Monday, August 13, 2018

Does authority matter?

Two years ago Time Magazine published a story about an incredible mountaineer.

Ed Viesturs is widely regarded as this country’s foremost high-altitude mountaineer. Ed has summited Mount Everest seven times. He didn’t accomplish this feat until his third try in 1990. He had made it close before that but had to turn around, 300 feet from the summit, due to grueling weather conditions.

Many climbers would have pushed on, facing the possibility of death, but not Ed. He is known as a conservative climber who understands that climbing is a round trip.

Not only has Ed summited Mount Everest seven times, he is also the only American to summit the world’s fourteen highest peaks without supplemental oxygen. In his interview with Time Magazine Ed referred to the mountain as the final authority in a climb. Ed says: “We call it listening to the mountain. The mountain decides what you get to do.”

For Ed, the mountain is the final authority in his decision making process. Who is the final authority in your decision making process? What is the main authority in your life? Is your main authority local government; maybe the police or other law enforcement? Is your boss at work your final authority? Maybe you live with your parents and you look to them as your final authority.

We each have different authorities we listen to and focus on. In face there are some aspects of our life that each of us have allowed to control our actions at times.

Different Sources of Authority 

Let’s just look at five different authorities people turn to when making decisions in their life.

Emotion- The first source you allow to guide your decision making process is your emotions. God wants to speak to your heart. He loves your emotions, in fact it was He who created them. It is good to be in touch with your emotions. Think about a time in your life when you had a “good feeling about this” and it came out to be true. Your emotions were right in directing your heart.

On the other hand, your emotions can be misleading. People have come to speak with me before and said something like: “Neal, I don’t feel God in my life right now.” Good thing God isn’t a feeling. Just because you don’t feel God, that doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist. God is an eternal being. Emotions can be misleading in your life and take you places you never wanted to go. Invite God to speak to you through your emotions but don’t let them be the final authority in your life.

Experience- The next source of authority is past experiences. The best way to describe experience is information that comes from a direct encounter, participation or observation you’ve made. If you’re a Christian, you should expect to encounter God in your life. God will use your experience to open doors and shut doors in your life. The longer you walk with Him, the more data points you will have on your experiences with Him.

But experience, like emotion, can be deceptive. Some people try to manipulate God based on their past experiences. It can easy to think that if God worked one way in your past that He will always work in that same way for your future. But you can encounter a situation where God doesn’t in the exact same way because He is teaching you something new. If your experiences are contrary to the word of God, then the Bible needs to win as the final authority.

Reason- God wants you to use the mind He’s given you. God has given you the ability to think critically, reason with others, solve problems and make wise decisions. Whether you’re a believer or not, He has endowed you with this ability. Your abilities in this area are by no means perfect, but God desires for you to be reasonable. As with emotion and experience, reason is not perfect. There are times when you misinterpret or misunderstand data. Think of a time you thought you had all the information to make a smart decision but you didn’t, and it turned out poorly. You can never have all the information, therefore you cannot allow reason to be the main authority in your life.

Google- Let’s move the fourth authority on our list. She always is right. She tells me how to get places. She never backtalks to me. You know who I’m talking about, right? I’m talking about Siri or the internet. The internet is the last source of authority we allow to direct us. When was the last time you were with someone and you ran into a problem where you didn’t know the answer? Maybe you were talking about a recent story and wanted to fact check it. One of you most likely went straight to Google to find the answer. The internet is a great source of information but we all know you can’t believe everything you read online.

The Bible- The final authority you need in your life is the Bible. You might be familiar with the Bible, but let me give you a crash course. The Bible is a collection of sixty-six books and its comprised of two main sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The oldest books in the Bible date to around 1500 years before Christ. The last book in the Bible dates to the end of the first century. You’ve probably heard the Bible referred to as “God’s Word.” This means that when the Bible speaks, God speaks. The Apostle Paul told his disciple Timothy that all Scripture is God breathed
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The Bible needs to be the ultimate authority in your life.

When we look at these five different sources of authority, they are all good. God gave us emotion, experience and reason to help us process what comes at us in life and the internet is a helpful tool, but we can never allow these top four to be the final authority. If you’ve found yourself relying on any of these more than on God’s word, look at Psalm 119 and see why it might be time for a change.

Monday, August 06, 2018

5 Prayer Tips

This Summer our church decided to focus on prayer. Prayer is the unholy connecting with the Holy. It's a conversation with God where you can express your fears, desires, longings, and failures.

Prayer is conversation with God

Each week I preached in the summer series I offered our church a prayer tip. Here is a summary of the different prayer tips.

God is with us

The first week of the series we looked that what we so affectionately know as the Lord's Prayer. In these verses Jesus gives us a model of what to prayer. We don't have to pray it exactly, but we can use it as a guide in our prayer life. In this guide, Jesus never asks us to pray for God to be with us. God is already with us! Before Jesus departed to Heaven He clearly told the disciples that He would be with them always:
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
If you find yourself regularly asking God to be with you, you can stop. God is with you. Now, if you have yet to place your trust in Jesus, you can pray for Jesus to be the Lord of your life!

Show God your emotions 

In 1 Kings 17 there is a story of a young boy who dies. Elijah has been living with this family and the mother places her dead son in the arms of the prophet. Elijah takes the boy to his room where he then stretches himself out over the boy’s dead body three times and cried to the Lord: “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!
Does your prayer life ever include tears? Throughout Scripture we see people who cried out to God. When my mom was in the hospital, I cried more than I’m comfortable admitting. God, who knows our hearts, also knows our emotions. It is pointless for us to attempt to hide our emotions from God. If you need to cry out in prayer, go for it. In his book Moving Mountains, John Eldridge talks about what he so affectionately calls, “The Cry of the Heart.” We see this throughout Scripture and mostly in the Psalms (Psalm 77:1 and Psalm 61:1).
It’s okay to cry out to God. I’m not suggesting God hears these prayers any differently, but if you are so overwhelmed with emotion, let God know what is troubling you. Don’t try to hide your emotions from our Lord.

Remove Distractions 

We live in a time with so many distractions. There is so much vying for our attention today. Our phones are constantly making noise, the Dodgers are playing, football season starts soon, and the radio is probably still on in your car. Slowly remove these distractions while you’re learning to hear God’s voice. I’m not saying to never listen to the radio or watch TV again. I’m saying minimize the use while you learn to listen to God.
Take a page straight from 1 Samuel 3. Samuel sat down and listened to the voice of the Lord. Sit down and say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” Then sit there.
It might feel weird at first. You might have all these thoughts running through your mind. You will have to learn to clear your mind of the distractions so you can discern God’s voice. I’m not saying this is going to be easy. This will take time. This might take months or years of practice. But nothing great I have in life has ever come easy. The best things I have have taken time, energy and deep thinking. Sit and listen. You might want to keep a journal near by for when God speaks so you can write it down.

Find a place to meet with God

Find a place to meet with God. In Matthew, Jesus told the listeners to meet with God in a closet. In the story of Elijah and the dead boy, Elijah took the boy to his room where he met with God. In 2 Kings 19, Hezekiah went into the temple of the Lord to meet with God.
This week, find a place to meet with God. Find a location in your home, the beach, or a secluded place where you can meet with God.
When tragedy was nearing, Hezekiah went straight to the Temple. He went straight to the place where Israel met with God. I’m not sure if this was a normal place for Hezekiah to meet with God or not, but this was His place to meet with God.
The place I met with God is at the foot of my bed. I sit or lay face down on the floor to meet with God. It’s important to have somewhere you can meet with God. Now you might think how busy you are and that you don’t have time for prayer. Listen to what Billy Graham once said: "You cannot afford to be too busy to pray. A prayerless Christian is a powerless Christian.”

Pray for others

Pray for others more than you pray for yourself. If you want a satisfying prayer life pray more for others. I’m not saying to never pray for your self, but to focus on praying for others more than you pray for what is happening in your life. Pray for your neighbors, pray for your kids, pray for the leaders of our Nation, pray for others church in our county, pray for the unity of the church, pray for us to stay united in mission, pray for your family, and pray for the people you are investing your life in. Jesus taught us in John 17 to Pray for others.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Pray in danger

For our ten year anniversary our family went on a Disney cruise to celebrate! We had never been on a cruise before and we had a wonderful time. Being on a cruse is great! Someone makes your bed for you. Someone cleans your room. You experience gorgeous destinations. You can eat six meals a day; and they’re all free. They even have an ice cream station open all day. There is no commuting, no cooking, no cleaning and tons of fun.

Too bad being on a cruise isn’t reality. Life’s not always a soft bed to sleep on with unlimited room service. Sometimes life is more of a crisis we’re trying to overcome. We’re all familiar with crisis aren’t we? An unexpected death in the family, a lost job, an unwanted divorce, or bad news from the doctor are just a few of the different things life can throw at us. I’m no expert on crisis in any way, but the question I want to look at this morning is: when a crisis hits, who or what do you depend on? The obvious answer to this question is “God”, but all too often we try to solve the problem on our own. We depend on ourself in the dark times.

In 2 Kings 18 and 19 we read about a good king in Israel. He was threatened by a bad king and responded in faith to the Lord.

Look how the good King responds
Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. 2 Kings 19:14
Take notice of what Hezekiah did with the letter he had received. He brought it with him to the Temple. He spreads it out before the Lord to make certain God sees it. Its an interesting tactic. Its nothing we haven’t seen before.

Dads think about this. Its almost like when your child brings you a broken toy to fix. They want you to put the head back on or change the batteries or just fix the problem. They bring it to you so you can see it and fix it. Hezekiah brings his problem to the Lord.

Once in the Temple of the Lord, Hezekiah proceeds to pray. Hezekiah’s prayer follows a format typical of the most common Psalm. The prayer has three parts: First, Hezekiah recognizes the greatness of the Lord. Second he explains his problem to the Lord. Finally he asks God for assistance.

The first thing Hezekiah does is recognize the greatness of the Lord 

15 And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: “Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16 Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God. 2 Kings 19:15-16
Hezekiah affirms there is no one like the Lord God. Hezekiah defines where God sits. God is not one of many gods. God is not “a” god in any temple. God is the only God, the one God. Hezekiah is confessing God is in a class all by Himself; there is no one greater than He. When he asks God to “see, hear and listen”, Hezekiah is confessing He is the living God. An idol cannot see or hear or listen because it is quite simply not living. But the Lord God, who Hezekiah is petitioning, He is living. Hezekiah also makes sure to mention the dominion God possess and His creative nature. God has not been created, but God is the creator God. God is one who deserves His greatness to be recognized.

This is a great example for us to start out our prayers. It’s easy to come to God rushed, with a list of what we want Him to do and usually there is a timeline attached of when we need to act by. The next time you approach the living God try following this approach. Come to God but before you ask for anything, before making a single request, no matter how simple it may sound, recognize God’s greatness. Take time to declare how amazing God is. Stand in awe of His creative ability and know He is the only God.

Once you’ve recognized God’s greatness you can move on to explain your problems to God 

17 “It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. 18 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands." 2 Kings 19:17-18

The problem Hezekiah encountered is; what Sennacherib wrote was true. The Assyrians had laid waste to the other nations. They had cut off their water supply. They had caused them to starve. He had killed their kings and burned their gods in the fire. There is a difference: their gods are made of wood and stone, really they aren’t gods at all but idols.

Let’s make this practical. After you’ve recognized the greatness of God take time to explain your problems. Freely tell God how your struggling as a parent. Tell God you don’t want to get a divorce but you know your spouse does and this is a problem for you. Remind God about your last semester of school and how you’re stressed. Remind God that you’re having a tough time paying your bills this month. No matter what the situation is, explain your problem to God. We all have problems, and its Biblical to explain those problems to God.

After Hezekiah explains his problem he asks God for assistance against the Assyrians 

"Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.” 2 Kings 19:19
If you’re in a dark time know you can ask God for assistance? Hezekiah was in a dark time and he knew the only one who could help him was God. Growing up on the bottom end of the middle-class, there were times we had to ask for help. My mom used to always say to me, “You never know unless you ask.”

Its true, you never know unless you ask. You never know if God will assist you unless you ask for assistance. If you take one thing from this message will you remember: When the future is uncertain, go to God. Hezekiah has modeled his dependance on God. He trusts God. He depends on God to carry him through the darkest time of his life.

My prayer tip this week is find a place to meet with God. In Matthew, Jesus told the listeners to meet with God in a closet. In the story of Elijah and the dead boy, Elijah took the boy to his room where he met with God. This week, find a place to meet with God. Find a location in your home, the beach, or a secluded place where you can meet with God.

Hezekiah went straight to the Temple. He went straight to the place where Israel met with God. I’m not sure if this was a normal place for him to meet with God or not, but this was His place to meet with God. I’ve share with you, that a place I met with God is at the foot of my bed. I sit or lay face down on the floor to meet with God. It’s important to have somewhere you can meet with God. Now you might think how busy you are and that you don’t have time for prayer.

Listen to what Billy Graham once said: "You cannot afford to be too busy to pray. A prayerless Christian is a powerless Christian.”

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Best of Bend- 2018

Last week our family spent a week in Bend on vacation. We've been to Bend twice as a family and I've been once on my own. The last time we went was when Sophie was almost a year old and Leah was just a few weeks in Charity's tummy.

Our family was blessed this summer to spend almost a full week in Bend. Our main hope was to rest and see our friends. Since this is not what I've been normally posting on this site lately, I want to talk about the value of family and doing fun things together.

In about a month our oldest daughter will turn ten. That means we only have eight more summers to plan rad family trips. We only have eight more summers to make memories! Our family is all about adventure. We love exploring, laughing, hiking, snowboarding, swimming, eating ice cream and much more. Here are a few of my highlights from Bend this summer.

Hanging out with friends

We saw some of our great friends!

Floating the River

More River Fun!

Sophie Riding Horses

Sophie is such a brave girl! She rode horses almost every day on the trip!

Family Spelunking 

We've done some caving before kids and without the kids, but this was a first! We stopped at this Lava Tube just south of Bend and it was totally worth it!

Thursday, July 05, 2018

7 Questions with Michelle Rompel

Michelle Rompel is a Christ follower, sister, daughter and ministry leader. Michelle grew up in Napa, CA and  currently serves in Foster City, CA. Michelle is the Middle School Director at Central Peninsula Church. Michelle has a passion to see young people live their lives fully for Jesus. I've often called her a firecracker of energy and passion!

Michelle and I met in the summer of 2016 when she interviewed for our middle school director role. She had just finished her BA at William Jessup University near Sacramento. When I saw her resume and picture she sent it, I knew she was the one we needed to hire. We served on the same staff for about a year before God called us to Ventura. We have kept in close contact and I'm stoked to call her a friend and partner in ministry!

1. About two years ago you accepted your first role to serve as Middle School Ministry Director at a great church, what has been your biggest learning experience serving full-time in the local church?

Working in ministry is hard. Nobody really tells you that. I think this was something I needed to experience though, not just get told. We are people, and we are messy. Behind the scenes of the Sunday morning church experience is very different from what someone might see on stage. Along with that though, I’m learning that there is no other place I would rather be right now than working in ministry.

2. As a college graduate who is now working on a masters degree, how has higher education changed the way you view the world? 

Growing up in a town where everyone held a pretty similar mindset and view on life, it was refreshing to get to college and be challenged. I took a class in undergrad called “God’s Kingdom in the World” and it was a class all about missions. Each week we would study a different unreached people group and pray for them. This opened my eyes to so many different cultures and a longing to know people’s stories.

3. What is the best book you’ve read in the last year and how has it shaped your life? 

Probably Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. He writes with a lot of vulnerability and authenticity, something I wasn’t really shown growing up. Being able to understand emotions and the way that plays into all aspects of life has really helped me develop a way that I want to interact with people and with God. It was so relieving to understand that emotions are a part of who God created us to be, and a way for us to really connect with Him.

4. You are one of the most passionate people I’ve been around. Where does this passion for life and optimism come from?

As cheesy and christianese as it sounds, I have to say Jesus. Passion wasn’t apart of my vocabulary growing up, it wasn’t encouraged or really demonstrated. It wasn’t until college when I came to know Jesus and started really healing in places that I found passion for life and wanting to live it to the fullest. It also helps that I’m a 7 on the Enneagram and we are naturally more enthusiastic and optimistic in our healthiest state. I’m recognizing that passion can be both really good but also really challenging, passion and rebellion can often go hand in hand, so I have to make sure I have people keeping me accountable.

5. What is it like to be a young, single, woman working in a sector that seems to be primarily men?

It’s interesting. I think because I didn’t grow up in the church, I never really saw the differences in men and women leading. I went to a conference one time and out of the 100 people that were there, only 11 were female. That was when it really hit me that being a young women in ministry is still a bit taboo. Overall, I love what I get to do and know that this is where God has called me to be.

6. There are many people in ministry who don’t have a life outside their work. What is one hobby you enjoy and that fills you?

Something a lot of people don’t know about me is that I love arcades. Pinball machines, racing, basketball shooting, air hockey, skeeball, I love all of it! I love to travel as well, and when I go to different places I try and find old arcades that are still up and running. One of my dreams is to actually restore an old pinball machine for my house one day.

7. If you could give your 17 year old self one piece of advice what would if be?

It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to ask for help. As someone who struggled a ton with depression and anxiety in high school and currently, I wish someone would have told me that I didn’t have to have everything all together.

I really appreciate Michelle serving in the trenches of student ministries and helping more students know Jesus.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

How to pray

I think there are hundreds of thousands of people who want to pray... they are just not sure how. There are people who long to talk with God, but are concerned with the human talking with the holy. If we are all honest we would confess there is something about prayer that we are apprehensive in approaching.

Well, what if we were taught how to pray? What if there was a model that helped us learn how to pray?

In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus gives us a great model for a thriving prayer life. We know it as the The Lord's Prayer. Many of you have probably memorized this prayer at some point in your life. This is one of the most famous prayers in all of history.

It is said at the end of every Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, it is recited in church services, and little kids are taught it at a young age. It’s a prayer that many people are familiar with but aren’t practicing what Jesus instructs on how to pray. The word we have to focus on here is “how.” This, then, is how you should pray.

The first half of the prayer focuses on God
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
   your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Matthew 6:9-10
The designation of Father implies an intimate relationship. It is a challenging word because we face the crisis and chaos of non-father fathers. We live in a world in which fathers don’t often act as fathers should act. Maybe your earthly father brings images of neglect, sorrow, and pain. Maybe you cringed a bit whenever someone describes God as “Father.” Maybe this is a hang-up in your prayer life and you've never made it further than that.

Jesus reminds us that God is in heaven and we are here on earth. This statement  requires us to think about the holiness of God and the position God holds. Recognize that God is in heaven and we are not. Jesus then talks about God’s name being hallowed. Hallowed comes from the Greek word- ἁγιάζω (hagiazō) meaning to sanctify or regard as holy. We live in a time where not much is holy any more. We’ve watered down marriage, we neglect commitments and we push God out of every sector we can. A thriving prayer life focuses on the holiness of God.

Jesus instructs us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come, but it seems too often we are more concerned with building our empires. We pray more for our will to be done than for God’s will to be done. God’s Kingdom is eternal and God’s will is perfect. Unfortunately we focus on a cheapened version of what God longs for us to have. We are a church who prays bold prayers. This prayer that Jesus models is a bold prayer. It’s uncommon and unconventional. It is a prayer that focuses on the holy nature of God before asking for a personal handout. We need to apply this part to our prayer lives; we need to focus more on God and less on ourselves.

The first part of Jesus’ instruction here focuses on God, while the second part focuses on the needs of a person:
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’
Matthew 6:11-13
Jesus begins by telling people to ask for their daily bread. I think one reason we don’t pray as much in America is because we have loaves of bread in our homes. My guess is that most of you have food in your fridge for the week. If you don’t have food in the fridge, you might have money to buy it. I can even remember using change to buy a burger at McDonald’s when they had 39 cent cheeseburgers! But the original audience didn’t have this luxury. Not everyone have been afflicted with wealth; people across the world are wondering their next meal will come from.

The forgiveness of debtors refers to forgiveness of sins and not a monetary debt. It’s interesting because Jesus talked briefly about this earlier in the Sermon on the Mount. He said (Matthew 5:23-24). Jesus is serious about being in right relationship with others. People have left churches because of un-forgiveness towards others. Wrong relationships don’t right our relationship with God. Wrong relationships mess with our relationship with God. We don’t always have to reconcile relationships but we do need to forgive others because God forgave us.

The last line of the prayer talks about being led away from temptation. This doesn’t mean we won’t be tempted. We are still going to face the temptations that every person faces. A literal translation of this verse would be, “don’t let us succumb to the temptation.”

Jesus was tempted! In Matthew 4, Jesus was fasting and praying for forty days in the wilderness. The devil came to tempt Him but He overcame that temptation. We too will be tempted, but we can overcome that temptation. We all succumb to periodic temptation, but we need to move on and move towards God. When we succumb to temptation, we can ask God to deliver us from the evil one and restore us back to His side.

Applying the Lord's Prayer

How do we take this model Jesus gave on prayer apply it to our prayer life? First, we know that God is looking for an unseen prayer life. Find a place where you can be alone with God and use the model Jesus gave. Give glory and honor to God. Praise God for the good things in your life. If you think you don’t have anything good going on, you need to think harder. Begin with praising God for your health. Thank God for the roof over your head. Thank God for the food you have in your fridge. Thank God for your church and what is happening there. Lift up the holiness of God because we live in a unholy time.

Pray for God’s Kingdom to come. If you don’t know what to pray, you can simply pray for God’s will to be done. When you pray for God’s will to be done, you begin to line up your heart with the heart of God. God will begin to speak His will to you. He will give you a deeper passion. Your prayer doesn’t have to be eloquent or pious; God is looking at your heart. When we start our prayer life focusing on God, it does something inside us. It centers us back on God. It helps our mind to think of all we have and not what we wish we had. It put us in a right place to move forward in our prayer life. If you start your prayer life focusing on God, it changes your heart and desires to those of God.

Praying for your needs

Let’s move on to the part about praying for ourselves. It is right for us to ask God to provide us our daily bread. Good fathers want to provide for their children. Fathers work hard to provide for their children. We all know that the fridge doesn’t fill itself; someone has to work for the food. I love that Jesus says to, “pray for daily bread.” Jesus doesn’t tell us to pray for a rack of ribs. Our prayer life needs to contain humility. Pray for God to meet your daily needs and I think that as your heart lines up with Him, you will also get what you want.

There is a practical part of our prayer life we can’t neglect here. We need to ask for forgiveness and give forgiveness. There are times we come to God asking for something while harboring bitterness in our hearts. Did you know that God forgives your sins? God will forgive you for all your sins if you just ask. Ask God to forgive you of the wrongs you’ve done. Jesus is going to talk more about forgiveness in a couple of verses so I’m going to spend less on it here.

Finally we need to pray against the temptation in our lives. The apostle Paul spent a lot of time in Corinth teaching people about the holy things of God. Listen to one thing he taught them
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:13
God knows what we can handle in temptation. We won’t be tempted beyond what we can handle, but at times the temptation will stretch our prayer life. This doesn’t mean we won’t be tested, we will be tested
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4
Temptations and testing will strengthen our faith. This is what we long for, to be stronger in faith.

Conversations with God

God wants to hear your voice. God longs to converse with you, and that is what prayer is.
Think about your best friend. How did you develop such a strong relationship? You spent time together. You had long conversations. You stayed up late talking about every topic on your mind. You cried together, laughed together and went through hills and valleys together. This is also what grows our prayer life with God. We honestly come to Him and have long conversations. Your unseen prayer life grows your relationship with Jesus.

Your unseen prayer life grows your relationship with God. It strengthens your faith and walk with Jesus.

Let me ask you an honest question: If God answered all your prayers for last week, how would the world be better? Would your neighbors’ lives be changed? Would you kids know God more? Would world hunger be abolished?

Take an active role in prayer. Make it a priority. Use this model that Jesus gives us to have a thriving prayer life. I think one reason that people don’t pray is because they don’t know how to pray. Now you know how to pray and you know that your unseen prayer life grows your relationship with Jesus.

Listen to what Paul E. Miller said, “Learning to pray doesn’t offer you a less busy life; it offers you a less busy heart.”

Monday, June 25, 2018

Stop Praying this Prayer

Let me dispel a myth about prayer. Too often Christ followers ask God to be with them. You don’t have to pray this because God is already with you. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told the disciples He would be with them always:
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
If you are a Christ follower, God is with you. Work at getting your prayer life in line with God’s heart. Pray more for God’s will. You can also pray for others. Pray for your friends, pray for your church, the leadership in local and national government (I know you might not like some of them), the staff at your kids school or pray for others who come to mind.

Now, if you haven't trusted in Jesus yet. I would encourage you to cry out to God. Ask God to be with you and make a point to line yourself up with God. Look to His face. Turn your eyes from the things that take your attention and cry out to the Lord of Heaven.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


My life was transformed just over eighteen years ago. It wasn't by my doing but by my surrender. I had made a ton of unwise choices but God transformed me. The Bible talks about being transformed. The Bible speaks to the life change God offers.

In the Gospel of Matthew we have an account where Jesus was transformed. Matthew starts with some basic details of time and location
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. Matthew 17:1
Jesus was currently in the northern region of Israel. He has taken the disciples on a quick getaway but the group has narrowed down. Jesus was intentionally investing in these three men: James, John and Peter. It’s been six days since Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah and they are in a new location.

Jesus led the boys up on a high mountain. Jesus only choose a few of them to go to this high mountain. Some scholars think the mountain was Mount Hermon. It was close to the region they were in and it would have made sense for them to go there.

Jesus wants these men to think more about eternity than this life
There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Matthew 17:2-4
Imagine if you went on a hike with a few of your closest friends, and then one of them started shining like the sun and His clothes changed to the brightest white you’ve ever seen. To make the situation even better, two historic pillars of the Jewish faith show up and start talking to Jesus. Then one of your friends, who always speaks before he thinks, starts talking about setting up some tents and camping there for the night. How would you ever be able to explain what happened?

Thankfully, Matthew explains what took place on the mountain that day. Jesus is transfigured before His friends on the mountain. The change that happens to Jesus is two-fold; there is an inner change and an outer change. The inner change was visible in the fact that the face of Jesus now shone like the sun.

The outer change was seen because His clothes became as white as the light. Jesus was finally showing a glimpse of who He really was. This is one instance with two visible changes that Matthew is able to share. Matthew uses this word transfigured to describe the change that happened to Jesus. Jesus was definitely changed and it showed in His appearance— His face shone like the sun! We don’t see any inner change, just these changes in how the disciples saw Jesus.

Something also happened to the clothing of Jesus. Matthew writes that Jesus’ clothes became as white as light. White is associated with holiness; angels are always depicted as wearing white, and women wear white dresses on their wedding day to represent purity. This should make us think about the holiness and purity of Jesus.

These changes makes what happens next so spectacular. Right as Jesus’ appearance changed two men appeared; Moses and Elijah. Moses lived about 1400 years before Jesus was born (Deuteronomy 34:7). Moses is most known for leading God’s people out of captivity and through the Red Sea. He led them into the desert for forty years and brought them to the edge of the Promised Land. If you’ve been around church for any length of time, you’ve most likely read about Moses and how much He did for God’s people. If your church experience is new, I highly encourage you to read about Moses’ life in the Old Testament.

There is another man in our story and his name is Elijah. Elijah was a prophet for the nation of Israel. He did some amazing things like: he told the sky when to rain, he healed a little boy who was dead, and he also met with God on a mountain. The Bible tells us that Elijah never tasted death. He was walking in the desert one day and was taken up into heaven (2 Kings 2:11-12). There one minute and gone in the best Uber you’ve ever ridden in. This is how I want to die!

So here we have these two men who were historic men of Israel; two men who loved God and followed God. Two men who represent the Law and the Prophets, standing with Jesus on the mountain. Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the prophets. Jesus is hanging out with the two major representatives of the Jewish faith, and then Peter blurts out something about setting up camp.

You have to think James and John looked at him and were like, “What are you saying? How are you going to make this happen?” It’s probably at this point that Peter looks around and realizes what he’s said.

God wants to transform us! Not exactly like Jesus’ transformation, but a transformation from God. When a person places their faith and trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, an immediate change happens. Think about the change that happened in Jesus. You might curious about Jesus because you’ve seen a friend’s life transformed. Your friend once partied and swore like a sailor, but they started goiter to church, met Jesus, and the Holy Spirit has transformed their life. You’re reading this because you want to know about this power! You want to know about this man Jesus who transforms lives.

Some of you are reading and you are the transformed people. You surrendered your life to Jesus and stopped living for yourself. Your life was heading in one direction, but the Lord intersected your course and convicted you of your lifestyle. You have experienced this inward and outward change we just studied. You once thought one way but Jesus has transformed you to His way. There is an external change that has occurred too! Your countenance has changed and you’re joyful because of Jesus. Keep living as a transformed person.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

7 Questions with Kirstin Vlodica

Kirstin Vlodica is a Christ follower, wife, mother and pastor. Kirstin grew up in Apple Valley, CA and  currently serves in Bend, Oregon (her husbands home town). Kirstin is married to Tyler and they have two beautiful daughters. Kirstin is the Children's Pastor at New Hope Church. Kirstin has a passion to help see more people live out the life Jesus has called them to.

Kirstin and I met in August 2012 when I accepted a call to serve at Central Peninsula Church. She was serving on the staff in a children's ministry coordinator role when I arrived. About a year into my tenure at CPC our Children's Director resigned. I wish I could say that I immediately hired Kirstin for the role but I didn't. About six months later it was obvious she was the person to lead our Children's Ministry and she did a FANTASTIC job! Through her relational ministry and loving leadership our church reached more families! I am blessed to call her a friend and partner in ministry. I hope you love her insight her as much as I do.

1. Just over a year ago you accepted a call to serve at a wonderful church in Bend, Oregon. What has God taught you during this transition?

What a year it has been! Our family left the bustling city, where we lived for 6 years in a tiny two bedroom apartment, to a small town where we are enjoying almost an acre of land with deer roaming our yard. What a change! I think it was normal to be anticipating starting fresh and being excited about the new ministry. However, when after two months we experienced major change in leadership and a difficult transition at New Hope Church, I was reminded that ministry isn’t for wimps and that trusting God rarely looks like we imagine it will.

2. You have a great balance of education about the stages kids experience and compassion for parents, how do you help parents navigate the stages of their kids lives?

Here’s what I know… Every parent wants to be a better parent. The best parents want to be better, the distracted parent wants to be better, the parent that thinks they’ve failed wants to be better. In Deuteronomy 6, Moses reminds us to “impress” core truths on the hearts of the next generation. I think God wanted us to know that our role is to not just present information but to keep translating and reinforcing truth until it is “impressed” into a child’s mind and heart. When parents understand how to help their kids relate to God through their imagination, intellect, emotions, personality, and physical being we will see kids develop a faith that is real at every phase. I see my role as a partner to help parents leverage each phase to help their kids develop a real and lasting faith.

3. How has being connected with Orange shaped your ministry?

I have come to understand that Orange is much more than a curriculum for Sunday morning programming. What I love about Orange is the way their team equips and provides resources that make me better. One of my strengths is leading strategically and Orange gives me so many tools to support our ministry goals. For example, I value equipping leaders and volunteers and Orange has an entire training and equipping strategy that I can personalize and use. Another way it has shaped my ministry is through coaching. I have taken advantage of the connections I’ve made through conferences and intentionally sought out relationships with leaders who I want to learn from. Currently I am being coached and mentored by two different amazing leaders who are on staff at Orange. I feel like I’m learning from the best and am so grateful for these opportunities that make me a better leader.

4. Headlines seem to be full with pastors whose marriages are falling apart. What is one thing you do to keep your marriage strong and fresh?

My husband, Tyler has been in graduate school for the past three years. I work full-time in ministry and he stays home with our youngest daughter a few days a week while also doing an internship. Our life and marriage often feels like a revolving door or a baton hand-off as we juggle it all. One of the things we’ve done is to protect our saturdays as a family- with Sunday being a work day for me this becomes our only day together. We try to explore and adventure together. We’ve had to say no to some other good things on Saturdays but we know that our time with just our little family is so important. In our very limited time together this season, we’ve chosen FUN together as a value when the responsibilities of our jobs and school can be weighty.

5. How do you balance being a mom, pastoral leader, friendships and other aspects of life?

I  was recently challenged by a mentor and friend to stop thinking there is a way to balance it all. I’ve always struggled with trying to put all the “callings” I felt from God in some kind of order of importance and then feeling so completely guilty when my time didn’t reflect that order. But the reality is, I am a whole person who is called to be a mom and a wife and a pastor and sometimes there just isn’t a way to keep all those roles even and equal in my time and attention. I truly believe that family and ministry can be done well. Frank Bealer in his book The Myth of Balance says, “When guidelines are clear and solutions are created in advance, serving in the local church becomes an empowering way of life, not a sacrificial burden to bear.”
I’ve tried to be very intentional and honest about what it looks like for ministry to be a family calling not just a personal one. I think we’ve found joy and empowerment knowing people are coming to know Jesus not just because Mommy is doing her job but because our family is an active part of something really awesome- God’s family getting bigger!

6. You’re currently working on a graduate degree, what are you most excited about and what are you not looking forward to?

I started a Master’s 8 years ago but gave up on it after marriage and having our first daughter. So, with our youngest starting Kindergarten and my husband finishing up his program, I thought it’d be a good time to keep the craziness going! I just have such a craving to learn. The program I’m doing is a Masters in Ministry and Leadership with an emphasis in coaching leadership. I’m most excited to learn how God might continue to use me in ministry and sharpen those skills and gifts. I’m totally nervous to be back in school with actual deadlines and the pressure of academia. And let’s be honest, I might the old one in the class now!

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

I’d tell myself that God’s goodness to me is so beyond what I could have hoped. Not always easy, but oh so sweet.. I’d also tell myself that my husband ends up being really awesome so to stop crying over that other guy!

Make sure to go connect with Kirstin on social media! If you're a children's pastor I highly encourage you to reach out to her and learn more!

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Canoeing the Mountains- Book Review

Book Title- Canoeing the Mountains

Author- Tod Bolsinger

Publisher- InterVarsity Pres

Pages- 247

Quotable- Leadership isn't so much skillfully helping a group accomplish what they want to do (this is management). Leadership is taking people where they need to go and yet resist going. (page 124)

I grabbed this book about six months ago. I meet with a group of pastors each month for coffee, conversation and then we grab lunch. We talk about the changing landscape of ministry, leading churches in California and laugh a bunch.

One of the guys in our group read this book a few years ago and recommended we go through it. Tod uses the lessons that Lewis and Clark learned from traveling across America and translates them into the lessons pastors are currently learning. His stories about Lewis and Clark are fascinating! He gives me historical insight that I never knew. For example, the Western part of America was thought to be similar to the Eastern part. Lewis and Clark thought they would take a waterway to the Pacific Ocean!

When they reached the Rocky Mountains they knew they needed to adjust their method of getting through the Rockies. These men literally carried their canoes through the mountains until they found a waterway that took them to the Pacific. They wouldn't have been able to accomplish this feat without the help of Sacagawea. She was pivotal in helping them. For example, no raiding party would bring women along. When other groups saw Lewis and Clark, with Sacagawea they knew they were a friendly group!

For pastors who've been leading for decades I can see this book as a huge help. Most of my ministry experience has been in post-Christian America. I've served in cities that are not Bible-minded. I've lived in Las Vegas, the San Francisco Peninsula and now in So Cal. That doesn't mean I didn't learn from it. Tod has decades of experience I can learn from. He shares practical examples that are needed in leading the church through changes.

This book had great material, that spoke to my situation, with revitalizing a church. Tod helped lead his church through a process of reaching more people in their community for Jesus. He was encouraging for a pastor to have a strong conviction, from the Lord, about the direction of the church. The pastor needed to remain calm in the direction and stay the course. It's easy to get upset but the need to remain calm in leadership is huge!

The adventure that Tod leads on through the reshaping of church leadership is really good. He puts good words to what many leaders experience. He talks about how to navigate mountains when you expected water. Tod starts by discussing what it will require to chart uncharted territory. He makes sure the leader knows how to use a map and what it requires to lead off the map. Tod talks about the need for resilience and relationships to make the journey. He ends with transformation and what that looks like.

I enjoyed most of this book. After the second half I felt like things got a little repetitive (that is not always bad, we need to hear things repeated so we understand them). I didn't completely like the final two chapters. I appreciate Tod's honesty about the denominational struggles he faced with leading off the map and helping his denomination but skimmed them. You might read the book and feel differently if you're a part of a denomination in change.

Overall, I would recommend the book.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

This is Us- Sermon Series

This is Us is one of my favorite shows on TV right now (ok, it's my favorite). The story is fresh, compelling and raw. The characters are normal. They have struggles. They are dealing with the daily problems of life.

Our church just finished a seven week teaching series on our core values. Instead of calling it our core values we called it: "This is Us". The sermon series was a huge hit!Understanding the show is what lead to us doing a sermon series by the same title. About a year ago God led us to Ventura to revitalize a church that was in trouble. I didn't realize how bad things were until we got here. I was in a conversation with a guy who told me, "I thought the church was going to close the doors." Those things happen at churches, but God loves this place too much!

Our leadership dug in, gave more and invested more to seeing Coastline move into the future as a healthy church. We casted new vision, restated our core values and simplified our mission to be laser focused.

The core values were crafted in team unity. We looked at our core values that had great intentions but were outdated. They used language that wasn't really how people talk. During the process someone said, "Our old core values were written in the King James Version of the Bible and the new ones are written in the New International Version." Those are the kind of values you want! Core values that anyone can read and understand.

Here are the Core Values in no particular order except we always think "We Put God First" needs to be on top. Understand this, these core values are the best version of ourselves as a church community. We are not perfect but strive for this!

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, 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

Monday, May 28, 2018

7 Questions with Danny Strange

Danny Strange is a Christ follower, husband, father and pastor. Danny grew up in the East Bay and ministers at the church where he met Jesus. Danny is married to Jessica and they have six amazing children. Danny is currently the Executive Pastor at 3Crosses Church in Castro Valley. Danny has a passion to help see more people enter a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Danny and I met at Hume Lake back in 2005 or 2006 while we were both serving as Student Ministry Pastors. We went to the camp the same week of summer for years and formed a great friendship outside of the week of camp. When I moved to the Bay Area in 2012 we began hanging out more regularly and eventually formed a pastors group together. Each year we meet with a great group of guys for 48-72 hours and talk about the great things the Lord is doing, share our hearts and pray for each other. I'm stoked Danny answered these questions and think you're going to love learning from him.

1. You’ve served at your church for almost two decades, how has longevity helped you in ministry? 

It's been an awesome blessing to serve in the same church for 18 years now. There's something about being an insider that is super helpful in ministry. It's so fun to know our church's history, legacy, core values (and most of all, our people) at a really deep level.

2. Doing ministry in the Bay Area is fast paced, what is a piece of advice you would give to someone who is thinking about moving there? 

Choose not to get sucked into the fast-paced life. Refuse to put your kids in 5 different sports. Guard your workweek. Go home on time. Honor the Sabbath. Build rhythms for your ministry and your family that trump the rhythm of society around you.

3. You’ve served in a variety of capacities at your church, tell us more about your new role. 

I've been serving as Executive Pastor for the past nine months or so. My role, in a nutshell, is to add value to our church ministry. This can happen through strategic initiatives, fixing problems or helping our staff stay on the same page.

4. Headlines seem to be full with pastors who’s marriages are falling apart. I know that you and Jessica have a great marriage. What is one thing you do to keep your marriage strong and fresh?

Our favorite thing to revitalize our marriage is getting away for a full week every year with no kids. It's the best. We vacation with our kids too, and take smaller trips, but the seven days we spend in Mexico every October is the best.

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?

I love travel and exploring. Every year I try to head out of town numerous times with various groups: Myself alone with God, Tahoe with friends, retreats with other Pastors, Mexico with my wife, various trips with my whole family.

6. You recently adopted two amazing girls, how has that changed your family dynamics and given you a glimpse into the heart of God? 

Adoption is a crazy party. Our house is loud and fun and exhausting and we're always cleaning up after someone. Although it's amazing to add some females to the mix (we have four biological boys), the girls have also added a ton of value in their extrovert-ness. Thanks to the twins, our boys are learning how to show emotion and how to come out of their shell from time to time. Sure, adoption reflects what God did for us in adopting us into His family, but for us, adoption has helped us see the messy chaos that is the church in our own home.

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

Don't spend so much time dreaming about the future that you miss out on experiencing life in the moment.

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!