Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Stranger in the Woods- Book Review

Title- The Stranger in the Woods
The extraordinary story of the last true hermit

Author- Michael Finkel

Publisher- Alfred A. Knopf

Pages- Audio Book

About 3 years ago I started listening to book on Audible. I tried to listen to one but struggled making it through. I like to hold the book, read the words and underline. I like to go back to have things to quote from and be able to re-read at a moments notice. I deleted the app and went back to paper.

The other day I was listening to the Craig Groeschel leadership podcast and heard Craig talking about listening to more leadership books. I figured I'd give it another try. My friend in the Bay Area had told me about Overdrive and being able to check out audiobooks from the local library. I logged in and started away.

The Stranger in the Woods is the first book I listened to the entire way. I would mainly listen while working out at the gym or walking. I couldn't stop listening in fact. Micheal does a great job at telling this true story of a man, Christopher Knight, who lived in the woods of Maine for 27 years alone. He had human contact twice and only spoke one word... Let that sit in.

The story goes through his life, how he lived, what he did and how he was captured. The story is fascinating. We start out by hearing of his arrest. Christopher would burglarize the cabins near North Pond and do his best to be unknown. He would only steal very little from a cabin in an attempt to make a person think they simply misplaced their batteries or left that steak at the grocery store on their departure.

Michael shares about how he lived in the Maine winters in just a tent. You can search Google to see his location and how he lived. Christopher was quite a meticulous man and very intentional in all he did. There is a line that goes something like this; "He is quite like us. In my conversation with Christopher he would talk about his plans to upgrade his tent and improve his life." I guess I didn't think that a person living in the woods would constantly be thinking about upgrading his tent.

Michael does a great job at learning from Christopher by visiting him in jail. I suppose he also did a great deal of research to help tell the entire story. I love the information he provides about hermits and others who have lived in solidarity. I was captivated by the book and have spoken with many others about it. I highly encourage you to listen to this book!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Listening to the Holy Spirit


Our church is currently studying the book of Acts. We've been in the first missionary journey of Barnabas and Paul. While I was preaching on the end of Chapter 12 and beginning of Chapter 13 I thought about how these men listened to the Holy Spirit as they were sent out to reach the entire world!

Listening to the Holy Spirit is a tough thing. We live in such a fast paced world with so many distractions that it doesn’t matter if you’re a brand new believer or a seasoned believer, it can be tough to hear to the Holy Spirit. Even if you've never been to church did you know the Holy Spirit wants to speak to you?

The church in Antioch gives us some encouragement about listening to the Lord. If we could talk with them, I think they would encourage us not to rush when the Spirit speaks. They might tell us how they were patient and stayed the course until the Holy Spirit spoke. The Antioch church would  also tell us to make sure there is unity when the Spirit speaks. There is no hint of division here in Acts 13; it is clear the leaders were unanimous because they all laid hands on the leaders to send them on the mission God called them to fulfill:
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. Acts 13:1-3
The church would also probably encourage us to live lives that are marked by worship, prayer and fasting. Worship is not simply singing songs but a lifestyle of praising God, and prayer is something we can partake in all the time. Fasting is also a discipline for those who follow Christ. When all these factors become a lifestyle, then we hear the voice of the Lord more clearly.

We often think that we need more training if we are going to tell others about Christ. But we don’t need more training, we need to spend more time worshipping our Lord. We need to deny our own inclinations and listen to what the Holy Spirit says to us. We need to reject distractions and increase our listening ears. We need to be surrounded with amazing people who encourage us to follow our Lord wholeheartedly. And we need people who will pray for us to take bold steps of faith.

You don’t have to go to seminary to tell someone that Jesus loves them. You don’t have to have a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Ministry to tell someone that God created them. All you have to do is have a willingness to listen to the Holy Spirit just like the men in the Antioch church did. It takes faithfulness in worship and a commitment to Christ for this to happen.

There is something special about Saul and Barnabas that we will see later in the book of Acts and let me tell you what that is: these men loved people in an extraordinary way. These men cared for people the way that Jesus cares for people. Ken Baugh once said: “One of the primary reasons that the early church took off is that Barnabas and Paul loved people the way that Jesus loved them, unconditionally and sacrificially.” These men knew lost people matter to God.

How have you slowed down to listen to the Holy Spirit lately?
How can you slow down this week to listen to the Lord?

Monday, October 09, 2017

7 Questions with Rob Hall


Rob Hall is a Christ follower, husband, father and pastor. Rob grew up in Hayward, CA (the East Bay) and currently lives in San Fransisco. Rob is married to Missy and they have three wonderful children who I've been able to know for almost their whole lives. Rob is the Lead Pastor at New North Church. Rob has a passion to see people who are far from God draw near to God by forming a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Rob and I met back in 2003 and started serving together in Henderson, NV in November 2004. Rob is one of the founding pastors of South Hills Church Community and actually hired me to be the Junior High Pastor there in 2004 (you should ask him about the picture I sent in with my resume). In 2012 I joined the staff of Central Peninsula Church where both served as Campus Pastors. Rob is one of my best friends in life. We've served the Lord together, laughed together, encouraged each other and traveled internationally together and through all that we still love each other! I'm so thankful that Rob took the time to answer these questions and I hope they help you in life and personal growth!

1. You’ve just started a new church in a city desperately in need of God. What do you find most exciting about this call from God?

The Bay Area is a crazy but wonderful place. As the center of the tech world, this is the place for innovation. In fact, every major company in the world has an office here. It's arguably the most strategic place in the world to do ministry. For me, I love being able to influence influencers. It’s also the least churched metro area in the country. For those reasons, God has us here.

2. Doing ministry in California is far from life in the Bible Belt. What do you find most inspiring about being a pastor in the Bay Area?

Everyday I am inspired by the beauty of the place and the beauty of the people I get to serve. The place-ocean, cities, trails, fishing, close to Napa and Tahoe, food, etc. This is home to world class everything. The people-diverse, smart, driven, successful, broken and lost. Love it all.

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

My wife and I have been married for 15 wonderful years. We’ve had lots of ups and downs, but we’ve been committed to several things: dates, counseling, and transparency. We love to date each other. We have both together and separate, seen Christian counselors. We are committed to living our lives as authentic and transparent as we can. Our church and our small group knows we are two imperfect people, trying our best to love God and love people.

4. About five years ago you decided to adopt your youngest son. When a couple comes to you asking advice about adoption what is one thing you would tell them?

Count ALL the costs. It is wonderful, but will take an emotional toll on you, your marriage and your family. Go in, eyes wide open. However, we believe God calls us to do HARD THINGS all the time and adoption is a calling. Not all Christians are called to adopt, but we are all called to play a part in the process (pray, give, support, etc.).

5. There are many men who don’t have a life outside their work and family. What is one hobby you enjoy doing and that fills you up?

I love, love, love, riding my motorcycle. It brings me great joy! But, I dropped it in an accident recently! Yikes. Thankfully I am ok but the bike is not. So, back to fishing I go!

6. How would you describe your current sports teams and your excitement or lack of excitement for them?  

What do I need to say? Championship rings speak for themselves! Giants-3, Warriors-2, and Niners-5! Boom!

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

Learn how to pray earlier and actually pray lots more.

Make sure to follow Rob on Twitter, Instagram and go check out New North next time you're in the Bay Area!

Thursday, October 05, 2017

A pastors thought's on Las Vegas


November 2004 I put San Diego in my rear view mirror and headed for Las Vegas. I was an engaged young man who would be married in six weeks to the love of my life. We bought our first home in Vegas. God gave us two children while we served in Las Vegas. I was ordained into ministry at South Hills Church Community and cut my teeth as a young pastor. After eight years of ministry God called us back to California but my heart stayed with so many people who touched my life.

October 1, 2017 I woke up to see what I never expected. My wife said: "Did you hear there was a shooting in Vegas?" I grabbed my phone and already had text messages. One message said: "Drew Bodillo’s sister, Karessa has been shot at Vegas event. Per Ric Royce. I’ll keep you updated."

I was shocked...

I jumped on Facebook to make sure our friends were ok. I read stories of people who had been at the concert and their account. There initial comments of hearing gun fire and seeing what they've seen rocked me. I started texting friends making sure they were ok. I barely read my Bible but more prayed and scrolled and texted that morning.

As I've talked with friends and pastors who are still in Vegas I am still in shock at what occurred. I can't imagine what the scene must have been like. My intention here is not to discuss that scene but to share about the Vegas I know, the Vegas that is gathering around the community to love their neighbor. The Vegas that is seeking God during a tough time. The Vegas that is strong, caring and loves everyone!

If you look on Instagram or Facebook you will see that Vegas is united. People are praying together, people are giving, kids are writing thank you cards to first responders, churches are opening their doors, college students are buying blankets for people, lines are wrapped around buildings to give blood and Vegas is united.

I know there are dozens of ways you can help during this tough time. As you think about Vegas will you do one of the three things:
1) Give blood to help out
2) Donate to someone's "GoFund Me" account (this link directly helps Vegas)
3) Pray for Vegas

This weekend I'm praying that Vegas churches will be packed this weekend. I'm praying for believers to be ready to share their faith. I'm praying for families to find hope in a confusing time. I'm praying for pastors to be strong in this difficult time. I'm praying for the Holy Spirit to use what one man intended for evil to turn into good for the Kingdom of God. Will you join me in that prayer?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

5 thoughts about our recent move


Three months ago our family took the biggest step of faith we’ve ever taken—let that sink in real quick—and we moved to Ventura.
We packed our home.
Left our community where we were known and loved.
We loaded a moving truck and followed a call from God.

The first three months have been a wild ride. When you take in a job change, a new city, a new school for the girls and some of the loss our family experienced. A long-time friend said to me that in our move we experienced three of the most stressful events could go through. And they all happened about a week apart.

As I've been thinking about our move here are 5 thoughts that keep surfacing:

1. Our church is extremely caring and gracious 

Our church has embraced us with open arms. They've been extremely kind and caring to us in the move. My first day in the office was cut short due to health complications with my dad. I was encouraged to go see him. At my first elders meeting I found out that my dad 24-48 hours to live, they told me to leave right away and see him. It seemed like the first month I simply preached on Sunday because of loosing my father and needed to be with him and plan the funeral.

Three weeks in to our move our church had a potluck. At this potluck they threw us a "pounding". It's an old Midwest thing I hear. Everyone would bring a pound of this or a pond of that to help a new family to the area. Our cupboards were packed after the pounding!
The list goes on about their kindness.

2. Everything didn’t work out how I thought it would

On the day of our move the moving truck showed up four hours late. To this day I still think the driver was drunk but have no proof. The following day I arrived in Ventura to meet them at 9am like they said, they didn’t arrive until 5pm… The moving truck part of the story is actually trivial in all things. They had our personal belongings and things are things.

The part that didn’t work out how I wanted it to is the family aspect. My hope was to see my dad more and be closer to him. I had dreams of visiting him once a month and BBQing with him. I had ideas of him being at my kids birthday’s. I longed to have my dad visit our church and listen to the word of the Lord. God had a different plan. My dad died eight days after our move. It’s been a tough loss to grasp and my heart still is wounded.

3. The pastoral community here is wonderful 

I’ve reached out to multiple pastors and experienced nothing but arms wide open
I literally didn’t pay for a lunch with anyone the first three months (now it’s my turn to pay). Every pastor who I’ve connected with has said things like: “I’m in your corner” or “We’re rooting for you” or “I’m praying for you as you get landed here.”

The community amongst the pastors I’ve connected with has been awesome! I’m thankful for men like: Chris, Mike, Dan, Derrick, Larry, Bert, Don, Scott and many more that I’m grabbing lunch with the next couple weeks.

4. Being closer to family has been a blessing 

We’ve seen our family more in the last three months than I can remember. I can’t count how many times our kids have seen their grandparents. Charity’s parents are 1.5 hours away. My mom and Jerry are 3 hours away. I saw my dad five times in the last week of his life.

Being closer is a blessing. We were able to spend John’s 60th birthday with him. The kids love seeing Mema and Papa more. We’ve been to Big Bear as a family a few times to see my mom and Jerry. Two weeks before our move Jerry was diagnosed with stage-four cancer. It was a tough diagnosis to handle but we trust in the care of our Lord. We thrilled to be closer to my mom in this tough season.

5. Leading a church has increased my faith and prayer life

One of the greatest challenges has been leading a church. I’ve lead in pastoral ministry for almost fourteen years. My mentor, Doug Meye, once said: “Neal when you’re business says ‘Senior Pastor’ you’re going to feel a new weight of responsibility. He was right! This role has increased my prayer life, my listening to the Lord and my patience in making decisions.

I’m loving the regular preaching load and working with the staff here. We have a great church community filled with people who love the Lord. We’re seeing God add people to our community each week and praying to reach more. I’ve been praying for God to add 100 new people/families to our church by Easter. We’re longing to reach those who are far from the Lord, those who haven’t attended church in a while and those who are moving to the community. We want to see more conversion growth and stay away from transfer growth.

Let me sum up our move with a short story. Charity and I walking in downtown Ventura last month on a date. During our walk Charity said: “This is the first city we’ve lived in as a married couple that I feel like we both fit.” She is right. Ventura is a great fit for our family. Please pray for us to reach and lead in this city for decades to come!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Kayak Fishing on Santa Cruz Island


Last week I hopped on a boat from Island Packers and went West to the Santa Cruz Islands. It was an early boat but nothing earlier than other fishing trips I've been on. The boat ride was about an hour and we saw all kinds of marine life on the drive over. We saw dolphins, birds and seals. As the boat slowed to a stop we unloaded at Scorpion Bay. The next step was to pack our gear to our campsite. We wandered up the trail looking for "campsite 9."

With our tents set up we ventured back down to shore to get in the kayaks. Now kayak fishing took much more preparation than I expected. We set sail (if that is what you call it) and began paddling. The ocean in that place is a marine reserve so no fishing allowed. After paddling about 15 mins we were fishing. We basically allowed the swell to slowly push us while we fished the cliffs. I caught four calico bass but none were large enough to keep.

It was getting later in the afternoon and time to head it. We had to paddle, into the wind and waves, for the next 60-90 mins. Just to be clear, this was my first time kayaking and I was not stoked on this part! I used to time to marvel at creation and think of the Native Americans who would have done fishing like this before me. I also thought about the Hawaiians who crossed much worse. I realized I was a wuss at this point.

We made it back to shore and boy was I happy! That night it was back to camp and in bed early. The next morning we were up and off again. This time we would adventure through caves, over kelp and travel to Potato Harbor. The sights were breath-taking. The prayer time was good. And the caves... well the caves scared me. I don't like tight spaces where the ocean is swelling and it can be dark. I'm probably overly exaggerating some of this but as marvelous as they were I was reminded of how small I am.



Through caves and into other caves we traveled down the coast. We landed at Potato Harbor for lunch and it was good to stretch our legs on land I threw some lures in the harbor and caught a small sand dap (he was a feisty one). The ocean was getting bigger and I was getting more fearful. I learned something about myself that trip. I had to press through some fears of sharks, drowning and irrational fears from my childhood. It was good that I did.

One of the guys wanted to move down the coast and fish more. Now I love fishing but honestly I was scared of the ocean waves (they look much bigger from a kayak). I had to speak up and decide it was time to head back. I wasn't looking for a fight against the wind again. As we paddled back it was increasing easier than the day before. The wind was at our back and ocean was pushing us. We ventured through another cave or two and I had to pray out loud in some of them.

Looking back it was an amazing trip that really stretched my faith, invited some fun in a time where my life is full of transition and reminded me how much I missed my family.

Thanks to my GoPro I have this video to share with you

Monday, September 18, 2017

7 Questions with Danny Bowers


Danny Bowers is a Christ follower, husband, father and pastor. Danny is originally from Colorado but is a Californian in my opinion. Danny is married to Kim and they have two amazing sons. Danny is the Student & Family Pastor at Peninsula Covenant Church. Danny is a contributor to DYM, one of the top sites that resources and equips Student Ministry leaders and pastors. He has been serving students, families and training leaders for over 17 years.

It's been over a decade since I first met Danny Bowers. We were both a part of a wonderful group of Student Ministry Pastors who gathered once a year for encouragement, idea sharing and learning from great leaders. Danny had been in Student Ministries longer than me and I really looked up to all he was doing; Danny has taught me a ton about ministry and life! I was stoked when we became friends and our friendship has continued. Danny is one of the men in my life who I call for encouragement and to bounce ideas off.

I recently asked Danny 7 questions and here are his answers:

1. You’ve just started a new role at a church in a city desperately in need of God. What do you find most exciting about this call from God?

I do not have just one thing that I am MOST exciting about but there are several factors that excite me daily.
* Being in an environment that is really a PRE-CHRISTIAN thinking environment. Having the ability to see the Gospel bring LIGHT quickly into dark spaces is super encouraging.
* Families are desperate for help and many of the conversations that we’ve already had have been well received along with the love of the resources we are offering
* It’s a challenge.  There is no easy way to say it.  It’s an environment where 3% of the entire peninsula population is of a evangelical faith background…as a Christian you are an outsider and I LOVE IT

2. Doing ministry in California is far from life in the Midwest. What have been some of the differences you’ve noticed in your first month in the Bay Area? (Danny has lived in CA for 14 years and was in the Midwest for 3 years before returning)

After Spending 3 years in a MidWest/Bible Belt setting I have several take aways;
Apathy & Legalism is way more destructive than being unfamiliar with Christianity. I saw first hand how destructive apathy & legalism is in the lives of people who claim to follow Jesus and yet nowhere in their life are there clear biblical life callings of disciples.

Racism is strong & prevalent. I was appalled several times at statements people made about various races but living in a county that was 98% white racism was strong and prevalent.

There is a strong & fundamental value system that is deeply rooted in many regions of the US. I met some of the hardest working people in my life while living in the midwest for 3 years and I also saw how people who are from a very strong perspective on life live with a conviction from a political & cultural way of life view a variety of circumstances.

3. You’ve been in student ministries for over 17 years now, what are three pieces of advice you would give to a young person taking their first role in student ministries?

Be sure you have clearly communicated expectations in writing to the job you are hired to do.
Find a Mentor who is a safe voice for you and willing to challenge you but also encourage you.
Be ok being young & inexperienced.  Allow yourself to be a learner from those that have gone before you. The comparison game in ministry can be destructive.
Be a parent advocate DAY 1, even if you are not a parent.  Find parents who are a safe soundboard to give you a perspective that you won’t have naturally.

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

Daily Hellos. Find moments to touch base authentically daily.
Weekly Calendar Syncing. We take 2hrs a week to sync up personal calendars, kids calendars & ministry calendar to try to share the load of what the needs on our time are.
Regular Dates to enjoy life together. Sometimes it is to do grocery shopping & other times it is something romantic but weekly time together is critical.

5. There are many men who don’t have a life outside their work and family. What is one hobby you enjoy doing and that fills you up?

Coaching Football. I coached Varsity football programs as well as Middle School programs and this is a love of mine.
Camping/Hiking. Being alone in the woods with my family is a huge refreshment for me.
Writing a couple books is a new one. I am currently writing two books and it’s a leadership challenge for me.

6. Your sons are some of the most respectable young men I’ve ever met. What have you and Kim done to help raise your sons into men people want to be around?

We've have an end goal in mind. We’ve never wanted to raise “good kids”. We’ve wanted to raise Young Men, Who Love Jesus & Are a Blessing to Society…game changer in how we’ve parented
We have encouraged our sons and stood with them to embrace their life transitions with joy and never sorrow.
We meet Weekly with our sons to have conversations with them to be able to intentional challenge them and to help them grow and develop towards the end game.

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

Go harder after what you know are your convictions and passions. It’ll help yourself quit trying to please people that are never please-able and lead better. That is not a license to just do what you want, but pursue hard what is worth pursuing.

A huge "Thank you" to Danny for answering these 7 questions. Go find Danny at these places to connect with him
Instagram- @dannybowers
Twitter- @dannybowers

Monday, September 11, 2017

My 9-11 Memory

It seems that you can ask any American where they were when they found out about 9-11 and they can tell you some definite details. Here is my 9-11 story:

I was living in San Diego. I was living off El Cajon and 63rd in an apartment with my sister. I was attending Mesa Community College and working nights for Dupont. I had learned how to cleaned carpets while living in Truckee and was able to get hired in San Diego doing the same thing. The only difference was for Dupont I worked nights. We would start at anytime between 4pm and 11pm on weeknights. I might get off at work at 11pm or 6am. I would find myself driving home when others were heading to work. 

I'd go home, pull the blanket over my head and fall asleep. On September 11th the phone rang. I hadn't worked too late the night before but it was a longtime friend on the other line. I recognized her voice as she said: "The world is ending..." There was a long pause. I looked out the window and didn't see Jesus in the sky so I figured I was safe... for now.

My friend began telling me about the plane crash and what happened. I remember going downstairs and being glued to the TV. I watched and consumed all the information. Since I was working nights my first class started later in the day. I slowly gathered my stuff for school and drove there. It was an eerie feeling on the freeway. Then when I got to school it was less populated than normal. Classes had recently started so campus should have been bustling, but it wasn't. 

When I think back to this day in history I will always remember where I was when I first learned about the horrible events. I still see the faces of people who lost their loved ones if I can think hard enough. I can vaguely remember the stories. I can see people falling from the Twin Towers to their death. 

Although we should never remember we still need to pray for millions in our country who are affected by this impacting day. 

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Under the Overpass- Book Review

Book Title- Under the Overpass

Author- Mike Yankoski

Publisher- Multnomah

Pages- 223

Quotable- The words "Jesus loves you" take on a whole different meaning when you're down and out. You hear them differently. You need them more. Just saying them to the next desperate person you meet could change his day. Wrap those words in a friendship, a home-cooked meal, bus fare, and you could change his life.

About 8 years ago someone gave me this book. I was smack in the middle of seminary and rebelled against reading anything that I didn't have to. In fact I rebelled longer and this book sat on my shelf. One day I felt compelled to read it. You can call it destiny, God or what you like. It might have been that I kept seeing homeless people and needed something to think about with them.

I pulled the book off the shelf knowing it would break the monotony of the reading I had been doing. It would provide a time to read about homelessness as Ventura has a much higher population than where we were in San Mateo. Having met Mike a few years back I felt like I was traveling with him. He made a conscious decision to leave a great Christian school to become homeless for about five months. Let that sink in...

This book tracks his journey of homeless from the Streets of D.C. to the beach of San Diego and all in between. The sights they saw, the violence, the drug use, and the generosity. The streets are a rough place and if you prefer to not sleep with cockroaches and rats it might prompt you to do something to help out. Mike talks about eating food out of a trash can and his faithful companion Sam. The book is riveting and was tough for me to put down at night.

Mike shares his experiences with Christians who are rude, vocal and disrespectful. In one church they attended he notes that no one sat within 30 feet of them. He does acknowledge that they smelled horrible and looked bad (sleeping in the streets will do that). It confronted me and how I would act if that happened in our church on a Sunday morning.

The book has prompted me to reach out of my comfort zone (something I did more frequently before kids) and engage with the least of these. Homelessness is a problem and someone needs to engage with people to tell them that Jesus loves them. This book has given me the confidence to connect with others I once might have turned my back to. I hope you'll read it and do the same.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Guest Post- 7 Questions with Chase Feindel



Chase Feindel is a husband, father, friend and follower of Christ. He is a talented pastor who just launch Anthem Church. Chase is originally from North County San Diego and currently lives and ministers in that area. Chase is married to Lauren and they have three children. He is a sought after speaker who regularly encourages people to follow Christ and move forward in their walk with the Lord.

Chase and I met while serving at South Hills Church Community in Las Vegas. We served shoulder to shoulder in Student Ministries. Chase taught me some great lessons in ministry that I will never forget. He is such a talented young man who loves the Lord deeply. Chase is a driven leader and passionate about investing in the local church. I will never forget when we were in our 20's and Chase shared with me about his desire to lead a church. I was super impressed that he had such a confidence in the Lord that that was his calling. I asked Chase these 7 questions about life and ministry:

1. You’ve just started a new church in a city desperately in need of God. What do you find most exciting about this call from God?

The most exciting part of the journey we are on is the energy of the people that have said yes to the mission. There is a 150 people who have said yes to leaving a healthy well-established church with ministry for their every need to be apart of developing something from the ground up. Their faith that God is going to reach people that are far from him, and their willingness to sacrifice their own luxouries, has encouraged and inspired me. The mission of our church is for people to meet Christ and experience life to the full. What is more exciting than seeing that come to fruition one life at a time?

2. Doing ministry in California is far from life in the Bible Belt. What do you find most inspiring about being a pastor in San Diego?

C.T. Studd said "“Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop, within a yard of hell.” I've always been drawn to people who don't know the Christian lingo and don't know the rules of church. What I love about Southern California is the opportunity to redeem people's perception of Jesus. It's going to take a hands on approach but a younger generation of non-believing millenials are as missional as any generation, it's our job to point out that it's Jesus who gave them that heart when he made them out of his own image.

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

We have been through the fire. If it wasn't for Jesus and friends who have pushed us towards him and one another, I don't know where we'd be. Marriage is the best and hardest relationship i've ever experienced, because it forces you to confront the selfish and unhealthy parts of your soul. We both grew up in dynsfunction and on top of battling the inherently selfish parts of us, we are battling how a broken model has shaped our expectations of marriage. There are three key principles that have been vital to our marriage 1. Inviting friends to speak hard truth into our lives 2. Prioritize your marriage on your calendar, in your heart and in your words 3. Forgive often.

4. You’re family just went through one of the most difficult times with Lauren having cancer. How has this strengthened your faith in God?

In the end it strengthed our marriage but we had to do some "why wrestling" first. Why would Lauren be diagnosed at 31!? Why did this have to happen five days after we announce we are launching your church!? Why did this happen when we have three little kids!!? And at the end of every honest question we asked, we found a faithful and present God. He showed us what the church looks like by how they loved and cared for our family (meals, childcare, laundry, house cleaning and financial support). God showed us the purest form of dependence. God enriched each of our hearts towards people who are hurting. God knew what we needed and though he did not author our pain, he promised he wouldn't waste it.

5. There are many men who don’t have a life outside their work and family. What is one hobby you enjoy doing and that fills you up?

I am a fantasy football junkie! It's bad. A group of my closest friends have started a "dynasty league" which takes it to another level! My other favorite thing to do is play sports and right now basketball is what I spend my lunches doing to keep this dad bod in shape.

6. How do you feel about the San Diego Chargers moving to Los Angeles? 

As a San Diego native they have moved out of my heart and into enemy territory. My new favorite team is whoever is playing the LA Chargers. It is safe to say that my football fanship does not reflect the gracious heart of Jesus.

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

Don't believe the hype around you. Don't believe the critics of you. Pursue God's best, it'll be worth it in the long run, because he knows what you need, who you are and ultimately what you are called to.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Three ways we're like sheep

My family went to the fair this summer and we had a great time! Now I’ve been to many fairs, but I think this fair had the most food I’ve ever seen. I was impressed with how many different hot dog stands one could visit. I also saw options for fried food that I had never thought about battering up and deep frying.

We didn’t only eat food. We also rode some of the rides. We rode the ferris wheel as a family and it was so beautiful. It’s amazing to have a ride like that on the beach; it left me breathless. We also played the games. We walked through displays, saw the pig race, and had a blast.

But as I look back on the fair, there was an area that is a magnet for my kids. It’s the animals. We looked at chickens, rabbits, turkeys, goats and cows. There are more types of chicken than I ever knew about. (My favorite kind of chicken is chicken strips). As we continued looking at the animals, we made it to the back of the barn. There were less people back there and we found the sheep. I knew I’d be preaching on Psalm 23 so I began looking at the sheep. And after looking at the sheep, I made some observations.

Sheep are delicate

Sheep need to be handled with care. If you look at their legs and their wool, you can see how delicate they are. Sheep also scare easily. I read about a story of a shepherd who experienced a great loss when his sheep were scared. All it takes is one sheep running and the rest will follow. One day he had a sheep run and it ran off a cliff. All the other sheep followed because of herd mentality. This shepherd experienced a great loss.

Sheep are also prone to getting parasites and worms. If sheep are not cared for in the right manner, they may look good on the outside but they will have issues going on inside. An unclean water source can give a sheep get worms, parasites or other micro bacteria that are in the water. Because sheep are so delicate, it is extremely important they are cared for and looked after closely.

Sheep are helpless

The next thing I noticed at the fair is that sheep are helpless. They have no sharp teeth (pic). In fact, they only have a bottom row of teeth! They have no claws. Sheep have no defense mechanism. They have no way to defend themselves, which renders them helpless in an attack. Now we have a puppy and she has sharp teeth. She can also bark to scare people away who might enter our backyard. I don’t think the baaaa of a sheep is going to scare a fierce predator. Sheep also get what is called “cast” easily. It’s when they fall over and can’t get up (picture). If this happens, and no one helps, they will die.

Sheep need constant protection because they are helpless. They need a shepherd to watch over them. There can also be internal problems in the herd. Sheep will fight against each other. They will establish an order where sheep will head butt other sheep. But once the good shepherd comes around, the head butting stops. They are anxious without someone to lead them. They also need to be lead to food and water. Theydon’t excel at providing for themselves.

Sheep are dirty

The last thing I noticed at the fair is that sheep are dirty. They can’t clean themselves like a cat. How many cat people do we have here? Cats are always licking themselves; sheep, not so much. They literally were laying in their own poop at the fair. It was gross. They have this thick coat of wool that we love to wear but the reality is, they are dirty (pic). They live in harsh environments where they can lay in dirt all day long. They don’t take showers. When it rains they don't have umbrellas. When I talked about them being delicate, we talked about parasites. Sheep are also prone to getting ticks. The ticks will get in their ears, near their eyes, under the hoof and in their wooly coat. Because they are helpless, sheep, have defense against them. The sheep must rely on the shepherd to care for their needs.

In all of this, we must remember that sheep are valuable to the shepherd. It could be easy to dismiss sheep as worthless but that is far from the truth. One sheep can produce two to thirty pounds of wool each year. In 2013, the average price paid for wool sold in the United States was a total value of $39.2 million. A ewe lamb, as a baby, costs around two to three hundred dollars. But then you can sell the wool each year and later sell or eat the sheep. When I told you about the sheep that walked off the cliff, that shepherd lost approximately $100k.

When I look at these three ways I realize that people are delicate. Some people need a "handle with caution" sign on them at times in their life. In fact, we all need this sign at times in our life. I'm delicate right now with the loss of my dad. People are helpless. I am helpless without the saving power of Jesus in my life. We are all helpless to get to Heaven on our accord. Finally people are dirty. We have bad habits, make unwise choices and there are times that we just plain smell.

Even with all of these things it's wonderful to know that God is our strength when we are delicate, that God protects us when we are helpless and that Jesus has cleansed us with His blood that was shed on the cross.


Monday, August 28, 2017

A praying team

One of my roles at Coastline Bible Church is to lead our staff. There are a handful of ways to effectively do that. One of the ways I aim to lead our team is through our weekly staff meeting. Being a strategic thinker I want to have a plan and purpose for our weekly gathering.

Another way of saying this is: "Don't waste your teams time when you gather." I wish I could tell you how many precious hours have been wasted in pointless meetings. There are people who are going to sit in a meeting you're leading this week and will be bored. A young, talented leader, will zone out and think about Instagram because of meeting failure. In fact, I heard that at Google if you're in a meeting and it doesn't pertain to you, you can freely leave the meeting at any time!

One of the things our team has been working on is to be a team that prays effectively. Not just a team that prays randomly, but a team that prays will purpose.
Last month I lead our team through a short devotion on prayer before we took time to pray for our church.

1) We need to take the time to prayer

When I first gave my life to Christ I couldn't wait to spend time in prayer. I would go to small group and pray with others. I would sit with others in prayer. I would pray in my car all the time. I would wake up before the sun came up just so I could spend time in prayer. As I became involved in full-time ministry and attended seminary there was a decrease in my prayer life.

After having children it seemed like much of my prayer life revolved around sleep and children napping. I wish I could put a finger on what made that shift but I can't Even just this morning I read an article from a pastor who confessed a similar experience in seminary. If you look the Gospel of Mark you will find that Jesus work up very early to pray. Jesus didn't have to get up early. In fact, He had a busy night!

The night before Jesus was healing all kinds of people. He would have been justified to sleep in and get some rest. But Jesus knew what was most important therefore look at what He did:
"Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed." Mark 1:35
We need to take the time to pray. Our relationship with God is a relationship. That relationship requires time to foster a healthy connection. Our team wants to be a team that prays and spends time with God in prayer!

2) We need to view prayer as a lifestyle and not an event

The next thing I shared with our staff is that we need to view prayer as a lifestyle and not an event. It seems like many of us are great at segmenting our lives. I've talked with people who live a completely different life in different circles. Some people have their church circle, their bike riding circle, their book club circle, or their discipleship circle. Fill in the blank for the different circles you have.

These circles then play into the person we are in those circles. We segment our life and therefore pray is not a lifestyle but an event that takes place at our parents house before we eat dinner. Prayer becomes something we do with our kids before they go to bed because our spouse insists on it.

Imagine what could change in your life if prayer wasn't an event that you participated in but simply your lifestyle. Imagine if you had simple text message conversations with God throughout the day. Imagine if you set aside different times in your day to reconnect with God. See prayer is not simply talking to God, prayer also involves active listening.

3) We may need to learn to pray

I've never met a person who instinctively knew how to pray. I have met many people who have felt insecure in their prayer life. I've met plenty of people who feared praying in front of others. I met people who would rather die than pray out in public.

We all need to learn to pray. Do you know what the one thing the disciples asked Jesus to teach them was? It wasn't how to write a sermon. It wasn't how to share their faith with their neighbor. It wasn't how to write a tithe check. The one thing the disciples asked for instruction on was prayer:
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Luke 11:1
We all need Jesus to teach us to pray. The best way to learn to pray is to simply pray. You need to start somewhere. Ask someone to teach you to pray. Find a person, who you look up to, and ask them to teach you how to pray effectively. Find a book about prayer that fires you up to spend time with God and punch the devil in the nose. Instead of staying up watching TV, get on your knees and call out to the God of Heaven. Now stop reading this and start doing it.

After talking through these three points our team took some time to pray for our community, our church, our leaders and our staff.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Summer in the Psalms

This Summer our church took a break from the book of Acts. We spent some time encouraging fathers on Father's Day and then jumped in to the Psalms.


The Psalms have been called the heart of the New Testament. For centuries the people of God have turned to them to find comfort, hope and direction. The Psalms have been called God’s Prayer Book. They are a guide or help for those of us who have struggled with words and in their absence we’ve used the Psalms to express our communication with God. The Psalms have been a place where our church community has traveled this summer. The Psalms have been a balm to hurting souls. The Psalms have been an encouragement to saints who are finding the truth in God’s word. The Psalms have been a bridge that led our people to Christ. The Psalms have increased our prayer life and expanded our hearts!

When we started this series the goal was to have some application from each Psalm. There was personal application but also a corporate application; something we could take away as a church body. As a reminder of where we’re traveled be reminded of the kind of church we want to be here in Ventura:
Psalm 1- a church that seeks God
Psalm 3- a church that prays
Psalm 100- a church that worships God
Psalm 8- a church that cares
Psalm 142- a church that does life in community
Psalm 51- a church that confesses our sin
Psalm 20- a church that trusts God
Psalm 23- a church where God is our shepherd

Just because our church has finished this series it doesn’t mean you can’t spend time in the Psalms. If you’re experiencing a tough season in life turn to the Psalms and find healing for your soul. You could read a Psalm a day and meditate on God’s word. You could also choose to read five Psalms a day and finish the entire Psalter in a month. Whatever you decide to do will you please pray for the future of Coastline and that we would be a a church that reflects what we studied in God’s word.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Castle Rock Hike with Kids

So you're thinking about hiking Castle Rock in beautiful Big Bear Lake? Then I would say: "YES! Do it!" Castle Rock is a fairly moderate hike. It does have an increase in elevation but the trail is clearly marked and it leads to a beautiful view of the valley (If you scramble to the top).

Castle Rock is located on the Southwest side of the lake. If you're coming up from the San Bernardino area you will cross over the dam and look for the hike on the right side of the road. There is some parking on the opposite side of the highway about 200-300 feet from the start of the hike. Judging on how many cars are parked will give you a glimpse into how busy the trail will be.


On my last family visit to Big Bear I took my daughters on this hike. We did the hike in the middle of the day, which can be not the ideal time, but it was great! You have to keep in mind that you're hiking at 6000 feet elevation! We had to pose for a picture in front of the sign to make sure we let everyone know we did the hike! You can see the trail marked behind us.

As we began the ascent Leah took off like a rabbit. She was loving the first part while Sophie was tired and dragging. Doing this hike with kids you need to be ready for anything. Since I could tell the altitude was getting to them we had to take our time. I think it took us about an hour to make it to the top. This included many water breaks and much bribery, I mean encouragement, on my part.

The trail is beautiful. I shared stories with my kids of hiking this same trail at their age. We had some glimpses of the lake and then you circle around the backside of Castle Rock. We made it to the base and had lunch on a rock. The girls enjoyed the view but I wanted to get on top. My guess is that it had been at least 20 years since I had hiked to the top. It some maneuvering but I made it. When they saw me up there it was game on!

For the next 15 mins or so I helped both of the girls make the final ascent. It's not the easiest part and some families might choose to not make it to the top. But the view from the top is breath-taking! We sat up top and ate a snack. There are chipmunks that will even come up to you!




After enjoying the view we took the time to walk back down. As with each hike the descent is typically quicker than the ascent. We laughed, smiled and talked the whole way down. It was a great afternoon with the girls (while Isaiah napped at home). After we made it back to the cabin we treated ourselves to a Slurpee!

Next time you're in Big Bear consider making this a memory you have with your family or friends!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Anthem Church

On Sunday night I pulled into the church parking lot. There was a kind guy, smiling at me, as he directed me where to park. I waved to him and went into the lot. I parked my car and began up the steps. See it's always a bit weird when a person first walks onto a church campus but there were friendly people everywhere... I mean everywhere!

There were kids running around
There were young adults in conversation
There were people laughing and smiling
There was a donut wall
There was a station for getting water
The courtyard was great for conversation
Overall, I knew this was a church full of joy and excitement

I saw some of the people I was looking for and began talking. It was a joyful night. It was the first church service for Anthem Church. It had been years in the making. I remember driving with Chase Feindel years ago in Vegas. We went to lunch together and were talking about our future. He told me his desire to lead a church one day and I knew it would happen. Chase is such a talented leader who loves the Lord with all his heart!

We walked into the worship room and the music was great! The atmosphere was even better. People were singing to the Lord. You could literally feel the joy in the room. I wanted to take more pictures but didn't want to miss this time with God, see I didn't drive three hours to take pictures. I was there to worship, pray for and encourage.

Instead of giving you a play by play of the service let me share some pictures I snapped and their importance



This first picture is of Lauren Feindel hosting for the night. When Chase and Lauren announced that God was calling them to start a church it was thrilling. Chase shared the video with me and I watched to hear the plan. The sucky news came to me days later when Chase texted me telling me Lauren had breast cancer. I was in shock... We prayed a TON for Lauren so when she walked on stage it was thrilling to see her up there. Lauren had such a loud applause that I'm not sure if it was for her or for the start of the church. I can tell Chase and Lauren are loved in this community!


This picture was tough for me to take. Not because of the content but because I wanted to worship. The worship team was engaging and passionate. The music was great, song selection was fun and I enjoyed having some time to worship. As a pastor there are times that I don't get to engage in worship. It's not all the time but just some of the times. So a night like this was good for my soul.


My next picture was when Chase started preaching. I remember the first sermon I saw Chase preach. Chase and I used to serve on the pastoral staff of South Hills Church in Henderson, NV. Chase and I used to share an office. Then we shared a wall and had offices next door. We shared a student ministry room. We shared a lot in our time in Vegas. When I heard Chase preach I was reminded of his passion, knowledge and love for God.
I love how he encouraged everyone to bring their Bible and get familiar with God's word. I had my brought my Bible but I left it in my car! So I was convicted and encouraged by Chase's message. Chase preached on John 4 and the woman at the well.


My final picture of the night was when Chase shared the mission of Anthem Church. I loved that he came right out of the shoot and talked about what the church will be about. There are too many Churches in America (maybe the world) with no intentional mission. Anthem has a mission statement. It's short, memorable and repeatable. The mission statement is poignant and will no doubt be remembered by many as they reach people who are far from God.

I left so excited about what God will do with this new church. Please be praying for Chase, Lauren and the Anthem team.

One more thing. My old pastor, Jason Graves, leads Daybreak Church (where Anthem is being launched from). I was able to see him and his wife Corrie while there. It was so good to be with them. I was reminded of how healthy a leader Jason is. Jason took a risk on me when I was a young pastor. I love seeing his passion for reaching people who are far from God!

Monday, August 07, 2017

Psalm 51- The Confession

Yesterday our church continued our series in the Psalms. We looked at Psalm 51 and we talked about being a church that confesses our sin. To start the sermon I shared about the way I've ranked sin in my life and how I'm sorry I've done this practice...

The longer I follow Christ the more I notice something disturbing about the way I view sin. Basically I’ve created a sin hierarchy. There are some sins that I consider to be lesser sins, while others would be greater or more heinous sins. Let me give you some examples. I would consider stealing and lying  to be “lesser sins”. As I move up the hierarchy, I would place viewing pornography, drunkenness, the use of drugs, adultery and murder as “worse sins”. Now I’ve thought about my reasoning for this, and what it comes down to is really the fact that I want to look good.

CNN did a study and asked Americans what they consider to be the worse sins a person can commit. Let me share the top five things American consider morally wrong:
  1. Adultery
  2. Cheating on your taxes
  3. Having an abortion 
  4. Homosexual behavior
  5. Viewing porn
The fifth worst sin is viewing porn. The next higher is homosexual behavior. Number three on the list is having an abortion. Number two really shocked me, and it’s cheating on your taxes. And the worse sin of all? The number one worst sin in the study is adultery. This list shocked me to see some of the results from the poll.

Do you have a list in mind of what sins you consider to be worse than others? Have you acted like me and created a sin hierarchy in your mind to help yourself feel better about your actions? We want to think there are “big” sins and “little” sins, but the reality is that they are all sins. The difficulty is with more people not believing we have a hard time talking about sin. The best definition of sin that I’ve heard is: “anything a person does that is contrary to the commands of God.”

Now that can be a lot of things.  The Old Testament gives us 613 commands, or ways to obey God’s word. If sin is anything contrary to God’s commands than it seems like we have a lot of ways to break God’s commands! Now add to the fact that each of us are a different place spiritually. Some of you are here at church for the first time and others you’ve been coming to church for your whole life. Some of you think sin is an outlandish way of thinking while others of you might actually beat yourself up too much on sin.

Psalm 51 gives us a great example of a man who fell into sin but turned to God. You can listen to the entire sermon right here because there is hope!

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Prodigal God- Book Review

Book Title- The Prodigal God


Author- Timothy Keller

Publisher- Riverhead Books

Pages- 152

Quotable- "Even though both sons are wrong, however, the father cares for them and invites them both back into his love and feast."

This book was recommended to me last December by Kelsey Patterson. Kelsey and I were talking about summer camp at Mount Hermon. She was filling me in on the theme and direction where we would be going. It was all in broad strokes but I could tell the direction she was heading was from God. She began explaining the theme to me and I was getting more excited.
For summer we would be going through Luke 15.

At this point she recommended this book to me. I picked it up and started reading it a few months later. This is a book that grabbed my attention quickly. Timothy is a wonderful writer, I wish I could say I've read more of his books but have only read a few others. His writing style is engaging and easy to track with. He doesn't preach on Luke 15 but helps the reader see how God is actually the prodigal in the story. It is God who doesn't act in the way we would expect, not the son.

Timothy provides great insight into Middle Eastern culture to help the reader understand how amazing it is that God would run to His children. He also explains how both of the sons in Luke 15 are lost, not only the younger son. The older brother is lost too.

Before I give the entire book away I invite you to read it. It's not super long but well worth the read. It will help you understand the character of God more; which I think is something we're loosing in our day and age.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Preaching that brings hope

One of the goals in preaching is to inspire.
There are people we encounter, every day, who are hopeless.
There are people who feel like life doesn't matter.
People who feel unloved.
People who are isolated or in broken relationships.

One of the joys of being a pastor is to share the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There are many fantastic pastors out there. There are men and women who share the truth of Christ in compelling ways. Just this weekend I had a lady in our church had me this note. I was stoked to see what she wrote on the front of the envelope.



Helping people find hope isn't always easy. When I preach I aim to impact people in three areas:

Head

One area I want to impact when preaching is the mind. People are smart! Kids are smart, students are smart, people of all ages are smart. I recently spoke at Mount Hermon for a summer camp. During one of my sermons I told students that I think they are smart. Too ofter their friends are telling them they are dumb. They have a sibling who is saying: "you don't understand this." They may even have a parent who insults their intelligence. When we tell people they are smart they start to believe they are smart.

When preaching never talk down to people but call them to something greater. Speak in a way they understand and a way that engages their mind. Know your audience and use words that will appropriately challenge their thinking and engage their mind.  I've found that sometimes we expect people to check their brain at the door of the church and only use their heart; this is a practice that needs to change. We want people to think critically about the truth of God.

Our minds need to be stimulated. Preach in such a way to engage the mind. Make people think! Preach to their intellect and show them the truth of God. The next time you're writing a sermon think of ways to challenge people's thinking. I don't mean challenge in a defensive way, but in a way that requires them to think critically about God's word. It could be what you say, but it could also be how you say something. There are times I've intentionally said something in a confusing way to make sure people are listening.

Heart

In addition to preaching to the head it's important to grab the heart. When you're communicating you want to grab the hearts of the people. There are times I've done this by sharing a story that evokes emotion. It's a story that calls on the compassionate side each person has. For example, there was a sermon I preached from the Old Testament about caring for orphans. Most people agree that we need to care for orphans. But to grab the heart I shared a clip from the Blind Side.


Show a clip like this to appeal to someone's heart. I'm not saying show a clip like this to abuse a person's emotion. A clip like this can impact a person in a unique way. You can also tell a story about a time you experienced an emotional time. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable in your stories and share about times where you feel like you've failed. People can relate to that.

Knowing we are multifaceted people means we need to preach multifaceted sermons. It's good to engage the heart in addition to the head. Engage both in creative ways that are meaningful to your audience and appropriate to their age and stage of life.

Hands

The final part of a person a great sermon will engage is the hands. The hands are when the sermon calls us to action. You might have a sermon that talks about helping the poor but if you never give people a chance to help the poor that is a miss. You may preach a sermon about missions but not everyone can go on a mission trip so how will engage the hands?

One of the most impactful ways I've seen this done is in the context of sharing the truth of Christ with a person in your life. I've met many of people who have been invited to church by a friend. When the text your preaching has a clear call to reach people who are far from God (Think of Luke 15) you can think of ways to engage the hands of people. Talk about inviting your neighbor, co-worker or friend to church with you. Your church might even want to have a special service in the following weeks where everyone is encouraged to invite a friend.

But it's not only with evangelism, missions or serving the poor. A call to action could come from a sermon on giving. The last I heard was that the average America spends 127% of their income. Let that figure sit in for a minute. To help a person be a generous giver means a lot of work needs to be done. Some people need to put their hands to work in changing their budget. Some fathers need to become more engaged with their families. Some single people need to keep their hands to themselves and put them on the Bible more!

When we think about sermons that bring hope we can know it will include these three areas. Sermons that bring engage the head, heart and hands.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Man’s littleness & God’s greatness

This summer our church is going through some of the Psalms. We've been looking at the Psalms to help us define who our church will be in the community of Ventura. Yesterday I preached on Psalm 8. In verses 2-4 we read about man's littleness and the greatness of God.


David moves from the entirety of the cosmos to the cries of tiny infants silencing the strongholds of our enemy:
      Through the praise of children and infants
         you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
         to silence the foe and the avenger. Psalm 8:2

Honestly it seems like a huge leap to jump from the heavens to infants but thats what David’s getting at here; the majesty of God is seen in both! If you’re a parent you have probably marveled at the glory of God in your tiny infant. Think about holding your child when she was young. Think about counting her little toes or admiring her little nose. Think about how soft and delicate the skin of an infant is. God created all the heavens and that tiny baby you once held.

You might remember Jesus actually quoted this Psalm to the Pharisees. We are told children were praising Jesus in the Temple courts; shouting Hosanna and the Pharisees became angry He would accept such praise (Matthew 21:16). At this point Jesus reminds them of Psalm 8:2. Of course this would have been quite a rebuke to the Pharisees because they would have been the enemies of God who are being silenced by the praise of mere infants, or children in this case. It was the children praising Jesus, not the religious leaders. It was further reason to put a stop to what Jesus was doing.

Go back to the Psalm. Now let’s look as David describes more reasons for us to praise God:
      3 When I consider your heavens,
         the work of your fingers,
         the moon and the stars,
         which you have set in place,
      4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
         human beings that you care for them? Psalm 8:3-4

As we study these next couple verses I need to put some context here. Most scholars think David wrote this Psalm later in his life, but imagine David gathering the material for this Psalm as a young boy. Imagine David roaming the desert all day with his flock of sheep. David would have spent many hot days in the Israeli desert tending to his flock. As night approaches he fights his sleepy eyes from closing because he knows the show is about to start.
 
Laying in the middle of the desert, all alone, in the crisp spring air as the black sky begins to sparkle with tiny white stars far above. This night David can see the small sliver of the crescent moon off in the night sky. As David lies there he is filled with emotion. He is exhausted from tending sheep all day, but thrilled with the glory of creation. He knows he should go to sleep but he examines the stars as they wander through the night sky and watches as the planets slowly become visible. The majesty of God keeps David awake long into the night as he thinks about how God placed every star in place. David looked forward to those uneventful nights where he lay under the stars contemplating the work of God.

Have you experienced a time like this? A time where you were outside at night and looking at the majesty of God? Maybe it was on a camping trip when you were younger or maybe you grew up in a place far from the city where the stars seemed to jump out in the night sky. It must have been different for David because now we have all the light pollution. With the increase of population and electric lights we miss the full beauty of the night sky. Even though we might not see every star, the Bible tell us that God has given each star it’s own name (Psalm 147:4).

This Psalm has been called the overview of creation. As we continue going through it you’re going to see that more. God spent six days taking what was formless and void, turning it into the spectacular world around us. God took dirt, air, space and matter turning a hostile living environment into a place perfect to sustain life. After finishing His handiwork God looked around and noticed something was missing. It seemed God was finished but in reality, after six days of work, He was just getting started. In all the beauty of creation God knew it wasn’t complete; man was a special order in creation; the only thing made in the very image of the creator (Genesis 1:27).

David continues the Psalm by asking God one question in two parts. The littleness and greatness of man are set before us here in powerful contrast. Psalm 8:4 gives us the earthly side of human life and the divine side. The earthly side is that our lives are like a speck. Our life is but a vapor on this earth. Compare the life of a human with the life of a giant redwood tree. We are frail and subject to the harsh conditions of this world. This about this life. We spend about one-third of it in sleep. We spend time shopping and finding food to eat. Then think about our knowledge. We understand a small percent of what is out there. We may study the sciences but know little about mathematics. One might study economics but little about construction. When the library of Congress was founded in 1800 it began with 6,487 books. Today it has accumulated more than 16 million books.

The second part reminds us that God is mindful of us, that God cares for us. Some people think that God doesn’t care for them, that they are all alone here on earth. There are thousands of lonely people living right in our community who are wondering if God is mindful of them, if God cares for them. One very tangible way we can see how God cares for us is that He didn’t leave us alone. As Jesus was preparing for His death and resurrection He told his disciples that He would leave us the Holy Spirit to teach us and remind us. The Holy Spirit will be our comforter in times of need. What a great reminder that God cares for us. Now there are times it can feel like God doesn’t care for us but let’s avoid pessimism. It might feel like God doesn’t care for us, but that is not the truth. The truth is God deeply cares for each of us! Let’s trust in God’s caring nature for His children.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Mount Hermon Q&A 2017

Last week I had the joy of being at Mount Hermon. Mount Hermon is a wonderful camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The location is beautiful, the staff is awesome and it’s a place where God is at work.

For the week I was speaking at Pondy we taught on Luke 15. The theme was awesome and you can see some of it here. While at Mount Hermon there are two days where students can sign up for different activities. Some of these include: jazzercise, laser tag, high ropes, pool time or Q&A with the speaker. In the past I’ve been a part of this but had only a handful of students show up. This year I had close to forty students involved in both days (Tuesday had a higher attendance than Thursday).

After the session I wrote down some of the questions I was asked and wanted to share them here:

What is the meaning of your tattoos
This question came up in both sessions. I took the time to talk through each of my tattoos and the meaning. I pointed out the handprint tattoos for my kids. I showed the heart tattoo for my wife. I talked about the significance of having Isaiah 52:7 on my feet and more.

Who is your favorite character in the Bible
I love Peter. I love how Peter follows Jesus that day on the shore. I love the questions he asks. I also love how he denies Jesus, is restored on the same shore where he was called and then becomes of the main leaders of the early church. I can relate to Peter and his passion. I can relate to coming to Christ at an early age and following Him.

What is your favorite story in the Bible; Old Testament and New Testament?
My favorite Old Testament story: I went with two. I love the story of Joseph. There is so much redemption and forgiveness in there. I also love the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo. I love how these guys stand for God in the face of death.

In the New Testament I love the story of Peter walking on the water. He is freaked out when he sees Jesus walking on the water, in the storm, and then asks Jesus to call him out on the water. Peter is walking on water until he sees the wind. I shared how things in our life go great until we take our eyes off the Lord.

Top three favorite worship songs
What a Beautiful Name- Hillsong Worship


No Longer Slaves- Bethel Music


Your Great Name- The Eagle and Child


Who are your favorite bands
Hillsong Worship
The Eagle and Child
For All Seasons

What is the best thing that happened in your life? 
Next to meeting Jesus, the best thing to happen to me was meeting my wife. Charity is such an encouragement in my life. She laughs with me, supports me and prays so much for me. (A follow up to this was to tell the story of our engagement)

What is your favorite Bible verse?
Romans 8:31
This was the first Bible verse I memorized after fully surrendering my life to Christ. It reminds me that no matter what is happening that God is for me!

If you could be stuck in a movie what movie would it be?
I went with Frozen. I wanted to go with Talledaga Nights but figured there was no chance I could snowboard in that movie.

How did you choose your children’s names?
We went with Sophie because it means wisdom.
Leah means “delicate eyes”.
Isaiah is Charity’s favorite male name. She always wanted to name her son this.
All of the names are Biblical. Sophie is in the Greek Bible while Leah and Isaiah are both Old Testament names.

This is just a sample of what came my way. Overall it was a great success and time with the students. Obviously some students had more questions than others but I think it helped them to get to know me more.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Words from my Dad's funeral

Let me preface this post with this statement:
I hope you never have to share at your dad's funeral

Just over a week ago we had a memorial service for my dad. My sister and I arrived early. We walked in around 9am to greet my dad's wife. The three of us entered the room first. As we turned the corner there was his casket. It was open. He was smiling. I want to forget the image because I like to remember him living and not laying down. Many times that day I wished I would see him take a breath. That never happened.

As the morning moved to afternoon we moved to the memorial service. It was a Catholic Mass. Although I'm not sure my dad ever went to a Catholic Mass, this was the service that was chosen. I declined to officiate the service knowing I needed to grieve the loss.

But I did request to say some words at the service. I knew I would be the only one who would speak as a person who knew my father. I knew him for 37 years and 6 months. To be more precise it was 13,710 days that my dad knew me. I was his only son, the one that will carry on his name.

Here are the words that I wrote to say at his funeral. I added some to them but am deciding to only post what I had written down.

Dad's Funeral 

Hi, my name is Neal Benson and I'm Don's son. Thank you for all support. I'm going to do my best to keep it together up here. Please forgive me if I forget to say something.

You're never prepared for what to say at your dad's funeral. I have three areas that came to mind that I'd like to share.

Hard Working

First, my dad was a hard worker. He had a full-time job and keeping up his property would have been enough. But he worked hard. He woke up early and finished the tasks.
When my sister and I would visit his house he would always have a list of chores for us. We thought it was crazy that we had chores at a home we lived at for 48 hours every two weeks but he did. As I look back I see what my dad was teaching me. He modeled hard work to me and I'm going to miss that.

Friends 

My dad has amazing friends! They would play basketball together, go on trips together, they even worked together. Sometimes they might even have a beer together.

Family 

My dad did the best he could with family. When we were young we would constantly see our family. He took us to Tahoe to see his brother Jim. We would go to Oregon and see our grandparents. We'd meet with my uncle, aunt and cousins in Big Bear. We spent time in Palm Springs.
As I grew into an adult, family remained important. He would come see Beth and I in San Diego. He always would visit my family in Vegas and the Bay Area. He frequently went to see Beth. During all this he loved Marilynn. He always spoke so fondly of her. He was always so happy he had found her. The time they spent in the Philippines

Near the end he asked for my family to come visit. He spoke such love to my family. He laughed with my kids, made faces, smiled and told them he loved them.

My dad taught me about hard work, friends and family. I'm blessed he was my dad.

Next time you're wearing a trucker hat, working hard, playing ball or drinking a beer; think of my dad and what a wonderful man he was!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Thoughts about my dad


I Miss My Dad

It's been few days since my dad passed away. I've been flooded with emotions. It’s not like me to be super emotional but this is a big loss, the loss of a parent. I've thought about what he taught me, what he showed me and how I was able to support him. The purpose of this post is for me to share my memories with my dad. I want to jot my mind of all the good things we did together.

Lessons from dad

Some of the earliest memories with my dad are of us fishing together. He loved to fish. Some of these fishing lessons included: not touching the poison oak while walking through the woods, not falling in the stream when fishing on the bank and keeping my line on the reel. The reality is that I failed at all of these! I can’t tell you how many times our fishing trips ended with me in the bath and getting calamine lotion on. I’m going to say that every fishing trip I fell in the water. I had a unique ability to fall in the water pretty much every time. In addition to that, I would frequently get my line tangled. In all of these lessons my dad still helped me through them.

Last summer I was going salmon fishing. My dad loved it when I would send him pictures from my salmon fishing trips. I called him ahead of time and asked if he wanted to join me. He responded with an enthusiastic “yes” and drove up on a Thursday night. Friday morning we woke up early and headed out fishing. I wish I could say we caught limits of salmon but we didn’t. We both got skunked. But we got father and son time. Looking back, I wish I had more trips like this to think about with my dad.

As I grew up he then taught me how to shoot a gun. I can remember many times sitting in the backyard and shooting targets with him. Not only did my dad teach me to shoot a gun, he also taught me gun safety. He taught me this lesson at a early age and it has given me a great respect for the power of guns and the need to be safe with them. In fact, he didn’t call them guns. He would call them “weapons” so I knew the power they held.

Last year, when my dad first got sick, Sophie and I went to visit him. Knowing we were staying at his house and he was healing, I brought my Rugger .22 to plink around with. It was great teaching Sophie to shoot a gun in the same backyard I learned to shoot in.

When I was at the age I could drive my dad would help me work on the car. He would always make sure that I read the manual on how to do what I needed to do. He made sure that I would read it because he knew I was prone to skip something. He was insistent on getting out the right tools ahead of time. He would check my work and teach me things about cars I had no understanding of in my teens. Those lessons have proved vital in my adult years.

My dad was a frugal man. I say that with a respect for him now. He taught me the value of money on many occasions. With my parents being divorced, it was normal for me to see him every other weekend. Each weekend I had a set of chores to complete. Once they were done he would give me an allowance. In the moment I thought he was a cheapskate. As I reflect back on the lesson he was teaching me, I can see that he was showing me the value of hard work. I think that I am a hard worker because of my dad. His value for money has taught me to save for things and get the best value I can.

Times I could help my dad

As my dad aged, and the tech industry boomed, I became more of a tech native. Almost every time my dad would visit me, in my adult years, he would have a project for me to look at or help him with. I wish I could count how many things I taught him on the computer. I wish I could count how many times I showed him the same thing at each trip. On multiple occasions I would help him pair his phone with his car. Those moments in the car with him are something I wish I could have right now.

Phone Conversations

In my teenage years my dad and I got in a huge fight. I had hurt my knee snowboarding and needed to see a doctor. Something happened with my insurance due to his job and I was unable to see the doctor. I was extremely upset. We got in a huge fight on the phone. We swore at each other, said hateful words and didn’t talk for two years. I didn’t take to my dad from the age of seventeen to nineteen.

Over the last couple years I wanted to work on our relationship. It wasn’t bad, it was just that there was a distance between us with me living in the Bay Area and he being in LA County. My pastor, Mark Mitchell, gave me the advice to call him once a week on my drive home. I would regularly call him after leaving the gym on Tuesdays. It was our time to talk. I would also call him when I was leaving Tahoe after a snowboard trip with my kids. As I’m writing this, it’s Tuesday. The reality has set in that this Tuesday I won’t be able to call my dad.

The value of a parent

If your parent(s) are still alive I hope you cherish the time you have with them. Yesterday I went through my pictures to find photos for the slide show at his funeral. Your relationship may not be perfect but take the time to enjoy your parent. Think about what you can learn from them. Ask them questions now that you can’t ask them in 10 years. If you have kids, let them spend time with you parent (if they are safe to be around). I love looking at some of the pictures of my dad with my kids.