Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Bible in a Year

For the last almost decade I've read the Bible from cover to cover. I've read it in different versions and even done the chronological Bible (super cool). For those of you who are looking for a challenge this post is dedicated to you.

Reading the Bible in a year is not for the faint of heart; its a huge commitment.

Reading the Bible in a year takes about 20 mins of reading a day.

There are days you are going to be behind, keep reading: Don't Skip!

You are going to be tempted to skip, don't!

Here is the plan:

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas Benediction

On Sunday I knew I wanted to share a Christmas Benediction to close our service but I wasn't going to have time to write one so I searched for one. In my google search I found this one, but it seemed a little too long so I tweaked it to fit my style.

Here is what I came up with:
May you be filled with
the wonder of Mary,
the obedience of Joseph,
the joy of the angels,
and the peace of the Christ child.
May almighty God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit bless you now and forever.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Something you want, something you need. Something to wear, something to read.

With the countdown to Christmas at t-minus 17 days my guess is many people have their shopping done. Its weird to think this way but with Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Amazon you can really get your Christmas shopping done quite early now. The days of rushing to the mall and standing in lines are (almost) over. The days of sitting on the couch and buying presents are in!

As we talk about Christmas at the Benson home, Charity said something that has really stuck out in my mind. It was this: “something you want, something you need. Something to wear, something to read.”

Now I thought about this statement for probably over a month before telling my wife she was a genius for thinking this up to which she replied, “I saw it on Pinterest.” Even though she didn’t make it up it sounded like such a good idea I wanted to share it with others. If you search this: want, need, wear, read on Pinterest they will give you tons of ideas!

This year our girls will be receiving gifts based on this idea.

Disclaimer: I feel the need to make the disclaimer that I tried to use Pinterest one night, while sitting next to my wife, but have since stopped. Pinterest has great ideas though as you can see!

Thursday, December 04, 2014

An Abstinent Engagement

"There's nothing more than I enjoy than an awkward conversation." - Said no one

One of the greatest roles I get to play is when I officiate a wedding ceremony for a couple. I say “one of the greatest roles” because for me its a culmination of everything we’ve worked on for the last number of months. Its a huge responsibility to sign a piece of a paper for a couple who is saying they want to spend the rest of their lives together.

See, when I was younger I foolishly officiated a handful of weddings for couples who I never spent adequate time with. I talked with them a handful of times but it was mainly about not leaving the sink dirty and where they squeeze the toothpaste. I didn’t have much marriage experience so I thought, “Well, they love each other so it will work out.” I wish it was the case.

Unfortunately I know a handful of weddings I’ve presided over have not worked out.
So how can we change that?
How can we help give couples the best foundation for a health marriage?

Let me share two things I’ve learned about setting couples up for a healthy marriage:

1) Ask them to abstain from sex
This is actually a requirement for me now. At our church we strongly encourage couples to remain sexually pure prior to marriage. For some people this is tough. I’ve actually talked with couples about this and some have opted to have someone else officiate their wedding. On the other hand some couples are embarrassed when I talk about this because they are already remaining sexually pure. There are also the couples who have gone too far sexually and they choose to commit to remain pure until their wedding day.

2) Mandate pre-marital counseling
This is where you talk about focus on the marriage and not the wedding date. Much of what an engaged couple is doing is talking about the wedding day. They want to make sure the time is right, the flowers are perfect, the cake is good and the list goes on. I want to talk about what happens the following day. I want to talk about waking up to that person for the next 50-70 years of your life and supporting them.

My pastor has been using A Handbook for Engaged Couples and I’m enjoying the book. In the past I’ve used books like: Sacred Marriage or Love and Respect to talk with the couple about marriage. These books, in my opinion, are more for a marriage couple. The handbook is great to bring up conversation related to practical advice of what they need.

I’m sure I will have more to offer on this subject the longer I’ve been married and the more couples sit at our kitchen table from 8pm-10pm as we talk about the greatest commitment, besides following Jesus, they will ever make.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Campus Pastor Qualities

Last month I had the privilege of attending Exponential West at Saddleback Church. This was my first time attending an Exponential Conference and I was through thankful for the opportunity to attend. I'm not solely thankful for the free ticket another church gave me to attend or for the teaching of the people who were there but also for the friends I was able to reunite with. The combination of all three of these made for a great 48 hour trip to So Cal.

As someone who is new to multi-site ministry and being a campus pastor I was very thankful for the breakout sessions I was able to attend. Its extremely difficult to find venues where guys are talking about multi-site ministry so to get anything was a treat.

In one of the sessions I attended they talked about what are the qualities you should look for in a campus pastor. Here is what I wrote down:
+ Be humble
+ Be teachable
+ Must be able to be a lead pastor but follow well
+ Know how to be under authority and also over it
+ Must be able to communicate the vision of the Church (not just the campus)
+ Empowered enough but enough room for themselves
+ Must believe in the model the Church is using
+ How to know how authority works
+ Work under authority and with authority (think what is best for: kingdom, church & community)
+ Strong emotional & relational  intelligence

What would you add to the list?

Thursday, November 06, 2014

We’re Pregnant!!! (I mean, Charity is pregnant)

It was a normal Sunday morning; nothing out of the ordinary. I awoke early, snuck out of bed, quietly shut the door to the girls room and headed to the couch so I could read my Bible before anyone woke up. As I’m writing this I can’t recall what I read but it was somewhere in the prophets, most likely Ezekiel.

After reading I crept back into the bedroom and quietly slipped into our bathroom. I heard Charity begin to stir in the house but thought nothing of it and just hoped our girls wouldn’t wake up. In a few minutes she found me in the bathroom; for some reason I thought something was wrong. It could have been the fact that was out of our routine, but maybe she just couldn’t sleep and wanted to talk.

She broke the silence and said: “Is this is a good time to tell you something?”

I wasn’t sure how to respond. Honestly, we had some rough conversations this weekend and I was feeling pretty bad about my actions.

I replied; “You bet, what’s up?”

There was silence.

Then she pulled it out. I’ve seen one of these before. Its been a while, almost five years, since she last showed me one of these. I was in shock. I vividly remember my mouth falling open… Charity is pregnant!

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

No Sugar Added

I’ve been trying to find different ways to deny myself.

Earlier this year I took a month off Social Media. During the summer I took a month off of watching TV. During that time I had been toying around with the idea of not eating sugar for a month. I brought the idea up to Charity during July because I knew if I was going to be successful I needed her buy-in. I pitched the idea of eating no sugar in August, to which she reminded me we had Sophie’s birthday party and should hold off until September.

September first it began, it was the month of what I call “No Sugar Added September”

The Goal
The goal of this month was two-fold.
1) I wanted to do some sort of fasting. I hate fasting. I like to enjoy all the good things life has to offer but I began to notice I was enjoying somethings in excess. For example: instead of having a bowl of ice cream as a special treat, I was eating ice cream almost every night after dinner. In my office we have candy readily available and I found myself heading straight to the candy dish after lunch. I wanted to deny myself and choose to focus on God to meet my needs instead of candy.

2) I wanted to loose a little weight. I’m not going to lie about this part of the diet. I thought cutting added sugar out of my diet would help me loose a few pounds. I was shocked at how quickly I lost five pounds. Now, loosing weight was secondary to connecting with God. But I do think this helped me get my mind clearer.

The Strategy 
For anything to be successful there must be a strategy. When I say “No Sugar Added” this could mean many things. Some people thought I was only eating celery with organic peanut butter or rice and beans for every meal; this wasn’t the case for how we planned our fast.

The fast would include removing items from our diet that added sugar to what we felt was normal and healthy. For me this list includes, but is not limited to:
Milk Shakes
Jelly Beans

What we didn’t remove were foods we felt had healthy sugar. Foods like: beets, banana, apple, etc. For the most part my food consumption stayed the same, I just removed foods that I knew were high in sugar. I still ate oatmeal for breakfast or a smoothie. I still had sushi or a sandwich for lunch. I didn't examine the bread for sugar because we already buy healthy bread. I can go into more detail if you would like to talk about it.

The Conclusion
It was tough at the beginning. I would say for the first 10 days I had a pretty good headache at night. I found myself taking more Advil to help with the pain, but it soon left. Yesterday was the last day and I think it was a successful decision of giving something up to focus more on God. You may ask: "When do you start eating sugar again?" The answer: "I don't know, I'm not ready today..."

What do you think?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

People are (still) trustworthy

People are (still) trustworthy

I may sound old saying this, but it seems like people are becoming less trustworthy. I’m not sure if its our decreased human interaction or what. Since I’ve been feeling like this, the other day I figured I’d do a test to see if people are still trustworthy.

I had an old iPhone 4 and figured instead of just letting it be my new paperweight or allowing the kids to use it as a hockey puck I’d sell it on Craigslist. Now I love to sell on Craigslist and honestly, I love to buy too. There are some interesting people on Craigslist so I always get a kick.

I list the phone and wait… and wait… and wait… Finally I receive and email from a man interested in buying the phone. We email back and forth and the following day he calls me. I call him back and we begin talking about the phone. Now, he is basically asking me every question I’ve already given an answer to in the ad but its all good.

So he finally wants to see the buy the phone. He asks if I can meet him at the nearest Verizon store. The way my day, and week, were shaping out it was going to be at least 48 hours before I could make this happen. We talked about options, I had swim lessons. More options to meet, I had work. Finally I tried to convince him to stop by my house, see the phone, pay me, go to Verizon and if it didn’t work I’d give him his money back. His response: “My wife said I have to go to the store to make sure if works.”

We kept talking and I kept trying to convince him into my plan. I was trying to convince him to trust me. Finally I said: “I’m a pastor” but it didn’t work. I needed to change my tactic and stop asking him to trust me. I said: “Are you a trustworthy man?” He was shocked and responded: “Yes (hesitantly). Yes, I am trustworthy (with more confidence)”.

I changed the plan. I said: “How about you stop at my house, see the phone and if you like it take it to the Verizon store. If it works, come to my house and pay me.” It was a crazy idea. Actually, after I said it I was shocked. He like my idea and wanted to leave me with a check. I declined and said: “Let’s trust each other on this.”

He took the phone, I went to swim lessons. While at swim lessons he called and said it all worked and he would drop the money at my house while I was away. When I returned home I found the exact amount stuffed in an envelope with the simple words “Thank you” written on it.

So if you’re wondering if people are still trustworthy, they are.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Why I'm not buying an iPhone 6

Normally I would be scrambling right now.

I'd be listing my wife's iPhone 5 on craigslist or eBay.
I'd be on Verizon's site looking for my upgrade date.
I'd be on Amazon trying to find the best new case I could find.
I'd be looking at our bank account, thinking where I could get the money needed to buy the new iPhone.

But I'm not doing any of those things today.

Today I’m planning train rides, checking seat locations and thinking about ways I can hang out with my kids because I’m not buying a new iPhone.

Now this is all a new concept for me. Consumerism runs in my blood just like the next guy but over the last year (since I upgraded to the iPhone 5S) things have changed in my life. Let me share a few catalysts to this change.

Conversations with my wife
At some point in the last year Charity and I had a conversation I don’t think I’ll forget. She said something to the effect of my love for new gadgets or toys. The comment wasn’t mean spirited or rude, it was just factual. I had the newest iPhone, the newest GoPro and was accessorizing. The comment stuck with me. She was right. I was so focused on what I could get and missed out on what we could give. My other iPhone, the iPhone 5, was in perfect condition when I upgraded. My GoPro, the same. Her comments began the evaluation process in me.

This summer we preached a series through the parable teachings of Jesus. One message in particular I taught about Investing in Eternity. As I studied the obscure, and difficult passage in Luke 16, it became obvious to me that Jesus is calling me to invest in eternity. The investing in eternity He was talking about was with my money.
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Luke 16:13
I’ve been reading a book this summer that has been a refreshing change of pace. Its been a while, over 2 years, since I found a book I couldn’t put down. The Sacred Year by Michael Yankoski has been helping me to contemplate slowing down, caring more for people and how I spend my money. You could almost boil all of this down and say, “Its caused me to think about the future more, mainly heaven and God.”

When I add up the sum of these three factors it makes it so easy to delete the emails from Verizon about an early upgrade for being a loyal customer and spend more time investing my time and money in what really matters to me.

That’s why I’m not buying an iPhone 6.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

God’s Not Dead: Movie Review

The other day at church a man told me, “You gotta watch this movie, I’ve already watched it 5 times!”

If I’m honest, I’m a bit skeptical when someone tells me ‘I have to watch something.’

It was a Sunday night and we had a long weekend so we decided to pull out the iPhone and see what Redbox was slinging that night. Right away there it was. It was like it stood out. It shouted to us in its quiet voice, “rent me, rent me!”

We reserved God’s Not Dead, made some popcorn and sat on the couch. While the movie began I realized it was going to be a slow starter. Slow starters aren’t too bad, except when you’re tired. Once the movie hit its stride it was obvious this movie was going to impact my heart. 

This movie tells an all true story of the many responses, attitudes and feelings toward Jesus Christ. This movie, in my opinion, is unapologetically Christian. The main character is a young man who runs into a dilemma his first semester of college: his professor hates God.

Throughout the movie you begin to see the pieces come together and hear the stories of where people are at with God. The young man takes a bold step when the professor challenges him to prove God is not dead.

Without wanting to give too much of the movie away I am going to recommend it to everyone to see. Instead of only recommending this movie to Christians I think its a good movie for everyone to watch. It addresses a pastor who is loosing his passion, a woman caught in an unbalanced relationship, a woman who finds out she is dying of cancer, a professor who hates God, an African missionary and a mother battling Alzheimer’s disease. 

If you don’t have plans tonight, or tomorrow night, go to Redbox and consider renting this movie. The worst cause is you will think about your faith! 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Confessions of a Pastor: I watch “R” rated movies

I watch “R” rated movies

If I had shared this while I was in Bible college it might have gotten me kicked out, or a good talking to.

Now let me provide some clarity on why I’m sharing this. I’m sharing this because not all “R” rated movies are inappropriate. Take Saving Private Ryan for an example. Saving Private Ryan is a thought provoking movie reminding us of the fight that was fought for our country. The movie lays out what happened in history and shows the power of a group of men focused on one mission: heroism. What Captain Miller says to Private Ryan as he’s dying is powerful!

There are other great movies that carry a “R”rating with them. Many of these movies portray a difficult situation in history or a horrible circumstance. There is a movie on Netflix you can watch called Zodiac. Zodiac shares the story of the Zodiac killer from the San Francisco Bay Area. The movie contains no sexual nudity, but is violent and shows killing. Its extremely informative about gnarly circumstances that occurred in the Bay Area.

On the other hand there are “R” rated movies that, in my opinion, are invaluable for anyone to watch. There are certain movies that have more sexual nudity than any person needs to see. There are certain movies who use the “F” word more times in two hours than any person needs to hear all year long.

Unfortunately movies like this sell tickets. Think about “The Hangover” trilogy. This is a prime example of a movie that provides no benefit for anyone (in my opinion).

If you think about watching a movie carrying an “R” rating make sure to check the small writing about the reason for the rating. Another great resource to use is This website breaks down movies and let’s you know what you’re getting in to.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Summer Engaging: Engage Emotionally

This week we're looking at three ways to connect with our kids over the summer. The second way we can encourage our children and not embitter them is by engaging emotionally.

Being present is the large amount of time you spend with your child that allows you to have the moments to engage emotionally. In his book As For Me and My Crazy, House Brian Berry writes:
 “Quality time is an accident that happens in quantity time.” 
Being a father brings a lot of blessing, a lot of joy, and a lot of fun and laughter. But it is also quite costly to be a father. The biggest cost is not financial; it is emotional. Fathers must make an emotional investment in their kids. Kids need affirmation, encouragement, and expressions of love. Most of all kids need to be pardoned and forgiven.

In all honesty, the Bible gives us a whole bunch of examples of inadequate fathers:
Noah wasn’t a perfect father: he got so drunk he passed out and his children had to cover up his naked body.
Jacob had multiple wives and exhibited such immense favoritism to one son that his brothers threw Joseph in a pit and sold him into slavery.
David failed to discipline his oldest son, creating a rebellious child who attempted to take the kingdom from his father and eventually died.

Realistically, there is no example of a perfect father here on earth. To find a perfect father, we need to turn our eyes to God the Father.

It was a big day for Jesus as He walked down to the Jordan River to be baptized. As he came out of the water, Scripture records what happened next. Speaking from heaven, God the Father makes a bold declaration to the world saying, “This is my Son!” In other words, He’s saying, “No one make a mistake about it, He belongs to me. I am his Father and He is my Son!” God the Father makes no ambiguity surrounding His relationship to Jesus Christ. God was affirming Christ during a monumental time in the life of His son.

The affirmation doesn’t stop with God boldly declaring Jesus is His Son. God goes on, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” Affirmation is powerful and we all desperately need it! Right here God tells the world that He loves Jesus and is well pleased with Him.

Think about this. At this point in His life Jesus has not yet, preached a sermon, healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out any demons, called any disciples, or done any miracles. However God the Father validates Jesus not for what He has done or for the future works he will do. The Father affirms Jesus solely because of who He is—His beloved Son! What an encouragement!

If you’ve experienced a lack of encouragement from your father growing up, please don’t hold back encouragement in your children’s life. The power of our words can bring life to our children. Fathers with older children, keep in mind the age of Jesus at His baptism. God remained engaged in Jesus’ life through every step and every stage of His life.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Summer Engaging: Being Present

Did summer sneak up on you too? This week I want to take some time to address three ways for dads to lead their kids this summer. Dads, you have a vital role in the lives of your children so don't skim this page too quickly.

The first way dads can encourage their children this summer is simply by being present. Being present is more than just being there, it means being present physically and mentally. As an engaged father, you want to do your best to encourage your children and being present is the first step.

While living in Las Vegas I was playing with my kids at the park. While running around the play structure, a young girl about five years old looked inquisitively at me. She then asked, “What are you doing?” Quickly I responded, “Playing with my kids.” To which she quickly replied, “Can I play?” She joined in playing with a complete stranger and my children while her father sat on the bench with his face glued to the screen of his phone.

I continued running around the park chasing my kids, playing hide and seek, and pushing them on a swing when a grandmother approached me. She had a good eye on her grandson while she began to encourage me. If I remember the story correctly, she said something like this, “Thank you for playing with your kids. It’s amazing you are running around with them like you are. I am shocked at how many parents come to this park and almost completely ignore their children to be on their cell phone.”

Dads, your being physically present with your kids communicates more than you think!

Being present throughout our children’s lives is a big deal. When they’re young our presence shows we care, but how do we respond when they begin making their own decisions? What if these are decisions that don’t align with what we know is best for them?

The Bible gives us a great story in Luke 15. We see a story of a father who sets a great example for us of simply being present through negative and positive decisions his son made.

Jesus tells us there was a father who had two sons. One day his youngest son approached his father and asked for his share of the inheritance. After cashing the check at the bank, this son went to a distant land (probably Las Vegas) where he spent everything he had on booze, parties, fine food and loose women. After losing everything he had, he finally came to his senses and decided to head home and beg his father to simply hire him as a worker.

The whole way home he prepared his speech to his father, but when his dad saw him off in the distance he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, kissed him and welcomed him back home. Immediately he fed him and provided what he was lacking.

The older brother of this son became angry and resented his father for acting this way. His father was always present with him but the older brother couldn’t understand the love and compassion he displayed to his wild son.

Read what the father says to his son
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” Luke 15:31,32
The key phrase is, “you are always with me.” In other words the dad is saying, “Son I am with you, do you see my presence in your life?” This father was present physically and mentally for both of his sons, no matter what their life situation was.

Dad, how do you plan to engage with your kids this summer? How does that translate into the rest of their lives?

Monday, June 09, 2014

The Benson’s are Moving

Before you start asking LOTS of questions let me give you four quick facts:
* We are staying at CPC
* We are not leaving the Peninsula
* We are staying in San Mateo
* We are moving to the house across the street!

For about six months we’ve been praying fervently for God to open the door for us to move in a bigger home. We actually prayed very specially for this home we’re moving in to. 

Now, our prayer started out generally. We asked God to give us a place with another bathroom. Its become increasingly difficult having all four of us sharing one bathroom.

With the prayer for one more bathroom, we began praying for another bedroom. We figured while we were praying for another bedroom, we might as well pray for a backyard for our girls to play in. Before you think this move is solely about the house size, keep reading.

With our daughters growing up we wanted to get a larger home. Where the prayer gets even more specific for the move is staying in our neighborhood. We LOVE our neighborhood. Sophie loves her school, we love our neighbors, we love our location and its close to our church. With all the transition our girls have experienced in the last two years we figured: the less change, the better.

When our neighbor told us she was moving out and they were going to rent the house it was like God answering our prayers we’d been praying for months all in a matter of seconds! We are so excited to move into our new home that is directly across the street from our house on June 22, 2014!

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

A Prayer for Driving Home

As a dad I feel a responsibility to be engaged with my wife and kids when I arrive home from work. There are days I am ready to run in the house, kiss my family and play whatever game my kids are already playing. Then there are days where I would prefer to sit in the car and listen to another song trying to prepare my heart.

The bottom line is: we all experience good days and bad days in our jobs. We bring the emotional weight of these responsibilities into our home after work. We have two options when we encounter a difficult day in the office:
We can enter our house and express our emotions negatively to our family
We can choose to take advantage of the time in our car, on the way home, to pray

I wish I could say I always take the second option, but I don’t. Normally I do choose the second option and sometimes I find myself praying as I’m parking or when I walk up to the door. Generally I pray a similar prayer; it goes something like this:

God, you know how my day has been today. I’ve played all four quarters hard and I’m spent. This is where the rubber meets the road. Please give me your strength as I enter overtime. Right now is the most important part of my day, I only get two hours with my family. I don’t want to give my family my leftovers. Please energize me for what I need to focus on when I walk through the door. I can’t do this on my own Lord, I need you. I pray this in Jesus name. Amen. 

Do you have a prayer you pray before you get home?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Global Leadership Summit: Leaders Lunch

Last week we held a leaders lunch for the Global Leadership Summit. The Global Leadership Summit (GLS) is a yearly leadership event we host at CPC (more info).

At this leaders lunch I asked our Lead Pastor to share 10 reasons someone should attend the GLS. Here is what he said:

  1. Everything is done with excellence
  2. Speakers are diverse
  3. Balances the Great Commission with the Great Commandment
  4. Challenges me to think outside the box as a leader
  5. Full-time, lay, non-profit and business leaders all benefit from the event
  6. Gives good material for on-going training
  7. Cheap and convenient compared to attending another conference
  8. Get to sleep in my own bed
  9. Gives a chance to connect with others on the Peninsula (creates unity in Christ)
  10. Worth the cost 
We had a great turnout at the leaders lunch and I'm so thankful we host this leadership training event. If you've been to the GLS what would you add to this list? 

Friday, April 04, 2014

Growing Spiritually: Intentional Listening

So far this week we’ve talking about having a regular time of prayer and daily Scripture reading.  Another way we can grow spiritually is through intentional listening to the voice of God.  This may be the most difficult spiritual practice I’ve ever implemented in my life but it’s also been one of the most refreshing.  In the forty-sixth Psalm we see the Psalmist write about how listening to God changes us:
He says, "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Psalm 46:10
The Psalmist explains God as a refuge for us to run to and an ever-present help in our time of need.  He makes mention of the sea raging and its waters foaming.  Can you relate to that this?  Does your life seem like the waters are raging around you, sometimes too much to bear?  The response to a crazy busy life is just the opposite as we would think.  The response is to slow down, to be intentional to listen to God.  There is something special that happens when we stop what we’re doing and take the time to listen to God.

One morning of seminary, the summer of 2009, our professor took our class to the church he lead.  Behind his church was a prayer trail into the forest.  After a 15 minute walk we found a small stream.  Our prof had us spread out in the forest that morning where we spent two hours, alone, with God.  It was one of the most refreshing times I enjoyed, as God was growing me spiritually.  Most of you aren’t currently enrolled in Seminary but the thought of getting an entire morning to spend with God excites your soul.

Here are some ways I think we can be intentional to listen to God in our context.  First, you may want to shut the radio off in your car.  If you have a long commute this could be your opportunity to be alone and listen to God.  You can stop listening to sports radio and start listening to your maker who calms the raging seas in your life.  If you don’t have a long commute you may want to turn the TV off at night and get some extended time with God in your home.  Another option would be to head over to the beach or walk a trail with the expectation God will meet you there.  You know yourself best and you’re going to know the best time and way for you to be still and know God.  Be creative with this time and I trust God will show up and meet you there.  Spiritual growth happens in many ways; let it be motivated by a love for God.

I hope talking about spiritual growth prompted you to action and connection with The Lord.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Growing Spiritually: Daily Bible Reading

The value of daily Scripture reading in our lives is not to be overlooked; there is a reason the Psalmist wrote: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I mighty not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11) and “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105).

The only way you can hide God’s word in your heart is through reading Scripture.  The Psalmist is telling us when we hide God’s word in our heart it becomes a safeguard in our life.  When we become tempted with sin our heart reminds us of the truth of God and helps us to avoid sin.  When we avoid sin God’s word becomes a light for our path.  I want you to think of God’s word like a bright flashlight you can use on a dark night.  A flashlight doesn’t show you everything around you but it lights your path so you can safely get where you want.

Maybe when I mentioned daily Scripture reading you remembered the time you tried to read through the entire Bible in one year and how ashamed your felt quitting in March.  Statistics tell us: at least 90% of all households in America own a Bible but only 20% of those who own a Bible will ever read through it, in its entirety, in their lifetime.  It’s staggering to think only 20% of Christians will ever read through their Bible in their life.  Once again, growing spiritually never works when motivated by guilt.  You may never read through the entire Bible but how does Scripture reading become a priority in your life at this stage?

Starting on January 13 my church started a church-wide Bible reading plan that we think will impact people who are seeking Jesus all the way to those who’ve been Christ followers for years.  Its a Bible reading plan that doesn’t have any dates attached so you won’t feel bad if you miss a day (not guilt based Bible reading).  Its a Bible reading program built around 100 carefully selected short Bible passages — 50 from the Old Testament and 50 from the New Testament.  Its going to enable you to get the big picture of God's Word and in the process of a daily Bible reading habit.  Its called the Essential 100 but for short its called E100.

The E100 Bible passages are usually one to two chapters in length and can easily be read in 10 minutes or less.  The E100 Challenge will take us through all of the major types of biblical writing including: Historical books, Poetry, Wisdom Literature, the Prophets, the Gospels, Acts, the Epistles and Revelation.  My hope, this morning, is to wet your appetite for daily Scripture reading and I think this is just the way.  You can read the E100 in your Bible or if you have the You Version App on your phone or tablet you can access the E100 plan there also.  We’re also going to link the reading plan to our church website!

Before you convince yourself there’s no way you could possibly commit to 100 days of Scripture reading you need to know the value this will have for your life.  Our Campus Pastors and Elders just finished reading a book titled Move.  Move was a study done by Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago to measure spiritual growth.  Over a six year time period data was collected from over a quarter million people in well over a thousand churches of every size, denomination, and geographic area in the US.  Of all the data presented in this survey, the thing that stuck out most to me was: daily Scripture reading was one of the major catalysts for Spiritual Growth.  To say this differently, if you’re going to grow spiritually it has to involve daily Scripture reading.

The E100 challenge may not be for you, but find a daily Bible reading plan!  Share with others what you're using.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Growing Spiritually: Regular Times of Prayer

The first way we can be growing spiritually this year is by committing ourselves to a life of prayer.  As I look back on the summer of 2009, one of the main things I neglected in my spiritual growth was a regular time of prayer.  I’ve always loved what David wrote in Psalm 5:3 "In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly."  You may be able to relate to David, you currently have a time of regular pray where you connect with God.  My prayer life was far from what David wrote here, in fact it looked more like Vince Vaughn in a scene from The Dilemma.

We neglect time with God, we get busy and our prayer life becomes scattered.  Now I understand everyone of us is at a different place in our spiritual walk and I want to be sensitive to that.  I’m going to do my best to address all the different spiritual walks represented.  Some of you can totally relate to Vince Vaughn from the movie The Dilemma where he has no clue how to approach God in prayer.  Next, there are those of you who have recently given your life to Christ.  You haven’t been following Christ for long and you’re not sure what a regular time of prayer would look like in your life.  Maybe when you think of prayer you naturally go back to your childhood where you were taught to recite The Lord’s Prayer.  Finally we come to those of you who’ve been following Christ for a long time.  You have gone through wonderful times where you’ve spent regular time with God and encountered times where you’ve struggled to figure out how to connect with God.

Its easy to talk about regular times of prayer when you’re sitting in a church service, it can be more difficult to implement regular times of prayer in our daily life.  While reading Psalm 5:3 you saw “the morning” and immediately started thinking of twenty-seven reasons you could never wake up in the morning to pray, before you stop reading, check this out.  The coolest part about this verse is that before David even opens his mouth God has already heard his request.  Don’t get hung up on the morning part; you may be a night person and the night time might work best for a regular time of prayer.  If you look back to the end of Psalm 4 in your Bible you’ll actually see David make mention of night time.

I like to think about prayer like spiritual food.  Most of us eat three meals a day to keep our body sustained, but are we caring for our soul three times a day?  The great thing about prayer is we can always return to God throughout the day and it doesn’t have to be hour blocks in the morning, it may look like text messages with God throughout the day (read Refuel by Doug Fields).  It could be a quick prayer after lunch or on the drive home to refresh your soul once again.  What it comes down to is you finding what works for you.  The main thing is to make sure your regular time of prayer isn’t motivated by guilt, but a love for the Father.  It can become very easy to turn Christianity into legalism; a self-imposed check list used to validate ourselves based on what we do or what we don’t do.

You can probably think about more than enough to pray about but just in case you need some help to get your regular prayer time going start with the list of things you’ve been worrying about lately.  Paul wrote to the church at Philippi and encouraged them to “Not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil 4:6).  So instead of worrying about how you’re going to send your kids to college pray for God to provide.  If you’re having a hard time in school ask God to help you out.  If you’re marriage is struggling ask God to help you love your spouse.  If you don’t have a spouse, and you’d like one, ask God if this is His will for your life.  If you’re struggling with your work situation pray for God to give you contentment and show you how to serve your boss... or ask for a new job.  The list could go on and on.

What would you add to regular times of prayer?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Growing Spiritually

The summer of 2009 was a time in my Christian walk where I felt spiritually stalled; it was like my relationship with God hit a wall.  Looking back, it shouldn’t shock me I was feeling like this.  There was so much that had changed in my life and it all impacted my relationship with God.

For example my work situation had changed.  The church I was serving in had just announced the resignation of our Lead Pastor due to moral failure.  Being one of the longest tenured staff members I was put on a team of five men who helped lead the church during the transition.  This meant preaching on a regular basis on Sunday mornings while still leading my regular ministries: High School Ministry and Missions.  Our family dynamic had changed.  Our beautiful little Sophie Marie was born just nine months earlier and it was taking time getting adjusted to being parents.  Being a dad was like being hit in the face with my selfishness and it was tough to bear.  Did I mention Charity was pregnant also?

In addition to work and family I was currently enrolled in seminary.  I was at this place in my graduate work where I was too far in to quit but the light at the end of the tunnel was extremely dim.  To be completely honest, I was at a point in my life where I wanted to quit seminary, leave our local church and move to Hawaii with my family.  I didn’t know how to manage the new responsibilities in my life and therefore my spiritual growth was quickly shoved to the back-burner.

Have you ever felt how I felt that summer?  Have you ever felt like with all the responsibilities of life you’ve shoved your spiritual growth to the back-burner only to forget about God?  Maybe the time you once set aside for morning prayer became stale so you quit waking up to spend time with God.  Maybe you were twenty-seven days behind in the Bible reading plan you committed to so you stopped reading God’s word.  Maybe you once clearly heard the voice of God but your life situation has changed and you’re struggling to hear your Savior’s voice.

This week I want to talk about three ways we can grow spiritually, check back tomorrow as we look at having regular times of prayer.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Responsive Reading- Discouragement

This Sunday we used a responsive reading in our time of worship (Thanks to Kathy B for helping making this happen).  If you haven't done a responsive reading before I encourage you to do some research on them and incorporate them into your worship service.  Responsive readings have been used in worship services for hundreds of years.  You may think: "Aren't they old and outdated?"  I would say, "yes, they are old.  But just because its old doesn't mean its not meaningful."  Using a responsive reading is an opportunity to bring meaningful response to your worship service.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.
Psalm 42:1

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:5

My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. Psalm 42:6-7

By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me. Psalm 42:8a

I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Psalm 42:9-10

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:11

Vindicate me, my God, and plead my cause against an unfaithful nation. Rescue me from those who are deceitful and wicked. You are God my stronghold. Why have you rejected me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? Psalm 43:1,2

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 43:5

You might think: "How do you use a responsive reading?"

We have the person who is our regular host come up, after a few worship songs, and invite the body to read with them.  The Leader starts out with their part and then invites the congregation to read the All section.  We put the readings on the screen to invite everyone to involve themselves in the reading.  One great thing is for those who choose not to read, they still get to see God's words on the screen and hear God's word being read.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Steelhead Fishing

A few weeks ago I did something I rarely do, I woke up at 3am.  Now if you know me, you know that me and 3:00am are not friends!  I woke up, slid out of bed, brushed my teeth and headed out the door.  I arrived at my friends Frank's house around 4:00am where we jumped in his truck and drove North to Santa Rosa.  Now to be honest, I tried to sleep in the back of the truck but it was a little tough.  We arrived at the Russian River about 5:45am, it was still pitch dark outside.  By the time we had the boat in the water the sun was barely coming up over the river and it was time to fish!

I would guess we started fishing around 6:45am and it wasn't long until I had my first bite, but it wasn't a keeper (it was a baby fish).  See I grew up fishing with my dad on small streams, but nothing as big as the Russian River.  We didn't have a boat growing up so most of my fishing was from the bank of a lake or stream.

After hours of fishing it happened; I had my first Steelhead on line!  I was shocked when I had this fish on.  I've heard the stories of people fishing for steelhead for 2-3 years before catching their first one.  I had been steelhead fishing for about 7 hours when I finally had my first one on.  This fish hit hard and ran quick.  I started reeling in my line and have never fought a fish like this (better fighting than tuna fishing in Mazatlan).

After fighting the fish I finally saw him.  He got close to the boat but darted the other direction.  Every time I thought I had won the fight he took off.  Thankfully my buddy Frank knows how to row a boat and when the fish took off upstream he rowed upstream to keep me close.  We had another guy with us, Gino, who netted the fish for me.  It was an amazing feeling holding this fish in my hands!  After reeling him in, my hands were shaking from the adrenaline rush!

Another picture showing my joy of landing this fish!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Rwanda Teaching

I still can't believe I went to Rwanda...

Earlier this month a few of guys from the States were invited to Huye, Rwanda to teach in the Second Annual East Africa Apologetics Conference.  It was a huge honor to speak to the 125+ university students who gathered from 6 different countries to attend this conference.  While in Huye I also taught a college rally and two local churches.

Conference Teaching
(Mark Mitchell teaching)
For the conference my topic was: Is Jesus The Only Way to Heaven?  This is a great question people have been asking for thousands of years... its also one of the toughest questions to ask.  If you simply answer "Yes" it can make a Christian sound pompous, when in actually its a statement of humility.  I could go on about the answer to the question but I want to share what I learned while teaching.

I learned when teaching in a foreign country bring half the material you plan to cover.  For example: I was allotted approximately an hour and a half for the conference.  I brought about 10 pages to cover which would normally take me 45 minutes.  This allowed for 45 minutes for translation for those who didn't speak English.  

Probably the biggest lesson I learned was; I should have introduced myself more.  I prefer to talk about myself less but I think my talk would have been more effective if I shared about my life for 5-10 minutes at the front end of my talk.  Basically I wish I would have shared my testimony so it would have given me more creditability.

Preaching in the Local Church
On Sunday morning I was invited to preach in two local churches; an Assembly of God church at 8am and an Anglican church at 10:30am.  You probably couldn't have someone preach in two church bodies that are much different on a given Sunday.  It was a huge blessing to share God's word in Huye with these bodies of believers.

The Anglican church sticks out most to me.  It was a small thatch church located deep in the bush.  The church was constructed out of trees, to support it, had a tin roof and the walls were thatch.  I was so impressed at how many people they packed into the room.  The kids had a small mat they sat on near the front.  The youth sat just behind them and everyone else sat on wood benches.  There was no sound system, no lighting board and no electric guitar.  That morning we worshipped God as the body of Christ and I shared a word of encouragement from 1 John.

I can't believe I went to Rwanda and I feel so blessed to have been able to teach in the conference and the local church. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Rwanda Overview

I still can't believe I went to Rwanda!

January 7, 2014 I hopped a plane, actually 3 planes, and headed to Rwanda with my pastor.   We went at the invitation of a man in our church; Chris Foreman.  Chris has been involved in Rwanda for the last decade.  During this time he's formed relationships, trained university students, almost completed a wonderful building and much more.  Chris invited us to teach at the Second Annual East Africa Apologetics Conference.

Mark and I landed in Kigali late Wednesday night, we both wanted to get to a hotel as soon as possible and crash out.  Instead we got in a car, drove around town, ate dinner and took a three hour trek to Huye, Rwanda.  Going to bed at 2:30am isn't my regular routine but for this trip it was just how the plan worked out; we were on Africa time.

Waking up in Huye was a sight for sore eyes; I wasn't prepared for the beauty this city had to offer.  I expected the town to be more of a desert environment but I was wrong.  The land was very fertile and gorgeous.  The people we met were amazing; so loving and caring.  I was constantly impressed at how engaged the people were, maybe because everyone didn't have an iPhone to look at or constantly felt the need to update Instagram.

While in Rwanda we taught, preached, made friends, visited a genocide memorial, worshipped, laughed, ate, shopped and much more.  In the next couple days look for new posts about: teaching in the conference, the friends we made and Rwandan worship.  I just don't have room to cover the whole trip in one post.

I still can't believe I went to Rwanda but I'm so glad I did.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Two Years Later

Its been two years today.

I still remember exactly where I was sitting when I found out the news; in fact I wasn't sitting I was laying down on my couch in Vegas.  I wasn't feeling well and Charity took our girls out to the park.  I was relaxing on the couch when she walked in our home and told me.  Actually she asked me if I had heard.
Me: "Heard what?"
Charity: "Did you see something happened to Bear?"
I will never forget those words... or that conversation... or that day.  My life isn't the only life impacted by the news we heard of the loss of our friend.  This is the last picture I have with Rob and I miss him.  It wasn't the last time I saw him but it was the last time I got my picture with him.

There hasn't been a week gone by in the last two years I haven't thought about him.  I wish I counted how many times I had dreamed about him.  My dreams were so real I would wake up thinking I just spent time with him the other day only to come to reality and know I will not see my friend again here on earth.

The loss of my friend, at such a young age, reminds me of three things I need to keep in mind:

1.  Life is Short
Rob passed away before his 32nd birthday; this is way too short!  The years we spent together were filled with excitement, turmoil, ruckus and laughter.  We bickered together, fought side by side and fought each other at times.  I wish I had more years with Rob but I don't.

2. Call your Friends More
About 5 weeks before Rob passed away he called me and I called him back and we kept missing each other.  I was with my in-laws for Thanksgiving and told him I'd call him later.  We texted a little bit that Thanksgiving but I never called him back... and I feel horrible.

3. Don't Get Too Busy for Friends 
We're all going to grow up, its inevitable.  What I've learned from my life is I get busy real quick.  This year I want to spend more time with people than I spend with my phone, computer or iPad.  I want to make more memories with my friends and family.  I don't want to look back on my life and wish I hadn't been so busy.

Miss you Rob!