Thursday, May 24, 2018

Life Happens Best in Relationship

Growing up, I had an amazing group of friends. We lived in a small town and didn’t have to worry about some of the things we have to protect our kids from today. I used to ride bikes across town to go play at a friend’s house. In the summertime I went to the lake with my friends at our pleasure. There were days when I went fishing with my friends and even night fishing for catfish. And it wasn’t only summer activities. When winter came my friends and I loved being on the mountain and snowboarding all day long. We even planned snowboarding trips that we went on to other cities together.

So much of my childhood was defined by the friends I surrounded myself with. Friends teach us about ourselves. They push our limits at times and at times we push their limits. Through friendships we learn how to say, “I’m sorry” for making a bad decision. Our friends teach us about forgiveness and acceptance. We find comfort and security in the relationships we establish. My friends also challenged me. They challenged me to be a better person and less selfish. Even though most of my childhood friends didn’t love Jesus, they were great friends!

The benefits of being in a relationship far outweigh the negatives of not being in a relationship with others. Sure, it takes more time out of your busy schedule, but listen to what the Bible says about following Jesus with other people:
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25
The author of Hebrews gives some great points of application here for the body of Christ. The practicality of these verses requires us to think about how we are doing life with other people. Similar to a spur moving an animal, we can consider how to spur one another to love and good deeds. The aim is a careful consider of helping people follow Jesus.

When we do life with other people who love Jesus this is a natural outcome. I think it’s safe to say that each of us need more people in our lives who are being thoughtful in their approach to helping us follow Jesus.

The Greek text continues, and in verse 25 we see both a negative command and a positive command. First, we are commanded to not give up meeting together. The reason the negative is given is because some gave up meeting together. Some people put work, family and vacation above meeting with followers of Jesus. It’s not that work, family or vacation are bad, it is that we can’t place these things in a higher priority than God. I think we all need to take vacation and enjoy what God has created, but we just don’t let the aim of your life be about vacation. Make the aim of your life to honor God and do life with others.

The positive command the author gives to the believers is to encourage each other. One way to encourage each other meant they needed to gather together. The positive and negative command functioned in unity.

The early church didn’t have the means of communication that are afforded to us in our culture. They couldn’t text a friend and say, “I’m sick today, can you pray for me?” or “I need a ride to church, can you swing by on the donkey?” The communication methods were personal and required a person to show up. The value of doing life together was a huge part of the early church.

How does this apply to us? We need to do life in relationship like the early church did in Acts 2. We need to make this a priority in our lives. Recently studies show us that the average person goes to church two out of every five Sundays. I think we can do better. We can make our fellowship and worship together a high priority.

Then, when we gather let’s aim to be the most encouraging group of people around. Our core value states that Jesus established the church so we can encourage each other. There is something meaningful about doing life with others.

Spiritual growth doesn’t happen on accident. We grow spiritually intentionally. We grow spiritually by doing life with others.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Pilot Version

On Easter Sunday our church launched a seven week pilot version of two worship services. The church has a history of having multiple services to reach more people in the community but prior to my arrival the church had been on a slow decline.

The launch of a second service took place on Easter but it was birthed in dream well before that. Staring in October I had been praying bold prayers for God to help us to reach more people. Our staff had been praying for God to give us a God sized goal to help more people find and follow Jesus.

On January 21, 2018 we called a special church meeting. Our staff took different parts of the vision and talked about the great opportunity we have to reach more people in Ventura County. Then on Easter Sunday we launched the pilot version.

The idea of a pilot version came from my new friend Mike Hickerson. Mike leads a fantastic church in Ventura. I told him I wanted to go to two services and he suggested doing it from Easter to Mother’s Day to give it a try (Thanks Mike for pushing me to live by faith). We gave it a shot and here are seven lessons we learned:

1. We have an invite culture

When you read the Gospel of Matthew and John, you will see early on that the one of the first thing the disciples did was find someone and tell that person about Jesus. Our church was a pillar in the community and had an invite culture. For a number of years this wasn’t the case, but God is refereeing that in us! Great job Coastline! Keep up the invite culture.

2. Our people love to serve

During our meeting in January we asked our church to serve and they blew our mind! We had over 70 people fill out a card to serve. Now that sounds cool, but guess what? They served! We connected those people into service opportunities. One of the best ways to feel alive is to serve others.

3. We have some kinks to work out to make this last 

My deep hope was to keep two services going. The truth is, we have some kinks to work out. We need to figure out how to make this more sustainable and that is what our summer break is for. Sometimes we need to slow down to speed back up again.

4. We have gaps in our system

We realized that our volunteers systems are far from perfect. They are good, but good is the enemy of great. These gaps means that things get dropped or that crevices are created and are hard to cross. We are detailing out these gaps and working on improving them to help more people find and follow Jesus.

5. Guests love Coastline 

We meet so many great guests here at Coastline. We don’t call people a visitor because a visitor isn’t really welcomed at your home (think about the person who was trying to sell something and stopped by right as you sat down for dinner). We have guests, invited guests!

6. We need to engage more people outside of the weekend service 

Sunday morning is cool, but it’s not 1960. People don’t just come to church. We want to engage people in our community so that they will long to be in a Biblical community.

7. This was a success 

One of the things we have to know (I’m talking to our church) is that this was a success. It was a huge success! God moved in great ways in these seven-weeks and He will continue to move in our church. Part of it being a success means we are going back to two services in the fall.

Going to two services was always an experiment. In my heart, I longed for us to stay at two services. In my head, it makes sense to move to our summer worship service time to prepare our church for two services in the fall.

The next time you want to try something new at your church just call it a pilot version. This pilot version was always an experiment. We tried something new and learned at least seven things. In reality we learned a lot more, we just didn’t think you wanted to read the list of 23 things.

Here are some final thoughts: 
We went in with the expectation to learn
We are willing to make small and large changes to reach people for Jesus
In our second service we came close to hitting the 80% rule (this means we are close to needing two services)

Starting August 26 we are going to two identical worship services and we hope that you will be our guest!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Mom Talk 2018

This was my first Mother's Day as a lead pastor. As I was planning out the preaching schedule (something us pastor's do) I got to Mother's Day and wasn't sure what to do. I began praying and thinking about the whole morning. One of my first thoughts was, "I'm not the best person to share on Mother's Day."

The more I prayed about the morning I began to get an idea. I shared this idea with our elders and asked for prayer. The idea seemed to stick and we moved forward. The initial idea was to have a panel of three mother's, in different stages of life, share with us. I would interview them and ask them each a few questions.

I shared the idea with our staff team and everyone seemed to like it. During the discussion someone suggested we call it: "Mom Talk" and the idea stuck.

As we continued to plan we thought it would be best to have this more like a round table discussion.

I began writing out questions that I thought people would want to hear about. I started with a list of about ten questions and sent it to the three moms who accepted the invitation to speak. From the list of questions each mom choose two and helped me improve their questions some. Here are the six questions I asked:

  1. What has been the most challenging stage of motherhood?
  2. What advice would you give to someone who has a child who has walked away from the Lord? 
  3. How did you encourage your kids to love Jesus at an early age?
  4. What advice would you give to a first time mother? 
  5. What are some ways the Bible helps us honor women and their great contribution to society? 
  6. What part of being a mom has made you feel the most vulnerable or weak?

Monday, May 07, 2018

The death of Facebook?

Facebook has been in the news a lot lately...

It's good to know that I am not a news anchor, a journalist or someone who spends their time following news stories (they probably have a special name too). I am a pastor who loves Jesus and cares deeply about seeing more people know Him.

In the last week I've seen more imagines like the above one popping up in my newsfeed (obviously, I'm a Facebook user). I'm starting to wonder what is causing people to want to make this shift.

For the last couple years I have been more and more convinced that social media isn't making us any more social. The other day I intentionally took 36 hours away from social media to focus on my family. My conclusion from the experience; I enjoyed being present more than thinking about my Instagram story or checking in at Disneyland to let everyone know we were there for Isaiah's birthday.

Before you keep reading I want to be clear on a few things:
I am a nobody in the social media world.
There are people with millions of followers and I am not at that level.
My voice is small in the vast web.
My opinion is based on some thoughts that I'm writing at my kitchen table while my kid sleeps soundly upstairs and my bulldog has her five minutes of energy before she starts snoring on the couch for the next two hours.

Here are four reasons I think more people are considering leaving social media:

1) We long for human interaction 

I didn't do too well in history in high school, in fact I didn't do that great in high school at all. I dropped out my junior year so I could smoke weed and snowboard. I did end up finding a passion in college and even did my graduate degree. I've been fortunate to have studied history and learned more about human interaction that I thought I would.

Most societies think about the family as the primary source of encouragement and connection. While traveling in Africa, I learned that many families will gather together to discuss all the kids in the family. I'm talking about lots of cousins and kids being talked about in a room smaller than my living room. The family will decide what kid has the most potential to make it in college. They will invest their money in sending one kid to school and the kid might not be your kid. But the kid knows that it will be his or her job to help the family out once he or she gets a good job.

In America, we've moved to an individualistic society. We think it's all about the self. But it seems this model isn't working too well for us. I think people are longing for more human interaction, just like I was for my son's third birthday last month. We are longing for more people time and less screen but aren't completely sure how to accomplish this.

2) The screen never satisfies

I'm not sure I've ever left scrolling social media thinking, "I'm really glad I just spend thirty minutes of my day looking at nothing." The screen doesn't satisfy our longing. No matter how many likes you get on a pic or a video or a post or anything it will never satisfy.

The other day I posted saying that I've been sober for eighteen years. It is a huge accomplishment! In the comments a friend from high school, who probably never thought I would be sober, commented that the post had over 600 likes and she had never seen that. I had never had that many likes before on a post.

What I have learned is no matter how many hours I spend on social media scrolling, no matter how many likes I get or how many accolades, the screen never satisfies. It doesn't satisfy because God created me to do life with Him. What really satisfies my soul is spending time with God and other people. I love being outdoors and enjoying what God made.

3) God wired us to do life with other people 

We were created to do life with each other. In the very beginning of the Bible God created mankind. Adam named all the animals and then realized he was alone. He was the only one without a partner. God created a suitable helper for him. God wired us to do life with each other. We are hardwired to do life with other people.

Don't beleive me? What is the worst punishment our judicial system gives? I would argue its solitary confinement. I think the death punishment is gnarly but solitary is horrible for inmates.

God wired us to do life with others. This is why my friend recently posted that she was looking for reasons to keep her Facebook account. She was looking to the people she does life with to ask for their help. She had 24 people comment on the post. Some gave reasons to stay. Some reasons were funny and other heartfelt. Someone posted a funny video about the mass exodus from Facebook.

As I've been fortunate to do life with others I've realized how much I need human interaction with others. I need people to share my thoughts, dreams, and fears with. I have a wonderful wife who, when I'm on social media, I can ignore. I have great kids, who when I'm on social media, I can miss out on. I have so much in my life that social media distracts me from.

Now, I know. There are positives, please don't get me wrong. I just think more and more people are weighing the benefits of sitting on their screen with constant scrolling taking place.

4) Many times we leave our experience feeling worthless 

The last thing I've personally noticed is that I can leave social media feeling a little worthless or jaded. I could be having a rad time with my kids but I see your post from Hawaii. Then I start thinking, "I wish I was there."

I could be in Hawaii, but you are posting from Tahiti and I get jealous. Am I the only one with these feelings? If this is just me please let me know.

I could be snowboarding with my kids in Big Bear but I see your post from Tahoe and the ten feet of snow you just got. My nine inch storm sucks even more now and I wish I was riding Kirkwood.

Social media has become a new comparison gave or a way for envy, covetousness and jealousy to stir in my heart. The more I'm writing about this, I'm starting to think about deleting my account. Just like I said, my bulldog is snoring. My kids are asleep and my wife is out studying the Bible with some other women. I'm going to sit on these thoughts, edit them another day and probably post them (took me a week).

This post may not change your life or it might. Maybe you are on the fence like the above people. You are wondering if you should delete your social media. I did once. About six years ago I took three months off social media. It was great. At least once a year I leave my social presence for about 30-40 days and it's great!

I just read a post from a friend who deleted all the people he said, "yes" to that he met once or knew from school but wasn't friends with. Someone mentioned how he deleted thousands of friends. His number of friends is in the hundreds now, but he is connecting with people he really wants to connect with.

I haven't deleted people because I believe that my posting Bible verses, camp experiences and pictures with my family is helping more people love Jesus and their family.

Do what you need to do to connect with God and others. Like I said, these are just my thoughts.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Develop servant leaders

If we are going to have more spiritual great grandchildren and more spiritual owners it is going to require us to focus on developing those kinds of people. We long to develop more servant leaders. We think servant leadership matters here. If this is your first time, you might be confused at this so let me explain. We believe God is working in everyone’s heart here to draw us closer to Him. God is working in our heart right now and has a wonderful plan for you. You might not know it, but I just told you. I used to be a drug dealer and now I’m a hope dealer. Listen to what Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus:
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
Ephesians 4:11-12 (NIV)
When Paul arrived in Ephesus it was a godless city. Through Paul’s leadership, Jesus began changing lives. People stopped worshipping idols and started dedicating their hearts to Jesus. Paul then invested his life in these new believers. Their life change was evident to those around them and others wanted to know God. The outcome was much better than if Paul simply did all the work.

I love Paul’s mindset of training up more leaders. Through his efforts lives were changed and families changed. Through Paul’s focus on building people up, entire communities were changed by the love of Christ.

I can still remember hearing this verse for the first time. I was sitting in the second row of my Bible College class. The professor shared passionately about the need for pastors to replicate themselves into others. He turned to Ephesians 4 and read these verses to us.

My goal at Coastline is to train more servant leaders who become spiritual investors. My aim is to invest my life in others, just like Paul, to see a legacy of believers. This can be your goal too! Now you might be thinking something like, “Wait a minute. Don’t we pay you to do everything around here.” Not according to what the Bible says. The Bible tells me that my job description is to invest in others and create opportunities for others to serve. The Bible instructs me to invest my life into others so that many more people can know Jesus!

Let me publicly praise about how this is already happening at Coastline and happened before my arrival. On Palm Sunday we had a wonderful service. For that service, Becky, our choir director, had many people on her team lead us in worship. It was a great example of spiritual legacy. Becky has been investing herself in the lives of so many people in this church for over a decade. On Palm Sunday our church was blessed with the fruit of that as we were lead in worship through music by a multitude of voices. It was also an example of our core value to be multi-generational because we had people of all life stages leading us!

Some people think you have to be a certain age or stage of life to to serve God. God is looking for people of all ages. When I served as a student ministry pastor we had a young lady named Kalina in our high school ministry. Kalina was extremely talented and she saw my areas of improvement. Kalina volunteered to help me lead our student leadership team. She took the administration and organization side so I could focus on leadership development. That was the healthiest year we ever had of student leadership. To help build Kalina up, every time I see her I tell this truth. Kalina needs to hear as much as possible what an impact she had on God’s Kingdom.

We have so many people in this church serving Jesus. You might not feel qualified to serve here. Someone once said, “God doesn’t call the qualified but qualifies the called.” If you don’t feel qualified you are in the right spot to start serving! Joseph was a prisoner when God called him to lead Egypt. David was a shepherd when God called him to lead Israel. Peter was a fisherman when Jesus called him to follow Him. Paul was a murdered when Jesus called him to reach those who are far from God. God is all about building people up and so are we!

I have an invitation for you, ask God how He would use your life to develop servant leaders. How might God change your life in such a way to invest in others. Where is God inviting you on a journey to help more people follow Jesus. How are you uniquely wired to invest in others to be servant leaders? Listen to what Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “For our own success to be real, it must contribute to the success of others.”

You will find the most fulfillment in life by building others up! Follow God’s word and make sure your investment is reaping and eternal investment. Stop trying to haphazardly invest in people.

Don't sporadically build people up at your convince. Be committed to purposefully invest in others.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Kids Matter

Our church has a strong heritage of investing in young people. If you go into our church office, you can see black and white pictures of rooms full of kids. I’ve heard stories of our youth pastors spending time on the local school campuses to help most students find and follow Jesus. We used to have a large youth choir where hundreds of lives were impacted for Jesus. A few decades ago we built an entire building dedicated to reaching families with young children at home.

Did you know Jesus placed a high value on kids? (read Mark 10:13-16). Think about these verses, your church history, and what we can do to carry that torch. During His public ministry, Jesus strongly emphasized the value of kids.

The story in Mark cannot be appreciated without a realization of the lowly place children occupied in society during that time, more so in pagan culture than in Jewish culture. Even just two hundred years ago, 43% of infants died before the age of five. I once heard that some children weren’t named until five years of age because so many children didn’t live that long.

The Greek word for children in verse 13 refers to an infant through a twelve year old. Jesus called these children to Him, He knew the value they held in God’s Kingdom. He modeled this high value by spending time with them and inviting them to be around Him. Jesus referred to them as being an example for having a childlike faith. Jesus wants us to model the faith that little kids model, He is using this as a teaching moment!

You’ll notice the disciples weren’t too keen on the kids coming to Jesus, though. They probably thought Jesus was too important to waste His time on them. But Jesus taught us where importance lies. Sometimes our response to kids is similar to that of the disciples. We think that the holy things of God are too important for Jesus to waste His time on little kids.

That is why this account is in the Gospel. We have to be reminded how important kids are to Jesus. They are so important that Jesus rebuked some of His closest friends to make His point.

The Bible tells us that Jesus was “indignant” at the actions of the disciples. Jesus felt anger about the kids being pushed out of His presence. Why would Jesus do that? Let me remind you about the vulnerable nature of kids that Jesus knew and is still true this day. Children are weak, helpless, and dependent on others. Kids need the help of caring adults in their life. As adults, it is our job to protect the kids in our care. As a parent, it is my responsibility to provide for my kids and take care of their needs. Kids need people like Jesus to step up and protect them.

Jesus was telling us that kids matter. I’m not telling you anything earth shattering.

I’m sure you think that kids matter, but do you act like kids matter? Sometimes we care more about things than kids. We can focus more on our phone than building relationships. We can think more about our bank account than spending that money to make memories with our children.

Our church has decided to put a high value on young people.

You might ask why we are putting such a high value on reaching young people. It’s a great question that I’d love to answer. Barna resource group recently published that over 50% of millennials are leaving the church. Studies tell us that almost 60% of young people who grew up in the church are walking away. They are walking away from their faith, their community, and away from a Jesus who loves them. We can’t sit around and watch that happen. Because of that, we’ve decided to intentionally invest ourselves and our resources into helping more kids find and follow Jesus. We feel strongly about this. Students are walking away from the church. Kids are hopeless. Teen suicide rates are increasing at an alarming rate.

We are multigenerational and kids matter here. This doesn’t mean if you are not under eighteen you don’t matter here. We think that everyone, at every stage of life matters to God. This means that young marrieds, families with young adults, people at the peak of their careers, and retired folks all matter to God. Each of us are children of God. You might say, “Neal, I’m not a believer in Jesus yet.” I understand, you are still a child of God, you just might not be living like it. People who are following Jesus and people who are seeking out Jesus all matter here.

Jesus wants us to put a high value on people. What we do for kids will change how they see God. Creating engaging worship services for retired folks is important. People at every age are important because we are multigenerational church. Now it’s good for us to know that almost 70% of people who are professing followers of Christ made that choice before the age of 18. Reaching young people is a high priority. We want everyone to help investing in someone younger than you are.

Now you might be thinking, “Neal is going to ask me to work with middle school students.” No, I am not. Middle school is a tough age, but you might not be called to that. God might use you to invest in young families. Those of you who have been married for a few decades have a wealth of wisdom that you can share with young couples. God might be asking you to invite some couples over just to encourage them in the stage of life they are. If you are nearing retirement, God might have you invest in someone who is just starting their career to be a source of encouragement. Maybe you’re good with finances and could help someone who could improve in their financial management. These relationship can turn into intentional investments into others.

I'm thankful that the Bible teaches us that kids matter. This week I'm extremely grateful for the people who invest in my kids. I'm also thankful to be a part of a church who puts a high value on investing in the lives of kids!

A Spiritual Legacy

The apostle Paul is known as the spiritual father of Timothy. Paul wasn’t content with only being a spiritual father though:
You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others. 2 Timothy 2:2 (NLT)
It was approximately 63 A.D. when Paul wrote his final letter. It was addressed to his dear son, in the faith, Timothy (2 Timothy 1:2a). Paul had been imprisoned before but this time he sensed the imminent fate awaiting him from that cold jail cell. Paul rarely wasted a moment of time, so from that dark cell he wrote another letter to Timothy. I wonder if as he penned the letter he thought about the words of Christ calling His disciples to go and make more disciples. Did he think about all the lives he had seen change over the last twenty plus years he followed Jesus? Paul wanted to leave Timothy with parting words that would encourage him to press on.

You’ve probably heard it said, “That having grandchildren is your reward for not killing your kids.” People love to joke about. If you’ve been around parents you will hear them regularly share their struggles with parenting, feelings of inadequacy and regret. Paul was looking for spiritual great grandchildren in the Lord.

Paul would most likely never meet those great grandchildren on this side of eternity, but he longed for the gospel message to outlive his earthly life. Paul wanted a spiritual legacy who would carry the gospel to the next generation.

Paul knew he needed to build Timothy up to see this accomplished (read 2 Timothy 1:6-14). Isn’t it usually the other way around? Normally its the person on the outside encouraging the person in jail to be courageous. But this isn’t the case with Paul. He wants Timothy to remain strong in his faith.

Next, Paul lists out three things in verses 9 and 10: He saved us, He called us with a holy calling, and He abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. The Gospel is all about salvation. That’s why it’s good news. But the gospel is about more than just forgiveness. The God who saved us has also called us to a holy life. God is holy and when God calls a person He calls him to live a holy life, and he begins to mold him for that purpose.

But that’s not all, look at verse 10. The gospel is also about “life and immortality.” To make that a reality for us God destroyed death. Jesus Christ is a destroyer of death. He didn’t eliminate death, He put it out of commission; He rendered it powerless and ineffective over us. Spiritually, we’re no longer dead but alive. Physically, though we may die, we’re immediately ushered into immortality.

Paul gave Timothy two commands here (verses 13-14). Did you see them? Timothy is to keep and guard. First Timothy is to keep the pattern of sound teaching. Paul stresses the need to have correct teaching. But it’s not only sound teaching. The teaching must be accompanied by faith and love. We can have wonderfully sound teaching but if we have no faith how would we take action on what we’re commanded to do? We can have perfectly sound teaching but if we share the gospel mechanically and without love people won’t respond. These must remain together. A true Christ follower will hold to sound teaching with faith and love in Jesus Christ. Not only will they hold it to, they long for it!

Paul intentionally invested in Timothy’s life. He provided encouragement to this young man. Do you have someone you are investing your life in? If you are a Christ follower, will you have spiritual great grandchildren in heaven?

God has given us each the same amount of time to invest in others. Investing in others is is a Biblical command. Listen to what John Hagee once said, “If your investments are limited to this earth, you are the world’s worst investor.” Let me make a quick observation about spiritual legacy, people who have a spiritual legacy take their spiritual life seriously. Paul took it serious. This isn’t meant to be a condemnation but an encouragement to focus on your spiritual legacy.

Let me give an illustration of what spiritual investors do—they live as spiritual owners. Coastline is looking to develop more spiritual owners, people who leave a spiritual legacy like Paul wanted. These are people who live their life like a manager and not a consumer. Mangers solve problems, while customers think it’s all about them. Managers look for solutions while customers look to be served. Believers should long to serve people at their church and long to help everyone be a spiritual investor.

Since coming to Coastline ten months ago I’ve heard wonderful stories of people who are investing in others. Our church has a rich heritage of this. Some of you are here today because a person in this church took interest in investing in your life. The best gift you can give that person is to invest in others. Take the things they taught you and pass them on to others who will pass them on to others. If you have never had someone invest in you spiritually, go ask someone. Find someone who you respect, trust and would like to be more like. See if they will invest in you as you grow to be more like Jesus.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Christ Followers are Courageous

Paul begins his second letter to Timothy with his typical greeting and then encourages Timothy to remain strong; or be courageous (2 Timothy 1:6-7). Isn’t it usually the other way around? Normally its the person on the outside encouraging the person in jail to be courageous. But this isn’t the case with Paul. He wants Timothy to remain strong in his faith.

History tells us that Timothy was a timid man, it was in his nature to be more reserved. Therefore Paul specifically reminds Timothy to fan into flame the gift of God. This phrase is a rekindling the embers of a flame. The ember isn’t dead, it just needs to be revived. It comes from the Greek word ἀναζωπυρεῖν (anazōpyren). It’s a verb and the tense it’s written in requires action to be done. This is the only time we see it used in the entire Bible. Paul is commanding Timothy to fan his spiritual flame. The text doesn’t suggest Timothy had let his spiritual flame die out. Paul was encouraging Timothy not to let his faith, mentioned in verse 5, die out.

Are you taking spiritual growth seriously? Is your spiritual ember growing weak? Rekindling a spiritual flame involves prayer, obedience to God’s word and taking risks for your faith. It looks like listening more to the voice of God and less to the noise around you. This may be exactly the encouragement some of you need right now.

Your faith is still an ember, its not dead, but it may be endanger of dying. Sadly, you have neglected your prayer life and your soul is left parched. It’s become difficult to think of the last time you opened God’s word and allowed it to feed your soul; you have been left spiritually hungry. Because of this lack of prayer and time in God’s word your faith is weak. Take courage as a Christ follower this morning and fan into flame the spiritual ember living inside you.

Paul is encouraging Timothy in ways we would expect a seasoned pastor to. By rekindling the flame his courage in the Gospel would be increased. It reminds me of what God said to Joshua after Moses passed away.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
This is similar to what Paul is telling Timothy. The courage stems from the power of the Holy Spirit working in his life. The love of the Holy Spirit was given, by God, to provide the support to have courage when he thought it was impossible. Have you ever experienced this? Have you seen God give you courage when you’ve felt timid?

Fifteen years ago my life was a mess. I was attending my court mandated DUI class in San Diego trying to figure out life. Across the room from me there was this guy in class who always talked about God and the Lord. I knew God growing up but I didn’t expect to find Him mentioned in a DUI class! Well one day I was leaving class. As I walked out of the door this man said; “My name is Brett. If you keep doing what you’re doing you’re going to be dead in five years. Do you want to go to church with me this weekend?” I was a little shocked, I’m not sure that’s the best evangelism line to use on someone, but he was right.

That Sunday Brett picked me up for church. He drove thirty minutes to get me and then we drove thirty minutes back to the church he attended. This went on for almost an entire year. On the car ride we talked about everything; sobriety, purity, reading God’s word, work, school and food.

Brett was the first guy to disciple me, I didn’t know he was discipling me but he was and it was because he had the courage to invite me to attend church. Brett isn’t a pastor. He never went to seminary. He is just a normal guy who had the guts to invite a messed up kid to church. I like what Billy Graham says:
“Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” 
I imagine Timothy perking up in his chair reading this letter from Paul.

Now I’m not suggesting you leaving here and getting a DUI so you can meet broken people at DUI school. You could probably think of a few people, who are already in your life, that you could be a little more courageous with. It might be a family member who you can encourage to fan the flame in their life. It might be a friend you met at the gym who shared they used to go to church but have slowly walked away. As Christ followers it’s our responsibility to be courageous and encourage each other. If your spiritual ember is not dead, fan it into flame and respond to the call to help others do the same.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

We Put God First

A few weeks ago we started a new sermon series at Coastline. For seven week we are talking about core values. The first one I spoke on was "We Put God First."

One day Jesus taught in the Temple Courts of Jerusalem. He was asked a question that was meant to test Him
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:34-40. 
As calmly as possible Jesus a quoted God’s word to the question asker. He knew the religious leaders were testing Him with the question. He was most likely thinking Jesus would choose one of the ten commandments for His answer. His answer is what is so marvelous. Jesus essentially takes the entire Law of Moses, the pinnacle for the Jewish people, and summarized it for His answer.

For our core value of putting God first, we’re going to focus on what Jesus said about loving God. His answer about loving others we’re going to save for another day. Jesus quoted the Old Testament for His answer on loving God (see Deuteronomy 6:5). God’s people wandered in the desert for forty years. They had disobeyed God and their hearts were hard. As the next generation got ready to enter the Promised Land, Moses need to adequately prepare them in the ways of God. So Moses instructed them to love God with all their: heart, soul and strength. Jesus told the religious leaders to love with with all their: heart soul and mind.

Both of these men brought about a (w)holistic approach of loving God. They longed for people to put God first in their love, thoughts and actions. Jesus knew if that if you only loved God with your heart, your mind would remain unchanged. If you only loved God with your mind then your heart would be far from the Lord and distant. A complete transformation needed to happen for those who claimed to love God and it would show in all areas of their life. That is what Jesus was saying in His answer to the religious leaders who tried to test Him.

When I was in seminary I had a prof who helped me see how my entire life was connected. Let me show you this quick graphic. All of the different areas of our life impact each other. When we are having a hard time emotionally it impacts our spiritual life that that impacts our thinking. Our thinking impacts our decision making process through our spiritual life. Our choices impact our spiritual growth and so on. Do you see how all of these areas are connected?

Jesus instructed us to love God with all our heart, soul and mind, because He knew the interconnectedness of our soul. Now did you notice that neither Moses or Jesus said this was a buffet of choices? It was never; “Here are three options, you choose how you want to love God and put Him first in your life.” It was always to love God with everything we have been given. Now you might be wondering why you should love God. You might be trying to decide if God is worthy of your love. You might be thinking about what will change in your life if you love God.

The Bible tells us that God created us. It was in the very beginning of time. God created the earth, air, light, plants and animals. But God saved the greatest of His creation for the very end; mankind. Some people don’t believe that but stick with me. God is worthy to be loved because He created us. You are God’s greatest creation. If you are looking for purpose in life, look to God. You can fully love God because He is your creator.

Live your life as God’s greatest creation. Love God because He created you, loves and longs to be in a relationship with you. Too often we miss this. We think that all we’ve done in the past disqualifies us for God’s love and that is far from the truth. The best way to figure out how God loves you and how to love Him is to read the Bible. You can start reading the Bible right now. You can use an app, the paper version or find a great reading plan online. If you’ve never read the Bible start reading the Gospel of Mark. It’s a short account and action oriented. If you’ve been reading for a while, try reading the entire New Testament in the next four months. Be creative and make reading the Bible a habit. I think it will help you see how much God loves you and help you understand the need to put God first.

We are a church that will be known for putting 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. Our response is to leave a life of sin and selfishness and follow Jesus. To put God first means that nothing else is the top priority.

The most important thing at Coastline is God; we put God first here.

I have a dream of a church where all the people put God first in their lives and encourage others to do the same. I have a dream of a church that is more concerned with the will of God than a personal agenda. I have a dream of a church that is so focused on God that nothing more will satisfy. I have a dream of a dream of a church that starts a movement of Godly people. I have a dream of a church where men, women, teens and children put God first.

Imagine a people seeking God more than a successful career. A church where students care more about God than sports or test scores. A church where parents pray with their children. A church where grandparents give sacrificially for their kids to know Jesus. A church where people in the prime of their life model putting God first until they stand in His presence. That is the kind of church I want to be a part of. A church that is committed to putting God first.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Living with a traumatic brain injury

On January 4, 2018 my mom fell and hit her head. The biggest problem is that no one knew she fell... and no one knew she hit her head. I called her the night of her fall but she had been coming down with a cold so she just told me she was tired. The next day I called again and it was evident something was wrong.

Our good friend, and pastor, Mike Barnes went to her home. She was lucid and he called an ambulance. She went to the local hospital in Big Bear Lake and six hours later was medical-evacuated by helicopter to UCLA Medical center. I beat my mom to the hospital and was the one who signed for her to have life saving brain surgery. My sister flew out and my wife sat by my side as I wondered what would happen to my mom. It was a tense time.

Today I can write about the experience with more perspective. It has been just over three months since my mom fell. She regularly goes to doctor appointments, takes long naps and continues with speech therapy (she graduated from physical and occupational therapy).

At this stage in her healing my mom is unable to return to unassisted living. We felt like the best solution was to have her live with us. She has been with us for over two months now and has progressed greatly. She no longer needs a walker to get around. Her surgery was a success. There is no more fluid in her brain. Her speech is about 80% back to normal.

When you look at this picture you can't tell anything happened to my mom. Unlike breaking an arm or leg, my mom never got a cast. She didn't have pins put in her arm to help it heal. For people who have a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) you can't tell they have been hurt. This has been one of the biggest eye openers for me. She never had a cast on her head to let the rest of the people in society know something happened.

She smiles all the time (ok, most of the time). She can tie her shoes, feed herself and preform most of the tasks you and I can preform. She may never drive a car again. She is terrified to fly again. She is scared that someone at the store will bump her and she will fall down. She has irrational fears that we get the privilege of seeing her overcome with the help of God.

My mom graduated from college and taught school for almost thirty years. She is a bight woman and a hard worker. When she left the hospital she could barely read. She began reading Dr. Seuss books with my kids. She humbled herself and checked out second grade reading level books. She sat on the couch and asked us what words meant; it was tough to see but encouraging. She just finished her first novel (at her reading level). She has grown but it has taken time.

This whole situation, as painful as it is, has taught us the value of life again. God is a life giver. People with a TBI have it tough. My mom gets very tired at night. Her speech is less understandable as the day wears on. Regularly she looks at me to help her finish a sentence, just like a younger sibling would look to their older sibling for help. She is growing and God continues to help her make small advancements.

With all this said, you might walk by a person today who had a TBI. You might pass them in the store or they could be sitting in the car next to you (hopefully not driving yet). You might not be able to tell the person had a brain injury. They may look normal on the outside but on the inside they have experienced a very difficult injury.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A God-sized goal

At the end of last year I began asking God for a vision for our church. I wanted a God-sized goal, something that if God didn't show up it would never happen.

I began writing notes in my journal. I stayed up late in bed asking God to speak. I didn't want to just say some goal and it not be from God.

At the beginning of the year I began to get a sense of what the goal would be. I started talking with some of our staff and Elders about reaching more people at Easter. See, we've been working on relaunching Coastline Bible Church. We haven't done an "official" relaunch date but are working on restoring the church to what God wants it to be.

I'll shorten the details of the entire process but share the God-sized goal we came up with:
To be a church of 400 people worshipping Jesus in two identical services on Easter Sunday 2018

In early January we called a special meeting to share the God-sized goal with our church. It would take all of us pitching in. It wasn't something I could accomplish on my own. See when I got to Coastline we were a church of about 160 people on an average Sunday. Within a handful of months we broke 200 for the first time. Then on Christmas Eve we hit 280; God was working in the hearts of His people as we cast a new mission and direction for the church.

The afternoon we cast the goal someone in our church asked if we would have a class to help people share their faith. Her question was great! A previous elder said he would teach the class. After two classes on Sunday morning and being invited to three small groups we had trained almost 80 people on how to share their faith (that is almost half of our regular attendance!)

Now what you're waiting to read. Easter Sunday came. We had trained dozens of leaders for the increase. We doubled our volunteer base so we could launch a second service. We slotted a huge breakfast to keep people around and talking. God showed up on Easter. We had a number of people accept Christ as their Savior. When the count came in, we reached 383 people on Easter Sunday.

Our church swung for the fences and we hit the wall! It was a huge win. People were and still are rejoicing in all God is doing at Coastline. I'm sharing this not to brag on me, but to brag on God and all the amazing people here at Coastline. Keep seeking Jesus.

Our mission is to help people find and follow Jesus. Our prayer is similar to that in Acts 9:31
Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers. (Acts 9:31)
Pray for the 100,000 people in our city that aren't in a relationship with God.
Pray for the over 700,000 people in our county that need to hear the truth of Jesus.

We are going to keep swinging for the fences to help more people find and follow Jesus.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Don’t believe the cover up

Yesterday we celebrated Easter. At our church we looked at Matthew 18:1-15 and talked about how Jesus rose from the dead. Now I understand that not everyone believes this statement (and I'm comfortable with that). For many years I lived my life in contrast to the commands of God. Take the next four minutes and think about the cover up of Jesus' resurrection.

After the women leave the Roman soldiers wake up (read Matthew 28:11-15).  They go into the city to meet with the religious leaders and tell them everything. Imagine these soldiers walking into the room and saying, “You’re not going to believe what happened!”

The religious leaders wanted to minimize the impact that Jesus had on this world but the grave couldn’t hold Him down. A stone, a seal and some soldiers couldn’t stop the plans of God. The soldiers had to fess up that Jesus wasn't in the tomb and that an angel came and rolled the stone away so we could see the grave was empty.

Look at the length the Bible tells us the religious leaders went to try cover up the resurrection of Jesus. If you don’t think that Jesus rose from the dead, let me ask you a few questions.

If the soldiers were sleeping how did they know it was the disciples who stole Jesus’ body? History tells us that Roman soldiers were trained to take on up to three men at a time. One man was able to overpower three men. The disciples were teenage fisherman when they met Jesus, they were in no way trained or prepared to take on these men who stood guard.

Even if the soldiers did admit to sleeping on the job, why weren’t they executed? The standard punishment for sleeping on the job was execution. Even if they did doze off, these men were trained to sleep lightly and would have woken at the first sound. The body was missing on Sunday morning and these guys drive into work Monday morning with brand new cars. Everyone in town had to wonder what was really taking place here.

We need to shed light into the truth of the resurrection because people have believed this lie for way too long. We hear stories all the time about fake news, this might be where journalist learned to lie about the news. We know people are willing to go to great lengths to make their company look good. Think about the situation with UBER last year. Uber said that in late 2016 it paid hackers $100,000 to destroy data on more than 57 million customers and drivers stolen from the company and they decided not to report the matter to victims or authorities. They went to great lengths to hide their mistake and this is what the Jewish leaders did. In the sum total we can conclude, the whole cover up is a bad cover up. The cover up is like saying, “My dog ate my homework.”

The day after Easter 2018 might be the day you logically grasp the resurrection of Jesus!

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!