Monday, March 19, 2018

Give Up to Gain More

When I was twenty-two I gave up dating for a year. In my teen years I had made some unwise sexual decisions. This past haunted me and followed me. I allowed myself to be defined by what I had done, but by who I was. There came a point where I would allow relationships with girls to take a higher priority than my relationship with Jesus. This wasn't good for anyone.

Finally I decided that it was time to give up my plan and find God’s plan. It was time to loose my life and find the life God had for me. You know that crazy part about this? When I was nearing the end of this year off of dating, that is when I met this beautiful girl named Charity Fairfield (I knew that one day I was gonna change her last name). We started out as friends. I loved seeing her love for God. I took my meager intern salary and bought her coffee in a hope that she would fall for me! If you want to hear more of the story I’d be glad to tell you but on January 7, 2005 Charity and I were married.

What is it that God is asking you to give up? Is there something in your life that you've allowed to take a more prominent position than God? We allow all types of things to be more important than God. We let friends, family, finances, housing, jobs and toys push the love of God out of our hearts.

If I never gave up my plan than I’m not sure I would have been ready for God’s plan. It took time. It was tough not dating. It required me to think about my life, what I was doing, why I was doing it and where it was going. You can do these same things with your walk with God. God wants to speak to you. God wants to encourage you and share great things with you. These questions can prompt a great discussion for you to have with God.

In Matthew 16:21-28 Jesus teaches us that: Disciples follow Jesus by giving their lives to Him. Jesus called the disciples to leave their plans, hopes and dreams. Jesus wanted to give them a better plan, brighter hopes and bigger dreams. Only when we loose our life can we find the true life that Jesus is calling each of us to live.

When I look back on my life, I am so glad I gave up dating. I'm glad I went through those tough times of looking deep into my heart and examining my motives. God used that time to shape me. God humbled me and did a deep work in my heart. During that time I also sought out professional counseling to address some of the pain I had endured in life. Each of us endure pain, what matters is how we let the pain shape us.

Looking back on 13 years of marriage, I am so glad that I gave up because I have gained so much more by spending life with Charity! 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Living for God while trapped in a storm

It's a stormy afternoon. The clouds are dark as night and the rain heavier than anything Seattle has experienced. The boat is being hammered by the waves, the rudder is tied up and the sail has been taken down. There is no more questions of, "Where are going?" Everyone knows the wind is taking the boat any direction it pleases. Please who have never prayed are suddenly crying out to God. Laughter has ceased and fear set in days ago.

This is the situation we find Paul in the middle of Acts 27. Paul boarded the ship in Caesarea as a prisoner but quickly took the place of captain of the ship in the middle of the sea. He rose up as a godly leader in a dire situation. Luke describes three ways that Paul teaches us how to live for God while trapped in a storm.

A call to courage

First, Paul called the men to be courageous (Acts 27:21-26). It feels a little like Paul sneaks a cheap shot in the beginning of his address. But it’s good for him to start it out this way to remind the men it’s time to listen. A messenger from the Lord came and spoke to Paul. He confirmed that he must appear in Rome. Paul’s confidence in the Lord came him this confidence in the message he was given. We are not likely to have a visit from an angel but we still can help those around us take courage.

Paul knew that he belonged to God. In v.23 he speaks of “the God to whom I belong.” Do you know that you belong to God? In the first pages of Scripture we see that God created mankind. The Bible also tells us that we are not our own but we were bought with a price.

It’s like the old story of the boy who made his own little toy boat to float in the river, but one day he lost it in the current and off it went. He searched for it but never found it. Months later he was passing by the window of a Goodwill shop where he saw that very same boat he had made for sale. He knew it was his because he carved his name in the side. He went inside and he bought it and then he looked at it and said, “Now you’re twice mine. First, I made you and then I lost you but now I bought you.” God calls you His child. He created you in His image and then bought you with the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.

We are living in a time when people are feeling fearful with everything that has happened in our world. People are living less and less courageous because of the fear that is crippling us. Parents are scared to take their kids to school. Students are scared to go to their high school campus. People are fearful of flying. Friends are fighting over political issues and personal opinions. It’s driven us to hide in our home, watch our news channel and agree with our constituents on social media.

Paul was a God-fearing man, standing on a boat in the middle of the ocean being driven by a storm. He was probably wet and cold. He was surrounded by men who were on their way to meet death. He took the lead in a dire situation by being calm and focused on the Lord. This week, encourage a person in the Lord. Share something God is teaching you or a Bible verse. Watch how their demeanor changes with the encouragement from God. Listen to what Chuck Swindoll said, “Encouragement is awesome. It can actually change the course of another person's day, week, or life.” Paul’s call for this group to take courage changed the direction of these men’s lives.

A much needed warning

Second, Paul gives the men a warning (Acts 27:27-32). After a call to be courageous, Paul needed to warn them about what would take place. For fourteen days they had been driven across the sea in an uncontrolled fashion. For all you control freaks out there, this is your worst nightmare. This was dangerous because they could easily run aground on a sandbar. So they dropped four anchors to make sure they would hold for the night and waited for dawn. The soldiers let down the lifeboat, pretending to lay out more anchors. Paul is experienced in sea travel so he knows what the soldiers say they are doing and what they are actually doing. Paul needed to take action and warn Julius to engage in leading the ship.

We have yet another example of disobedience with these men. The sailors wanted to take their life into their own hands and not leave it in the trust of the ship. Paul spoke up again and this time Julius listened to what he was saying. He immediately went into action to make sure they didn’t loose the men who knew how to navigate the ship. If these men left, the journey would have been infinitely worse.

This is the same in our life. We find ourselves in a storm and we want to leave. But God needs you to stick around to help those around you. Don’t curse the storm when you’re in it, ask God what He is teaching you in the storm. Too often we prefer to leave a situation when God wants to teach us a lesson.

Care for people 

Paul gives us a final example of how to live for God while trapped in a storm. (Acts 27:33-38). The final call is to take food and eat. It sounds like a simple thing but these guys have been living on the edge of their ship for two weeks. They hadn’t been caring for themselves because life was simply crazy. If I don’t eat for one meal I get hangry, I cant imagine these guys after two weeks. In an emergency situation the last thing we think about is food.

We see this characteristic in Paul that makes us love and adore him. Paul has fully taken the place of leader on this ship. He remains calm, and integrates his faith and spirituality into one. The way he thanks God for the food and broke it seems like when we take communion. His leadership encouraged every man aboard that ship. The men who didn’t know how to swim found comfort in Paul’s example. The men who had feared death were drawn to Paul’s Godly example. God lived out him faith in the sight of everyone.

This is speculation on my behalf but I think because of Paul’s example heaven got a little more crowded. I imagine many of these men placed their trust in Christ because they saw Paul’s example of following God. Who is watching your life right now and becoming hungry for God? Each of us have people we interact with in our work, neighborhood and family. Our example for Christ should make them long to know the God we serve. Our witness for Jesus needs to leave people longing to know more about Jesus Christ. Sometimes this means caring more for people’s physical needs before their spiritual needs. This means building a bridge of friendship before talking about God. It means entering into situations that might be uncomfortable to help others know God.

We all face storms in our life. Many of you know that my family has gone through a personal storm for the last eight months. We’ve felt tossed around. We’ve felt like it was raining on us. We’ve cried out to God. We’ve cried. It looks like the sun is starting to shine on us and we’re going to be stronger because of this storm. If you are in a storm right now, don’t try to run from it. Embrace the storm. Cry out to God and ask what He is teaching you. Draw near to Him in prayer and reading Scripture. This might be something you’ve never done, but God might be using this storm to grab your attention.

Storms have a way of revealing our character. Storms can make us or break us. Storms test us and require us to dig deep into what is happening in our life. If you’ve never placed your trust in Christ, I encourage you to reach out to God. If you feel like the storm you’re experiencing in unbearable, take courage. God has a plan for you. It might mean you get shipwrecked but you will still have your life. And your life was created to serve God.

God will spare you in the storm. God didn’t allow this storm in your life to extract your life from you. God might have allowed you to enter this storm to help prove your character or draw you near to Him.

Listen to what the great missionary Hudson Taylor once said, “At the timberline where the storms strike with the most fury, the sturdiest trees are found.” If you are in a storm in life, stand strong. The storm is strengthening you. The storm is increasing your dependence on God. Don’t forget, God remains faithful in our storms.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Sharing your faith

On numerous occasions I've been able to share my faith with friends, family, neighbors and people who've I just met! When Christ followers share their story they generally break it into three parts: Life before Christ, Meeting Christ, and Life after conversion.

For the last several months our church has been studying the book of Acts. In Acts 26 Luke shares the fourth telling of Paul's faith story. Paul is going to follow this same order as he shares his story with this distinguished group of people. Keep an eye out for how Paul shares his story in these three sections, as he speaks to his audience and gives a compelling argument for Christ.

1) Life before Christ

Paul begins by sharing about his life before Christ (read Acts 26:4-11). Paul starts by appealing to his Jewish roots. He talks about his strict training as a Pharisee. Paul confirms he was a well known young man. He left his home in Tarsus to study in Jerusalem. He had a well-known mentor who was teaching him the precise way to interrupt and follow the Law of God. He appeals to those who knew him as a youth to confirm his lifestyle.

The Jewish people were constantly looking for the Messiah. When you read the Old Testament you see they longed for the savior of the world to come. The Jews knew the Messiah would come in the lineage of David so they expected the Messiah to be a conquering king and not a humble servant. That is why when Jesus came in the manner He came it was foreign to them. The Jews couldn’t see a scenario where God sent the redeemer in this fashion. Once again, Paul appeals to his Jewish orthodoxy and Hebrew tradition.

As Paul continues his story, he expresses his prior actions of condoning the death of those who followed Christ. Not only did he condone their punishment but was so bent on stopping the spread of the Gospel he sought out those who believed in Christ to find them and hunt them down. For Paul it was more desirable to have these people blaspheme the name of the Lord than to punish them. You begin to see how twisted his thinking had become and how focused he was on punishing the first century Christians.

This might sound crazy to your ears, but in Jewish circles Paul was praised for his actions of seeking out believers in this manner. His zeal for the Lord was encouraged and he had the support of the Jewish leaders. He was viewed like the Junior who scored extremely high on her SAT score. His people thought of him like the teenage surfer who has amazing potential. Older Jews would talk about how he was living with their approval. The Jews promoted Paul’s zeal for the Lord and encouraged him to persecute those who trusted Christ.

2) Meeting Christ

Next Paul makes a transition to share about his personal encounter with meeting Christ (read Acts 26:12-18). This is the fourth time in the book of Acts that Luke recounts Paul conversion experience. Paul explained how he was not content to keep his persecution of Christ followers to Jerusalem and Judea. He set his sights on Damascus and headed out under the name of religious zeal to extract the lives of those for followed Christ.

The journey was about 135 miles and would have taken several days on the horseback. We don’t know exactly where Paul was on this journey in relation to his destination but the Lord personally stops this hate mission. Jesus is displeased with Paul’s actions and asks, “Why do you persecute me?” Paul thought he was living in the light but really his life was surrounded with darkness. When we think about this meeting with Christ, Paul was persecuting the Messiah he was hoping for. His actions are in contrast to the hope he was waiting for as a Jewish man.

Jesus gives Paul a clear instruction here. Paul has been appointed a servant for Christ and is called to bring the light he just experienced to their lives. The Greek word we have here for servant means “under rower” and is used to reference the lowliest of all servants. Paul thought he was his own master but now his life is not his own. He will be an under rower for God and follow orders from a new master. From what we’ve learned about Paul’s life in Acts, he has accomplished this. Paul immediately gave up his agenda and surrender to the Messiah he had been looking for all his life.

Luke shares a valuable lesson for everyone of us. It is God who pursues us; not us who pursue God. Paul wasn’t looking for God, remember it was Jesus who interrupted his life. Paul had his own plan. Many of us had our own plan for life and God interrupted our life and gave us real life in Him. Paul wasn’t seeking God. I wasn’t seeking God. Are you seeking God? If you are seeking God this morning, it’s because God has been seeking after you. He loves you too much to keep letting you live apart from Him.

3) Life after conversion

After Paul shares about meeting Christ, he talks about his life after conversion (read Acts 26:19-23). Paul quickly appeals to the King to trust in Christ. He minimizes himself and lifts up the name of Christ. Paul knows he is an under-rower. He continues to speak to Agrippa as one who understands Jewish culture and Hebrew traditions. Paul would have been an expert in the Torah with his training as a Pharisee so he is able to speak this way.

Right away Paul declares his obedience to God in the vision he received from heaven. There may be some people who have received an instruction from the Lord but they haven’t obeyed it. I can think of one of two times in my life where I believe God was asking me to be obedient and I rebelled. But not Paul. Paul obeyed the instruction from Christ. Paul continued to travel the world but now his aim was to help people find Jesus, not to get them to blaspheme. Paul makes a compelling argument here that our faith ought to be demonstrated in our actions.

Remember earlier in the telling that Paul asked King Agrippa to be patient with him? Paul finally gets to the reason why he is on trial. Paul is on trial because he was grabbed in the temple courts, in Jerusalem, and some Jews tried to kill him. If you’re not familiar with that story look up Acts 22 and 23. You can read more about Paul’s life to see what he went through. At this point in Paul’s life he is aquatinted with the suffering of his Messiah. Paul has suffered for his faith in Christ but he hasn’t given up and continues to share his story to point more people to Christ.

If you’re a Christ follower let me ask a blunt question, when was the last time you shared your faith? I’m not doing this to shame or guilt you but to get you thinking about sharing your faith. It can be scary. It can be intimidating. You can feel like people will reject you. They aren’t rejecting you but are rejecting the God who saved you. I highly encourage you to take an hour and learn how to effectively share your faith.

In the last ten months of my life I’ve spent more time in hospitals than I could have ever imagined. One thing that I’ve learned is that generally people who are sick and dying don’t get out of bed. When they cease to walk the end is nearer for them. This got me thinking about our walk with Christ. When we stop sharing our faith, our faith muscle can loose it’s strength. If you haven’t shared your faith lately, ask God for an opportunity to do so and watch how He increases your faith, helps others find Him and brings joy to your heart.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

A story about a meeting in hell

Dr. Clarence Macartney told a story about a meeting in hell.

Satan called his four leading demons together and commanded them to think up a new lie that would trap more souls. “I have it!” one demon said. “I’ll to earth and tell people there is no God.” “It will never work,” said Satan. “People can look around and see there is a God.”

“I’ll go and tell them there is no heaven!” suggested a second demon, “But Satan rejected that idea. “Everybody knows there is life after death and they want to go to heaven.”

“Let’s tell them there is no hell!” said a third demon. “No, conscience tells them their sins will be judged,” said the Devil. “We need a better lie than that.”

Quietly, the fourth demon spoke. “I think I’ve solved your problem,” he said. “I’ll go to earth and tell everybody there is no hurry.”

It’s easy to fall into this lie that there is no hurry to share the truth of Christ. It’s easy to fall into the lie that someone else will tell you friends, neighbors and family about Christ. It’s also easy to fall into the lie that you can wait to make a decision to follow Jesus. Today is the day to look for the opportunity to share your faith.

Let me tell you, there is a hurry to tell people about Jesus. Our church has been studying the book of Acts and The Apostle Paul was ready to share his faith throughout this book in the Bible. He models to us the need to be ready to share the hope of Christ. He was ready in season and out of season. He shared the truth in the synagogue, the marketplace, temple and the courtroom. If you’re ready to share the hope of Christ, God will give you opportunities.

In just four Sunday’s from today we will celebrate Easter (not just at my church but at your church and in your city). We’re taking a giant step of faith and adding a second service for seven weeks (pray for us). There are many people who are in no hurry to make a decision about Christ but I'm inviting you to make a hurry about it. Today is a great day to be ready to share the love of Christ.

Use the template that Paul used in Acts 26 to share your faith:
1) Talk about your life before Christ
2) How you met Christ
3) What changed in your life afterwards

Monday, February 26, 2018

Leadership Quality- Relational

Earlier this month I wrote on the four indispensable qualities of a leader. You can read that post here.

When you look at good leaders you find they have three of these qualities. They are good communicators, are administrative and relational. But if you are looking for a great leader they are going to line up these qualities in such a way to have humility stuck right in the middle to hold their leadership together.

The greatest leaders are highly relational. They engage in conversation, have a great handshake, take an interest in you as a person and make you feel like a better person just because you've been in their presence.

Some are extroverts and some are introverts

It's no secret that I'm an extrovert. Just last weekend I was speaking at a camp and I felt like I was with 300+ of my new best friends. I had a ton of conversations with people of all ages and stages in life. Just because I'm an extrovert doesn't mean that all great leaders are extroverted. Some people are refreshed just by being with others and some are refreshed by being with others.

I've served with introverted and extroverted leaders. I've seen both of them be great at being relationship driven. These leaders have a great sense of people and spending time with them. They look people in the eyes, focus on their sentences and stay tuned in the conversation.

One of my strengths is having WOO (You can read more about it in StrengthsFinder). WOO stands for Winning Others Over. The strength of WOO is that I love to meet new people. I enjoy conversation. I like to hear about people. The dark side is I can be easily distracted and leave the conversation to early. I can loose interest because I'm constantly thinking about winning another person over as my next friend (this is me being vulnerable).

They engage you in a conversation 

Great leaders know how to engage others in conversation. This conversation can be verbal, written, email or text. Craig Groeschel once told a story about his body posture in conversations. His friends informed him that in every conversation he kept his body turned to the side like he was waiting to leave the conversation. He improved on this and others felt more like he cared about them.

Great leaders will look to engage you in a conversation, you don't always have to do the heavy lifting to find them. When they are in a public setting, and it's appropriate, they will strike you a conversation. For a pastoral leader it will be them who might ask how you're doing. They may ask how your Bible time is going or if you're connected in a small group. In other sectors it might look how Casey Niestat lives his life. Watch this video around the 5:30 mark to see this in play.

When I train leaders I highly encourage them to ask people seven questions to show they really care. It's easy to ask, "How are you doing?" but the truth is, that's not really a question any more, it's a greeting we use in California. Ask people where they are from, what they enjoy to do, see if they have a family, where they went to college or what their favorite food is. I avoid asking about work because we don't want our work to define us.

The conversation leaves you feeling great 

When I think back to the great leaders I've met, I've generally left the conversation feeling amazing. The leader may have affirmed something in my life. They leader might have asked me a question about myself or took an interest in what I was focusing on.

Let me tell you what the leader didn't do:
He/She did start checking their phone
Look around the room for a more interesting person
Talk about all their accomplishments
Ask me to read their next book

A few days ago I was talking with a friend who attended a leadership event in Irvine. At this event there was a great leader who I follow Carey Neuhoff. He said the event was so small that he just hung out with Carey. He was bragging about what a great leader Carey is and how fun it was to see him. In his meeting Carey the first thing Carey said was something like, "Man, those are great shoes! I love them." He left that interaction feeling great! That is what great leaders do.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Leadership Quality- Administrative

Earlier this month I wrote on the four indispensable qualities of a leader. You can read that post here.

When you look at good leaders you find they have three of these qualities. They are good communicators, are administrative and relational. But if you are looking for a great leader they are going to line up these qualities in such a way to have humility stuck right in the middle to hold their leadership together.

When I first think of an administrative person I think of some of the phenomenal people I've worked with. I wouldn't consider myself veery administrative but I would consider myself organized. When I was a student ministry pastor my pastor once said, "Neal, look at your desk compared to mine. You are organized. You clean your desk every day before you leave the office."

Have you ever worked with or around someone who is anything but administrative or organized? They can't make an appointment on time? Their desk looks like a small tornado hit and their car hasn't been washed in six months? It just looks like their life is haphazardly happening around them.

Here are three things I've noticed about people who are administratively minded and organized.

They manage their time well

When I first started in ministry I had no clue how to manage my time. Someone would ask for help and I'd do it. A call would come and I'd drop everything to meet the person's needs. People loved how much I was helping them, but it wasn't helping my personal life. One night, at youth group, I asked a leader for help with something I had completely dropped the ball on. She looked at me and said, "Neal, don't make your failure to plan my problem."

I didn't know how to manage my time. It wasn't till I was 29 that I really dove into this. Sophie was nine months old, my work responsibilities increased and I was in seminary. I met with a guy named Bill Randall who took an interest in my life. He helped me manage my time well and it was a game changer for me. I'm not one who likes to plan ahead but I was sick of people calling me at 12:15pm to see if I would make our lunch appointment.

They keep their personal world organized 

My inability to manage my time well spilled over, (probably better to say, rushed over) into my personal life. There was one night I came home for dinner. Charity was done and my food was cold. Charity reminded me that I said I'd be home around 5pm and it was 6:30pm. My personal world was in distress because I couldn't say "no" to other things.

In my short 38 years on this planet I've learned that administrative people know how to keep their personal world in order. Most of them have a routine for sleeping. Many of them eat healthy and make healthy lifestyle choices. They do their taxes on time because they know a paycheck is coming. They keep their bills paid and life isn't a constant mess for them.

When I was younger I had my desk organized but not really my personal world. Growing up was a quick process for me and I had to learn a ton. As you think about being administrative make a point to plan things out. Have a mental, or written, check list of what needs to be accomplished. Be mindful with your time and plan for margin incase somethings goes wrong.

They think about the future

This probably goes without saying, but administrative people are thinking about what is coming next.  I am more of a dreamer. I have great ideas (and horrible ones). I like to think about the future and so do administrative people. I've had many meetings with people who know that the next camp, vision meeting or sermon series is coming. They may not have all the details but they know it's coming. They want to be prepared and help make it a success.

When you think administratively and live an organized life you actually help out those around you. An example in my current setting is this; I currently have a solid plan for the next four months of preaching. After that I have a penciled in plan for the next four months; we will probably do it and its getting more figured out. For the last four months of the year we have a fluid plan of what we're going  to preach on. For us to have this at set is going to be a huge help to our team. People can find creative ideas. We have time to figure out a graphics package for the sermon series. We can even dream about the stage design with time to spare!

Take some time today to plan the future with care. Seek the Lord in all these decisions. If you're not naturally administrative, you can learn. You might not want to exhibit all your energy to being administrative but I'm sure you can think of an area you can improve on.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Leadership Quality- Communicator

Earlier this week I wrote on the four indispensable qualities of a leader. You can read that post here.

When you look at good leaders you find they have three of these qualities. They are good communicators, are administrative and relational. But if you are looking for a great leader they are going to line up these qualities in such a way to have humility stuck right in the middle to hold their leadership together.

Generally when we think about communication we think of a person on a stage sharing. Keep that in mind but also think about other points of communication. Think about daily office conversations, think about written communication and conversations with your neighbor.

Large Group Communication 

In my world we generally call this preaching. I preach about forty-two times a year at my church. I also speak at about four camps a year. I am blessed with an opportunity to share the greatest message I've ever heard. It's a message about Jesus Christ that changed my life almost eighteen years ago.

When I speak to large groups I am mainly looking for three things, preaching that impacts the head, the heart and the hands.

Preaching that impacts the head speaks to the mind God has given each of us. It brings out historical context, explains difficult words, explains topics that aren't common conversations of our day. This means that I'm reading the Greek language to see the flow of a text and the form of the text. It also means I'm reading commentaries by men and women who are much smarter than I am. Then it is my role to help figure out what the person I'm speaking to needs to hear. A student doesn't want to hear about the Greek language but might be fascinated with history. As a communicator you have to understand your audience and what will appeal to their head.

You can't solely speak to the head, you also need to speak to the heart. This is the emotional level of a person. It's the story that evokes emotion. You have an emotional connection with a person because of a common theme, a shared experience or a past emotion. Generally we call these speakers passionate speakers. They are great at grabbing our heart for a certain cause, the poor, the needy or for the Gospel. They speak directly to our heart and get us emotionally involved in the conversation.

Finally we have the speak to the hands. This is the part of communication that drives you to action. For example the communicator might speak to your head and then grab your heart and finally call you to action. A call to action is needed in any great talk. This is what drives us love our kids better, to invest more in our marriages, to share the love of Christ with our neighbors and change the world.

Next time you hear a speaker think of they hit all these areas. There are some Bible passages that might speak more to the head or heart so don't look for equal balance but look for intentionally in hitting these areas.

Small Group Communication

Some people would rather communicate in small settings and not in large settings. Great communicators need to be ready to do either and both. A small setting might be a staff meeting, a board meeting or a gathering of volunteer leaders. What I've found is that I need to be more focused and intentional in these smaller settings. I need to be more prepared for a staff meeting than I think. You can average the amount of time you plan for the meeting by half the length of the meeting.

This can also apply this to those who lead small groups in a church setting. You can tell if your small group leader is unprepared. You know they didn't read the book or prepare questions. But on the other hand, when they are ready it shows. You know they did their homework twice because they got this! In small settings the preparation needs to be spot on.

Think about context and figure out what your small settings look like. When I plan for small setting meetings I think my prep time is about half the same amount of time as the meeting. For example, last week I taught on growing spiritually to our preschool staff. It was a room of about 8 people. It was material I'd taught before but I looked it over four days before and then looked it over the day of for about thirty minutes. When I prepare for our staff meeting I take the time to write the agenda, think through possible questions or concerns that might arise and come in as ready as I can. The longer you do this, the more of a habit it becomes and your preparation time reduces.

Keep this in mind: When you are sharing in any setting it's better to be prepared than wing it.

Written Communication 

When we talk about communication this is an area that can get overlooked. For me, I prefer oral communication to written. Part of the reason I write this blog is to help me clearly gather my thoughts. I am an emotional guy and like to draw people into my stories. But when I write, I need to be short and concise. I like to think "less is more and better is better." I need to check my grammar and make sure my sentences are clear.

We use written communication more than ever now. People are posting on social media. Emails are flying around the office. Blogs are being written. Newspapers are going out. Written communication is not going anywhere and great communicators need to be ready for this.

Let's talk about our written communication.

When texting we have freedom that we don't in emails or other forms. Mostly text messages are short and get to the point. You have grammar errors and lots of grace.

Emails can be different. I expect that every email I write will be forwarded to someone. I'm not saying it is, but it can be. Therefore if I have a tough email to write I will write it one day and let it sit in my draft folder for a day. I might edit it, add to it or trash it. Sometimes in person is the best way to communicate but we don't always have that option.

As you think about your communication be a constant learner and ready to improve in all possible ways!

Monday, February 05, 2018

4 indispensable leadership qualities of a leader

While serving in the Bay Area I had the privilege of working with a great man named Silvio. Silvio was a leader in our Usher ministry and honestly could have been my boss for all the wisdom that man has. On a regular basis we would get lunch to stay connected. I usually left the meals feeling like I was poured into more than he was. He was leading a company, spoke multiple languages, loved the Lord with all his heart, had a great marriage and two wonderful kids. I wanted to be more like him.

One time, while having a meal together, Silvio told me that I was a great leader. He said something like, "You're a clear communicator, have organizational ability and are very relational. Neal, you are the kind of the leader the church needs." I as thrilled to hear these words but wanted to talk more about the topic of great leadership with him.

We continued on this topic for much of our lunch. We talked about guys who are very administrative but are tough to relate to. There are guys who are so relational that they forget to organize the details of their day. Then you have guys who are the best communicators but seem like they can't relate to others, they walk off stage and it's tough to connect with them.

The more we talked about this, the more I got to thinking. I wrote this out on my white board in the office. I started it as a list, something like this:
1) Communicator
2) Administrative
3) Relational

Then it hit me, the way it needed to look was like this:
I called Silvio and told him about the vendiagram. What the church world needed to add to this was humility. I talked to my good friend Nick and asked him if he would draw this up for me real quick. He is a wiz and it took him no time at all. The circles overlap. When you get a guy who lines them up just right you get humility to fall in the center.

Over the next week or two I want to write more about each of these topics as they relate to leadership.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Just Mercy- Book Review

Title- Just Mercy

Author- Bryan Stevenson

Publisher- Spiegel & Grau

Pages- Audio Book

Quotable- Since I listened to this book I don't have an exact quote to share

Last summer I attended the Global Leadership Summit and heard Bryan speak. His stories were compelling and heartbreaking. His delivery was spectacular but the pain in what he had seen was evident. Bryan is working in an area that many people would prefer to avoid and not engage. I got home and told my wife to which she replied, "I already read his book."

I've been using the "Overdrive" app to listen to books lately. Since I had listened to Bryan and my wife already read the book I knew I needed to listen to this book. Within the five five minutes I was hooked. I listened to almost half the book on a drive home from Big Bear.

Bryan shares real life situations about men and women who are placed on death row. Many of these people are minorities. Many of these people have no defense or at least inadequate defense. Many of the people are undereducated and unable to speak for themselves. Many of the stories are about people who have little income and no influence.

One of the main stories features an ongoing trail about a man name Walter McMillian. I won't spoil the story but he is a man who was surrounded by friends and family but was a victim of racism and poor leadership. Walter was falsely accused and sentenced to death row for a crime he didn't commit. Bryan shares about the difficulty he had in helping Walter also shares numerous other stories. I highly encourage you to read (or listen to) Just Mercy!

Monday, January 29, 2018

The pain of gossip and rumors

Think about the last time someone asked you a question that totally caught you off guard. The biggest time this happened in my life was during my first year of Bible College. One, while on break a classmate came up to me and asked me if I was selling heroine. As you can image, I was in shock! His question stumped me. In my past I had sold drugs, but I’d never touched heroine.

The problem is his question was less of a question and more a declaration that I’d been selling. In his tone if felt like I was already guilty and needed to be proved innocent.

I tried as calmly as I could to ask him where he heard this. The question of me selling was more than frustrating but his response was infuriating. He told me that another class member had told him and she was scared to confront me. To be completely honest I shut down and was so angry. It was one of those times in my life that I couldn't think straight I was so upset.

My life had completely changed with Jesus and the last thing I wanted to do was touch drugs again. I was working a job, waking up early, going to school in the morning, work in the afternoon and back to school at night. If I was selling heroine I wouldn’t be holding that schedule or working the low paying job I had been working. I wouldn't have been living in a small apartment and driving an old truck. It wasn't just a financial insult, it was the thought of my past trying to steal the future God had for me. The main insult felt like an attack on my character, and that hurt the most.

I excused myself from class that morning to talk with one of the leaders of the school. See before I met Jesus I would go and handle conversations like this in person but no one was telling me the source of the rumor. My initial intention was to go to the person's home and have a conversation with them. An in all honest, my words would have been few. I'm embarrassed to admit this, but this is me being vulnerable.

Finally the leader was able to figure some things out and it came to be that a guy I had never met heard a rumor about me and told this girl in our class during a Bible study. He confused me with another person and blew the whole thing out of proportion. You know how it came out? He shared during the prayer request time of Bible study.

This instance in my life reminds all of us have badly misinformation can hurt a person.

Think of the pain that rumors cause people. Reputations are ruined by rumors. Marriages are destroyed by miscommunication, relationships are severed with poor information and churches are destroyed by the small spark of a lie. When you think about your life, how have rumors hurt you? Maybe you’ve been the victim of a painful rumor just like me. We’ve all seen the personal impact of how rumors impactor lives, our family, a love one or the local church in some cases.

On Sunday I taught on Acts 21:17-22:29 about the pain of rumors. Paul was a misunderstood man who almost lost his life due to a misunderstanding. You can read the passage in Scripture and find out that a small amount of legalism had snuck in the church, it went unchecked and then started a mini-riot at the temple.

When we read about Paul's expeditions and experience we see that he lived boldly in Christ. This week I encourage you to live boldly in Christ. Be a truth teller and not a lie creator. Don't spread words that you know aren't true. Talk to a person and not about a person. Be a person of your word and work towards unity. We need more unity now!

At our church we make sure rumors don’t have a leg to stand on. We’ve all seen the pain that rumors can cause in our personal lives and in the life of the church. Rumors cause drama and drama tends to cause pain in the lives of those involved.

Listen to this Proverbs from God’s word: “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.” (Proverbs 26:20). The way to stop rumors is to commit to being a truth teller. Most of us have probably thrown a log or two on a fire at one time, I know I have. I invite you to change that. I want to invite you to be a truth teller instead of a rumor spreader.

As a pastor, I have the opportunity to talk with hundreds of people. And sometimes people come up and tell me things about other people. Instead of falling into the trap of siding with the person speaking, I try to say something like, “That doesn’t sound like so and so.” Or, “My experience with that person has been very different.”

If you’re tempted to fall into gossip and rumors, think about the repercussions on the other person and how you’d like to be treated. Remember the words of Christ, “ Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31). Make a commitment to be a truth teller.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Suffering is part of following Christ

For eight years I served at a great church in Las Vegas. One Sunday night we had planned an outdoor baptism at a local pool. It was a beautiful May evening; perfect for a baptism service. We had set up a small sound system and our worship leader just led our church in a few songs. After that another pastor, Rob, took the microphone to explain baptism and the decision that a number of people standing behind him were about to make. As he was sharing about baptism, commitment to Christ and the good news of Jesus a disgruntled neighbor walked into the pool, came over to Rob, grabbed the mic and pushed him out of the way. It was crazy!

The man started yelling into the mic that we weren’t supposed to be there. The lifeguards froze in shock. The people getting baptized had no clue what was going on. Thankfully we had a few police officers, who attended our church, and they stepped in. The man was arrested that night for pushing Rob and disrupting our service. Rob was given the choice to press charges against the man. Do you know what he did? All he asked was to share the love of Christ with him.

I don’t know if this man surrendered his life to Christ or stood for his actions. This encounter reminded me that people will oppose the gospel. Rob modeled what Jesus told the Disciples about turning the other cheek. Rob’s heart was to share the love of Christ in word and action. How do you respond when times get difficult in your walk with Christ? What is your natural reaction to a story like this. Most of the times we think suffering for Christ is done, but it happens daily.

For a year our church has been studying the book of Acts (with a few breaks). At the last third of the book, Paul and his companions are making their way to Jerusalem but the trip will require a few stops (read Acts 21:1-6). At the end of Acts 20 Paul was on the shore weeping and praying with friends when he and his travel companions got back into a boat heading for Jerusalem. They made the 400 mile trek across the sea from Miletus to Tyre and later in the text we will see how they finally made it to Jerusalem. Instead of taking a ship that stayed near shore and landed at several ports they believers took an off-shore boat capable of long sea voyage.

The group stayed in Tyre for a week but unlike their time in Troas, Luke provides no very few details about their week ashore. It appears there was no Jewish Synagogue in Tyre because the men had to seek out the disciples. I’m not completely sure if Paul has been to Tyre before or not. Some scholars think he visited it on his second missionary journey while others think this is his first visit. I lean more towards this being his second visit but I don’t think his first visit was a substantial visit, possibly just a port landing.

While in Tyre Paul seeks out the believers and spends seven days with them while the ship they are traveling on unloaded its cargo. Imagine sitting around the table with old friends belly laughing, telling amazing stories of God working and listening to how the gospel spread. This is how I imagine the story beginning. The disciples in Tyre might have expressed to Paul what a blessing he has been to them. They might have told him how the gospel changed their life. If this was Paul’s fist visit they might have shared their faith story and how they trusted in Christ.

Maybe you’ve experienced a time like this in your life, a time when someone shared how you impacted their life. Think about the last time you sat around the table or in the living room with friends you’ve known for years or decades. The stories are easy to share, the laughter is constant and the love is overflowing. This is the picture that I’ve painted in my mind about Paul’s seven’s days in Tyre. There is joy in their shared belief in Christ and comfort in the call God has given the believers. The stories of life change and where God has worked in these people’s lives are not on short supply. This is what the life of a Christ follower is about!

But it wasn’t only a great reunion of believers, there was a warning for Paul. These dear friends warned him by the Spirit of God not to go to Jerusalem. They had an inkling of what awaited Paul there. Paul had an inkling that suffering awaited him (read Acts 20:22-23). Even though Paul was being warned not to go he felt that he needed to go to Jerusalem.

Paul was compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem while the believers in Tyre tried to compel Paul to avoid Jerusalem at all cost. Paul was unwavering in his dedication to get to Jerusalem. After a week in Tyre the ship was ready to put out to sea. The believers gathering and we almost have a repeat of the end of Acts 20. They are kneeling by the shore, praying and weeping. What I like most about this part is the family unit involved in the prayer for Paul and his companions. Being a parent with young children I often seek advice from parents with kids older than mine on how to involve them in the life of being a Christ follower. Charity and I are constantly looking for ways for our kids to minister at their age level.

Too often the church says, “come and watch us” but Jesus said, “Come and follow me!” Jesus modeled to His disciples by letting them live out the gospel not by watching others live out the Gospel. Those of us who are parents needs to bring our kids into serving, prayer and worship. But parenting is tough and draining. Sometimes we just need a break and I feel the same way. Listen to what Reggie Joiner said: “No one has more potential to influence your child than you.” If you’re a parent with children under the age of eighteen, get your child involved in what God is doing. The parents at Tyre modeled prayer and support to Paul and his companions.

As we follow Paul to Jerusalem we see that belief in Christ and suffering are inseparable. If you are a Christ follower, suffering will come. If you are not, suffering will come. The question is who will suffering with you and comfort you in your pain?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Coastline Core Values

Yesterday at our vision meeting we shared the core values of Coastline. Coastline has a rich history of being a light in Ventura. A few months ago our elders decided that we would gather with our staff and restate our core values. These core values are the best version of our church.

After months of prayer, drafts and a great team meeting here is what we feel God has given us:

We put God first
Our church is committed to the God of the Bible. He is our ultimate authority. He is the object of our worship. We believe the Bible is the inspired word of God and live our lives in obedience to its truth.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Matthew 6:33, Matthew 22:34-39, 2 Timothy 3:16

We build people up
We are a fun, welcoming, loving and encouraging church community. We want to help everyone take the next spiritual step to grow in their faith journey. We invest ourselves in the lives of others because we think that developing servant leaders matters.
Deuteronomy 34:9, John 13:34-45, Ephesians 4:11-12, and 2 Timothy 2:2

We do life together
We believe that God did not create anyone to be alone so we do life together. We think life change happens best in circles rather than in rows. Jesus established the church so that we may help, encourage and love each other as we follow Him.
Genesis 2:18, Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 2:46, Hebrews 10:24-25

We are outreach focused
Our church does not expect people to seek us, therefore we intentionally pursue people who are far from God. We are committed to doing anything, short of sin, to help people find Jesus.
Matthew 9:9-13, Mark 5, Luke 15, Acts 2:47

We pray bold prayers
We know that God is awesome and capable, so we make “the big ask” of God in our prayer life. We come to God with a bold list of prayers and take time to actively listen to Him on a regular basis.
1 Samuel 3, Mark 1:35, Acts 12:5, James 5:16

We are multigenerational
The church is meant to be multigenerational. We think the best way to keep the love of God fresh in our hearts is to place a high value on kids, students and families. We intentionally invest in the next generation.
Joshua 24:15, Proverbs 22:6, Mark 10:13-16, 1 Timothy 4:12

Grace happens here
We understand that we do not deserve the grace of God but God’s grace is experienced and extended to one another here. This is a safe place to meet with God and learn about the great things He has done for each of us.
John 8:1-11, Romans 3:24, Ephesians 2:8, 2 Timothy 1:9

We will not use lip service and say we value these values; we will truly value them. We will put the best of our efforts into these areas and do them with excellence. (Please note that this list is not in order or importance, we just had to start somewhere).

Friday, January 19, 2018

Coastline Vision Meeting

Almost a year ago to the date, Charity and I hopped in our car and drove south from the San Francisco Peninsula. We arrived in Ventura on a Saturday and had lunch with the pastoral search team at a local pizza place. That night we had time to pray and process what God might be calling us to next. The next morning we attended our first service at Coastline Bible Church. We immediately felt a connection to what God was doing here. We loved the community, the worship and how friendly everyone was to us.

As I look back on that first visit, it amazes me that this coming Sunday we will be sharing the next steps we feel God is calling us to as a church. Over the last several months I've been in prayer and constant conversation with God about the vision for Coastline. (The mission explains why a church exists; the vision clarifies where the church is going in the future.) Last month I presented a God-sized goal to our elders. After much discussion, we unanimously voted to move forward with this vision. For the last several weeks our staff has been working on the strategy for this and preparing to share the vision with you.

This Sunday, January 21, we are going to communicate that vision in a special meeting right after our worship service. We want to get this vision out to you as soon as possible so we can all be united on where God is calling our church. I wish that I could write it out in this email, but you will hear it soon enough.  Please mark your calendar and make it a high priority to join us this Sunday at our vision meeting.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Leadership Transition

During my time in ministry I've seen some great leadership transitions and some train wrecks. The first transition I saw is one I will never forget. I was serving at a church and we were looking to hire a new Junior High Pastor. We interviewed a great candidate and it seemed like things were heading in the right direction. I was told we hired the guy and then quickly informed that we hired him as the Student Ministry Pastor and not the Junior High Pastor. I was a bit confused and learned that my beloved boss was being demoted and would eventually leave the church. Shortly after an opportunity came my way and I also transitioned away from the church.

I've also seen some great transitions. When I was called to serve at SHCC in Henderson, NV I served with a dynamic team of leaders. About nine months into my tenure there my good friend Rob Hall asked me to step up and lead our entire Student Ministry. I was thrilled for the expanded role. Rob and I had a long handoff where we co-led the ministry for a few months, shared preaching, did summer camp together and casted vision to our leaders. I led that ministry for six more years and saw God do great things!

These are just two examples from my life.

I've talked with friends who have been on both sides of the coin in leadership transition. I've talked to guys who came to a church and the last guy did them no favors in the transitions. I've also talked with friends who had great handoffs with Godly leaders. I've consoled friends who have lost dear friends when leadership made quick moves and talked with other friends who were frustrated at how slowly their church responded to a needed change.

A few months ago Willow Creek Community Church announced a leadership transition. Twitter was full of positive and negative comments. Friends in ministry talked about the announcement. Influential writers shared their opinion about the transition. Friends texted me to asked my thoughts about what Bill had announced.

For a while I've held my thoughts to myself and the few people I've spoken with. I thought they weren't entirely important but continued to dwell on them. Have you experienced something like this before? I topic came up and you need some time to figure it out? You wanted to process, internally, what you were thinking?

When I think of my experience with transitions in leadership here are my thoughts:

1) Internal leadership transitions seem to be better than external

For how big of a platform that Willow Creek has, I think their decision for an internal transition was a great call. I highly respect Bill Hybles and his leadership. He talks about hiring people with Godly character, who are competent in their role, and find chemistry with those you work with. After talking about this for years he added something new. He talked about putting people in the right climate. By them choosing an internal transition they knew their team already loved the area!

When serving in the Bay Area I worked at an amazing church. We had some internal transitions from young people who were interns coming onto full-time staff. By having an internal pipeline of leadership we knew what we were getting. This was a big take-a-way from my time in the Bay Area. I really enjoyed working with our team and seeing us promote people from within.

2) In the future I think we are going to see more churches led by a plurality of Godly leaders

As I think about church transitions, and now I want to talk primarily about the lead role, I think we are going to see more churches moving to a plurality of leaders.

Think about North Coast church in Carlsbad. North Coast has led the way in a plurality of leadership. From what I know, they have four lead pastors. I don't know any of these men personally but have learned from two of them. From what I gather, two are the primary communicators but I'm not sure what the other two men do (I'm sure it's great work like executive pastoring).

When I think about my generation there is a shift. We enjoy working in teams. This morning I was walking my daughters to school when my oldest said: "Dad we're doing a project on the Native Americans but I don't like it. At my last school we worked more in teams, here I have to do it on my own." She gets it! Working in a team is more fun, more collaboration and more ideas.

Read this information from the Barna Group on the average age of a Senior Pastor:
When George Barna published his 1992 findings in Today’s Pastors, the median age of Protestant clergy was 44 years old. One in three pastors was under the age of 40, and one in four was over 55. Just 6 percent were 65 or older. Twenty-five years later, the average age is 54. Only one in seven pastors is under 40, and half are over 55. The percentage of church leaders 65 and older has nearly tripled, meaning there are now more pastors in the oldest age bracket than there are leaders younger than 40.
I'm not opposed to leaders in their fifties leading churches, please don't hear that. I do think that we are going to see a shift and I pray it involves people of all stages of life. The church is longing for fresh vision and fresh leadership.

3) A long hand off helps prepare the people

When I think back to one of the most successful transitions I was a part of, I think the length of the handoff helped. Now I could see a handoff taking too long. If you are curious to know more about this, I encourage you to read Transition Plan by Bob Russell. I call this book a "plane ride read." You can read it quickly and talk with others about it. In the book, Bob talks about his transition with Dave Stone. I appreciate the time they worked together, the commitment they have to the local church and the openness in the handoff.

When the leadership of a church are open about the plan it allows the people to think more about the plan. When their is more time to discuss, there is more time to prepare, process and pray. I like to think about raising up young leaders today to lead churches tomorrow. One of my life goals is to invest into young leaders and raise you strong followers of Christ.

When you think about transition in a church, what would you add to the conversation.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

The 7 best things from 2017

2017 is officially in the books. This year held some great memories and also was a year of many tears shed. For this post I want to focus on the best seven things from this year. When I look back on 2017 it was a year of growth for me. It was a year of God stretching me, inviting me to grow and inviting me to fully trust Him.

Early in 2017 I was reading Genesis. I read the story of where Jacob wrestled with God. When I think about the story I image that Jacob inflicted no pain to God in that wrestling match. I imagine him more like a child clinging to a father. This was a year of clinging to God and not letting go!

These are in particular order but hold great memories for me!

1) Family Trip to Maui

For our kids spring break we hoped on a plan and went to Maui! This is the third Hawaiian Island Ive visited and the second time we've taken our kids to Hawaii. The main reason for this trip was to celebrate my mom's 70th birthday. We had a great time with mom. We traveled all around the island, visited beaches, ate great food and took just enough pictures.

One of my goals for 2017 was to take four family vacations. This was the main vacation we took. For this trip I shut off my email, rarely answered texts and I'm pretty sure I avoided social media. To make the trip even better was that I got to see my old friend Brian Theis. I'm so thankful for that week with my family!

2) Study Trip to Israel

Near the middle of 2016 our Lead Pastor at CPC told me about a trip to Israel. I honestly never thought I'd be able to make that trip happen but in February 2017 I found myself sitting on a plane heading for the Middle East. Someone once said, "Going to Israel is like the fifth gospel." That person was right.

I blogged almost every day of that trip. I took great notes, laughed a ton, hung out with people I love and my wife even joined on the trip! There have been so many times this year that I've thought fondly of those memories. There are times I've read the Bible and thought, "I've been there!" This year I want to encourage you to make Israel a priority to visit in the next three years.

3) Snowboarding with my kids 

This was a big snowboarding year with my kids. I think that they each got over seven days on the mountain. We started our year with a five day trip to Heavenly Valley. This was another one of my family vacations where I avoided emailed and played with the kids. On our trip in January we received about six feet of snow. This meant more than snowboarding but also snow play!

Some milestones of snowboarding with kids remind me of how important it is to spend time with them. There are so many hours we logged in the car having silly conversations. We listened to music on the drive, sung loud, ate treats, smiled on the hills and overcame our struggles. Sophie rode her first Black Diamond and Leah rode her first Blue Square. It was a huge year for my little girls!

4) Moving to Ventura 

Moving to Ventura falls in the great category, but also can fall into the tough category. We love living in our new city but also miss our dear friends in the Bay Area. Ever since I can remember we've longed to move back to So Cal. Near the end of 2016 I felt this strong desire to get back to our home area. My mom had some health issues and then at the end of 2016 my dad became sick.

Not only did we get to move back home, but we also got a great city! We live on a wonderful street, met some great people and love this city. After a few weeks of living here Charity said, "I feel like this is the first city we've lived where we both fit."

5) Being called to lead a church

When God called me to Vegas I always had this thought in the back of my mind that He would one day ask me to lead a church. When we moved to San Mateo in 2012 I knew this reality was coming closer but I didn't think I was ready. About a year ago I began talking with my pastor, Mark Mitchell, about this more. It was a great talk but super tough... Leading a church meant that one day God would call us to leave the Peninsula.

Being just over six months into this new role I don't have it all figured out but am loving the calling. I enjoy the role God has given me and feel like I've functioning well in my gift mix. Coastline is such a loving church. Our leaders are so caring, the church is the most welcoming I've seen and the potential is endless. I feel so blessed to be a part of what God is doing here.

6) Disneyland trips with my family

This might seem like one that doesn't fit but it totally does. I love spending time with my family. I love riding rides and laughing with them. It's nice to live just a few hours from Disneyland and be able to take day trips to the park.

7) Seeing our families more

With moving back to So Cal, we've seen our family more this year than we have in the last five years. We've driven to Big Bear about 9-10 times. We've seen Mema and Papa in Santa Maria about the same amount of times.  Part of our desire to move was to be closer to family. I'm thrilled that our kids are getting to see their grandparents more. It's a joy to see them interact with each other!

When you look back on 2017 what are some of your favorite memories?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

My Thomas Fire Story

(Thank you to my neighbor Duke for letting me use this picture)

Monday night Charity went out to do some Christmas shopping and put the kids to bed. I was at home watching some TV and the lights kept flickering; they would go on and off. Finally the power died around 10pm. I knew the Thomas Fire was out in Santa Paula but had no clue how close the wind had pushed it in such a short period of time. The winds were hitting gusts of 60mph and were blowing extremely hard all night long.

Around 10pm I texted Charity and told her I was going to bed. See at this point I hadn't been out front of the house, only out back to take Roxie potty. I got ready for bed, in the dark, and laid down to close my eyes hoping my wife would be home soon. When Charity got home about 30 mins later she told me to start packing the house, that we need to leave because the fire was rapidly approaching. She could see the huge glow as she drove home and the fire was spreading rapidly.

I got out of bed and to my surprise the night sky was light up with a glowing red. We began packing what we considered “irreplaceable.” We stayed as calm as possible and thought about what our next moves would be.

That night was filled with many trips outside, conversations with neighbors and watching the fire slowly creep over the hills north of our home. It was sobering to see massive flames take over the hill and head towards homes just to the north of us.

It was a sleepless night where a handful of times I planned to wake up the kids and leave our home.
It was an anxious night with many text messages and little battery life.
It was a worrisome night as we thought about the food we might loose with the power outage.
(Thomas Fire on Tuesday AM from Ventura College)

We weren’t the only ones going through a variety of emotions. Neighbors were climbing on their roofs to see the spreading blaze. People were forced to leave their home on a moments notice. People in our church lost their homes. The fire hopscotched through Ventura on Tuesday, burning hillside homes, reaching into subdivisions and also consuming a hospital and a large apartment building. The fire swept through blocks, taking some homes and sparing others.
(A downed palm tree at our church)

Thankfully the only damage we know of at Coastline was a downed Palm Tree. God spared our church and our home but not everyone was as lucky. The Thomas Fire continues to spread. The work to restore what was lost will take years. Hundreds of people are displaced for their homes. Some will never see their possessions again.

As I write this, school is still closed for our children. The air quality is nothing like you'd want to breathe on a daily basis and our city smells like a campfire. It's been a hectic time. But, the church has gathered to pray and help. Leaders in our community are continuing to lead well.

Many of you have texted, called and messaged me to see how we are doing. We are safe and thinking about what is next. We are not first responders, in a situation like this, but the church is mobilizing to help. Please keep Ventura in your prayers!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

6 questions with Bret Johnson

Bret Johnson is a Christ follower, husband, father, entrepreneur and pastor. Bret grew up in sunny Southern California and currently lives in Henderson, NV. Bret is marries to Sallie Johnson and they have three wonderful adult children. Bret leads The Hastening, preaches, teaches and encourages young leaders. Bret has a deep desire to see people who are far from God draw near to the Lord.

Bret and I met late in 2004 when I was applying for a role at South Hills Church Community in Henderson, NV. Bret took a risk on hiring me and invested in my life for about five years while we were on staff together (my mom still talks about what a great communicator Bret is). Bret has the gift of hospitality and loves to welcome people into his home. When I first moved to Vegas, Bret invited my mom and fiancé over for Christmas dinner. Bret also has a passion for missions; he and I went to Mexico to scout out a location where we could introduce students to their first missions experience.

1.  You’ve just started a new ministry called “The Hastening.” Tell us about this ministry.

 The term “hastening” comes from Peter’s second letter in the New Testament. Here’s what he said:

“ But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.   Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,  waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!  But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” 2 Peter 3:10-12

I formed The Hastening as a ministry this year to do several important things:   encourage renewal, revival and prayer in the body of Christ; equip the church (especially in Las Vegas) to understand and have a passion for Jesus' fame among all nations (which is the ultimate goal of all of history); network with Pastors and ministries in the Las Vegas Valley and encourage unity among churches and ministries.   John PIper has said, "You're either a zealous goer or a zealous sender (in relation to Christian missions) or you're nothing."  The Hastening is really meant to help Christ-followers understand their important role in finishing the great commission.

2. Doing ministry in Las Vegas is radically different from pretty much everywhere. What do you find most exciting about this call?

Las Vegas IS the mission field.  It's in the United States but it is a mission station for sure.  5% of the 2.1 million people who live in Las Vegas are evangelical Christians.  There are as many Mormons in Las Vegas as evangelicals. Many metro areas in the US have up to 40% of the population who are evangelicals-- places like Dallas, Atlanta, Memphis, etc.  There's a ton of opportunities to reach people.  People are not "cultural Christians" here.  They are lost or found....plain and simple.  People have come here from EVERYWHERE also.  A person reached for Christ here can have an impact in many parts of the world.

3. You’re an entrepreneur and a church planter. What do you think is the toughest part about church planting?

Far and away the toughest part of church planting is having it supported well.  The typical church plant contains a passionate Pastor and his wife and a lot of promises of support by people and churches- and honestly, just promises.    We were fortunate in coming to Las Vegas.  The Christian & MIssionary Alliance got behind us and committed $250,000 to us.  In addition, our home church paid the salary of our #2 guy for two whole years.  Another church in our sending city took a quarterly congregational offering for two years!  Each offering averaged $10,000!  That wasn't our home church!  What did they get for that financial commitment?  A church that grew to over 1,000 people in eight years.  And the most dynamic student ministry in the city in just a few years.

4. You’re a dad to three amazing adult children, what are some things you and Sallie did early in their lives to help your kids become the people they are today?

One of the things that attracted me to Sallie was that she was from a Christian family.  Not just her folks but her grandparents on both sides, aunts & uncles, truly committed people.  That was in sharp contrast to my family who I love dearly but it's just the truth.  I had a sense that when we had kids her influence and her family would really be a blessing to our kids and they would benefit from that legacy.  In addition, I think we created a healthy home-- not a perfect home-- just a healthy home.  Sallie and I worked hard both in church and at our jobs but one of us was almost always with the kids OR the grandparents watched them.  So our kids got lots of attention and care.  Kids will generally thrive if you give them a healthy environment.

5. There are many men who don’t have a life outside their work and family. What is one hobby you enjoy doing and that fills you up?

Sallie and I love to travel.  We take several short trips a year and try to see and do some different things.  We are not rich but we are smart travelers.  We were also blessed by some friends who gave us a timeshare to use so that gets us to some different places.  Our kids now live in three different states and we have family in Portland.  So, just keeping up with family means traveling some.

6. If you could give your 20 year old self one piece of advice what would it be?

That's easy.  Find a good counselor!  Deal with your junk, your family history and your sinfulness.  Find someone you trust and can be honest with.  My generation did not do soul work very well.  Millennials today are more open to this than we were (thank God!).  I have come to the conclusion that almost all of us would benefit from going to a counselor as often as we go to a medical doctor!

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Jerry Wood- Celebration of Life

Jerry was born on November 26, 1935 in Long Beach, CA. Jerry was a music major in college and then drafted in the army where he played in the West Point band. While stationed in Germany, Jerry drove the bus and played in the band. His favorite memory might be returning home with a tomato red VW Bug! Jerry loved playing music. He played numerous symphonic bands but loved playing the tuba in the Octoberfest most of all.

Jerry was married to Lila, his high school sweetheart, for forty-six years. They had one daughter, Karen. Jerry moved his family to Bear Bear Lake where he worked as the BVUSD mechanic and bus driver. Jerry also worked on VW’s out of his home.

Jerry married Irene Benson eleven years ago. They enjoyed being retired, camping, playing games and spoiling their grandchildren. Jerry is survived by his wife; Irene, daughter; Karen, brother; Dick (and wife Pricilla), nieces; Becky, Beth and Belinda, stepdaughter; Beth (and husband Kevin), and stepson; Neal (and wife Charity). He is also survived by his five grandchildren; Blaze, Sophie, Leah, Phoenix, and Isaiah.

Jerry lost his fight with esophageal cancer on November 28, 2017. He will be deeply missed by all who came in contact with him as Jerry never met a stranger. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Bear Valley Community Church or Big Bear Hospice.

A memorial service will be held at Community Church Big Bear on Saturday December 9, 2017 at 10:30am.

Monday, November 27, 2017

How to bring hope this Christmas season

Yesterday we started a new, five-week, sermon series at Coastline. We're taking five Sunday's to talk through each of the candles of Advent.

The first candle in Advent is traditionally called the hope or prophecy candle. To fully grasp advent we have to look at prophecy and understand its role in announcing the Messiah. Many of us know about prophecy but we can be confused by its full meaning. The dictionary calls prophecy, “A prediction of things to come.” Before Christ was born, it was predicted that He would come. The Bible records 330 such predictions about Jesus. All of these prophecies about Jesus came from men who were called prophets. You can read what each of these prophets wrote in the Old Testament. Throughout their writings they talked about the hope coming in the Messiah. They longed to see His arrival.

Not only did the prophets talk about the coming of Jesus, they played four major roles in the Old Testament.

1) Anoint and Reject the king

The joy of anointing the king would have been a great blessing but with that blessing comes the pain of having to reject the king in times of unfaithfulness. The main time we see Isaiah reject a king is found in 7:10-25.  Isaiah tells Ahaz to ask for a sign and Ahaz refused because of that we see the wrath of the Lord getting ready to be poured out.  God says that He will bring a time on the house of Judah unlike any time they have ever seen, that He will bring the king of Assyria to dominate them (which ends up happening). God begins pronouncing judgment on the king and sharing with Ahaz the plagues that He will bring on the land. Isaiah was called to deliver that message. 

2) Circumscribe, Authorize, and Direct Warfare

Throughout the first third of Isaiah (Chap13:1-23:18) we see the prophecies about war and the commands and woes that God is pronouncing on the nations. A specific command about war is found in Isaiah Chapter 8. Just after God rejects Ahaz for his unfaithfulness Isaiah prophecies about the coming wrath of Assyria. Although this may not be the way we naturally think to direct warfare (an initial thought on directing warfare is that God would be guiding His people into a winning battle similar to what we see in Exodus 17:11 with Moses winning the battle when his arms remained raised) this is still a command that God used for war to happen and Isaiah was commanded to speak.  

3) Interpret the Law of Moses

An example of interpreting the Law of Moses in Isaiah is found in Chapter 59. Isaiah shares the sins of the Israelites with them in very blunt terms. Isaiah shares with them the commands of God that they have broken, and therefore sinned against God. The Israelites broke the sixth commandment (Duet 5:17) and committed murder. Isaiah let Israel know that “For your hands are stained with blood” (59:3). Murder is one of the saddest sins because the person committing the act has tried to take the place of God and determined who will live and who will die.

4) Intercede on Behalf of the People

The book of Isaiah highlights a few situations where Isaiah is interceding for the people. The best example that we see of Isaiah interceding for the people is found in 37:6 “ Isaiah said to them, “Tell your master, ‘This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard…” This is a vivid picture of Isaiah coming to the Lord on behalf of a king and for the hope is a nation in turmoil. A threat has been made and Isaiah gets the chance to bring this message to God and get the truth. Intercession for the people would have been a great role to fulfill. It sounds very similar to the role of the pastor that we have now. Isaiah received the chance to come to the throne of God and bring Him requests and petitions on behalf of His chosen people. 

Looking at these four roles helps us understand more of the collective responsibility of the prophet. Knowing this brings clarity to why the prophecy candle is associated with hope. The prophets brought hope to God’s people. Sometimes that meant a rebuke, but correction was to get them back on the path of the Lord. The prophets longed to see Jesus; they announced His coming! This Christmas season, what will you glean from the prophet by sharing the word of the Lord with people around you? You don’t have to achieve a seminary degree to let someone know they are loved by God. We all have people who need to hear about Jesus and His arrival on earth. We can explain this truth to them!  

You can even pull a page from the role of the prophet and pray for those you want to share the love of Christ with. You might just start praying for them or you have been praying for a person for the last decade, don’t stop. Pray bold prayers. Ask God to give you an opportunity to share His love with that person. Think about all the people you come into contact with each week. Think about how many of them need to hear the hope of Jesus. Pray for God to give you opportunities to share His love. Then step out in confidence and invite that person to know His love. Share your personal story and how God has changed you!

This Christmas season, I think that everyone of us is looking for hope. Single moms are looking for hope so that they can support their families. Parents are hoping their kids will stop using drugs and come home. Working people are hoping for a Christmas bonus to make ends meet this year. Some students are just looking for a reason to live this Christmas season. Kids are hoping their parents will stop fighting and just get along for a week. These are just a few examples. But the greatest hope comes in the arrival of Jesus Christ. Let’s share this hope with everyone this Christmas season. Let’s look for ways to share the hope of Jesus with those around us. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Explain | Reason | Prove

At the conclusion of Acts 16 Paul and Silas left Philippi to continue preaching the Gospel throughout Greece (Acts 17:1-4). Paul and Silas traveled 100 miles south, on foot, from Philippi down to Thessalonica. Thessalonica was a business center in Macedonia. Going from Philippi to Thessalonica was a wise move for Paul. It was Paul’s custom was to find a larger city where he could share the Gospel. From the larger city he would strategically reach the surrounding area with the Gospel. It’s a brilliant plan to help the Gospel reach as many people as possible.

Luke gives us a snapshot of the ministry in Thessalonica. When we read the letters that Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica it appears that he spent months with them. But in Acts, Luke only accounts for about three weeks in the city. And much of the ministry is dedicated to reaching the Jewish people. Throughout the book of Acts we’ve seen that it was Paul’s custom to first go to the Jewish synagogue to preach the Gospel of Jesus. Paul was warmly welcomed into synagogues and was regularly invited to preach. This gave him the ability to share the good new of Jesus with his fellow Jews.

In Thessalonica Paul spent three Sabbaths sharing about Jesus the Messiah. We read that this ministry in Thessalonica was fruitful! Some of the Jews believed and they joined the brothers in their ministry. Note the words associated with Paul’s ministry there: reasoned, explained and proved. Let’s look at each of these words briefly.

To reason with a person is to have a logical conclusion to a matter. In this case Paul would use the Old Testament Scripture in hopes the Jewish people would come to a logical conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah.

After he reasoned with them he would explain that Jesus had to suffer. Some Jews expected Jesus to come as a conquering king. They knew the Messiah would come from the linage of David and therefore expected Him to be a king like David. They expected the Messiah to break the Roman oppression and free them again. Their thinking was too small. Jesus didn’t come to simply change the government but to give us freedom. Jesus wasn’t focused on an earthly kingdom but on an eternal kingdom! The Jews wanted a conquering king, not a humble servant. Therefore Paul needed to explain the Scriptures to them.

Finally he would take the time to prove all of this. He would most likely turn to the Old Testament Scriptures, the passages they were familiar with. He would go to the Psalms, Isaiah and Deuteronomy. It would also make sense for Paul to explain the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ. This would complete the picture Paul was painting for the Jews to understand the truth of Christ. He wasn’t cramming this down their throat but proving it from God’s word. I imagine he was also praying for the Holy Spirit to reveal it to them.

If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, could you reason from the Scriptures to those who are far from the Lord? Do you know how to explain what Jesus came to accomplish? Are you familiar with the Gospel and able to prove it to others?

If you’re not, it’s ok. Continue to study God’s word every week so you can reason, explain and prove that Jesus is the Messiah. At our church we open God’s word and go through it so we are all more prepared to reason, explain and prove that Jesus is the Messiah. But you can also study it more on your own.