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.