Monday, September 16, 2019

How to Hike Half Dome

For years I've wanted to hike Half Dome. I remember being a young boy staying at housekeeping and looking up at the massive rock. I always wondered what was up there. For years I was too young to climb it. Then for years I was too selfish and caught up in my downward spiral. For years the dream was forgotten. But in the last couple years it came to life again. I would talk with people who accomplished the hike and wanted to know more.

I began researching it and wanted to compile all I learned to help others. This is not an extensive list; I'm sure if you are looking at this you have done some other research for the hike.

Applying for permits

When I was a kid you didn't need a permit, now you must have a permit. There is a ranger sitting at the base of the sub-dome checking your permit. You can apply for a permit here. A couple times I applied and got denied so just beware that you might not get it the first year you apply. I had friends who applied, got them, and then there was too much snow for them to make the trip.

For our trip I chose fall and in the middle of the week. My hope was for less people in the valley floor and hopefully less on the trail. Our group of six applied for permits for three different days (18 options) and three guys got them. If you are doing this is a group make sure to decide on the days and have everyone apply. The max you can have per group is 6 people.


Once you have your permit you have to decide where to stay. It is HARD to get a camping site on the valley floor. It is not impossible. Once we got our permits for the hike I found a site at Crane Flat. But I never gave up on finding a spot in the valley floor. I literally checked for months and we finally got one at Upper Pines. This was a huge blessing. Our site was a five minute walk to the start of the trailhead.

Keep checking on for a site. If you don't want to camp, you can look into the tents at Curry Village or find a great place at housekeeping. Both of these locations are close to the trailhead. Keep in mind that the shuttle in the Valley floor doesn't start running till about 7pm so you are walking to the trailhead in addition to the hike.

Getting on the trail

There are a few options for the trail you can take to the top. We chose the Mist Trail- we went passed Vernal and Nevada Falls. I've never seen the falls in the early hours of the morning and they are simply beautiful. We got on the trail at 5:20am. Our goal was to be on the trail at 5:00am but missed that goal a little. Don't worry about being a little late. The hike took us a total of twelve hours. We strolled back into camp at 5:20pm.

The trail is well marked, we had no issues staying on the trail. I also need to warn you; the trail is busy. You will be passing people on a regular basis. Many hikers are aiming to get on the trail around the five o'clock hour also.

We met some people on the cables coming down who were staying in the same area we stayed. They ended up taking a different route to the bottom at the Nevada Falls area. This trail adds 1.5 miles to the hike. I've heard it is switchbacks versus the stairs you encounter on the falls trail.

I'm sharing this so you can know the options you have for the trail.

Most of the trail is an incline hike. You need to be in shape for this hike. When you get to the top of Nevada Falls you are not even a quarter of the way complete. Once you leave Little Yosemite Valley you are about a quarter of the way complete. This means you still have a long way to go. Make sure you are ready for this hike.

After you complete the sub-dome you will see the cables. This is an intimidating view. At this point in the hike we saw a few parties turnaround. I know it sounds crazy but hear me out. Less than a week ago (from when we hiked) a woman fell from the cables and died. I don't know her story so I'm not going to try to share it.

I would suggest that you bring a climbing harness for this part of the trial. You can clip in and give yourself the added security of safety. Remember the goal is not to see the top of Half Dome, the goal is to live to tell others about it.

What I forget to bring

For this hike I did most of my packing the night before. Not the night before I left my house, but the night before we left the campsite. Let me explain. We arrived at camp, set up tents, ate dinner, and then I packed my daypack for the hike. I made my sandwich, packed my snacks, and filled my water bladder. I did forget to pack the powdered Gatorade I brought and this was a big miss on my part. I love drinking water but with all the energy you exert on this trail it is smart to bring something that will replenish your body.

One of the guys in our group brought a small bag/squeeze water filtration system. It worked, don't get me wrong. I would bring a better water filter. I know that MSR has some good travel ones that will make filtering water easier. You really want to have a minimum of 4 liters on this hike. I had a little more than that and could have even had more.

I would also bring something to snack on that is sugar. There were a few times I wanted a bag of Skittles or a Snickers bar. I think the sugar would have helped give me a boost.

Stop for a swim

Once we came down the sub-dome our group stopped for a quick circle up. I had the idea to stop in the Merced River for a swim. There is a great spot where the trail Y's that you can find a place to swim. Once we left the sub-dome we didn't take a break until we arrived at the river. Some of the group beat me there and had already seen a snake.

The water is COLD at the elevation. There was still a small amount of snow on the mountains. Once I jumped in I was freezing cold. The water took my breath away and it was a touch hard to swim, but so refreshing on the other hand. When you've been hiking all day long this swim was well worth it. Keep in mind, at this point in the return of the hike you are 3/4 of the way complete.

Have a crew

At all means possible, don't do this hike alone! You can do it alone, but life is meant to be done in community. I am so thankful for the men who allowed me to hike with them. We had a great time! We laughed together, pushed each other, and sat when a guy needed a rest. As we left the Little Yosemite Valley I wanted to take a break and rest. I was hiking with Levi and asked if he wanted a break. He said: "Let's hike another twenty minutes." I needed that. I needed him to push me on at 7,000 feel elevation. We kept hiking and I got another wind.

Once we arrived at the top, the view was well worth it! In all honesty, I began to get emotional and almost cried. This was a bucked list for me. This was an experience of a lifetime!

Have a great time on the trail and hope this helps!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

8 Weeks in Proverbs

This Summer I choose a preaching series through the Proverbs for Coastline Bible Church. One reason is that during the summer I like a series that builds on itself but it's ok if you miss a week or two. In the summer people are traveling, camping, have company or more. When I think of a summer preaching series I like something that has continuity but is ok if have to step out for a minute.

The longer I'm leading the more I lean to something that causes us to act. Let me explain that. The Proverbs are all about wisdom. I need wisdom. You need wisdom. We all have something going on in our life that requires us to have wisdom. The Proverbs offer us that wisdom but require us to act and put it on practice.

If you're interested in preaching the Proverbs here is our outline for the 8 weeks:

Proverbs 1:1-7
Sermon Title: How to gain wisdom
Big Idea: Wisdom is found by those who seek it out

Proverbs 2
Sermon Title: The Benefits of Wisdom
Big Idea: Wisdom protects us

Proverbs 3:1-12
Sermon Title: The Value of Wisdom

Proverbs 4
Sermon Title: The Urgency of Widsom
Big Idea: Wisdom is worth the cost

Proverbs 5
Sermon Title: How to ruin your marriage
Big Idea: Marriages thrive when couples are committed to being faithful, honest, and vulnerable

Proverbs 8
Sermon Title: The case for wisdom
Big Idea: Find wisdom and receive favor from the Lord

Proverbs 27
Sermon Title: Community > Isolation

Proverbs 12, 13, 22
Sermon Title: Nothing is off limits from wisdom
Big Idea: Use your money wisely

Monday, August 12, 2019

Wise Up- a summer in the Proverbs

This Summer I choose a preaching series through the Proverbs for Coastline Bible Church. The book opens by letting us know that Solomon had has hand in the book. Later in the book we see there are some other contributors to the Proverbs. We’re not exactly sure how many proverbs Solomon writes, but I think he is the major voice or the major contributor to the book. It makes sense since he is known as the wisest man to ever walk the earth. Solomon took the wisdom God gave him and passed it on.

I highly encourage you to read about the life of King Solomon in 1 Kings. He is the son of David. Learn about he came to be the king. Look at his first experience after being king and how he immediately applies the wisdom God gave Him (1 Kings 3). See the magnificent building projects he undertook and accomplished. As you keep going, you will see the organizational leadership he developed in leading Israel. You will read about how nobility and royalty came from a far to seek an audience with him. Even Queen Sheba came and brought Solomon amazing gifts.

Let me zoom out and briefly talk the book as a whole. Proverbs 1-9 are a longer discourse on wisdom and the benefits of wisdom. Proverbs 10-31 are more pithy little sayings for us to apply to our lives. The are short, impactful, and memorizable. In the first nine Proverbs wisdom is spoken of in great detail. Wisdom is referred to in the feminine form. Then in the later two-thirds of the book, the reader is encouraged to apply the wisdom she/he has learned in the first third of the book.

There are few reasons I choose to go through the Proverbs this summer.

A series that (kinda) builds on itself

First, during the summer I like to preach a sermon series that doesn't have to build on itself. The summer is a time when people travel. At Coastline we do our best to shape culture for the truth of God, but we know that people travel more in the summer. This trend can be a little different in a beach community, but there is still a good deal of travel. Grandparents want to go see the grandkids in Oregon. Young families travel to see their parents. It's a good time to take vacation at work.

We want to preach a sermon that a person can be at the first three weeks, miss a week or two and easily merge back into the sermon series. If we choose to preach the book of Daniel it might be more difficult for a person to jump back into the story because it builds on itself. The Proverbs build but you can miss a week and be fine.

In addition to that, we have more and more people who are staying current on the preaching series by listening online at Coastline Bible and via Podcast.

We're a new church

Our church just relaunched. In March our church just relaunched and went through the book of Colossians. After that we talked about living a life of Compassion. Then we looked at the book of Ruth. After that I preached a stand alone sermon for Father's Day. I'm sharing all of this because when we preach a sermon series we want to see what is before and what is after.

Our church preached a number of topical sermon series this year. That means we choose a topic to talk about. We talked about Biblical Literacy, Marriage/Sex/Dating, Compassion, and more. When I look at that I think that it's time to preach through a section of Scripture from the Bible.

As a new church, we want to hit topics that define who we are and who we want to be. We are an outreach focused church, but we want to be more outreach focused.

The Proverbs are great for gaining wisdom. As a new church we need God's wisdom. Since we are outreach focused, we are seeing more people coming to Jesus than before. We are seeing new people every week (one week we had almost 25 guests).

We all need wisdom

If you are honest with yourself, you want more wisdom. I'm thankful that in Proverbs 8 we read that wisdom is calling out.

Wisdom is not hiding from us. Wisdom is not some unfindable entity like BigFoot or the Lochness Monster. Wisdom is not confined to a certain region or a classroom. Wisdom is not hidden in the darkest cave or placed in the middle of the hottest dessert. Wisdom is calling out to any person that is willing to listen. Understanding is crying aloud to be found by every person. Solomon tells us that wisdom is calling out at the gate to the city. This is a place where everyone would pass. This is a central location where wisdom is available to all.

Wisdom is available to anyone who will stop to listen to her. We live in a time that is fast paced; where people can be extremely busy. We live in a time where we spend hours on the TV and screens; hours that would be invested in listening to wisdom. What we learn from Solomon is that means we have to be willing to allot our time in such a way to be able to listen to what wisdom wants to teach us. We need to schedule our life in such a way that we have time to sit where wisdom calls out so we can hear the truth of wisdom.

We live in a time where formal education is pushed. I am sick of hearing parents tells their children to go to college so they can get a degree and get a job. I’m not opposed to college. I'm opposed to students going to college, graduating with thousands of dollars of debt and sleeping on a couch. I would prefer for parents to help their kids see what they’re passionate about so they can go to school to get an education and help make the world a better place. Not everyone needs a college degree. We need more people to become union plumbers, electricians, and pipe-fitters. We need more people who want to join the armed services and help serve our country.

My stepdad enlisted in the Army after high school. He served our country by going to Germany. While he was overseas he fell in love with VW’s. He came home and began working at an auto shop. He eventually moved to Big Bear and opened his own shop in the back of his house. He was a genius with anything dealing with a VW engine. I’ve heard a story that VW was having an issue and they called my stepdad. I asked him about the story and he just laughed. Wisdom can learned in a classroom, mountain, basketball court, or garage.

Keep the fall preaching in mind 

Just as we looked back to what we preached earlier in the year, I also look to the Fall for what we're going to preach on. This fall we're kicking off a brand new sermon series on the Gospel of Mark. For years I've wanted to preach through Mark. I think it's going be a life changing sermon series for our church.

When you slot your summer preaching calendar, it's vital to keep the Fall in mind. Preaching through Proverbs and then transitioning to the Gospel of Mark will be shift for our people. For the summer we're not talking a ton about Jesus (every week we do talk about Jesus), but looking at Solomon's call to wisdom.

The Gospel of Mark is going to be an up close encounter with Jesus. The Gospel of Mark is going to help Coastline; look, smell, and live more like Jesus. We want have an in-depth look at the life of Jesus. I think we know about Jesus, but lots of us have things confused.

As you think about the next summer preaching schedule, keep this in mind. Now let's be honest, all of this can be applied to fall, winter, or spring teaching too.

Hope this helps!

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Summer Giving Update 2019

Dear Coastline Family,

I hope you are enjoying the first few weeks of summer! I can tell you that I’m grateful that June Gloom is over, and the sun is out again. As you know, we rarely talk about money here at Coastline and we don’t use pressure tactics to get people to give. However, we feel it is our responsibility to inform those who are part of our church family where we are at with our budget and what our financial needs are. With that in mind, I want to share that as we enter summer we are currently 10% behind our anticipated giving. Because of that our staff has adjusted their spending to keep within our received giving.

Coastline is currently on a growth trend. On Saturday our Elders met to discuss the future of Coastline. In that meeting one of our elders said, “If you look at our attendance, we are up by 24% from the previous year!” To put that into perspective, the average church grows about 6% a year. Our increase in attendance is a huge accomplishment for which we give God glory.

Here’s how we’ve recently seen God work in exciting ways at Coastline:

  • We are getting ready to take twenty students to camp next month. 
  • Our Seniors hosted a well attended game day at the church.
  • We just hosted a membership class with five people. 
  • We are seeing new faces join the Coastline family every week. 
  • Children’s ministry hosted a wonderful Kids Camp in the month of June. 
  • We hosted another successful “Women Are…” night. 

This summer we are laser focused on helping people find and follow Jesus, and we need your help to be able to continue reaching those who are far from God. Giving typically lags in the summer while people are on vacation. To help us with this, please consider financially participating with us in one of the following ways:

  • Catch up on any giving you have missed
  • Set up a reoccurring gift to Coastline through bill pay in your bank account
  • Set up regular giving online at
  • Set up regular giving via text message at (805) 200-3557

We prayerfully ask that you continue to support Coastline by staying on track with giving so we can fulfill the mission God has given us to help people find and follow Jesus. Thank you for joining in the work the Lord is doing here!

Neal Benson|Lead Pastor
Coastline Bible Church | (805) 642-3244
blogNealBenson.comtwitter: @nealbenson

Monday, July 01, 2019

Proverbs 2 Responsive Reading

Responsive Reading Proverbs 2

Leader: If you accept the words of the Lord and store up His commands within your heart, then you will find wisdom.

People: We will turn our ears to wisdom and apply the wisdom of the Lord to our heart.

Leader: If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, then you will find wisdom from the Lord.

People: We will look for wisdom as silver and search for it like a hidden treasure.

Leader: Then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.

People: For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Leader: He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless

People: For he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.

Leader: Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path.

All: For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Ruth 4- Small Group Questions

Our church is currently studying the book of Ruth. For four weeks we're walking through the book and talking about the redemptive story of God. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.


Ruth 4 opens with the connecting word, “meanwhile…” While Ruth and Naomi are eating breakfast Boaz gets to work on what he promised to do. What one thing do you need to get done this week that God is asking you to do?

Joel taught us about the public conversation Boaz had about redeeming Ruth and Naomi. Read Ruth 4:10 and talk about the celebration that would have taken place. What do you need to celebrate that God is doing in your life.

The entire crowd blessed/prayed for Boaz after he redeemed Ruth. They speak words of encouragement, hope, and blessing on him. Do you speak more blessing or curses in your daily life? Who do you need speak words of affirmation to this week?

Throughout the book of Ruth we’ve read about the purity, character, and integrity of Ruth and Boaz. In Ruth 4:13 we read that after their marriage they made love and had a child. Why do you think more people don’t wait to have sex till marriage?

The story of Ruth teaches us about God’s heart to reach all people. The Kingdom of heaven was always meant to be multiethnic. Read Acts Acts 15:10-11, Acts 17:1-4, and Ephesians 2:19-22. Talk about why some people are still racist and how we can help people see that the Gospel is for everyone.

Read Ruth 4:18-22 and Matthew 1:1-17. What sticks out to you in the lineage? What do you see that enhances the deep love of God for all people?

As we close the page on the Old Testament book of Ruth share what has been the most meaningful part of the sermon series, Bible study, or what God has taught you through these last four weeks about His wild love.

Close your time in prayer

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Grandson of an Immigrant

In the 1900’s my grandmother immigrated from Germany to Los Angeles. She came over to take care of her aunt. She was only a teenager but her parents knew a better life waited here for her. She lived in a small German community in Los Angeles. In this community Maria Kraus met Julius Hettler. They were married and had two children: Irene Bertha and Rosemary.

When their children were little they moved to Big Bear Lake, CA. One day Julius and Rosemary were driving up the hill to their home. A drunk man, who had been skiing at Snow Valley, pulled out and t-boned their car. Rosemary didn’t survive the accident and the parents experienced a period of depression. Their second daughter, the younger one, was left to pay the bills and keep the family going.

Irene later went to college, her parents grieved the loss of their daughter but pressed on in life. While in college, Irene met Don. They eventually got married and had two children: Beth Marie and Neal Charles Benson. The marriage lasted around ten years but divorce was in the future.

My grandmother was an immigrant.
My mom spoke German in the home.
She traveled to Germany to visit her relatives.
When I was in first grade I flew with my family to Germany to visit my relatives.

With all the fighting about immigration I am reminded that I am the grandson of an immigrant. My grandmother left her home country. She traveled to a new land of opportunity. This land brought her freedom to express her faith. This land is where she met my grandpa. This land is where she raised her kids. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave. My grandma exemplifies that.

I am also reminded that God’s word tells me I am foreigner traveling in this land. This land is not my final home. This life is but a vapor compared to eternity. Abraham was an immigrant and God gave him some land.

Before any of us start judging immigrants I think we need to look to our roots.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Ruth 3- Small Group Questions

Our church is currently studying the book of Ruth. For four weeks we're walking through the book and talking about the redemptive story of God. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions…Trust and Obey…Ruth 3

The book of Ruth is a pearl in a dark time in the history of Israel. Ruth and Naomi arrived back in Bethlehem with their heads down and hearts empty. As the story continued we read that God blessed them through Boaz. Boaz showed unending kindness to the women who were in need of food and family. As we approach chapter 3 we see that Naomi is ready for this relationship between Ruth and Boaz change from scavenger and landowner to something more. Ruth acts in obedience to all that Naomi instructs her to do and Boaz responds in character and integrity. The entire story in Ruth 3 takes place in the nighttime hours but God continues to shine His light in the darkness.  

1) The sermon began with the story of Naaman and his initial hesitation to obey what Elisha asked of him (You can read the story in 2 Kings 5). Share of a time when you obeyed what God asked you to do and how it turned out. 

2) Neal taught us that God blesses our obedience. Ruth was obedient to all that Naomi instructed her to do (read Ruth 3:5). What is something God is asking you to be obedient in your life right now? Explain the emotions involved in this choice.   

3) Knowing this was a dark time in Israel’s history, it was typical for women to prostitute themselves to men at the threshing floor. Talk about the character and integrity of Ruth and Boaz and the importance of remaining sexually pure before marriage. (Ruth 3:11, Ruth 2:1, Hebrews 13:4, Colossians 3:5, and 1 Corinthians 6:18-20).

4) Boaz was a man of action. He woke up early to follow through on what he committed to do in his relationship with Ruth. Do you find yourself being more motivated or more of a procrastinator? How can you improve on getting things done in a timely basis? (These verses might help Matthew 5:33-37 and Ecclesiastes 5:4) 

5) Read Ruth 3:1 and 18. It’s evident that Naomi has a strong love for Ruth. How is your relationship with your parents or children and what can you do to improve that?   

6) In Ruth 3:15 Boaz measured a large amount of grain out for Ruth. Why do you think Ruth said it was meant as a gift for Naomi? 

7) The relationship between Ruth and Naomi is not your typical family relationship. When you think about the family of God, who are you investing your life in and who is investing in your life to help you be obedient to God? 

Close your time in prayer 

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Ruth 2- Small Group Questions

Our church is currently studying the book of Ruth. For four weeks we're walking through the book and talking about the redemptive story of God. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions…Head down, hands full…Ruth 2

The book of Ruth is a pearl in a dark time in the history of Israel. During the time of the Judges the Nation of Israel had a rollercoaster relationship with following the Lord. Ruth models a great commitment by leaving the gods of Moab to follow Naomi. God has restocked the house of bread and Ruth arrives just before the barely harvest begins. Once in Israel she finds herself on the lowest rung of the social ladder. God’s plan was always for the Kingdom of heaven to be multiethnic. In this chapter we see Boaz model radically generosity to a widow in desperate need of someone to show her kindness. Go through these questions to help you understand this story more fully.

1) Pastor Neal started out the sermon by sharing a story of a time in Africa when he surprised some kids (and scared a few). In Ruth 2 we see how surprised Ruth was by the generosity of Boaz. When has God surprised you in a good way?

2) Read Ruth 2:1 and Judges 6:12. In the Hebrew language the phrase used to describe these men is similar. But when we read about the men they are different. How is Boaz different from other men of that time and men in Israel’s history?

3) When Ruth asked Naomi to let her go to the fields and gather grain for the two of them see was hoping to find favor in the eyes of someone (Ruth 2:2). Discuss what it would have been like to be a foreigner in Israel looking for food and the desperate situation Ruth and Naomi found themselves with no family to care for them.

4) The author makes is seem like chance that Ruth arrived in the field of Boaz, but upon further study we see God’s hand of guiding from Ruth’s desire to find a place where she could provide for their needs. Read Luke 18:1-8 and Matthew 7:7-8. How do these verses connect with Ruth 2:6-7 and God’s provision?

5) Ruth 2:8-9 talk about the generosity of Boaz and the protection he provided for Ruth (a widow) who was in desperate need of help.  The New Testament instructs us to help widows (read James 1:27). Who can you help this week?

6) Read Ruth 2:10-14. Now talk about how Exodus 22:22, Proverbs 19:17, and Deuteronomy 23:16 are all related. What one thing will you commit to doing, this week, to help out someone in need?

7) As the chapter ends (read Ruth 2:19-22) we see Naomi bless Boaz. Who can you bless this week? Write a letter, send a text, or call this person and bless them.

Close your time in prayer

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Ruth 1- Small Group Questions

Our church is currently studying the book of Ruth. For four weeks we're walking through the book and talking about the redemptive story of God. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions
Head down, heart empty
Ruth 1

The book of Ruth is one of two books in the entire Bible that are named after women. Ruth is the only book in the Old Testament named after a non-Jew (She was from Moab). This speaks to the impact that Ruth had on the people of God. The book offers us no hint to who authored it, but the time frame puts it in the time of the Judges. Ruth takes place during the time of the Judges and likely early in that era, as Boaz is the son of Rahab, who helped the Israelites very soon after they entered the Promised Land. The book contains a great deal of dialogue. The three main characters are: Boaz, Naomi, and Ruth. Of the three, Ruth is the one who speaks the least in the book.

1) The book of Ruth is a true love story. It contains heartbreak, loss, tragedy, romance, and drama. When you think about your favorite love story, what is most appealing about it? What is most memorable?

2) Read Ruth 1:1. There was a famine in the land but the author doesn’t explain its origins. In Deuteronomy 28:15-68, Moses tells the Israelites what will be the consequences for their disobedience. Look over these verses and discuss.

3) Elimelek’s name means- God is my King. His departure from Bethlehem could be an example of his loss of faith. When have you wanted to walk away from God? What kept you from walking away from the Lord? What drew you back?

4) Read Genesis 19:30-37 to see the start of the Nation of Moab. Read Numbers 25 to see how the Moabites lead Israel astray. Talk about the history of Moab.

5) Read Ruth 1:8-15. Naomi is insistent on sending Ruth and Orpah back to Moab. She uses tough love, encourages them to return, and blesses them. Why do you think Naomi didn’t want them to return with her? Why does Naomi bless them, but see herself as being at enmity with the Lord?

6) In Ruth 1:16-17, Ruth makes a bold statement about following Naomi. What are some key elements of her commitment? What was she giving up and what did she gain by following the Lord?

7) Read Ruth 1:19-21. Naomi saw herself as an enemy of God. When have you been in bitter distress and in need of a Godly friend? How did that change things?

Close your time in prayer

Monday, May 13, 2019

My Introduction to Compassion International

When I met my wife she introduced me to a ministry called Compassion International. I had never heard of them before and knew nothing about it, except that when Charity talked about Compassion her eyes lit up and her smiled widened. Charity began to tell me that as a seventeen year old she began sponsoring a child in another country. I was shocked; what seventeen year old gives their own money to help another kid in a another country. I didn’t have any context for this in my mind.

The more we spent time together the more our relationship began to heads to marriage. One day Charity said something like, “The only way I’ll marry you is if you sponsor a child with Compassion too.” I was taken back but later that week I realized how important this was to her but more importantly to God. I began searching the Scripture to see God’s heart for the children who were oppressed, marginalized, and forgotten. It was at that point I became a sponsor with Compassion.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself in Africa working on churches that would soon be centers for Compassion to meet. One day we had the opportunity to visit a Compassion Center that met at a local church.

While visiting this center, one of the directors told us about the impact of Compassion. Students, families, or individuals will sponsor a child for $38 a month. That provides the child with access to: clean water, education, Bible lessons, and nutritious meals that the family can’t provide. They have a day that they call Compassion day when all the kids come to the church. On this particular day a young boy didn’t show. The Compassion staff walked to his home and found him lying in a ditch. They brought him to the church and gave him medicine that cost about $2 and his life was saved. I asked what would have happen if he wasn’t a part of Compassion and they told me he would have died.

That day I made a promise that I will help in any way I can. I don’t think that kids should die because they can’t afford $2 in medicine.

If you're curious about how you can help, check out Compassion International.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

One win and one loss

How many of you have ever needed someone to help you out? It might be emotional support during a breakup, a ride to the hospital for a surgery, or financial assistance.

A couple years ago I was getting a tattoo. It was late and the streets of Vegas began to quiet down. My artist had walked outside for a smoke. The shop was silent until a woman slowly peaked her head in. She was looking to get a tattoo and began sharing her story with us.

She couldn’t stand still as she began telling me about how she wanted to get a tattoo for her son. I was surprised because I was in the middle of getting my son’s handprint on my inner arm. I showed her the progress and when she saw my tattoo she began crying. I didn’t know what was taking place but knew a story was coming. Through her tears she began to tell me how her son was killed just a few months earlier.

She didn’t go into details but her face told the pain of the story. Her son was just a few months older than my son at the time of his death. The most painful part was our son’s shared the same name. She tried to leave and I asked if I could pray for her but she rejected it. I have no clue what happened to that woman after she left. But I believe God has kept a close watch on her life.

In the Gospel of Luke chapter 10 we read one of the most familiar stories in the entire Bible. It’s called “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.” For most of my time as a pastor I haven’t taught this passage. My logic is that many have heard the parable and I didn’t feel I had much to offer. But as our church has looked at how the compassion of Jesus changes us, it seemed right to look at the words of Jesus in this familiar story.

Asking the wrong question

Luke provides no specific time frame for this story (read Luke 10:25-29). The man came to Jesus with a hostile question. He is defined as expert in the law. He is not a teacher of the law or a student of the law, but an expert. He presents a question to Jesus in an attempt to be sure he can enter heaven. He knows that eternal life can’t be bought or earn, but inherited. Salvation is a free gift for those who place their faith and trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. He’s studied the Scriptures and has a great handle on them.

In fact, the Apostle Paul made sure the church in Rome knew that salvation isn’t something that can be earned (read Romans 8:3). The law was powerless to DO. Salvation is not spelled “do” but spelt “done.” The work of salvation was done for us by Jesus on the cross. Jesus conquered sin and death so we could enjoy eternity with Him in heaven. When we turn back to the story we read that Jesus answers the question with a question. Jesus responds to the hostility with grace of the God.

The Bible points us to the grace of God. The man was able to summarize the truth of God. His answer is correct (read Deuteronomy 6:4-5). He essentially quotes what a devout Jewish person would recite twice a day. It’s called the Shema. The condensed version is a command to love God and love others. His answer pleased Jesus. If you were standing around looking at the crowd you might have seen people give a small golf clap. Onlookers would have whispered to each other. Older Jewish woman would have wished their daughter had married this man.

Through the quiet accolades, the expert in the law broke the silence; he wanted to justify himself. He may have wanted public praise or inner clarity. He furthers his lawyer type response asking Jesus to clarify who his neighbor would be. The man asks the wrong question. Instead of asking who is his neighbor, he needed to ask; “Am I a neighbor?” He didn’t think about who he could bless, or care for, or be kind to, but longed for justification for his actions.

So many times we ask the wrong question. The problem is we are self-centered by nature. We have a tendency to overlook situations that we feel are out of our control. We marginalize people based on our preconceived notions and actions. We’ve been raised in a certain environment and therefore can miss what is happening the rest of our county, state, and country. We think about what we can gain from a situation instead of what we can add. So often we have things backwards and Jesus wants to change our perspective. I’m not condemning us, but pointing on what we need to be aware of in our personal life.

Interrupted travel plans 

Jesus seems unshaken by the question and shares a brief story (read Luke 10:30). The road has been called the road of blood—it’s an extremely dangerous road. Jerusalem sits on a mountain 2500 feet above sea level, you always go down from Jerusalem no matter which direction you take. Jericho was seventeen miles east of Jerusalem and approximately eight hundred feet below sea level.

The man was dehumanized. He is beaten and left half dead in the middle of the road. Given the desert landscape, robbers would hide around corners and in caves to attack unsuspecting people. He didn’t intend to get jumped. Another version of the Bible says, “he fell into the hands of robbers.” This happens so often. Talk to an ex-drunk and they will tell you they never intended to allow their life to spiral out of control. Prostitutes tell the same story, they fell into the lifestyle. I just finished a book called Ghettoside based on the gang lifestyle in Los Angeles. Many of these young men fell into the gang life in their teens to protect themselves; it’s horrible.

We have the scene set and it looks like a crime scene waiting for the police to arrive. Then Jesus says these words (read Luke 10:31). Yes! A priest is coming this way, this guy has to be superman in the story. Surely the priest will be the hero who arrives before the police. But he passes the man by.

Many of you are wondering what just happened. This isn’t how a priest would treat this man. The priest may have just finished his Temple service. He was anxious to arrive home. Levitical law stated he was only allowed to defile himself for a close relative. Only if a close family member passes away can he be near. He doesn’t want to take the risk of this man dying and making him unclean. He crossed to the far side of the road. He did all he could to avoid this man. He throws his hands up, stops quickly, and walks the edge of the road. We must keep in mind he is only a fictional character, but either way his actions are painful for us to read.

Jesus continues (read Luke 10:32). Next a levite comes by. Levites were helpers in the Temple Service. He would have been an assistant to the Priest. Of course this man of God will help this beaten human. Both of these men had to know the Shema and the command to love God and love others. But this man also dances to the side of the road. He turns his head from the desperate situation. He does his best to convince himself it’s someone else’s problem. He justifies his actions in his mind so he can walk on with a clean conscious. A man lies in the road, hanging on to life by a thread, and two men of God have just passed by without offering any help.

It’s tempting to get some righteous anger. We wish we were sitting close enough to interrupt Jesus and make a statement. We want to know why these men passed with doing nothing. In the spring of 2012 I graduated from seminary. Afterwards our family went to lunch. Then we got on the road to head to the hotel. I had my family of four loaded in the car and accelerated on the freeway onramp. Halfway up the onramp was what appeared to be a transient couple. As we drove nearer I could see the woman on the ground clawing to get away from the man. He had fist drawn in the air and was yelling at her. Guess what I did? I did nothing. I continued on the gas and left. God had sent help. I just graduated seminary but for some reason I froze and was useless.

Maybe something like this happened in your life. You had the means to help and didn’t. Maybe you froze like I did. Maybe you didn’t know how to help. Maybe the sight of the blood was too much for you and you went the other way. Maybe you thought the small amount in your pocket wasn’t enough to give away. We’re great at making excuses to keep us safe. We’re great at creating narratives that help us remain arms distance from the place God wants us to engage.

Just like our story, this story isn’t complete (read Luke 10:33-35). Next a Samaritan comes by. This is an emphatic statement in the text. For whatever reason, Jesus intentionally choose a race that Jews hated. The Jews and Samaritans hated each other equally. But in this story, we read that the Samaritan had pity on the man. Another translation might read compassion. In the Greek language it’s to be moved deeply in your bowels. The man had such a deep, inner, sympathy for this man who was hurt. His reaction is a stark contrast to the first two men. If everyone had been holding their breath, it has been let out.

Hope comes when one person shows compassion. That’s all it takes for everyone leaning forward in their chair to relax. The oil would have soothed the pain of his wounds. The wine would disinfect it. This man has been brutalized so bad that he can’t even walk to help himself; he is placed on the donkey and taken from the horror zone. He is brought to an inn where the Samaritan pays for his ongoing care. The amount given would cover about twenty-four nights of lodging and he offers to pay more if the costs increase.

The Samaritan gave his personal resources to help out. He invested his time to help out, he gave his resources to care for the man, and gave his money. All of this he did for a man he never met. What compels a person to act in such a way. He appears reckless in caring for this man.

My friend Gary Gaddini once said, “The greatest things done in Jesus name always surpass reason.” What this Samaritan did is unheard of. The hate between these two groups of people and that one would care for the other. The Samaritan allowed his travel plans to be highjacked to help out a person he never met and may never meet again.

To bring a conclusion to the story, Jesus asks the final question of the encounter (read Luke 10:36-37). I imagine Jesus asking the question in a very humble tone. He is direct and fixes His gaze on the other man. With his head down he gives is answer.

There are some literary clues we need to point out to grasp the weight of this. First the expert in the law couldn’t say that it was the Samaritan who was the hero in the story. Second he never addressed the compassion aspect. He uses a different word. He called him “man” and said “mercy.” His use of mercy suggests the man almost deserved what he got. Jesus tells him to go and likewise. If you want to inherit heaven, have compassion on others. Surrender your life to Jesus and live to help others.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Ghettoside- Book Review

Title- Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America

Author- Jill Leovy

Publisher- Spiegel & Grau

Pages- Audio Book (paperback is 384 pages)

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

A couple weeks ago I began listening to Ghettoside. I have to admit that it was heartbreaking to hear the horrible stories that are taking place less than two hours away from where I live.

There is an area in South Central Los Angeles where gang violence is extremely high.
It's a place where cops don't want to live.
It's an area with one of the highest murder rates in America
It's an area where young men join gangs to survive

Growing up in Big Bear Lake I've heard about the gang violence in Los Angeles. I lived just a few hours away, saw the pain on TV, but never experienced the type of violence explained in this book. The stark contrast of my home life and the lifestyle explained here is on opposite ends of the spectrum. I grew up in a community that felt 95% white... that is not Los Angeles.

Jill Levoy does a fantastic job at explaining the history, context, and pain of gang life. She gives a background on some of the most known gangs, talks about turf wars, and the cops hoping to bring peace to a war-torn community. She also explains some of the factors that go into the gang violence for young black men. Levoy brings out stats about gang-violence, and how tough it is for a young man to escape this world.

I'd guess about half way through the book she introduced the true story of a cops son who was shot down in broad daylight by a young gangster on drugs. Bryant Tennelle was shot in the head and died shortly after. The young man had no gang ties and was hoping to graduate high school. His death is a tragic loss of life that doesn't need to happen.

The case was going cold when Detective John Skaggs was assigned to it. I'm not going to go into the details of the case, but highly encourage you to read this book. Then we need to ask ourselves, "Has God put me in a place to help someone?" Skaggs shook every tree, complied stories, and took the case to trial.

If you've read the book, what are your thoughts?

Monday, April 15, 2019

Colossians Small Group Questions- Week 7

Our church is currently studying the book of Colossians. For seven weeks we're walking through the book and talking about living a brand new life in Jesus. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions
The Credits
Colossians 4:2-18

As Paul concludes the letter to the church in Colossae he packs in more instructions on living for Jesus. Paul has a unique way of sharing a deep amount of spiritual truth in a few short sentences. Paul begins by addressing a thriving prayer life and moves to encouraging the church to make the most of every relationship they have. He transitions to introducing the men who are serving alongside him in the ministry of the gospel. In his words you can see his care and compassion for each man. You can see how much he cares about investing in others and not doing life in solitude.  

1. Neal began his sermon by sharing about the unique opportunities that were presented to Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. What unique opportunities have come along your path that brought you were you are?  

2. In Colossians 4:2, Paul writes about having a devoted, watchful, and thankful prayer life. Read 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18, Philippians 4:6, and Luke 18:1-8. What do these passages teach us about these characteristics of our prayer life?   

3. Paul longed for the church in Colossae to have an impact on their community (read Colossians 4:5-6). He spoke about their actions and words. Read James 1:22-26 and Ephesians 4:29. What impact do your words and actions have on the people who are closest to you? 

4. How can we walk in wisdom towards people who don’t know Jesus? 

5. Read Colossians 4:7-15. Identify each person in this list that Paul mentions and take some time to talk about each man. What characteristics of these men do you want to be known for in your life and what do you need to do to make that happen?  

6. Epaphras was the one who started the church in Colossae (Colossians 1:7). Now at the end of the letter we learn more about his life and ministry. How can looking at his prayer life help you grow in the ministry of prayer? 

7. Paul closes the letter by offering grace to the church. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve. Where else in Scripture have you read about grace and how can you be gracious to others?  

Close your time in prayer 

Monday, April 08, 2019

Colossians Small Group Questions- Week 6

Our church is currently studying the book of Colossians. For seven weeks we're walking through the book and talking about living a brand new life in Jesus. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions
The ___________ Centered Person 
Colossians 3:18-4:1

In Colossians 3:18-4:1, Paul wrote about reshaping the Roman household. In these verses Paul is going to be really practical  and shows the Colossians what this new humanity can look like in their homes. The Roman household was a highly authoritarian household. That means the father would lead with an iron first. He held power over all who lived under his roof and would do as he pleased with those people. Paul is going to show us that the home led by Christ is much different than what they grew up in and have experienced to this point in life. What Paul writes here was so counter-culture to the Roman world that most of them would have had a tough time understanding this.

1. Neal shared about the Stanford Prison Experiment from 1971 and what happens when you put good people in an evil place. When have you seen group evil take place or someone allow power to go to head so their actions hurt others? 

2. In Colossians 3:19, Paul commanded husbands to love their wives. Read Ephesians 5:22-33 to get a greater understanding of what Paul was encouraging husbands to do in their home. How can husbands fulfill the responsibility Paul lays out here? Who are some Biblical examples of a husband that men can emulate?  

3. As Paul continued to reshape the Roman household he instructed fathers on how to treat their children (read Colossians 3:21). Read 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 and Romans 8:14-17. How can we apply the God treats us as children to our children?    

4. Some women have a husband that is easy to submit to and others might be more difficult. Read Colossians 3:18 and discuss how a wives submission to her husband is in direct relationship to her love for the Lord. What Biblical examples submission can you think of?  

5. Paul directed children to obey their parents (Colossians 3:20), it seems like a direct quote from Exodus 20:12. Why do you think this is the only commandment, of the Ten Commandments, with a promise attached? 

6. How can parents encourage their kids and not embitter them? 

7. Pauls peaks of relationships between slaves and masters. How can you serve those in authority over you with the end goal of helping them know Jesus? 

Close your time in prayer 

Monday, March 25, 2019

Colossians Small Group Questions- Week 4

Our church is currently studying the book of Colossians. For seven weeks we're walking through the book and talking about living a brand new life in Jesus. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions
Alive in Christ
Colossians 2:6-23

Paul wrote this letter to the church in Colossae because they were dealing with false teaching. The theological threat was a major concern to the Christian faith. The believers in Colossae were being bombarded with the worship of angels and Jewish legalism. They knew the truth but were in desperate need of encouragement to follow Jesus. The theological threat concerned two major tenets of the Christian faith. In this section Paul addressed the theological foundation of sanctification and the person and work of Christ primarily related to His work on the cross.

1) Read Colossians 2:6-8. Paul begins this section by encouraging the church to continue living their lives in Jesus. He uses three words: strengthened in the faith, and overflowing with thankfulness. Where do you see this evidence in your life?

2) Thinking about Colossians 2:8, what are some hallow and deceptive teachings that draw you away from following the Lord?

3) Paul wanted the church in Colossae to be clear about the Deity of Christ (read Colossians 2:9-2). Read John 1:1-14 to see what the Apostle John wrote about Jesus. What similarities to you see in these passages?

4) Neal talked about circumcision of the flesh and the heart. In Jewish Law it was required for a boy to be circumcised on the 8th day (Leviticus 12:3). But the Prophets spoke about God changing hearts (Ezekiel 36:23-29). How do you think this truth impacted Israel?

5) Paul talked about being dead in sin and alive in Christ. In Colossians 2:15, we read that Christ disarmed the powers and authorities. What does Paul mean by this? (Matthew 27:51, Genesis 3:14-15, Revelation 19:11-21, 1 Peter 5:8-9)

6) Why is legalism so popular among Christ followers today? Share an experience you’ve had with legalism in your life or impressed on you.

7) Read Colossians 2:16-19. Paul gave two warnings to the church. One was to avoid asceticism and the second was to avoid to angel worship. Which of these false teachings is most difficult for you to avoid? Why?

Close your time in prayer

Thursday, March 21, 2019

A church revitalized by prayer

As many of you know, about eighteen months ago our family moved to Ventura to be a part of Coastline Bible Church. Coastline has been in the community of Ventura for almost nintey-seven years now.

Our church had a rich history of being a lighthouse in this community for Jesus.
Our church has a rich history of planting churches, sending missionaries, baptizing and leading people to a relationship with Jesus.
Our church had a rich history of investing in kids, students, and families.

When we arrived we realized that God was getting ready to do something new here. We had a vision of what that would be, but needed more clarity.

One thing we did was restate our Core Values. For months I crafted what I felt like God was leading us to. I worked with staff and elders to make sure we were heading in the right direction. To finalize them we had a big gathering of staff and elders to make sure the language was correct. I love how one of our elders put it. He said something like, "We just put them in modern language." It was the perfect statement.

One of our Core values is:
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

You might be wondering where I'm going with this, but stay with me.
About a year ago we created a new gift to give our guests.
We wanted something they would use and not throw away.
We wanted something that wasn't cheap.
We wanted something that would be valuable to them.
We landed on Coastline mugs (because who doesn't love coffee).

After the mug was created I began taking them with me to speaking engagements, conferences, small gatherings, vacation, and more. I began giving them to all our friends who were praying for us and supporting us. I gave them to friends in different cities, counties, and states.
The one similarity was that I would ask them to pray for Coastline every time they used the mug.

Some friends would send texts, others would send pictures. They were always encouraging.
In the last three weeks these came in. Some had text messages and others I just knew what the pic meant.

Praying! This mug is the best gift you’ve ever given me...I think I pray for you more than anyone else....

Prayed for you and the grand re-opening this morning. Love you guys.

Been drinking coffee out of my Coastline mug last couple mornings and praying for you guys.

All of this got me thinking about how God longs to converse with us in prayer. Then I got to thinking, "What would it look like to invite more people into your life to pray for you and what God is doing?"

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Colossians Small Group Questions- Week 3

Our church is currently studying the book of Colossians. For seven weeks we're walking through the book and talking about living a brand new life in Jesus. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions
The Mystery of Christ
Colossians 1:24-2:5

Paul wrote the letter to the church in Colossae to combat false teaching that was sneaking into the church. So far, Paul has done a brilliant job at encouraging the church to live for Jesus, praying for the church, and explaining the greatness of Jesus. Paul has been so busy talking about the greatness of Jesus he’s barely said anything about himself. In this next section of Scripture that is all about to change. Paul addresses himself in multiple ways based on how he seems himself through the eyes of Jesus.

1) Paul begins this section by sharing about his sufferings for Jesus. Read about some of those sufferings here: Acts 21:30-32, 23:1-2, 27:39-41, and 2 Corinthians 11:23-29. Share about a time you suffered for Jesus and the gospel.

2) Paul regularly refers to himself as a servant of Jesus (read Colossians 1:25). Think about the duties and requirements of a servant. What is the goal of a servant to accomplish and how does one do so joyfully?

3) Paul longed to share the love of Jesus with the Gentiles (read Colossians 1:27). God has always longed for His Kingdom to be multiethnic (read Psalm 22:27 and Acts 11:18). In what ways can we continue to help Coastline be a multiethnic body of people following the truth of Jesus?

4) In Colossians 1:29 Paul talks about strenuously contending for the Gospel to advance. Neal reminded us that to strenuously contend is hard work. How are you strenuously contending for those in your circle of influence to grow in the love, truth, hope, and grace of Jesus?

5) Paul wants the church in Colossae to be united in the love of Jesus (read Colossians 2:2). In addition he wants them to have the full riches of the mystery of Jesus. Why is it so important for them to be united in Christ?

6) Thinking about the importance of unity, where do you see Coastline united for the Gospel? How can you, personally and corporately, help to strengthen this unity to reach our city for Jesus?

7) Paul didn’t want them to be deceived, how does deception sneak in a church?

Close your time in prayer

Monday, March 18, 2019

Rejoice in suffering

Have you ever been around someone who seemed to be in tough, desperate, or even hard times… but they had the joy of the Lord exuding from their life?

About eight years ago I was in a situation that caught me off guard. I was preparing to bring a team to Mexico to help build a church. I wanted to take a pre-trip to see the site, learn the land, and meet the pastor we'd be serving. I don't fully remember his story but recall that this pastor had faithfully prayed for a piece of land for years.

We went to see this piece of land and it wasn't what I thought.
The site had been empty and the neighborhood turned it into a local garbage dump.
I was shocked to see the condition of the land but this pastor was thrilled at what GOD was doing in his community.

The pastor talked about the site with our team.
He shared his vision to reach the community.
He shared about the spiritual climate of the area.
He told us how thrilled he was that the dump site would one day be a church that praised our Lord.

I hoped in the truck and headed back to Vegas. We were told that over the next month the land would be cleared and a foundation laid.

Our leadership team returned home and got a team of twenty-five people ready to come and help. Now I have to be honest, I was leery that the site would be ready for us, but when we arrived what was once a dump was ready for a GOD to build a church. Our first morning in Mexico we held a worship gathering on the land. I love that the pastor had the foresight to begin the time with praise. I might have just started working.

That week we erected walls, painted, and roofed the new location.

We invited the community and had a huge party.

What once was a dump was now a house of worship.

Sometimes things aren’t always the way we see them.

The pastor in Mexico taught me about seeing things the way God sees them and not the way I see them. He rejoiced when I thought it was time to suffer.

Now let me share one last thought. All of this wasn't possible with one person. This took a group of people, vision, determination, smarts, knowledge and more. It would be a miss to not share the team pic from Las Vegas that played a role in working alongside the team in Mexico to help make this a possibility. I'm so thankful that each of these people allowed me to serve alongside them a decade ago!

Monday, March 11, 2019

The supremacy of Jesus

We live in such a time where we want to hear what we want to hear when we want to hear it. We live in a time where we don't want to think about God being supreme because that means our personal agenda will be impacted. This same thing was happening in the city of Colossae.
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
Colossians 1:15-18
Paul moves into some of the most theologically robust passages in all of Scripture.

You can see that Paul longed for the church in Colossae to know the fullness of Jesus. Paul begins in verse 15 with two key assertions about Jesus from Nazareth:
1) Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God
2) Jesus is the firstborn over all creation

Let’s talk about Jesus being the visible image of the invisible God. 

Jesus is the visible representation of God. Think with me about what you know about Jesus. He loved people, He fed the hungry, He welcomed the unloveable, and Jesus was a great teacher.

Is this is image you have of God in your mind? As a pastor, I’ve found that many people have this skewed view of God. People have this view that God is out to get them, that God is looking for reasons to kill them. This is the image that I have of Jesus, I see Jesus as a loving Savior.

Some other people also wrote about Jesus being the visible image of God. The author of the letter of Hebrews wrote:
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. Hebrews 1:3 
Jesus is the exact representation of God and the radiance of His glory. This is huge for the Jewish community because they believed that a person could not look at God. But in Jesus they see the nature and character of God.

But that’s not all, the Apostle John shared this:
No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. John 1:18
Jesus spent time with God the Father and came to earth to display the love of God to us. Jesus came as the visible image of the invisible God.

The second statement Paul made was that Jesus is the firstborn over all creation. 

Paul wants us to know that Jesus holds a special place in all creation. For some reason there are special privileges given to the firstborn child. You get to stay up later than the other kids, change diapers for your siblings, wash the car first, and more! But for reals, in Jewish culture there were certain privileges and birthrights given to the firstborn son. There were possessions and privileges that only the firstborn son was able to receive.

If we look back to Colossians 1:16, we read that all things were created through Jesus. This is a powerful statement for Paul to make. This means that Jesus created the sand, ocean, hills, and grass that grows on those hills. It means Jesus created the air we breath and the breathe we breath out that trees inhale. It means that Jesus created the stars we see and the ones we can’t. It also means that Jesus created us. It means we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). For some of you that might be hard to comprehend. For your whole life you’ve been taught the theory of evolution, but the Bible tells us that we are created in the image of God. For many of you this is a comforting truth. The theory of evolution didn’t sit well in your heart and this is healing balm to your soul.

Now we need to expand our thinking on this statement of the greatness of Jesus. The Bible says that Jesus holds everything together. Have you ever just thought about what that means?

The expanse of our creation is staggering! I think I heard Louie Giglio share this. If that doesn’t give you an idea of how majestic God is then you probably haven’t really considered it much. Think about this: scientists estimate that  Earth weighs about 13,170,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pounds. If we took a hallow ball the size of our sun it would hold 1.2 million planets the size our our earth with room for 4.3 million globes the size of our moon! The nearest star to us is called Alpha Centauri and its five times larger than the sun. That is not even the biggest star out there.  There is a star named Betelgeuse that is one of the stars visible in the constellation Orion that is 248 times larger than our sun. It gets better! There is another star that scientists have named Arcturus that is more than ten times larger than that!

You already know this but just for fun a ray of light travels at 186,000 miles per second. A ray of light from here will reach the moon in a second and a half.  Imagine if you could travel that fast. You could reach Mercury in four-and-a-half-minutes. Traveling to Jupiter would take you a mere thirty-five minutes; that is shorter than some of your morning commutes. If you wanted to go visit Saturn its going to take you an hour. To get to the closest star to planet earth will take four years and four months to get there. If you wanted to reach the edge of the Milky Way Galaxy you are looking at 100,000 years to get there. You may want to take a few Aspirin trying to wrap your head around that!

We can allow ourselves to become so consumed with the mundane that we fail to consider the greatness of God. I’m not sharing these stats to sound smart, I want to point our thinking heavenward. When Neil Armstrong spoke of the first time he saw the earth from space he said: “It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”

Is is possible for us to summarize the greatness of God?

I don’t think we can. But we can remember what Paul said: we were created in Him, through Him, and for Him. Paul longed for the church in Colossae to understand the greatness of God. Paul longed for them to understand the nature of Jesus. See, I think we tend to minimize the greatness of God (God in a box). We forget that Jesus holds all things together. We stress on the mediocre and miss the magnificent. We long for great things but get bogged down with the boring. You and I were created by the God of the universe. We were created to be in relationship with Him.

Part of that relationship is being in relationship with others. Paul reminds us in verse 18 that Jesus is the head of the body, the church. For Jesus to be the head of the body means that the church isn’t some organization but an organism. This might be a new way to think about the church. The church was never meant to be a building, but an organism that helped others.

When I was a little kid we attended a church. One of the things I loved about that church was the donuts, but that’s a different sermon. While attending that church someone taught me this little song, and you might know it too. You take your hands and put them together like this and sing: “This is the church, this is the steeple, open the doors and the see all the people.” I wish it went something like this; “This is the church, this is the community, watch us reach all the people.” I know it doesn’t rhyme all perfect, but you get the point.

I was taught at early age that the church was a building. I don’t have the title of senior pastor because I believe that is reserved for Jesus; Jesus is the head of the church. We follow His leadership. Jesus told us to go and help people who need His love.

Colossians Small Group Questions- Week 2

Our church is currently studying the book of Colossians. For seven weeks we're walking through the book and talking about living a brand new life in Jesus. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions
Hope for God’s enemies
Colossians 1:15-23

From what we know a man named Epaphras had met Paul in Ephesus while he was preaching there. Epaphras shared the sad truth about believers in Colossae falling away from the Gospel and that prompted Paul to write this letter. False teachers had snuck and pulled the hearts of the believers away from Christ. They had begun worshipping angels and the false teachers began putting special rules in place; hindering them from following Christ. In Colossians 1:15-23 we find some of the most theologically robust passages about Jesus. 

1) A.W. Tozer wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” What comes to your mind when you think about God? Do you think you and God have a good relationship? 

2) Read Colossians 1:15-17. Paul makes two key assertions about Jesus: First, Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God. Second, Jesus is the firstborn over all creation. Read Hebrews 1:3 and Exodus 33:20. In the past God veiled Himself but now has made Himself known. 

3) When we focus on the greatness of God it can be overwhelming. Neal talked about putting God in a box. Share about where you’ve been minimizing the power of God and putting Him in a box. 

4) Thinking about Colossians 1:18, we read that Jesus is the head of the church. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about the roles in the church (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). What way has God uniquely shaped you to serve in the church? If you don’t know, take time this week to figure it out and start serving!

5) In verse 21 Paul talks about the church being alienated from God. In what ways do you think they were estranged from Jesus? 

6) Reconciliation means to restore a relationship to right standing. How did Jesus reconcile us back to God? How can we take this message to others?

7) Throughout Scripture Paul describes himself as a servant of the gospel message. What keeps you from viewing yourself as a servant of Jesus?

Close your time in prayer 

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Colossians Small Group Questions- Week 1

Our church is currently studying the book of Colossians. For seven weeks we're walking through the book and talking about living a brand new life in Jesus. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions
How do you want to be remembered?
Colossians 1:1-14

The book of Colossians was written by the Apostle Paul and Timothy. Most scholars agree that Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Paul had most likely never visited Colossae but had heard about their faith in Jesus. The city of Colossae was in a location that allowed it to be influenced by all kinds of false teachings. Paul caught wind that this was happening in Colossae and he didn’t want the Christians to be confused with this false teaching. So instead of being apathetic, Paul engaged them with the truth of Jesus that had radically changed his life.

1) In the introduction of the sermon Neal shared about time where he almost died surfing. That experience made his consider his life. He asked us how we want to be remembered at the end of our lives. How do you want to be remembered at the end of your life?

2) The church is Colossae was struggling with Eastern mysticism, gnosticism, and other false teachings. What do you think are some of the greatest threats to the church in Ventura? (John 14:6 can be helpful here)

3) Thinking about Colossians 1:2, Paul speaks grace and peace over the church. These are two characteristics the world needs a little more of. How can you express grace and peace to others week. Come up with 2-5 tangible ways and find a way to keep each other accountable.

4) Paul had never met the church in Colossae but had heard of their faith. What do people say about your life?

5) Paul said that the Gospel is bearing fruit throughout the entire world. How can your small group be a part of the spread of the Gospel?

6) Read Colossians 1:9-12. Paul’s prayer seems to be all over the place. What most resonates with you? What can you take from Paul’s prayer and begin implementing into your prayer life this week?

7) In Colossians 1:13-14 Paul talks about Jesus rescuing us from the dominion of darkness and bringing us in the the light of Jesus. How does the light change lives?

Close your time in prayer