth in Christ and encourages them to grow in Christ too. He said he knows it is a struggle for his son, though, especially because he saw his father doing one thing and now he is saying a new thing. But Leonidas loves his children and is driven to help them grow in Christ in the same way as he has done.


For more information on the Malachi Dads program or how you can bring this powerful ministry to your church or a local jail or prison, please visit our Web site at awanalifeline.org.

Parents : Your Words Matter

Michayla White works in digital strategies at Awana where she invests time in the colliding worlds of children and youth and digital technologies. Educated in psychology, one of her greatest personal passions is investing in emerging adults and the evolving lives of young adults. This guest post is a personal insight on the power of parents’ words to help – or harm – their children.


I remember a silly little phrase that I learned as a child that I’d use as a retort when someone would tease me: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

That was all well and good to sing back to whoever it was that was poking fun at me, but if you really think about that phrase, it’s not true.

Most of the time, we try to take the importance and weight of our words (or other’s words) and diminish it to nothing. When we believe our words and actions do not have the ability to build up or tear down, we deceive ourselves.

Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

The tongue has the power of life and death. Think about that for a moment.

You have the opportunity, especially as a parent, to speak a blessing over a person’s life, or to curse them. That’s weighty. That’s important.

Children thirst for blessing and acceptance from their parents. It is not surprising that so many of the women that I mentor often tell me about how their parents words either blessed them or hurt them as a child. The women whose parents loved them well, shepherded their hearts, and spoke blessing into their lives are usually healthy, godly young women. The women whose parents were casual with their words (or even damaging with their words), not purposeful about developing their daughter’s love for the Lord, and failed to consistently speak blessing into their lives are usually confused, hurt, and struggling to be who God created them to be. What does this tell you? Your influence is vital to their growth, development, and future. You can’t casually parent. Your words and actions mean more than any other person’s words and actions in your child’s life. Think about your own childhood…what was your experience like? How did it affect you and the person you have become?

My friend, Sarah (not her real name), has a story that I feel is like so many others. Her parents were casual church attenders, and there was very little talk about faith, the Lord, and the Word at home. Her mother only praised her when she did something “right”, and her dad just rarely spoke. When he did speak, however, it was about all the things she had done incorrectly. She grew up seeking attention in all the wrong places. Despite any efforts of my own to encourage her to go to God for her security and value in life, and any efforts others made to shower her with love, she still could not move past what had been ingrained in her mind by her parents words and actions: her value and ability to gain love was based solely on her performance. Because we are not wired to accept that type of love, she rebelled. Big time. Sarah sought acceptance from men, affirmation from men, and love from men who did not give her any of those things she was chasing after. Instead, she found herself unexpectedly pregnant. Sarah cut off all of her friends after this. Three years later, I got a phone call.

“Michayla?” a timid voice asked.

“Yes?”

“It’s Sarah.” she stated.

“Sarah! It’s so good to hear from you!” I exclaimed.

“Can we meet for coffee? Tonight?” Her tone of voice was urgent. I told her that I would be on my way in a minute

When I walked in to the coffee shop, I spotted her immediately. She looked awful. Thin, tired, and sad–not the young woman I remembered. The talk we had that night was one I will never forget. She told me all that had occurred in the three years since she had cut herself off. I will not expose what she shared that night, but I can say that she was completely, totally broken. My heart hurt for her. She had hit rock bottom, and wanted out of that bondage. Thankfully, she is now leading a healthy, God-honoring life, but that is because of the work of God in her life- not because her parents did what they could to shepherd their daughter’s heart well. They spoke (either verbally or with their silence) words of death into her life simply because they didn’t care enough to bless her; however, the Lord redeemed her and showed her the extent of His love for her. Sarah’s story, though unique to her, is like the stories of so many young women that I have interacted with. They are confused and hurting because their parents failed to give them a firm place to stand- a place of security, value, and affirmation.

So, what does it look like to speak a blessing over your child’s life? Being present is not enough. A child should never have to interpret silence when it comes to what their parents think about them. A lack of negative words does not mean you are not hurting or confusing your child. They should know without a shadow of a doubt, like we know as children of the King, that their father and mother love them unconditionally, rejoice over them, and believe in the future of their little one.

Speak words of life to them (share Scripture with them, affirm them, build them up), pray over them daily, regularly encourage them with belief in their future, always shower them with love and mercy, discipline them in truth and love, and rejoice over who God has made them to be.

Sarah’s story could have looked different. She could have grown up secure and confident in the fact that she was dearly loved, a precious daughter of God, whose parents believed she had a beautiful future serving the Lord. And that, friends, is what grieves me… those two words: “could have.” As I think about it, perhaps the story really is about what should have been, because her parents abdicated their responsibility to her when she needed them the most. But it doesn’t have to be “should have’s” and “could have’s” for your children’s stories.

Parents, you are the ones who show your child how loved they are, how much value and worth they have, and that they have a future. Your words have the power of life and death for your child. What responsibility! God, help us to never cease to speak words of life that draw our children closer to You!

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