Friday, April 27, 2012

Monk Habits for Everyday People: Book Review

Book Title: Monk Habits for Everyday People

Pages: 144

Author: Dennis Okholm

Publisher: Brazos Press

Quotable: "But a vow of stability is unique to Benedictine monks.  It is a commitment to stay with the same community for the rest of one's life."

This week I have been blogging about some of the books that I read for my Church History class and this was one that I bought as a resource for my final paper.

My interest in the monastic practices really began when I took a class in seminary called Christian Spiritual Formations.  This class taught me about new ways to connect with God that I had never really explored.  The professor helped teach me more about my personal relationship with God and how dudes from hundreds of years ago have impacted the Church.

This book is really good if you are curious about the Benedictine monastic practices and how to apply them to your daily life.  I appreciate the viewpoint that Okholm brings to the table on this book.  The book is very readable and practical in its explanations.  If you want a quick overview of some of the monastic practices that are found in the Benedictine order than I would encourage you to grab this book. 

Water from a Deep Well: Book Review

Title: Water from a Deep Well

Author: Gerald L. Sittser

Pages: 365

Publisher: InterVarsity Press

Favorite Quote: "But we should never work so much that we neglect prayer, which in my minds seems the more urgent discipline, at least in our culture."

This book was one of three books that were required reading for my Church History course.  This book really taught me about many different eras of Church History and was a great compliment to the other books we read.

I feel like this book is very readable where some books like this could be very difficult to understand.  Sittser presents the information in a way that you can grasp and makes it easy to apply to your life.  I personally enjoyed the first couple chapters most as I really dig the monastic practices.

If you are looking for a book that will give you an overview of Church History in understandable language then you need to check this out.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Church History in Plain Language: Book Review

Title: Church History in Plain Language

Author: Bruce L. Shelley

Pages: 532

Recommend: Yes; for sure

Favorite Quote: "Despite widespread and determined efforts to eliminate the new faith, it survived and grew.

Taking this class on Church History rocked me!  This book helped me to learn about the 1900 years of Church History that I really had no clue about.

I remember one night an Elder called me while I was reading this book and as we were talking I told him that I am ashamed.  I was ashamed that I have been a Christian for twelve years and was so ignorant about the leaders who paved the way before me.

This book was great to learn about so many spiritual leaders and the impact they had on shaping the Church as we know it.  It was fun to see the impact of the monks, the dark ages, the church fathers, the Catholic church and every other significant point of history that brought us to where we are.  If you haven't read a book on Church History consider reading this one.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Be Present

I struggle with being present!

I have struggled with this for a long time!
(now that I have confessed it you can trust I am a fellow learner in this)

Being a dreamer I struggle with being present.  While I was leading in our student ministry I would struggle with being present in conversations, being present with my wife, being present with my children, being present at school and other places.  I remember driving home from a mission trip one time and just wishing I was home.  Finally a student reminded me that I could talk with them in the truck and it hit me how unfocused I was being.

While talking with a trusted mentor one day I shared this struggle and began the road to healing on this topic.  I had to slot in times in my day when I could dream and then find people to share those dreams with.  I learned to be present more with my family while thinking less about work or school.  I had to teach myself how to be present in situations and just dreaming all the time.

About a year ago I got some pretty sweet TOMS that helped me with this concept even more and put words to my struggle:

The journey is the destination
I wish you could see these shoes up close!  TOMS found a creative way to write this slogan out over and over again.  I had these shoes for about three weeks before I began realizing how important this saying was for my life.  When I began to realize that the journey was the destination I began to realize how important it was for me to be present in situations that I don't always desire to be present in.

I am not saying that I am perfect at this by any means, yet, but I am working on.  I am working on being present when my children need my attention.  I am being intentional to turn off my phone after work to focus on my family.  I am learning to say no to things that drain me and yes to things that fill me.  I am taking a day off every week to just rest and fill up my tank.

Here are some practical ways to be present

Turn the TV off and take some time to be still and listen to God

Instead of cooking your spouse dinner at home, take them out to their favorite restaurant and engage them in conversation (don't be on Facebook)

When you get into your house, put your phone in the bedroom on silent until they are in bed

Plan to hang out with them outside, don't just invite them over and be on the computer

Monday, April 23, 2012

Wedding Verse

Its fun to think that Charity and I have been married for over seven years now!  After we were married for almost two years I ended up getting a tattoo for her on my right side (you can see the bottom of it in the picture).  After thinking about it for a while I decided to get the verse we put on our wedding invitation tattooed on my side as a reminder to the commitment we made seven years ago.

The verse is from 1 John 4:19 and says: "We love because he first loved us."

That will be a constant reminder about how I treat my wife and where our love stems from.  Marriage is tough and being married for seven years seems to be a feat in our day and age.  My hope, and prayer, is that Charity and I will be married for the rest of our lives!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Empowering Leaders

Empowering leaders to lead can be a difficult task to undertake.  I recall my first year of Bible college and one of the professors going over this passage:
"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." Ephesians 4:11-13 (NIV)
This passage has always stuck with me and the reasons have varied at times in my life.  Yesterday this passage became very real when I sat down with Julie Andrews and finalized some of the tasks she will be working on while I am away on sabbatical.  Since August 2011 I have been working with a team of people that have been the backbone in creating a healthy groups ministry at our church and Julie is just one of the seven people on that team.  Julie has an amazing passion for getting people connected in Life Groups (mainly because her life was changed drastically by a group) so it made sense to invest into her.

I know that leaving on sabbatical is going to be amazing for my lifetime of pastoral leadership but training up leaders to take your job is a tough role.  You may not be in my shoes right now but what if you used these three principles as you trained leaders:

Many times in ministry I hear people complain to me about the tools they don't have to do their job.  In my mind that is just poor leadership.  If we are going to set people to succeed in ministry we need to give them everything they need (not want).

Someone I used to work with on staff taught me this principle.  First we need to let people watch us in the role we are training them to do.  Then we need to explain to people how to do their role in a way that they clearly understand.  After that we need to take the time to show them how to do the role.  Finally we can now watch them do the role on their own confidently knowing what is expected of them.  This is a great way to train leaders!

This may sound crazy but I hope that one day Julie takes my job.  I have usually taken the stance that my job in life is to train people to take the job that I am currently doing (sometimes it has been difficult) but when I do so I find that I always have a job!  Ask yourself this: "Are you comfortable with people being better than you are?"

Training leaders is tough but once we empower more people to do ministry we get to see more people find Christ as we realize that we are working towards the Kingdom of God not our personal empire.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Denomination: Blessing or Curse

I know that there are some people who swear by having a denomination that they are affiliated with and others who prefer to be on their own.  I have really been a part (on staff) of churches that are affiliated with a greater group of church.  Now I know that people are going to have their reasons for either way and we all have our personal preferences but let me share some of my experiences in the last seven years at my church.

When I was hired I was required to get licensed, and ordained, through our denomination.  I really didn't know much about what I was getting into but when I started studying more I really started agreeing with their stance on theological issues and doctrinal points.  It took me about two and a half years but I finally was ordained September 2007 through the Christian Missionary Alliance (now called The Alliance.

The longer I was with The Alliance the more I learned and the more I appreciated them.  I began to find out that more of our churches are located overseas than an in the United States.  I also learned that we had missionaries in Vietnam that never made it out alive and it was tragic.  Once Vietnam was opened again (as a safe country) we sent missionaries in who started making connections and found out that The Alliance was strong over there!  We actually had over 1,000,000 Christians in Vietnam when the missionaries went back and its so cool to see the involvement in spreading the Gospel.

In May of 2009 something happened that I would never have imagined.  Our founding lead pastor resigned due to moral failure.  I was shocked and had no clue what to do.  The great thing is that within two days our District Supervisor was in town and helped out with everything that happened that week.  I was in meetings I never thought I would be in and learned so much that week from the leadership in The Alliance.

On Sunday, April 15th, something really cool happened.  Our District Supervisor was back in town and we had lunch with him before the restoration service for Bret Johnson.  It was very cool to see that our group of churches hadn't abandoned a fellow worker in Christ when he made an unwise choice.  I have been able to spend time with Bret over the last three years and spend lots of time working with our denomination.

In the last couple years I have been able to help other workers get licensed and ordained with The Alliance.  Is our denomination perfect?  Nope, not at all but I trust that I am involved with a group of churches that radically care about advancing the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Life Groups Celebration

This Sunday, April 15th, we are doing something that I am very excited in the life of our Life Groups Ministry.  About eight months ago we started working on groups and shaping the future of them at South Hills Church and this week we are going to have our first celebration event!  To me this is like the party that someone would throw if their best friend just finished a marathon; we just finished our first Life Group marathon!

This event is for the Life Group hosts and facilitators in our church (and for the people who want to be a host of group facilitator).  There are three things that I am really hoping to accomplish at this event:

1. Encouragement
Encouragement is something that we tend to lack in our culture.  I love to encourage people and consider that one of my spiritual gifts.  I am excited to get all our team, in one room, give them a high five and tell them how proud I am of them.  This semester we had over half of our church in Life Groups and that is something that we need to be excited about!

2. Cast Vision
How true is it that vision leaks!  I know that vision leaks in my life and I need to be reminded about what I am doing and why I am doing it.  I want to re-cast the vision of our Life Group ministry.  I want to remind our team about the lives that have been changed in our ministry and how I see God using groups in the future of our church.

3. Future Training
I once heard a statement that has stuck with me for life: "leaders are learner".  If we are going to continue being the people who lead the way in our Life Groups ministry there is going to be an element of training involved in every event we have.  Sometimes the training may be the main thing and sometimes it may play a more minor role.  For this event training will play a minor portion and require some follow-up as we encourage all our team to know the online system we have moved to.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sabbatical Goals

Much of the last six weeks of my life have consisted of preparing for my sabbatical.  This includes: training people to lead while I am out, having meetings that need to be had, creating teams to function in my absence, eating lunch with rad people, more meetings and more preparation.  To be honest I am shocked that I get to take a sabbatical and so ready at the same time and so thankful to my church!

As I have been preparing for my sabbatical I have been also preparing my soul for what God wants to teach me through this time.  As I have been praying I have come up with three things that I really want to focus on during this time.  I am sure that the wording could use some massaging on these but here is the basics on this:

God: Refreshing my relationship with the Lord
This is going to be the most important aspect of my sabbatical (and the main reason sabbaticals are granted to pastors).  I want to get some amazing times with God in places that I connect well with God.  For me this is going to mean getting up to the mountains every chance I get!  I want to get up to Duck Creek for a spiritual retreat, spend some time in Big Bear, maybe stop by Hume Lake and hopefully get to Lake Tahoe towards the end to connect with God.

Marriage: Learn to love my wife in a way she feels loved
My wife helped me craft this statement since I was having a difficult time figuring out how to word it.  For the last seven years I have helped to build the church and worked hard on seminary.  With the time that has taken there have been situations where I have neglected my wife.  My  hope is that on sabbatical we will  get some times that refresh our marriage and help me learn how to be a better husband (than I already am).

Family: Effectively co-parent our children
I originally wanted to say: "love my kids more" but Charity was quick to let me know that I am a great dad.  We both agree that taking a sabbatical will give us time to figure out how to get on the same page with parenting.  I don't want to say that I am absent dad but Charity definitely takes the lead on parenting right now and that has to change.

If you are curious how you can pray for me on sabbatical; here are three major ways!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Love & Respect

Earlier this year Charity and I started leading a Life Group at our church.  We knew we wanted to do a marriage group since the health of marriages is important to the both of us but we're totally sure what study to do.  We ended up landing on Love & Respect since a few people who we would start the group with had recently purchased the book.

Something that I always say for people who are in groups is: "What is said in group stays in group."  I will apply that same principle here but I want to share some of my personal thoughts about the book and how it is impacting my personal life and my marriage.  The group has been going for just over ten weeks now and I have to be honest it has been really challenging for my marriage.

Let me explain that more so I can help you to see where I am coming from.  Over seven years ago I started working on my Masters Degree.  A few months after that I accepted a call to ministry at my church.  After moving to Nevada I went back to California where Charity and I were married.  We started working hard in ministry and that meant I would stop in Masters Degree.  We finally got to a place where we thought I could resume my studies and so for the last six years I have focused more on finishing school that I have on our marriage.  This sucks for me!  The book has revealed to me my failures in marriage and that is tough.

The book is basically broken into two sections:

The Crazy Cycle:

The Energizing Cycle:
It seems that with both the charts its pretty self explanatory.  So my main goal, in the next few weeks, is to help energize my marriage.  Something that is going to play a huge part in this is my leaving for sabbatical on April 26th and my graduation from seminary on April 28th.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Five Things I Love About My Church

As I am getting ready for sabbatical I wanted to take some time to share about some of the things that I love about my church.  When I look back on the last seven years of my life I cannot help but look at how much my church has invested into me.  It is a crazy thought to think about how much I have changed here in the last seven years (I came as an unmarried twenty-four year old).  As I reflect on my time at South  Hills it seemed right to just remind myself about how rad my church is and how many things I love about it!

I remember when I first moved here I was unmarried and twenty-four years old.  My fiance and my mom came to visit me for Christmas.  My pastor asked me if we had plans for Christmas dinner and I told him that we didn't.  That year we spent Christmas dinner at his house with his family.  When my kids were born people came to the hospital to love on them and pray for them (when Sophie had to stay there).  I was reminded about how much my family is loved just last week when all of them came to the office to just hang out.  My girls have freedom to run around the office, make noise and interrupt any staff member they choose.  Its nice to be at a church where you are not looked at like a burden and your family is more than welcome to come around and just spend some time with the team.

There are many people who feel like they are not allowed to fail in their roles.  I know that I have been given freedom to fail in my church.  I know this because I have been allowed to try some crazy things that it was going to take God to pull it off!  A few years ago we did an event called "Battle for a Grand" and I really had no clue if we could pull it off.  After some planning and making it happen we had over 600 people in our church on Friday night to hear students play music to win a thousand dollars.  That time we succeeded.  I have also failed and had times where I wanted to quit but my church has always allowed me to think out of the box and try things that are going to take God to pull it off!

There are lots of churches that say they care about young people and they really care about investing into them.  There are also lots of churches who say they care about young people but they would prefer to not invest any money into developing them.  My church cares about young people and invests into them with time and resources.  For years we have taken young adults and older high school kids to the Leadership Summit (by Willow Creek) to help them grow into better leaders.  Ok, that's not good enough for you?  My church helped me get through seminary for the last six years.  They gave me time to write papers, they let me have time off to go away for weeks at a time to study and they encouraged me this whole time.

Over the years I have always loved the people I have worked with.  I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing pastors, admins, interns, worship leaders and current missionaries.  We have had some super fun times as a staff and we have worked through some tough situations.  I remember one time we went on a house boat retreat to do some staff planning.  While on that trip we also did some fishing, wake boarding and riding Jet Skis.  Our staff knows how to have fun but it also knows how to work hard.  I am reminded about how important it is, for me, to work with people that I love, that make me laugh and that challenge me to grow.  

Not the final thing but the last thing I am going to write about today is how my church expects God to move.  Our leaders have thought up some crazy goals and every time they expect God to move.  We trust that God is leading our team.  We trust that God speaks to us in prayer and we trust that God wants to move in the lives of people in new ways.  We expect God to move so much that our church has given me time off to seek God and His direction in my life and ministry.

These are just five things that I love about my church; I suspect that if I were to write more you may stop reading.  What are some things that you love about your church? 

Monday, April 02, 2012

Vegas Theme Verse

As I am preparing for sabbatical there are a whole bunch of thoughts and emotions that are stirring in me and today I wanted to share what I have called my "Vegas Theme Verse".  Many of you know that I grew up in a small mountain community and haven't really been much of a city kid for my entire life; there is actually a weird struggle in me that would prefer to be in the mountains but feels called to the city to share Christ.

After being in Vegas for a year or two I called one of my mentors to chat about what God has been teaching me.  See I love to read the Bible from cover to cover every year.  One year I was reading and this verse just stuck out to me:
Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.  Deuteronomy 8:2 (NIV)
After I shared the verse with him he said something I will never forget: "You know you are dry when the Old Testament speaks so much to you."  He was right I was dry.

Now I know you may be thinking something like: "But you are a pastor, don't you have it all figured out?"

The truth is no, I wish I had it all figured out but I am on the same journey as millions of other people in the world who are seeking to know Christ more.  As I read this verse there are four things that stick out to me:

I know when I face situations that may not be what I desire most that God is leading me.  Moses is asking the Israelites if they remember how God lead them in the desert.  God did not abandon them mid journey (even though He had ever reason to) but saw to it that they would safely enter the Promised Land.

I am not much into being humbled but I can tell you this "I am a different person today because of what God has taught me in the desert."  Just last week I was meeting with my mentor and was telling him that when I go back to So Cal on sabbatical that people are going to know I am a different person.  God wants to humble our hearts which leads us the next step.

Have you ever sat down and taken some time to examine your heart?  The Bible tells us that our of the overflow of our hearts our mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34-35).  While God has been leading me in the desert, and humbling me, I have had to deal with the junk that is in my heart.  God has been purifying my heart during these last seven years.

The last line in here that sticks out to me is will I keep God's commands?  During all of this, all of the times that God is teaching me to trust Him I have to make sure that I will keep His commands.  As much as God is shaping me, humbling and purifying my heart I am committed to trusting in His commands.  I want to seek hard after God to become the man he is making me; that is what I am committed to.