Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Social Media Break

Starting August 31 I'm going to be taking a break from social media.
It will be a break from all forms of social media.
In other words, "I'm going dark."

Now in our world a person may ask something like this, "Neal why would you do that and what value would it bring?"  It's a great question and I appreciate it. This isn't a flippant decision to go dark. This is something I've thought about for the last couple months. It's something I've been wanting to do since June but didn't feel the timing was right. It's also something I've done in the past almost as a reset button. It's something to help me reset how I spend my time and what I focus on.

As I've thought about my decision this time it centers around three main reasons:

Recenter my life on Christ 
My desire is for Christ to be the center of my life. Please don't hear me to be saying that Christ is not the center of my life right now. Christ is very much the center of my life but I need to make sure He gets to reign properly. When I spend time on social media it can detract from my time with Christ. It cane take away my focus and I want to get reentered.

This summer has been a busy one. We've been on lots of adventures, had speaking engagements, pre-marital counseling, weddings, family trips, staff hires and I've had my own fair share of challenges. When life gets crazy a person can choose to do one of two things: they can run to Christ or slowly drift away from Christ. I've found to stay close to Christ and I feel this decision is going to help strengthen my walk with my Savior.

Recapture my time
Someone once told me that people spend up to 8 hours a day on social media. My conservative guess, for my life, is that I spend about 1 hour and 15 mins a day on social media. I do find myself checking it more often on some days than others. When I think about the time I spend on social media in a day and add it up, it becomes about 9 hours a week. To put it in perspective: that is a work day for most people.

My hope is to recapture my time and invest it in areas that I long to invest in. This could mean spending my time to read the stack of books on my desk (or the ones I keep carrying in my backpack and never read). It might mean calling more friends and seeing how they are doing or texting an old friend to catch up. I may take some time to watch more movies with my wife (once the kids are in bed, of course). Maybe it means a new hike with the family this weekend.

What I'm getting at here is that I want to be in control of my time and I find that social media beckons me to scroll and I miss out on what is front of me.

Fully engage with my family
The last couple nights I've been conscious of my social media tendencies. I find that around 7:15pm I hit a wall with my energy and "check out" on my family. Its a bad pattern. Its a horrible thing to admit. In fact, tonight, Sophie said; "Daddy, put that away!" It was a reality check.

I want to engage with my kids more. Sophie is only going to be 8 for a year. Leah is on the second half of 6. Isaiah is learning new things every day. And I want to be fully engaged in these moments. I want to spend as much time with my family as possible. I don't want to be checking social media when I'm on a date with my wife; I want to be fully engaged.

I invite you to join along with me or to allow my thoughts to help you shape a time when you could take a break from social media. Also, please share your thoughts in the comments section so others can hear from you.

*there are a couple of times where I will need to get on Facebook for a brief moment to help promote/invite you to great things happening at Central Peninsula Church.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Higher Power Retreat 2016

Last weekend (August 19-21) I was invited to teach at our Higher Power Retreat. Higher Power is a ministry that supports the recovery community and it was so much fun! We headed over to Loma Mar and stayed a great little conference center called Redwood Glen. Redwood Glen is tucked in the woods and has a great facility. The theme of the weekend was Through The Woods and we looked at the second half of Romans 8.

Everything we talked about through the weekend pointed us to the fact that nothing can separate us from God's love: 
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
Now many of you know that I'm in recovery. I've been sober for 16 years now. The great thing about recovery is people know they are broken. There is something special about spending the weekend with a broken group of people (of which I am one), who know they are broken and are drawing closer to Christ. It was awesome being able to spend the weekend together.

Here are three highlights of the weekend for me:
Hike on Saturday
Saturday afternoon we took a 5 mile hike through the woods. It was great because we were talking about going through the woods. We talked about how our shame can't keep us from God. We talked about how our suffering, lame decisions and weakness couldn't keep us from God. A hike allows people to talk for hours and enjoy God's creation. It also served as a visual reminder of going through the woods and accomplishing something together. 

Baptism Celebration
After the hike we hopped in the pool and baptized three people. It was fun being able to talk about the meaning of baptism, how baptism doesn't save you and that Jesus was also baptized. Two of the people we baptized are people who I've know for a while. It was also great getting to baptize these people alongside Ricky Wade, who leads Higher Power. 

Sharing God's Word
I love preaching the good news of Jesus. Ever since I surrendered my life to Christ I've felt a strong call to share God's word. This group was great because I could share some stories that I normally don't share and share them without feeling judged. I still struggle with people pleasing and this group fully accepts each other. They loved hearing God's word and we had great conversations about what God was doing in their lives! 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Happy 8th Birthday Sophie

Eight years ago our lives completely changed when Sophie Marie Benson made her arrival. The first week of her life was a roller coaster but we are so thankful for what a blessing she is to our lives.
Children are a gift from the Lord;
  they are a reward from him.
  Psalm 127:3 (NLT)
Today we celebrated her life with a great group of her friends. We invited Rey (from Star Wars) to come over and hang out with us. She read to the kids, played some games, did face paint and the sung happy birthday to Sophie. I love that my daughter enjoys Star Wars so much. Its great that Star Wars has a strong female leader to be a role model for our girls.

Instead of talking about Sophie's birthday party I want to share 8 different lessons I've learned since having children. Each lesson will be very quick and most likely a helpful reminder.

1) Having kids is tough
When Sophie was born she went straight to NICU. She didn't pass GO, and we didn't collect $200. It was the toughest time we had ever experienced in our marriage but she will never remember it. 

2) Having kids is a joy
Let's make sure to laugh with our kids and enjoy life with them. They are such a joy and as parents we have a great opportunity to cultivate joy in the life of our children. 

3) Each child must be parented differently 
No two kids are the same. What works with one may, or may not, work with the other. Let's make sure to understand the unique nature of our children and parent them in a meaningful way. 

4) There is no formula for a great child
We can read tons of books, pray all the time and still struggle with our kid. There is no formula for a great child but each child holds their own unique personality and is created in the image of God. 

5) Get outside
Each time I get outside with my kids it gives them an opportunity to fall in love with creation. It usually sparks a conversation that allows us to talk with them about God as creator. 

6) Listen to what they have to say
If we would simply listen to our children we can learn a lot. There is no need to always talk as a parent. 

7) Pray with them and invite them to pray
Don't always be the one to pray. Invite them to pray. Teach them to pray. Let's pray with our kids and for our kids.

8) Children are smart
Your kid is smart. Try to ask them more questions and let them make decisions. The great thing is, if they screw up you are there to help them talk it through. We can give them freedom to fail today and help them succeed tomorrow. 

I am so thankful for all that Sophie (and Leah and Isaiah) have taught us about life! 

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Driving, swearing and flipping off

When I was 24 I took my first pastoral role at church in San Diego. One day I was driving home from work and preparing to merge onto the freeway. My onramp was one of those large onramps with two lanes that merged into one before merging onto the freeway; it was super confusing. This day there was a car next to me and we were pretty even entering the freeway when out of nowhere he cut me off in the merge. It's not that I was driving a fast truck, it was just that he was behind me and almost hit my truck. The next thing I knew my left hand flew out of my truck window with my middle finger extended as far as it possibly could. Next thing I knew, I told this person I thought they were number one in my book.

I was shocked, I was embarrassed and ashamed all at the same time.

Where did this behavior come from?
Where did this burst of rage come from?

I wanted to quit being a pastor. I wanted to go home and hide under the bed I was so embarrassed. I wanted to run as far away from everyone as possible. But through that outburst God still loved me. His love never changed for me. God never gave up on me. I actually learned a valuable lesson that afternoon on that San Diego freeway. The lesson is: nothing can separate me from the love of God.

Now I’m happy to admit to you that I haven’t stuck my middle finger up like that since.

Each of us will sin. Each person will do things that we are embarrassed of, find shame in and regret. The bigger question is how do we respond to our actions and sinful behavior. We can run from God, thinking He is mad at us. Or we can run to God, knowing He loves us.

I'm thankful for the words Paul writes to the church in Rome:
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
This is the same for you. Nothing can separate you from God's love. Nothing was able to separate the young, 24 year old, pastor from God's love. Live in this hope and truth today!

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Prayer removes worry

As I’ve been spending time with individuals from our church this year I’ve had an increased sense that we need to be praying more, and more effectively. Paul gives three solutions to our worries: prayer, petition and thanksgiving. Three words are used to describe a prayer life that actively fights worry. Watch this short video to hear more: https://vimeo.com/172970136