Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What do you stand for?

This has been running around in my mind A LOT lately.  I think it all started when I really was evaluating what the city I live in really stands for.  Most cities have a name they are known for.  Before I moved to Las Vegas I lived in America's Finest City (San Diego).  There is the Motor City (Detroit) and we also have the Windy City (Chicago).  I am sure there are very creative names for many other cities across this globe but for some reason or another God has chosen to place me in Sin City.

When I look at these different city names they all seem to fit.  I was blessed to live in San Diego for just over five years and that place is truly America's Finest City.  It seems logical to me that Detroit would be called the Motor City understanding how the auto manufacture's cars there.  I have never been to Chicago before but I have heard that it is very windy.  I have lived in Vegas for over seven years now and it really is Sin City.

After thinking about these city names I got to thinking about what I stand for.  If someone had to give me a name for what my life was all about what would that name be?  If someone gave you a name for what your life stands for what would that name be?  Names are given to places because of what they have chosen to focus on and be known for.  In a world that has chosen to reject God on so many levels what are you willing to stand for and what will you be known for?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving Vacation

Last week we pulled out of Vegas for our annual trip to the in-laws house.  Basically ever since I met Charity we have gone to do Thanksgiving with her family and this year we did the same.  There were a few variations to the trip and one big one was that we stopped to see my dad on the way to Santa Maria.  We had a great time with my dad and while we were there we took some time to visit the property where my dads house that I basically grew up in.  In Oct 2007 my dads house was burned down in a fire so it is weird going there and not seeing his home but my girls loved running around the 10 acres of land that he has!

After that we jumped in the car and heading to Charity's parents house.  During the week we did some really cool things like head to Pismo beach where we played on the beach!  After taking a good walk on the beach we went over to Splash Cafe and had THE BEST clam chowder in the world!  If you go there you need to make sure you order it with the seafood topping on top; you will not regret the choice if you like seafood.

While we were there Sophie and I took up our favorite weekly tradition of going out to get doughnuts.  I really love these times of eating doughnuts with Sophie, talking with her and just hanging out.  I know there will be a day that she doesn't wake up at 6am and had no desire to get breakfast with me but on Saturday that was not the case.  Sophie and I went to a cool little doughnut shop that basically had a bunch of old men sitting around drinking coffee and me and her there.  We laughed, ate doughnuts, had chocolate milk and then brought doughnuts holes home.

The entire week was a great break to spend some time with my family, see our extended family and get to laugh with family.  Overall I am just so thankful for the family we have, how God has blessed us and how much we get to do!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Reference Time

Every year, around this time, I end up having the cool opportunity to write some references for people who are wrestling with their faith.  Right now we have high school students that are trying to figure out the rest of their life right now (that is scary, read it again) and I have a cool chance to help be a spiritual guide in that process.  Generally I am not the person that likes to sit down and work on paper work but I feel like it is an honor to be able to write these references for students and share what God is doing in their life.  I get to be a cool help to someone on the other end that is trying to help this student figure out their life path.

It goes deeper than that because this las week I was able to write a third reference for one of my first small group guys as he is getting ready to graduate with his bachelors.  I love to look and see what God is doing in his life.  He is such a great young man that I couldn't imagine not being a part of all that is happening in his life.

Finally, I have another guy in my life who I just was able to write a reference for him to attend seminary!  I am so proud of all that God is doing in his life.  I was able to lead in Middle School ministry here with him at South Hills Church.  Then I was able to be a part of him and his wife falling in love.  After that I was able to preform his wedding ceremony (which was so cool).  Now I get to see, first hand, the plans that God has for his life coming to bloom.

Basically what I am saying is that there is something cool about being involved in people's lives for a long period!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Seven Years Later

Seven years ago, tonight, I was finishing my first night of Ignite Junior High Ministry at South Hills Church Community.  I am pretty sure that this was the night that I just was able to sit in and watch what was taking place in our Middle School Ministry.  I remember the next week I was off for Thanksgiving and the following week it was my turn to lead; we had eight students show up and twelve leaders.  I was ready to change the world with that group of people.  

See about two months earlier I had sent in this picture to South Hills, with my resume, when I applied for the job.  Most people encouraged me NOT to send in this picture but I was convinced that I wanted to be in a place that would allow me to be who I am; and this picture captured that.  The crazy thing is how quick it happened.  Charity and I were not even married at the time but after we visited I knew we were moving to Vegas (a bittersweet event for two So Cal kids).

In the last seven years practically everything has changed in my life.  I went from being our Middle School Pastor to the Discipleship Pastor and everything in between.  When I moved out here I was not even married!  While here I have begun, and completed, my ordination with The Alliance (our denomination).  While doing that I have almost completed seminary.  I also got a few more tattoos while out here, gained a few pounds, lost my plugs and started getting a real haircut (sometimes).

In the last seven years I have learned a whole bunch but here are some things I was thinking about today that have stuck out to me:

This may seem like something weird to start off with but its so true.  When I moved out here I was so green in ministry it's not even funny.  My church was there to support me when I was ordained (here are pics to show it).  When I was getting restless in Middle School Ministry they added my responsibilities and helped me learn some more.  They supported me when I was leading mission trips, encouraged me when I taught from stage and sat me down when I messed up.  They were there when my kids were born and now are watching them grow up!  I am thankful to have had such a supportive place to do ministry.

I know I'm not supposed to write this but I am going to: ministry is tough!  I have seen students walk away from Jesus, seen adults walk away from our church and had friends who loved Jesus stopped talking to me.  I have come home from camps and wanted to quit, been on the mission field and seen hungry kids who have never had a shower and met homeless guys who seem insane.  The best part of all of this is that I had a church support me through it all because when I was growing up they never gave up on me.

When I came to South Hills I said I wanted to come somewhere and do ministry for ten years.  Now I knew the average youth pastor was only lasting for 9-18 months but I wanted to change that.  I have been fortunate to have some great pastors in my life who modeled longevity in ministry and they encouraged me to do the same.  I guess you could say that longevity has been breed into my ministry DNA.  That helped me commit when times got tough.  Now I can look back on students I met in the seventh grade who I am doing ministry alongside.  I have families that I am the only youth pastor their kids knew!  Longevity matters for influence, character and people know when I mess up I am not leaving because I have a church that has watched me grow up.

South Hills Church, I really want to thank you for everything and everyone over the last seven years.  I could not imagine where I would be without you.  It has been a privilege to serve here.  I came alone but have been so blessed out here in the desert! 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

$23 in the mason jar

I have grown up having a dog in my home ever since I can really remember.  When Charity and I first got married we waited about a year and got our first dog Rosie.  Rosie was a good little dog but once Sophie became mobile we realized that is wasn't going to work out to keep Rosie around and made the tough choice to give her away.

For the last year I have really wanted to get another dog in our home but it just hasn't been the right timing.  I have looked at many different breeds of dogs and have narrowed my list down to certain breeds I like better than others.  Then once we started taking Financial Peace University (FPU) I realized this was a cool chance to get my daughters in the habit of saving for what we want.  See Sophie and Leah both love dogs and I'm sure they can't wait until we get one in our home but FPU taught me that I can't just use my credit card to buy a dog and think that everything will be ok.

Starting about ten weeks ago Sophie, Leah and I began to save my extra allowance money in a mason jar in our house.  It started out with a few bucks here and there and then I started having to swap out the ones in there for fives and tens.  Right now we have $24 saved up to buy our dog.  The goal is to have enough money  to be able to head to the pound (or Craigslist) and find a dog that really needs a good home.  We have decided that there are enough dogs in the world that need a good home and I think we can provide that home but not until we have enough saved up.  Some of the cool parts of this saving is it provides an opportunity for me to teach my girls the value of saving and allows them to see the growth as we pack dollars into the jar.  Something even better is the other night we saw our friend and shared with her what we are doing.  After Sophie told her our plan she reached into her pocket and pulled out a dollar for Sophie to stuff in the jar.  I'm very excited for the day we get to head to the pound and rescue a dog! 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Financial Peace University- Week Ten

Charity and I have been taking Financial Peace University, along with 250+ other people in our church, for the last ten weeks.  Over the last ten weeks my thinking about money has been radically changed.  I would consider myself to have always been pretty good with money but this course has helped me really understand more of what my responsibility is with the resources that God has put me in charge of.  

Now I have taken some time off from blogging about the course but this week made me think and really encouraged me to start sharing again.  I want to share about this course, not in intense detail, but just vague enough to make you want to take the course.  This week we talked about investing for retirement and what we talked about rocked my thinking!  

Charity and I currently invest about 13% of our income into a retirement fund.  Most people would say: "That is great Neal!"  The sad thing is that I have allowed someone else to dictate where my retirement fund goes and due to that I have made a -16% return on my money this year.  In other words I would have been better to put my money under our bed!  

With that said the question I leave you with: "Do you have a plan for retirement or are you just hoping you have enough?"

Monday, November 07, 2011

Bring Your Daughter to Work Day

For the last couple months (maybe weeks) Sophie has been asking if she could come to work with me.  Now I would love to bring my three year old to work with me but lets be honest: she would be bored!  Well this Sunday was the time change and that is a joke if you have kids but I decided this would be the day to bring Sophie with me.  We got all ready, we held hands on the way to the truck, Sophie sang about how excited she was to come help me out and we headed over to church.  Since it was the time change we showed up a bit early and got our FPU class ready.
When I needed to print some things Sophie decided that she would help me out and got on the computer.  Honestly I was a bit nervous bringing her t the office with me but she did great!  I brought her into our staff prayer time before service and I told her that we can't talk.  While we were talking through the service she looked at me and said: "How come they are talking?"  Sophie is very into being fair.  It was a great day with Sophie and I just knew that I needed to share this moment.  

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Singing in the Truck

This week we had to drop Charity's car off at the mechanic so that meant we were using the truck for the day.  I pulled the truck in the garage; something that has never happened before and the girls loved it!  We took some time to play in the truck while I was putting in another car seat.  Sophie was having fun playing around in the truck (turning all the knobs to something different and eating my altoids).  Then I brought Leah into the truck and they were being so cute with each other.

I let them play together for a little while and then Sophie asked me to turn the truck on and roll up the windows.  I was not about to roll up the windows and leave them in there but I did want to film them and show the world how cute it is when my kids sings to Justin Beiber!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Halloween Fun

We did our traditional halloween and went over to our friends the Yurek's home for a little party.   Charity dressed up as a Chargers fan and in the pic to the left I don't have my costume on yet.  Sophie was dressed up as Tiana, from Princes and The Frog, which also doubled as Justin Beaver's (that what Sophie calls him) girlfriend.  Little Leah dressed up as Tinkerbell and was the cutest fairy ever!

Last night I had so much fun with my family!  We started off by watching the Chargers game and then took our party to the streets to get some candy! Sophie rode her tricycle around (that means I pushed it) and Leah was in her braught braught (her little car that Charity pushed).  We went house to house, got some candy and really just had a great night with our friends laughing, eating food and just hanging out.

I dressed up as Jesus; which brought quite the few comments.  I was very interested in the amount of people who took note of me being Jesus.  One guy said something to the effect of: "Hey Jesus, I got a lot to talk to you about." Being a pastor I kindly replied: "Let me know when you're ready, I have time for you."  It may have been a quick comment but hopefully I was able to remind him that Jesus always has time for us.  All in all I had a great halloween with my family.