Wednesday, June 27, 2018

How to pray

I think there are hundreds of thousands of people who want to pray... they are just not sure how. There are people who long to talk with God, but are concerned with the human talking with the holy. If we are all honest we would confess there is something about prayer that we are apprehensive in approaching.

Well, what if we were taught how to pray? What if there was a model that helped us learn how to pray?

In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus gives us a great model for a thriving prayer life. We know it as the The Lord's Prayer. Many of you have probably memorized this prayer at some point in your life. This is one of the most famous prayers in all of history.

It is said at the end of every Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, it is recited in church services, and little kids are taught it at a young age. It’s a prayer that many people are familiar with but aren’t practicing what Jesus instructs on how to pray. The word we have to focus on here is “how.” This, then, is how you should pray.

The first half of the prayer focuses on God
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
   your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Matthew 6:9-10
The designation of Father implies an intimate relationship. It is a challenging word because we face the crisis and chaos of non-father fathers. We live in a world in which fathers don’t often act as fathers should act. Maybe your earthly father brings images of neglect, sorrow, and pain. Maybe you cringed a bit whenever someone describes God as “Father.” Maybe this is a hang-up in your prayer life and you've never made it further than that.

Jesus reminds us that God is in heaven and we are here on earth. This statement  requires us to think about the holiness of God and the position God holds. Recognize that God is in heaven and we are not. Jesus then talks about God’s name being hallowed. Hallowed comes from the Greek word- ἁγιάζω (hagiazō) meaning to sanctify or regard as holy. We live in a time where not much is holy any more. We’ve watered down marriage, we neglect commitments and we push God out of every sector we can. A thriving prayer life focuses on the holiness of God.

Jesus instructs us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come, but it seems too often we are more concerned with building our empires. We pray more for our will to be done than for God’s will to be done. God’s Kingdom is eternal and God’s will is perfect. Unfortunately we focus on a cheapened version of what God longs for us to have. We are a church who prays bold prayers. This prayer that Jesus models is a bold prayer. It’s uncommon and unconventional. It is a prayer that focuses on the holy nature of God before asking for a personal handout. We need to apply this part to our prayer lives; we need to focus more on God and less on ourselves.

The first part of Jesus’ instruction here focuses on God, while the second part focuses on the needs of a person:
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’
Matthew 6:11-13
Jesus begins by telling people to ask for their daily bread. I think one reason we don’t pray as much in America is because we have loaves of bread in our homes. My guess is that most of you have food in your fridge for the week. If you don’t have food in the fridge, you might have money to buy it. I can even remember using change to buy a burger at McDonald’s when they had 39 cent cheeseburgers! But the original audience didn’t have this luxury. Not everyone have been afflicted with wealth; people across the world are wondering their next meal will come from.

The forgiveness of debtors refers to forgiveness of sins and not a monetary debt. It’s interesting because Jesus talked briefly about this earlier in the Sermon on the Mount. He said (Matthew 5:23-24). Jesus is serious about being in right relationship with others. People have left churches because of un-forgiveness towards others. Wrong relationships don’t right our relationship with God. Wrong relationships mess with our relationship with God. We don’t always have to reconcile relationships but we do need to forgive others because God forgave us.

The last line of the prayer talks about being led away from temptation. This doesn’t mean we won’t be tempted. We are still going to face the temptations that every person faces. A literal translation of this verse would be, “don’t let us succumb to the temptation.”

Jesus was tempted! In Matthew 4, Jesus was fasting and praying for forty days in the wilderness. The devil came to tempt Him but He overcame that temptation. We too will be tempted, but we can overcome that temptation. We all succumb to periodic temptation, but we need to move on and move towards God. When we succumb to temptation, we can ask God to deliver us from the evil one and restore us back to His side.

Applying the Lord's Prayer

How do we take this model Jesus gave on prayer apply it to our prayer life? First, we know that God is looking for an unseen prayer life. Find a place where you can be alone with God and use the model Jesus gave. Give glory and honor to God. Praise God for the good things in your life. If you think you don’t have anything good going on, you need to think harder. Begin with praising God for your health. Thank God for the roof over your head. Thank God for the food you have in your fridge. Thank God for your church and what is happening there. Lift up the holiness of God because we live in a unholy time.

Pray for God’s Kingdom to come. If you don’t know what to pray, you can simply pray for God’s will to be done. When you pray for God’s will to be done, you begin to line up your heart with the heart of God. God will begin to speak His will to you. He will give you a deeper passion. Your prayer doesn’t have to be eloquent or pious; God is looking at your heart. When we start our prayer life focusing on God, it does something inside us. It centers us back on God. It helps our mind to think of all we have and not what we wish we had. It put us in a right place to move forward in our prayer life. If you start your prayer life focusing on God, it changes your heart and desires to those of God.

Praying for your needs

Let’s move on to the part about praying for ourselves. It is right for us to ask God to provide us our daily bread. Good fathers want to provide for their children. Fathers work hard to provide for their children. We all know that the fridge doesn’t fill itself; someone has to work for the food. I love that Jesus says to, “pray for daily bread.” Jesus doesn’t tell us to pray for a rack of ribs. Our prayer life needs to contain humility. Pray for God to meet your daily needs and I think that as your heart lines up with Him, you will also get what you want.

There is a practical part of our prayer life we can’t neglect here. We need to ask for forgiveness and give forgiveness. There are times we come to God asking for something while harboring bitterness in our hearts. Did you know that God forgives your sins? God will forgive you for all your sins if you just ask. Ask God to forgive you of the wrongs you’ve done. Jesus is going to talk more about forgiveness in a couple of verses so I’m going to spend less on it here.

Finally we need to pray against the temptation in our lives. The apostle Paul spent a lot of time in Corinth teaching people about the holy things of God. Listen to one thing he taught them
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:13
God knows what we can handle in temptation. We won’t be tempted beyond what we can handle, but at times the temptation will stretch our prayer life. This doesn’t mean we won’t be tested, we will be tested
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4
Temptations and testing will strengthen our faith. This is what we long for, to be stronger in faith.

Conversations with God

God wants to hear your voice. God longs to converse with you, and that is what prayer is.
Think about your best friend. How did you develop such a strong relationship? You spent time together. You had long conversations. You stayed up late talking about every topic on your mind. You cried together, laughed together and went through hills and valleys together. This is also what grows our prayer life with God. We honestly come to Him and have long conversations. Your unseen prayer life grows your relationship with Jesus.

Your unseen prayer life grows your relationship with God. It strengthens your faith and walk with Jesus.

Let me ask you an honest question: If God answered all your prayers for last week, how would the world be better? Would your neighbors’ lives be changed? Would you kids know God more? Would world hunger be abolished?

Take an active role in prayer. Make it a priority. Use this model that Jesus gives us to have a thriving prayer life. I think one reason that people don’t pray is because they don’t know how to pray. Now you know how to pray and you know that your unseen prayer life grows your relationship with Jesus.

Listen to what Paul E. Miller said, “Learning to pray doesn’t offer you a less busy life; it offers you a less busy heart.”

Monday, June 25, 2018

Stop Praying this Prayer

Let me dispel a myth about prayer. Too often Christ followers ask God to be with them. You don’t have to pray this because God is already with you. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told the disciples He would be with them always:
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
If you are a Christ follower, God is with you. Work at getting your prayer life in line with God’s heart. Pray more for God’s will. You can also pray for others. Pray for your friends, pray for your church, the leadership in local and national government (I know you might not like some of them), the staff at your kids school or pray for others who come to mind.

Now, if you haven't trusted in Jesus yet. I would encourage you to cry out to God. Ask God to be with you and make a point to line yourself up with God. Look to His face. Turn your eyes from the things that take your attention and cry out to the Lord of Heaven.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


My life was transformed just over eighteen years ago. It wasn't by my doing but by my surrender. I had made a ton of unwise choices but God transformed me. The Bible talks about being transformed. The Bible speaks to the life change God offers.

In the Gospel of Matthew we have an account where Jesus was transformed. Matthew starts with some basic details of time and location
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. Matthew 17:1
Jesus was currently in the northern region of Israel. He has taken the disciples on a quick getaway but the group has narrowed down. Jesus was intentionally investing in these three men: James, John and Peter. It’s been six days since Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah and they are in a new location.

Jesus led the boys up on a high mountain. Jesus only choose a few of them to go to this high mountain. Some scholars think the mountain was Mount Hermon. It was close to the region they were in and it would have made sense for them to go there.

Jesus wants these men to think more about eternity than this life
There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Matthew 17:2-4
Imagine if you went on a hike with a few of your closest friends, and then one of them started shining like the sun and His clothes changed to the brightest white you’ve ever seen. To make the situation even better, two historic pillars of the Jewish faith show up and start talking to Jesus. Then one of your friends, who always speaks before he thinks, starts talking about setting up some tents and camping there for the night. How would you ever be able to explain what happened?

Thankfully, Matthew explains what took place on the mountain that day. Jesus is transfigured before His friends on the mountain. The change that happens to Jesus is two-fold; there is an inner change and an outer change. The inner change was visible in the fact that the face of Jesus now shone like the sun.

The outer change was seen because His clothes became as white as the light. Jesus was finally showing a glimpse of who He really was. This is one instance with two visible changes that Matthew is able to share. Matthew uses this word transfigured to describe the change that happened to Jesus. Jesus was definitely changed and it showed in His appearance— His face shone like the sun! We don’t see any inner change, just these changes in how the disciples saw Jesus.

Something also happened to the clothing of Jesus. Matthew writes that Jesus’ clothes became as white as light. White is associated with holiness; angels are always depicted as wearing white, and women wear white dresses on their wedding day to represent purity. This should make us think about the holiness and purity of Jesus.

These changes makes what happens next so spectacular. Right as Jesus’ appearance changed two men appeared; Moses and Elijah. Moses lived about 1400 years before Jesus was born (Deuteronomy 34:7). Moses is most known for leading God’s people out of captivity and through the Red Sea. He led them into the desert for forty years and brought them to the edge of the Promised Land. If you’ve been around church for any length of time, you’ve most likely read about Moses and how much He did for God’s people. If your church experience is new, I highly encourage you to read about Moses’ life in the Old Testament.

There is another man in our story and his name is Elijah. Elijah was a prophet for the nation of Israel. He did some amazing things like: he told the sky when to rain, he healed a little boy who was dead, and he also met with God on a mountain. The Bible tells us that Elijah never tasted death. He was walking in the desert one day and was taken up into heaven (2 Kings 2:11-12). There one minute and gone in the best Uber you’ve ever ridden in. This is how I want to die!

So here we have these two men who were historic men of Israel; two men who loved God and followed God. Two men who represent the Law and the Prophets, standing with Jesus on the mountain. Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the prophets. Jesus is hanging out with the two major representatives of the Jewish faith, and then Peter blurts out something about setting up camp.

You have to think James and John looked at him and were like, “What are you saying? How are you going to make this happen?” It’s probably at this point that Peter looks around and realizes what he’s said.

God wants to transform us! Not exactly like Jesus’ transformation, but a transformation from God. When a person places their faith and trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, an immediate change happens. Think about the change that happened in Jesus. You might curious about Jesus because you’ve seen a friend’s life transformed. Your friend once partied and swore like a sailor, but they started goiter to church, met Jesus, and the Holy Spirit has transformed their life. You’re reading this because you want to know about this power! You want to know about this man Jesus who transforms lives.

Some of you are reading and you are the transformed people. You surrendered your life to Jesus and stopped living for yourself. Your life was heading in one direction, but the Lord intersected your course and convicted you of your lifestyle. You have experienced this inward and outward change we just studied. You once thought one way but Jesus has transformed you to His way. There is an external change that has occurred too! Your countenance has changed and you’re joyful because of Jesus. Keep living as a transformed person.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

7 Questions with Kirstin Vlodica

Kirstin Vlodica is a Christ follower, wife, mother and pastor. Kirstin grew up in Apple Valley, CA and  currently serves in Bend, Oregon (her husbands home town). Kirstin is married to Tyler and they have two beautiful daughters. Kirstin is the Children's Pastor at New Hope Church. Kirstin has a passion to help see more people live out the life Jesus has called them to.

Kirstin and I met in August 2012 when I accepted a call to serve at Central Peninsula Church. She was serving on the staff in a children's ministry coordinator role when I arrived. About a year into my tenure at CPC our Children's Director resigned. I wish I could say that I immediately hired Kirstin for the role but I didn't. About six months later it was obvious she was the person to lead our Children's Ministry and she did a FANTASTIC job! Through her relational ministry and loving leadership our church reached more families! I am blessed to call her a friend and partner in ministry. I hope you love her insight her as much as I do.

1. Just over a year ago you accepted a call to serve at a wonderful church in Bend, Oregon. What has God taught you during this transition?

What a year it has been! Our family left the bustling city, where we lived for 6 years in a tiny two bedroom apartment, to a small town where we are enjoying almost an acre of land with deer roaming our yard. What a change! I think it was normal to be anticipating starting fresh and being excited about the new ministry. However, when after two months we experienced major change in leadership and a difficult transition at New Hope Church, I was reminded that ministry isn’t for wimps and that trusting God rarely looks like we imagine it will.

2. You have a great balance of education about the stages kids experience and compassion for parents, how do you help parents navigate the stages of their kids lives?

Here’s what I know… Every parent wants to be a better parent. The best parents want to be better, the distracted parent wants to be better, the parent that thinks they’ve failed wants to be better. In Deuteronomy 6, Moses reminds us to “impress” core truths on the hearts of the next generation. I think God wanted us to know that our role is to not just present information but to keep translating and reinforcing truth until it is “impressed” into a child’s mind and heart. When parents understand how to help their kids relate to God through their imagination, intellect, emotions, personality, and physical being we will see kids develop a faith that is real at every phase. I see my role as a partner to help parents leverage each phase to help their kids develop a real and lasting faith.

3. How has being connected with Orange shaped your ministry?

I have come to understand that Orange is much more than a curriculum for Sunday morning programming. What I love about Orange is the way their team equips and provides resources that make me better. One of my strengths is leading strategically and Orange gives me so many tools to support our ministry goals. For example, I value equipping leaders and volunteers and Orange has an entire training and equipping strategy that I can personalize and use. Another way it has shaped my ministry is through coaching. I have taken advantage of the connections I’ve made through conferences and intentionally sought out relationships with leaders who I want to learn from. Currently I am being coached and mentored by two different amazing leaders who are on staff at Orange. I feel like I’m learning from the best and am so grateful for these opportunities that make me a better leader.

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

My husband, Tyler has been in graduate school for the past three years. I work full-time in ministry and he stays home with our youngest daughter a few days a week while also doing an internship. Our life and marriage often feels like a revolving door or a baton hand-off as we juggle it all. One of the things we’ve done is to protect our saturdays as a family- with Sunday being a work day for me this becomes our only day together. We try to explore and adventure together. We’ve had to say no to some other good things on Saturdays but we know that our time with just our little family is so important. In our very limited time together this season, we’ve chosen FUN together as a value when the responsibilities of our jobs and school can be weighty.

5. How do you balance being a mom, pastoral leader, friendships and other aspects of life?

I  was recently challenged by a mentor and friend to stop thinking there is a way to balance it all. I’ve always struggled with trying to put all the “callings” I felt from God in some kind of order of importance and then feeling so completely guilty when my time didn’t reflect that order. But the reality is, I am a whole person who is called to be a mom and a wife and a pastor and sometimes there just isn’t a way to keep all those roles even and equal in my time and attention. I truly believe that family and ministry can be done well. Frank Bealer in his book The Myth of Balance says, “When guidelines are clear and solutions are created in advance, serving in the local church becomes an empowering way of life, not a sacrificial burden to bear.”
I’ve tried to be very intentional and honest about what it looks like for ministry to be a family calling not just a personal one. I think we’ve found joy and empowerment knowing people are coming to know Jesus not just because Mommy is doing her job but because our family is an active part of something really awesome- God’s family getting bigger!

6. You’re currently working on a graduate degree, what are you most excited about and what are you not looking forward to?

I started a Master’s 8 years ago but gave up on it after marriage and having our first daughter. So, with our youngest starting Kindergarten and my husband finishing up his program, I thought it’d be a good time to keep the craziness going! I just have such a craving to learn. The program I’m doing is a Masters in Ministry and Leadership with an emphasis in coaching leadership. I’m most excited to learn how God might continue to use me in ministry and sharpen those skills and gifts. I’m totally nervous to be back in school with actual deadlines and the pressure of academia. And let’s be honest, I might the old one in the class now!

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

I’d tell myself that God’s goodness to me is so beyond what I could have hoped. Not always easy, but oh so sweet.. I’d also tell myself that my husband ends up being really awesome so to stop crying over that other guy!

Make sure to go connect with Kirstin on social media! If you're a children's pastor I highly encourage you to reach out to her and learn more!

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Canoeing the Mountains- Book Review

Book Title- Canoeing the Mountains

Author- Tod Bolsinger

Publisher- InterVarsity Pres

Pages- 247

Quotable- Leadership isn't so much skillfully helping a group accomplish what they want to do (this is management). Leadership is taking people where they need to go and yet resist going. (page 124)

I grabbed this book about six months ago. I meet with a group of pastors each month for coffee, conversation and then we grab lunch. We talk about the changing landscape of ministry, leading churches in California and laugh a bunch.

One of the guys in our group read this book a few years ago and recommended we go through it. Tod uses the lessons that Lewis and Clark learned from traveling across America and translates them into the lessons pastors are currently learning. His stories about Lewis and Clark are fascinating! He gives me historical insight that I never knew. For example, the Western part of America was thought to be similar to the Eastern part. Lewis and Clark thought they would take a waterway to the Pacific Ocean!

When they reached the Rocky Mountains they knew they needed to adjust their method of getting through the Rockies. These men literally carried their canoes through the mountains until they found a waterway that took them to the Pacific. They wouldn't have been able to accomplish this feat without the help of Sacagawea. She was pivotal in helping them. For example, no raiding party would bring women along. When other groups saw Lewis and Clark, with Sacagawea they knew they were a friendly group!

For pastors who've been leading for decades I can see this book as a huge help. Most of my ministry experience has been in post-Christian America. I've served in cities that are not Bible-minded. I've lived in Las Vegas, the San Francisco Peninsula and now in So Cal. That doesn't mean I didn't learn from it. Tod has decades of experience I can learn from. He shares practical examples that are needed in leading the church through changes.

This book had great material, that spoke to my situation, with revitalizing a church. Tod helped lead his church through a process of reaching more people in their community for Jesus. He was encouraging for a pastor to have a strong conviction, from the Lord, about the direction of the church. The pastor needed to remain calm in the direction and stay the course. It's easy to get upset but the need to remain calm in leadership is huge!

The adventure that Tod leads on through the reshaping of church leadership is really good. He puts good words to what many leaders experience. He talks about how to navigate mountains when you expected water. Tod starts by discussing what it will require to chart uncharted territory. He makes sure the leader knows how to use a map and what it requires to lead off the map. Tod talks about the need for resilience and relationships to make the journey. He ends with transformation and what that looks like.

I enjoyed most of this book. After the second half I felt like things got a little repetitive (that is not always bad, we need to hear things repeated so we understand them). I didn't completely like the final two chapters. I appreciate Tod's honesty about the denominational struggles he faced with leading off the map and helping his denomination but skimmed them. You might read the book and feel differently if you're a part of a denomination in change.

Overall, I would recommend the book.