Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Focus your praise on God

In the Christmas story we see an amazing pattern of praise from two amazing women. It's not a praise for the gifts they received or what was under the tree. It's a lifestyle of praise for the great things God has done.

I'm convinced that many of us have missed the point of Christmas. When you read the Gospel of Luke it ignites your heart to the things of God:
And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name. (Luke 1:46-49)
This portion of Scripture has often been called the Magnificat. It’s from the Latin for “magnificent” and is based on the first word of Mary’s song of praise. When we think about what God is doing it really is magnificent.

The first part of Mary’s song of praise focuses on the role she will play in the birth of Christ. Mary never complains that she doesn’t get what she expected. She doesn’t whine about missing out on typical teenage things. She isn't mad she won't go to prom or that the other kids at Nazareth High will talk behind her back.

She knows that God has been mindful of her, based on her humble state. It’s a fascinating piece of literature from a teenage girl. Mary had a deep sense of understanding the power of God and His love for His people. Mary is an emotionally healthy young lady who placed her entire trust in God.

Listen to this: "Mary praised God for what he was about to do and for the part she was privileged to play in his plan." -Robert H. Stein

I want to point out that we can learn from anyone in our lives. Right now we are learning how to praise God from a teenage girl! I know another teenage girl who taught me a lesson. Her name is Kailee Johnson and she was a student leader when I was a High School Pastor. We were planning a big “Invite Night” to help our students reach their friends with the love of Jesus.

Our student leaders showed up early to decorate the room and prepare for the evening. I stopped in to see how things were going and asked Kailee if she needed any help. She looked at me, from the top of a ladder, and said, “Neal, I need you to go write your sermon. I’ve invited some friends and your message better not suck!” It was a perfect response and freed me up to do my role that night. I learned an unforgettable lesson from Kailee that afternoon. What else have you learned from someone you didn’t expect to learn from?

In verse 50, we read a shift in the focus of Mary’s praise:
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. (Luke 1:50-56)

Mary moves from taking personally about her soul glorifying the Lord to emphasizing the greatness of the Lord. So let’s talk about the mercy of the Lord. Mercy means compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm. God could have punished or harmed us for our sins, but instead He chose to send Jesus instead to show us love. We don’t normally expect mercy; we expect to get what we deserve. But God gave us mercy!

Mary mentions the mighty deeds of the Lord and the power of His arm. I wonder if she thought about the Israelites crossing the Red Sea after God parted it. I wonder if she thought about God providing manna for Israel so they wouldn’t starve in the desert. What do you think about with God’s mighty arm? Can you think about a time where God intervened to help you in life? Today are you longing for that to take place?

God wants to move on your behalf.

See Mary talks about the greatness of God. She focuses her praise on the Lord. If you are struggling today, make this your song. Sing it, shout it, memorize it, whisper it, and let it roll off your tongue. God helps His servants. God moves on behalf of His people. He hasn’t forgotten any one of us. Many of us have a song in our mind, but is that song honoring God? I can think of many different tunes I know, but I want my praise to be focused on the Lord.

Live a minute of praise 

One of the last parts we read is that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then went home. We don’t read that the truant officer came looking for her or that her parents were scared. But when we reflect on this passage, it’s easy to think about how we are doing at praising God. I wanted to talk about living a life of praise and how we can plan out the next five, ten, or fifty years of our lives,  but that isn’t really practical. It’s much more practical to focus on worshipping God in the next minute of this day. What if you just asked yourself, “How can I praise God in this next minute of my life?” What would change?

We are really good at praising people. Some of us have the gift of encouragement and we love to tell people what a great job they are doing. Others of us have the gift of discouragement, and we love to point out the problems we see in others. First let me suggest that we focus on praising the creator. Mary was really good at directing her praise to God as the creator. She understood the goodness and compassion of God. She didn’t praise Elizabeth for being so wise and the baby John the Baptist. Mary didn’t praise her parents for being such good parents or her relatives for opening their door for her to stay there with them. Mary had her praise focused on God.

For us to have God as the center of our praise means we need to address what our eyes are truly longing for. As a parent, it is easy to praise our kids. It is easy to praise a spouse. It is easy to praise a lifelong friend who has helped us navigate a tough time in life. I’m not saying to withhold encouragement from these people, I’m asking for you to evaluate who you are praising and make sure you make it a priority to praise the creator this Christmas season.

Secondly, I’ve found that during Christmas it is easy to focus on material possessions. Have you noticed that half of the commercials on TV right now are telling you to buy a new car!? It’s crazy. It seems like every day my kids are telling me another gift they want under the tree. I can tell you this, I am not getting them a hamster no matter how much they beg for one. Christmas is not about the price tags possessions. Christmas is not about the gifts we receive, it’s about praising the giver of life. I know there are some presents you are longing to get, but don’t forget to give your praise to God this year.

Finally, praise God for His goodness in your life. It can be easy to think that we are super smart, have all the answers, and know what we’re talking about. But let’s redirect personal praise to praise for God. When Elizabeth praised God for what He was doing in Mary’s life, Mary went straight to praising God for His goodness. Mary pushed that praise right to God. God has done amazing things in your life. God has brought each of us through tough times. Praise God for the good things He’s done in your life. Praise Him and don’t curse Him this Christmas.

I know that we are all in different places in our spiritual lives. Not everyone is a believer in Jesus. That is what the church is all about, helping people find and follow Jesus. That means we all can grow in our walks with Jesus. Some of us are great at worshipping football more than Jesus while some of us worship Jesus more than anything else. I also know that familiarity breeds complacency. If this is your first time hearing this story, it’s all new information to you. But if you’ve been around church for a while, it might be repetitive.

Pastor Daniel Schreiner once said, “For many of us, the familiarity of this Christmas story has deadened the impact it should have on our lives. We have lost the wonder.” When we keep our praise on God, it keeps the wonder in Christmas.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Circle Maker- Book Review

Book Title- The Circle Maker

Author- Mark Batterson

Publisher- Zondervan

Pages- 226

Quotable- "Yet many of us prayer as if our problems are bigger than God." (page 73)

Over the summer I preached a sermon series on prayer at Coastline. We called it "Conversations with God" because I think we've complicated prayer too much. For the sermon series I grabbed about 4-6 books and dove into the subject of prayer.

I looked at the prayer lives of others, the habits of others, the struggles, and more. I read about churches who started a prayer movement. I looked the Scripture to see what God said about prayer. It was a great time of personal study. The hardest part was figuring out what to share and what would stay in my heart.

Circle Marker is one of the books that grabbed my attention and heart. Mark Batterson captivated me with his historical and practical understanding of prayer. Mark shares stories of history from people who prayed and God answered. Some of the stories are straight from the Bible, while others are written in history. Mark talks about his own prayer journey which resonated deeply with my soul.

Mark shares about the prayers prayed for him and the prayers he has made. The idea of being a circle maker is taken straight from a man named Honi. You have to read the book to learn about Honi because it's a fantastic story. But the idea of being a circle maker has changed my prayer life. I'm intentionally leaving this paragraph ambiguous to encourage you to read the book. I honestly believe we need more circle makers in the world.

My prayer life has shifted from long prayers to focused prayers. I've begun going on prayer walks more frequently. I've thought about my posture in prayer. I've tried to kick myself out of cruise control on prayer and focus on what I'm asking the God of Heaven. I've prayed circles around my kids, marriage, and church. I just prayed a circle around the 39th year of my life because of this book!

Mark breaks the book into four sections:
  1. The First Circle- Dream Big
  2. The Second Circle- Prayer Hard
  3. The Third Circle- Think Long
  4. Keep Circling 
I would defiantly recommend this book to any believer at any stage of life. I'm grateful for the concept of praying circles and the stories Mark shares about God answering his prayers. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

A time to celebrate

We’re in a time of year where kids are writing their list, heading to the mall, visiting Santa and looking for the gift that will give them happiness. At the same time, teenagers are trying to finish up classes so they can have a break in school. Parents are staying up late shopping on Amazon and wrapping presents. Grandparents are planning to visit family or receive family who is coming home to visit them. Each of us are preparing for Christmas and the end of 2018 in a different way.

In my opinion, this really needs to be a time of gratitude. This needs to be a time of celebration, pause, reflection, and joy.

It’s a time to celebrate what God has brought us through this year.
It’s a time to pause and spend time with God.
It’s a time to reflection on how we’ve lived in light of the gospel.
It’s a time to have joy for health, family, and love.
This is a time to celebrate.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Using the time God has given me

Every week we are each given 10,080 minutes to invest into living a generous life.

A recent study from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census tells us how many Americans spend that resource each year. 

Commuting: 9.4 days
The average American commutes 52 minutes per day or 225 hours a year.

Working: 120 days
The average employed American works 7.9 hours a day or 2,883 hours a year.

Cleaning house: 27.4 days
The average American spends 1.8 hours a day or 657 hours a year on chores.

Exercising: 4.9 days
The average American spends 0.32 hour a day or 117 hours a year on exercise.

Sleeping: 134 days
The average American sleeps 8.8 hours a day or 3,212 hours a year

Calling, mailing & emailing: 2.4 days
The average American spends .16 hours a day or 58 hours a year
Total: 306 days a year—84% of your year on the daily grind.

This study made me evaluate how I'm using the time God has given me. In fact, I'm more convicted by the time I waste on social media, playing games, and watching TV.

So what can we do about the time we've been given? The Bible talks about being a good steward of what we have. You can also read Ecclesiastes 3 to learn about the different seasons in life. 

Instead of simply knowing what the Bible says, I think we’re all longing to apply God’s truth to our daily life. It’s good to have information but what we really long is life transformation. 

When we think about our time on earth and living a generous life, remember this: My time needs to be invested for God’s Kingdom. Invest the time you have been given to grow God’s Kingdom. See the author of Ecclesiastes is longing for the meaning of life. He seems to be experiencing a time of hopelessness and despair. 

So how do we use this time to invest in God’s Kingdom? Let’s talk about three simple ways you can apply to your life this week!

1. Enjoy the season you are in. 

It is so easy to long for a different season. If you are single you might long for a spouse. If you are married, you might long for kids. If you have teens, you might long for them to leave the house. Enjoy the season are in and ask God what you can learn in this time. God has given you this season to embrace the good things He has for you. 

2. Invest your time to honor God. 

What does it look like to invest our time. Well, we are all familiar with investing our money in the stock market. We evaluate what it taking place and make wise choices with what we have So let’s take the 10,080 minutes we have this week and invest that into honoring God. 

What does it mean to honor God? To honor God is to put Him first in all we do. It means to worship God in all we do, to live a life focused on God. be generous this week and help someone find Jesus. Maybe you have a friend in your life who is curious about spiritual things, schedule a coffee and use the time God has given you to help that person draw closer to Him. Use the time you’ve been given to pray for your neighbors. 

Once of the ways you can invest the time you’ve been given is to study God’s word. If you are new to church, start reading the book of James. It’s a great book in the New Testament. You can also read the Gospel of Mark. It’s only 16 chapters and I think you could read it for 5-10 mins a day and finish it in less than two weeks. A few weeks someone from our church stopped me in the lobby and said that because I talk so much about regularly reading your Bible that she is doing it every day now. I love hearing stories like that! 

3. Evaluate how you spend your time. 

This is a tough thing to do. A couple weeks ago I updated the software on my phone and was able to set limits on how much time I can spend on certain apps. I did this because I know I am prone to zoning out and using my phone too much. 

Another exercise is to track your time for a week. Write down how much time you spend doing tasks, sleeping, reading the Bible, eating, watching TV, and exercising. Evaluate if this is the best use of your time. You might be shocked to see how much time you spend in one area. 

About a decade ago I was working on seminary and really struggling with time management. I could barely get my work done, snuck school assignments in at the last minute, and neglected my time with my family. I shared this struggle with a prof one summer and he committed to helping me. It took me seven months of practice, and a few meetings with him, to figure it out. But I needed to assess how I use my time and the best way to invest it. I realized that I was neglecting my family and now Charity and I have a regular date. 

I rarely get stuck at the office late because I invest my time well into what I feel God has called me to accomplish. You can live in this freedom too by evaluating how you invest your time. 

You might be feeling guilty about how you’ve invested the time in your life. You might feel confused about what to do next. You might feel content that you have invested your time well. You might even feel overwhelmed about the weight of viewing your time in a different way. 

Let me remind you that you are alive right now. You still have time to make adjustments. We can all invest our time in a meaningful way this week. 

When I think about time and learning how to be generous with the time I have I’m reminded of what a family friend once taught me. I was seventeen years old and raking leaves with her. I was a punk and she was trying to help me make wise decisions. She said, “Neal, I need to tell you three things that you need to know about life. First, life is a lesson learn from it. Second, life is a lesson learn from it. Third, life is a lesson learn from it.” 

We can learn from God’s word about using our time to invest in God’s Kingdom.

Monday, November 19, 2018

I stole from the offering plate

It was a normal Sunday morning in my family. We were heading to church and I was probably six years old. After church we would always go to the grocery store. This morning my mom told my sister and I that we were a little tight on money so we wouldn’t be able to get a treat at the store and I was obviously heart-broken. We went to church like normal, were dismissed, and drove to the grocery store.

When we got out of the car, my mom reiterated to us that we didn’t have much money this month and we weren’t going to be able to get a treat at the store. At this point, I reached into my pocket, pulled out a twenty dollar bill, and handed it to my mom. My mom was shocked. Where did her six year old get a twenty from?

So of course she asked me, “Where did you get this?” I proceeded to tell her that she said we were low on money this month, so when the big plate of money came by at church, I grabbed a little for us. This was probably a warning sign for my mom of what she was going to deal with when I became a teenager.

Yesterday I shared this story at Coastline. Our church is talking about living a generous life and what we do with our financial resources says a lot about our heart. I don't think I stole that money out of greed but out of a solution to help my family. Jesus talked about money a lot in the Gospels. Of His thirty-eight parables, about half of them deal with money and possessions. In the Gospels, one in every ten verses deal with money. Why so much talk about money? Because our attitude to money reveals a lot about us.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:19–21
Jesus commanded His hearers not to accumulate material possessions that would not be used for the building of His Kingdom. Verses 19 and 20 are almost exactly the same except for the command regarding where to store up the treasures. 

The original listeners would have known something about their environment that we miss out. Moths and rust were common concerns in the hot, sandy, Palestinian climate. Moths were prone to eating garments and rust was common for items buried in the ground. Jesus also mentions the threat of thieves coming into a person’s home and stealing their possessions. Have you ever been robbed or had your home broken into? Window smashed, door kicked in, drawers ransacked and been robbed of your belongings? This is one of the most violating experiences a person can go through in their lifetime. This is a reality for earthly investments; they are not safe from anything but are vulnerable. 

The opposite, however, is true for Kingdom investments. That is why verse 21 is so important for us to hold on to, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 

When our treasure is invested in heaven and we don’t fall into believing the myth that worldly wealth will bring up satisfaction, that is when we can find the freedom to invest in what can never be taken away from us. Ultimately what Jesus is getting at here in verse 21, is how our view of money reveals our heart. He doesn’t come out and say it, but He leads us to that conclusion. 

We have to ask ourselves some tough questions about where we’re investing our money and for what reasons. We have to check our heart’s motivation. Now I’m not suggesting you stop investing in retirement or saving for your kids to go to college. But Jesus is asking that you think about where your treasure is, because when you can define that, you will discover where your heart resides. I love what Pastor Rick Warren says on the subject of money, “Never put your security in something that can be taken from you.” 

The next time we’re presented with an opportunity to love money more than we love God, we need to remember this: You cannot serve both God and money. 

It’s impossible to do so. We must evaluate our true desires and make sure we’re ready to count the cost of following Christ. Because of a book I read a few years ago, I was deeply convicted on this topic. The quote that most stuck out to me was: “If your heart’s crammed tight with material things and a thirst for wealth, there’s no space left for God.” -Ian Morgan Cron

Monday, November 05, 2018

Daniel 10-12 Small Group Questions

Our church is currently studying the book of Daniel. For ten-weeks we're walking through the book and talking about living a courageous life. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions
The End Times
Daniel 10-12

As we continue our study in Daniel we see Daniel is visited by a heavenly being. The story in Daniel 10-12 is best read as a continuous event. Daniel 10 focuses on the visit of the heavenly being and Daniel’s response to him. As we move into Chapter 11, we read about things in the past and the Antichrist to come. Daniel 12 helps us keep our focus on living for the Lord and finding our inheritance in Him. The book of Daniel is a reminder to us to stay courageous in the Lord and live daily for Him.

1) Share about a time in your life when you prayed for something or someone for a long period of time. Has God answered that prayer? Did you give up? Or are you still praying?

2) In Daniel 10 we read about a heavenly encounter that Daniel has. Who do you think the heavenly being is that Daniel speaks with? Could this be the same person written about in Hebrews 7?

3) Throughout His public ministry, Jesus cast out numerous demons. Read Daniel 10:20. Do you think there are demons assigned to different regions of the world to torment, cause trouble, and keep people from following God?

4) Read Daniel 11:32. Throughout history there have been godly men and women who have stood for what is right. Who you know that is currently standing for the good things of God? Are you prepared to stand for the good things of God in an evil age?

5) The Antichrist is completely against God is all things. There will be a seven year time period where this person is allowed to rule. Daniel 11:36-12:4 speak of the Antichrist. When you think of the Antichrist, what comes to mind?

6) In Daniel 12:1 we read about a book with the names of people written in it. Do you think this is the same book mentioned in: Psalm 69:28, Philippians 4:3, and Revelation 20:15? What is the importance of having your name written in this book?

7) The book of Daniel ends with a promise that Daniel will receive his allotted inheritance. What inheritance do you think this is? Is this the same inheritance that Peter tells us about in 1 Peter 1:3-5?

Close your time in prayer.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Daniel Chapter 9- Small Group Questions

Our church is currently studying the book of Daniel. For ten-weeks we're walking through the book and talking about living a courageous life. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions
Answered Prayer
Daniel 9

As we continue our study in Daniel we see that the prophecy in chapter 2 is fulfilled; King Cyrus now reigns on the throne and Babylon the great has been disposed. Daniel is reading Scripture and learns about the seventy years of exile. This drives Daniel to prayer and Gabriel comes to visit him with a prophetic revelation. Scholars agree that verses 24-27 are the most difficult verses to interpret and figure out (don’t worry if your group can’t completely understand them as they are a small portion of the entire text and Biblical scholars regularly discuss them).

1) Share about a time in your life where God answered your prayer. It might be something that just happened or a memorable time from the past.

2) Read Daniel 9:2. When times were difficult, Daniel turned to Scripture. What are some passages you regularly turn to when feeling down? What are some things, besides the Bible, you turn to when times are difficult?

3) Read Daniel 9:3-4. We read that Daniel had a vibrant prayer life and dedication to reading God’s word. What does your prayer life look like and how would you like to alter it based on Daniel 9?

4) Pastor Neal mentioned four other men who stepped in to intercede for God’s people. Moses (read Exodus 32:31-32). Elijah (Read 1 Kings 18:41-45). Jehoshaphat (read 2 Chronicles 20:3). Hezekiah (read 2 Kings 19:14-19). Who are others who interceded for God’s people?

5) Daniel prepared himself for prayer. What kind of ways do you prepare yourself for making your prayers effective, not only in getting answers, but also in changing your life and focus?

6) Read Daniel 9:21. God’s word said that Gabriel came in swift flight. it says nothing about him having wings. Bullets fly, arrows fly, and frisbees fly. What do you think angel travel looks like? Where else in Scripture does the Bible talk about angel travel?

7) Read Daniel 9:24-27. Pastor Neal explained the different ‘sevens’ that Gabriel spoke about. What do you think about these time periods?  

Close your time in prayer

Monday, October 29, 2018

Daniel Chapter 8- Small Group Questions

Our church is currently studying the book of Daniel. For ten-weeks we're walking through the book and talking about living a courageous life. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions
Beyond Understanding
Daniel 8

Daniel now shares his second vision, and once more we read that animals are employed to symbolize empires. God’s people also needed to be warned of another crisis that would come in less than four hundred years after Daniel’s lifetime—the persecutions of a madman named Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175–163 b.c.).  His reign would be one of the most horrible periods of time for those who trust God. Thankfully God knew that for that brief, but dark period, His people would need hope that things will get better.

1) Why do you think God spoke so often in visions in Daniel’s time but that it doesn’t seem to happen any more?

2) Read Daniel 8:1-2. Daniel says that he was taken to Susa in the vision. Pastor Neal said that Susa was the new capital city for the Medo-Persian empire. Why do you think Cyrus moved his kingdom 200 miles to the south?

3) Read 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 and Isaiah 45:13. Both of these passages explain that God put Cyrus in his role. Name some people in politics who God has used without them knowing it.

4) Read Daniel 8:14. Do you think reference of 2300 evenings and mornings means 2300 days or 1150 days? Does that time period make a significant difference on history?

5) In Daniel 8 there are a number of angelic beams represented. Read Hebrews 13:2 and talk about how we are constantly surrounded by angels. If we are surrounded by angels, does this mean there are demons lurking about too?

6) Read Daniel 8:15-18. Through this interaction we see how much God cares for His people. We read that when Daniel was terrified, God sent an angel to comfort him. In what practical way(s) do you need God to comfort you this week?

7) In the latter half of Daniel 8 we read about how Antiochus outlawed anything regarding the practices of Judaism. If that happened today, how would you take the message of Jesus underground and share your faith?  

Close your time in prayer

Monday, October 15, 2018

Don't Check Your Email First

For years I would walk into the office, sit at my desk, and check my email first thing.

For years I would walking into the office with a long list to accomplish and allow emails to distract me for the first thirty minutes (or more).

For years I would allow other people's priorities to trump my priorities.

It was my fault! I was the one who allowed it. I would even schedule the first thirty minutes of my day to checking email. I would make sure that my team was good. That things were planned and moving forward. I would even "unsubscribe" from a thing or two that I was sick of getting email from.

Over a year ago I stopped checking email first. It has radically changed the way I work. Here are three reasons you should stop checking your email first thing in the morning:

1) It derails your day

Have you ever walked into the office in a chipper mood only to check your email and find yourself shift to irate in a matter of seconds? The email you loathed to read came through. You had a sermon to write, a meeting to prep for, a paper to create and now you are derailed?

You're not the only person. I wish I could count how many times I've allowed my emotions to shift based on an email. There are times my emotions rise, but there are times I see the name of a person and the subject and I know what is going to happen.

When you work at a complex organization this might be more difficult to avoid, but you can set your priorities. Maybe you start small and wait for an hour to check your email. See if anyone notices. See if you get more accomplished. Do a pilot version of not checking your email first and see what happens in your day.

2) You allow others to create your priorities 

This is the second reason I stopped checking my email is that I found myself allowing others to create priories in my life. Someone would email asking for help on a project. I would need to check a letter that was going to be sent. I had to approve a graphic, but it required a 30 minute conversation and now my whole day was thrown off.

You need to know that I like check lists.
I love checking off boxes and accomplishing things. I have ten different "To Do" lists on my phone and all are categorized.

You might be an organized person or unorganized. Either way, email allows others to dictate your time and priorities. Setting a schedule and a time to check emails helps you regain control of your life.

I've begun checking email two to three times a day. I normally check it around 11:30am, just before I take my lunch break. I can see if there is anything I need to do right now. I can delete the eight junk mail things. I can see if people need prayer or my team needs my help. I look for the email I've been waiting for on the idea I'm stoked on.

After lunch I check it again. I do this because I'm already distracted from lunch and have used my most creative time of the day. I can follow up with something I didn't get to. Then I can shut down my email and check once more before the day is done.

3) You loose some of your best creative time 

I'm convinced that when you check your email first, you loose your best creative time. I'm listening to a book right now called Rest and it's helping me to create better rhythms in my life.

You can check email at any time of the day. You can call customers at any time of the day. You can invoice any time of the day. You can order supplies any time of the day. You can.... any time of the day.

Use the morning to do your creative work. Spend a solid three hours to focus on what only you can do. Then check your email in the afternoon.

In fact, I've deleted my work email from my phone completely. It happened on accident when my email required me to reset my password. I had trouble with the app and got upset. I didn't need to check my email that much so I just deleted the app. And guess what, I didn't get fired. I didn't become less productive. I think I'm more productive.

Email causes us to look distraction on other projects, people, family, and to be less involved in the now. Now I just check email on my Mac and sometimes on my iPad if I feel like I have to.

I've gained more creative time and I'm accomplishing more what of what I want (in fact, I'm writing this on Monday afternoon and my sermon for Sunday is already done. I've also written small group questions for next week!)

What would change if you stopped checking email first and less?

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Daniel Chapter 7- Small Group Questions

Our church is currently studying the book of Daniel. For ten-weeks we're walking through the book and talking about living a courageous life. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions
Reason to Celebrate
Daniel 7

It would be no exaggeration to say that Daniel 7 is one of the most important chapters in the Old Testament. In this chapter Daniel has a vision of things to come. If Daniel’s God was able to deliver him from the lions den, then He surely has the ability to show Daniel the future. God’s messages through his prophet were of the utmost value to Daniel and his people, for through them God assured the Jews that the nation of Israel would endure. Just as God had great plans for Israel, God also has great plans for Coastline!

1) When you think of a kingdom or nation, what are the images that come to mind. What is needed for a nation to thrive? What are some great aspects of a kingdom?

2) Read Daniel 7:2-8. Daniel shares about the four beasts he saw in his dream. Many scholars think these beasts represent the different metals in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2. What do you think these beasts have to do with the past Nations and future nations? Discuss the connection in Daniel 2 and 7.

3) Read Daniel 7:21. When you think about the brutality of mankind, what is something that truly scares you or has impacted you in history? Is there a way God might ask you to bring hope to people who’ve seen such violence?

4) What kind of things do you see in our world that remind you that the kingdom of Satan is alive and well? How does this move you to compassion for people and how might God be stirring you to act?

5) Read Daniel 7:9-10. Talk about the character of God in this scene. Now read Exodus 3:1-4. Talk about God being associated with fire in both scenes. What aspect of God’s character to long to know more? How will you seek God out more?

6) Read Daniel 7:11-14 and Revelation 1:12-20. How do these descriptions of Jesus match? What do you long for most when Jesus returns?

7) There are over 100,000 people in Ventura who are far from God. These people need to find peace in their life through the message of Jesus. What are some creative ways you can reach those who are far from the Lord?

Close your time in prayer

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Daniel Chapter 6- Small Group Questions

Our church is currently studying the book of Daniel. For ten-weeks we're walking through the book and talking about living a courageous life. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions
Big Dreams. Small Decisions.
Daniel 6

Daniel in the lions’ den is one of the most famous Bible Stories. People reference being in the lions den when they encounter a tough situation. Daniel 6 is a story of God’s faithfulness on the night the lions fasted. The events occurred as the new government was being formed and Daniel remained faithful to God. Thus they must have taken place soon after Babylon had fallen to the Persians, likely within the first or second year. History tells us that some Jewish captives had returned to Palestine under the leadership of Zerubbabel, and Daniel was over eighty years of age.

1) Studies show that people who have a daily routine are some of the happiest people in the world. They leave less to daily decision which allows them to follow their plan and not emotion. What is something you do every day?

2) Read Daniel 6:1-5. Talk about how Daniel was faithful in his duties, faultless in his character and fervent in his prayer life. Describe a time when you, or someone you know, experienced difficulty at work for loving Jesus.

3) Read Daniel 6:10. Daniel lived a life of prayer. If he started this practice at 15 (when he was taken into captivity) and was over 80, he would have prayed for 65 years three times a day. That equals 71,175 prayers offered to God. What can we learn from Daniel’s faithfulness in prayer?

4) Daniel’s enemies knew that he would break the newly instated law because he was so faithful. What are you so faithful to doing on a daily basis?

5) When you think about your prayer life, what has impacted your desire, commitment, and faithfulness in prayer? Are you satisfied with your prayer life? Where do you want to grow in your knowledge and application of prayer?

6) Read Daniel 6:11-15. We see the impact Daniel had on the new king. He was faithful the king tried to save his life. What impact do you have on those who are watching your life and how you live it? Would they want to help you?

7) Read Daniel 6:21-22. Daniel was found innocent in the sight of God and God sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions. Talk about the miracle of God intervening for mankind to save us.

Close your time in prayer

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Standing Tall

Not everyone survives the fury of a tyrant. Paul Schneider stood in line with other prisoners at Buchenwald concentration camp. It was April 20, 198, Hitleers’ forty-ninth birthday. In tribute all prisoners were ordered to remover their berets and worship the Nazi flag. All at once men began to venerate the flag, except for Paul. Paul stood tall while the others bowed. Nazi soldiers grabbed Paul, and whipped his back twenty-five times with a leather ox hide whip. He was also punished for failure to worship.

It takes courage to stand up to an evil power. Think of a time in your life when you stood up to a person who was doing something you morally opposed. What was the outcome? I’ve counseled people who lost their jobs when they went to their bosses to talk about unethical business practices. I’ve sat with people who felt abandoned because they wanted to maintain a pure relationship before marriage. I’ve seen the struggle students experience living for Jesus in a world that doesn’t honor that decision. Things don’t always work out the way we think they will when we stand up for what is right.

Our church is currently studying the book of Daniel (it's a great read)! In Daniel 3 we learn about three men who refused to bow to a powerful king.

There were six men in the crowd who stood tall while everyone else bowed (Daniel 3:8-12). We don’t have all the details to accurately reconstruct the seating chart but it appears the astrologers had a line of sight on the six knees that didn’t bow, while the king didn’t. These astrologers might be mad that these three Jewish men took their jobs twenty years ago and they may have been waiting all these years to find something against them. Today is finally the day they will get their vengeance against these men who worship the Lord.

Let me be clear; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could have bowed and saved themselves,  but they would have spoiled it for the rest of the followers of God. Their standing tall was out of respect for God. Let me show you how easy it would have been for these men to avoid this situation they currently find themselves in. The music plays, each man drops a coin, they bend down to pick it up, wait for the music to end, and they are fine. But these are men of character and integrity. These are the kind of men who stand to worship God. They are like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who refused to stand around while a tyrant led with fear.

As we all know, tyrants don’t take too well to disobedience (read Daniel 3:13-15). In this chapter we read again that Nebuchadnezzar made the image of gold. He was trying to set up a false god. We also read a third time about the blazing furnace. This is fear-based leadership. Fear-based leadership doesn’t care for others, but uplifts self. But the king recognizes these men. They serve in his royal court. Nebuchadnezzar has some compassion because he offers them a second chance to live.

He offers them another opportunity to bow down to the image. The whole crowd is watching this go down. How will these men respond?

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could have circled up to discuss the matter. They could have said, “Hey, the furnace looks really hot. Let’s just bow down.”

They could have bowed their knees but not their hearts.

They could have reasoned that everyone was doing it, so they should just do it.

They could have gone with self-preservation over living for God but they refused.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18
They basically say, “Save your orchestra fee, we will stand for God.” This was a first commandment principle for them; they were dedicated to putting God first in all areas of life.

Their decision is resolute. They don’t waiver in their commitment to God. They also remain respectful to a king who is furious. Their desire, their longing in life, was to honor God and they couldn’t accomplish that by bowing to a massive gold statue. I think verses 17 and 18 are the crux of the entire story. They know that God has the power to save them from death. They also know that God may not choose to save them. God may allow them to be martyrs and they are comfortable standing for God rather than bowing to an image made by human hands.

Their heart’s desire was to obey God. This should be our heart’s desire too! Our heart’s desire should be to obey God but all too often it isn’t. All too often we bow a knee to the false gods of our day. This week on Facebook I asked people to tell me what distracts them from God. Within an hour I had over thirty responses. People sharing about how social media, their phone, their job, their kids, being busy, work around the house, culture, busyness, TV, confusion, pain, laziness, stress, and bad priorities are some of the things that keep us from God.

I think that many of us echo those distractions. It is easier to check our phone than listen to God. It is easier to watch TV than to read the Bible. It’s easier to sleep in than to wake up and spend time with God. But these three men removed distractions in their lives so they could live fully for God in the face of death. This morning, will you make a commitment to be like these men? Commit to: stand for God when no one else will. There are times it will seem easier to bow than to stand. There are times you might get distracted like the rest of us. But standing for God is infinitely better than bowing to a false God.

Their decision is in defiance to the king. The king asked, “What god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” Their response is, the Lord our God.

You might know how the story ends, but listen again about the compassion of God (Daniel 3:24-25). The front facing opening of the furnace gave Nebuchadnezzar a front row seat to the greatness of God. There were four men walking around in the oven, unbound, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.

There is some question as to who the fourth man is. Maybe God sent an angel to protect these men. My heart wants to say, “This is Jesus Christ!” But I don’t have enough Scriptural evidence to say that with complete confidence this morning. We have to remember not to get our theology from king Nebuchadnezzar.

I wonder how many people went home that afternoon and examined their lives. The crowd had to leave thinking, “I want to know more about this God who saved these men.” This story is about a God who can save. Daniel three is about three courageous men who stood for God when everyone else bowed down to the tyrant. We see the care and compassion of God displayed in this story. We see the love, tenderness, and protection that God provides to those who stand for Him. Did you know God has a plan for your life and He wants you to stand for Him today. 

In 1906 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in Germany. He was one of eight children and in his teens decided to be a pastor. He trained in seminary, preached, and taught college courses. He eventually studied in America but when Hitler rose to power, Dietrich was compelled to speak against the Nazi party.

His defiance to Hitler made him a target of the Nazi regime and he was forced to keep his mouth shut. But he refused to be silenced, and he shared secret knowledge with the outside world in attempt after attempt to stop Hitler.

He signed up with the German secret service to serve as a double agent. While traveling to church conferences over Europe, he was supposed to be collecting information about these locations but instead he helped Jews escape from Germany. Bonhoeffer was a pacifist but knew that something had to be done about the unfair capture and torture of Jewish people. Because of this, he became a part of a plot to overthrow, and later to assassinate, Hitler. Bonhoeffer played a role in two failed attempts to assassinate Hitler.

The secret service began closing in on him and other double agents. Finally, he was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel prison for one and a half years. Later he was transferred to a Nazi concentration camp. After being accused of being associated with the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was quickly tried, along with other accused plotters, and then executed by hanging on April 9, 1945, as the Nazi regime was collapsing. He was thirty-nine when he lost his life standing up for God. His body was never recovered as it was thrown into a pile with others who stood up against Hitler’s regime.

There are times it might go well, on this earth, and times it may not. But the goal of our life is to stand for God when no one else will.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Daniel Chapter 5- Small Group Questions

Our church is currently studying the book of Daniel. For ten-weeks we're walking through the book and talking about living a courageous life. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions
A Bad Night in Babylon
Daniel 5

Nebuchadnezzar had passed from the scene; Belshazzar was now ruling Babylon. We have a history gap. We don’t read all the linage of the king but the author wants us to focus on the faithfulness of God. The events that play out in Daniel 5 are a fulfillment of the prophetic announcement that Daniel gave in response the King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2. Take your time to work through Daniel 5 paying close attention to the need to worship the Lord and his faithfulness.

1) Share about a time you had a bad night. What made the night and how did things improve or degrees in the morning?

2) Read Daniel 5:1-4 and 1 John 2:16. Talk about how the party in the Old Testament was an event that didn’t honor the Lord. What does the Apostle John have to say about such type of actions?

3)Read Daniel 5:5-6. In what types of situations do you hear people say, “The handwriting was on the wall?” Did they listen to the handwriting or fail to heed it and learn a lesson the hard way?

4) Throughout the book of Daniel we’ve seen the author communicate the futility of idol worship (read Daniel 2:5-6, 3:15, and 5:7-9). An idol is anything we place above the Lord our God. Discuss how we allow idols to distract us from seeking the Lord.

5) Pastor Neal said that we need to set ourselves on the side of God. What are you doing this week to intentionally set yourself on the side of God? What patterns have you established to help you do this and what personal patterns do you need to break (reading the paper, watching TV, checking your phone, etc)?

6) Read Daniel 5:18-24. Daniel gives the king a historical account of how his predecessors didn’t seek the Lord. What do you think the king was thinking while hearing Daniel give this prophetic denouncing?

7) Daniel 5:30 has an ominous ring to it. Read Luke 12:13-21. Both the rich fool and Belshazzar had focused more on selfish desires than helping others. What can we learn from these men about living our lives for the Lord?

Close your time in prayer

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Daniel Chapter 4- Small Group Questions

Our church is currently studying the book of Daniel. For ten-weeks we're walking through the book and talking about living a courageous life. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions
Do what is right
Daniel 4

Nebuchadnezzar’s second dream and his third miraculous encounter with Israel’s God is recorded in chap. 4. Daniel did not date the dream and subsequent events described here, but clues in the text point to the close of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. For example, his building operations seem to have been concluded (4:30) and there was peace throughout the empire (4:4). The king’s illness began a year after the dream (cf. 4:29) and probably lasted seven years.

1) Describe a lesson that you or somebody you know learned the hard way? It could be a lesson from your childhood, college years, or any time in your life.

2) Nebuchadnezzar turned his life around and started out by praising God. What is something you can praise God for in your life right now? What time have you gone through that you can praise God for?

3) Read Daniel 4:17. Talk about the sovereignty of God. Think of some of the things stated in this text about God’s power exercised over all creation. Where do you see God sovereignly working in you?

4) Read Daniel 4:5-8, 19. Do you think the wise men had an inclination about the dream but didn’t say anything to the king so they could keep their own head? Think about the risk Daniel took in sharing the meaning of the dream with the king. Where is God asking you to take a risk?

5) Pastor Neal shared about the pride Nebuchadnezzar had in thinking he built Babylon. It was a sin he struggled with and needed to repent of. What sin are you currently struggling with that you need to repent of and leave?

6) Read Daniel 4:34, 36. Did you notice that twice Nebuchadnezzar says his sanity was restored to him? This is a small mercy from God. It’s not small in application but that we are small in comparison to God. Share a time when God has mercy on you.

7) Pastor Neal talked about being a person who expresses the grace of God, being a blessing to those around you, and making worship a lifestyle. What one of those are you working on this week and how is it going?

Close your time in prayer

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Daniel Chapter 3- Small Group Questions

Our church is currently studying the book of Daniel. For ten-weeks we're walking through the book and talking about living a courageous life. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions
Trail by Fire
Daniel 3

No specific time is given for this incident, and some scholars maintain that it took place long after the events of chap. 2. The probability that the king received the idea for the image from the dream in chap. 2, and the likelihood that the image was constructed to test the loyalty of the king’s officials to his new administration. The king’s construction of a large statue and the demand that the Hebrews worship the monstrosity is the occasion for the trial. The refusal of Daniel’s friends to follow this mandate results in the wrath of the king and a great demonstration of the reality and power of Yahweh God.

1) Share a time that you stood for God when no one else was willing to. It can be a recent experience or something that took place decades ago. Think about how the examples of faith you just shared increase your faith.

2) King Nebuchadnezzar created a large idol. In the first three verses the author makes it clear that the king made the idol. What is so important about that?

3) The king used music while people fell down to the worship the idol. In what ways does music help build our allegiance to something or someone?

4)Read Daniel 3:13-19 and discuss the difference in demeanor between king Nebuchadnezzar and the three Hebrew men. Share about how you can respond kindly when people in your presence are furious.

5) There are times when people stand for God and loose their life. In Hebrews 11 we read about a list of people who loved God and lost their lives (read Hebrews 11:32-38). Share about people who are being persecuted for following God.

6) Obviously there were thousands of people who bowed to the idol. What do you think made the difference between the Jews who bowed and the three who didn’t? What are some idols in your life that you need to eradicate so you can worship the Lord?

7) Talk about how the impact of the three Jews who didn’t bow must have effected those who were in attendance? How does their power to stand strong for God impact you to stand for God this week?

Close your time in prayer

Monday, September 10, 2018

Daniel Chapter 2- Small Group Questions

Our church is currently studying the book of Daniel. For ten-weeks we're walking through the book and talking about living a courageous life. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Clarity in Chaos
Daniel 2

Nebuchadnezzar’s first dream, imparted to the monarch early in Daniel’s experience in Babylon, is recorded in this chapter. The dream is significant because it provides a history of the world through four successive Gentile empires. During the final phase of the fourth empire, all earthly dominions will be destroyed, and the kingdom of God that will endure forever will be established. Moreover we learn about the faith of Daniel and his three friends, their commitment to God, and desire to serve the Lord.

1) Did you know that studies show the average person has three to five dreams a night? About 95% of our dreams are forgotten. Share a fun dream you recently had and what made it so special.

2) King Nebuchadnezzar had a vivid dream but wouldn’t tell anyone about it. The Bible tells us about another leader who had a troubling dream (read Genesis 41:1-40). Discuss the similarities in the story of Jospeh and Daniel. How did God help these men in both cases?

3) When we think about Daniel 2:1-11, it helps show the futility of trusting in anything except for God. Share about how you’re currently trusting in God during a confusing situation or how you’ve trusted in God in the past.

4) In Daniel 2:18, we read that Daniel immediately went to his friends and they “pleaded for mercy from the God of heaven…” Who do you have in your life that goes to God in prayer for you?

5) Read Daniel 2:20-23. Take some time in your group to praise God. How can you make praising God a part of your daily life?

6) In Daniel 2:27-30, Daniel makes it clear that God gave the answer to the dream. How can we make sure to give God the glory in our daily lives? Share some practical ways to implement this on a weekly basis.

7) How do we become part of God’s effort in the world to help more people find and follow Jesus?

Close your time in prayer

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Daniel Chapter 1- Small Group Questions

Our church is currently studying the book of Daniel. For ten-weeks we're walking through the book and talking about living a courageous life. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Counter-Cultural Living
Daniel 1

The book of Daniel was written to be a testimony to the sovereign, enduring glory of God. Since our lives are to be that too, there is much here we should learn. Since Daniel and his friends were able to make that glory known in an entirely secular environment, there is also much we can emulate. The first chapter of Daniel serves primarily as an introduction; it sets the scene for the other stories that make up the rest of the book. History tells us Babylon besieged Israel in 605 B.C. Daniel was approximately fifteen years old when he went into training for Nebuchadnezzar.

1. In the introduction of the sermon Neal shared about Roger Huang and his experience of transitioning to a foreign culture. Share a time when you went to a foreign country, or location, and felt like you didn’t fit in.

2. The Babylonians captured the Israelites and took the articles of the temple of The Lord (Daniel 1:2). They put those articles in their temple in an attempt to show they conquered God. Read 1 Samuel 5:1-5 to see how that worked for other nations that attempted to the same thing.

3. Thinking about Daniel 1:3-5, why do you think king Nebuchadnezzar required all the young men to be trained this throughly before entering his service?

4. Daniel had the close friendship of three people, who do you have that stand for God with you as you walk through the daily struggles of life?

5. Daniel and his companions had to decide what parts of the Babylonian culture they would adopt and what parts they would reject (see Daniel 1:8-14). How do you make that same determination in the culture we live in?

6. The presence of God is clear in Daniel 1. Verse 2 tells us: “The Lord delivered Jehoiakim kit of Judah into his hand…” Verse 9 says, “Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel.” and Verse 17 tell us, “God gave…” What does the fact of God’s sovereignty mean to you in everyday life?

7. What do you think gave Daniel, and his friends, the resolve to stand for God?

8. Close your time in prayer

Friday, August 31, 2018

Leadership Quality-Humillity

Earlier this year I wrote on the four indispensable qualities of a leader.

When you look at good leaders you find they have three of these qualities. They are good communicators, are administrative and relational. But if you are looking for a great leader they are going to line up these qualities in such a way to have humility stuck right in the middle to hold their leadership together.

When I asked my friend Nick Takiyama to draw this diagram I had sketched on my white board for me I loved the end product. The area of overlap could have been much larger. The area representing humility could have covered more ground and allowed for more people to fit into the model.

But it doesn't. The number of leaders who hold all four of these qualities is quite small (please note: I'm not saying I hold all four).

There are a handful of people that I can think of that truly posses the quality of humility in leadership along with the other three. When you've met someone who possesses all four you don't forget them. Let me share how you might know you're talking with a person who has all four.

How you feel when you leave the conversation

When you leave the conversation with a humble person you feel better about yourself. In my experience, humble people ask provoking, thoughtful and meaningful questions. They want to truly understand what is occurring in your life. They care more about knowing what is happening in your life than talking about themselves.

This is another key factor. I've found that humble talk about themselves way less. They are not quick to tell you how amazing they are. They are not quick to talk about how big their church is. They are not quick to talk about all the things they've accomplished in the last five years. When you're sitting with them, you probably know the answers to some of these subjects but they are not likely to start the conversation in that direction.

About a year ago I met another man who possesses all these qualities. God has called us both to full-time, vocational, ministry. He has served at some great churches, done some great things for the Lord and is well known. When I met him he was so encouraging. He took me to breakfast and it was getting a shot of encouragement right in the arm. He shared ideas that I could considered, he asking thoughtful questions about the new church I was serving in. He gave me principles to implement that would help our church reach more people for Jesus. When I left that breakfast I felt so encouraged!

The focus is not on them

Part of the reason I think humble people make others feel encouraged is because they don't want the spot light on them. It's not that humble people don't think about themselves, it's just that they think about theirselves less. Humble think about themselves, they have just learned to think about themselves less. They don't think they are stupid or worthless. They know their value. They know they are created by God and have a purpose on this world. Their purpose is to help more people know what God created them for.

I'm reminded of the life of Moses as this stage in the conversation. Moses was born in Egypt. His parents are Jewish. Pharaoh made an edict that all Jewish, male, babies were to be killed.

God spared Moses life and he was raised in the home of Pharaoh (that is a turn of events!). Moses received a great training, had all this privilege but never forgot his roots. After killing a man, he lived in the desert for forty years. Then God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and to the promised land.

Moses spent time with God. Moses listened to God. Moses didn't make it about him. Moses longed for point the glory to God. God's word tells us that Moses was "Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth." (Numbers 12:3). I don't think Moses wrote that line.

Part of being a humble person means the focus is not on you. The concern is with helping others. The concern is with a greater cause, something that will leave a legacy for years to come.

Humble people build you up

When I share about the guy who took me to breakfast and Moses there is a common thread: Humble people build others up. Moses invested his life in many leaders but one in particular. Moses spent time with Joshua and built him up. There are countless leaders who've invested in my life in the last two decades. Brett drove 30-40 mins to pick me up so I could go to church with him. Doug spent time with me at lunch so I could improve my preaching. Bill taught me about time management and putting my family first. Rod spent time with me working on sermons. Mark cared about me as a father and leader. These are just some people who stick out to me while I'm writing this.

Who can you start building up? This is a question I constantly ask myself. I am getting older (some of you are laughing) but I want this to be a priority to my life now. For almost a decade I was blessed to work with students. Our goal was to always build them up. Now that I work primarily with adults I want to do the same. I want to build others. I want people to leave feeling care for.

This whole post started because of Silvio. Silvio took me to lunch and we wrote this on a napkin. Silvio falls into the category of humility. He leads a large company, serves faithfully in the local church, spends time with his family, and cared enough to help a young campus pastor.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Path to Maturity

It was July of 1961 and the 38 members of the Green Bay Packers football team were gathered together for the first day of training camp. The previous season had ended with a heartbreaking defeat, late in the 4th quarter, to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Green Bay players had been thinking about this brutal loss for the entire off-season. Now training camp had arrived and it was time to get to work.

The players were eager to advance their game to the next level and start working on the details that would help them win a championship. Their coach, Vince Lombardi, had a different idea. He began a tradition of starting from scratch, assuming that the players were blank slates who carried over no knowledge from the year before… He began with the most elemental statement of all. “Gentlemen,” he said, holding a pigskin in his right hand, “this is a football.”

Lombardi was coaching a group of three dozen professional athletes who, just months prior, had come within minutes of winning the biggest prize their sport could offer. And yet, he started from the very beginning. Lombardi's methodical coverage of the fundamentals continued throughout training camp. Each player reviewed how to block and tackle. They opened up the playbook and started from page one. His team would become the best in the league at the tasks everyone else took for granted. Six months later, the Green Bay Packers beat the New York Giants 37-0 to win the NFL Championship

There were players in that locker room who probably thought their coach was crazy. These players were some of the best in the world. Think about what Vince Lombardi did for the Packers. How would you respond if that was done for you spiritually?

In my opinion the church can loose it’s focus. For the last year, our church has been working hard at getting laser focused.

Very few people have experienced a clear pathway to spiritual maturity. In fact, the path to God is not always a straight line. Believers experience twists and turns, confusion and frustration, joy and fulfillment.

When people go to the gym they hire a trainer to help them accomplish their goals. People seek the advice of a financial planner to help them get to their desired location. The roadmap for Coastline is intended to do the same for each of us. It involves four steps that we will look at: gather, grow, serve, and send.


We gather because that is what the early church did
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:46, 47
The early church once met in the synagogue because following Jesus was a fulfillment of their Jewish heritage. They found the hope in the coming Messiah just like many of us have found. Men and women found the truth in God’s word and it gave them direction in following God. We gather just like the early church did. We gather in a different location than a synagogue but we still gather.

This gathering is an easy first step for many people who are curious about Jesus. This gathering is a safe place for broken people of all ages and stages of life to find Jesus. This gathering has an invisible sign outside that says, “everyone is welcome.” This gathering has an invisible sign outside that says, “come as you are.” This gathering has a warmth and comfort to it that people are longing to find. When we gather here we do so to learn from God’s word, to praise Him, to turn our attention to heavenly things and understand His goodness.

We long to be a church that unchurched people love to attend. Did you know it’s Biblical for people who meet Jesus to bring their friends to meet Jesus also?
 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. John 1:40-42
The first thing Andrew did was find his brother Simon and bring him to Jesus. Who can you bring to meet Jesus? It’s Biblical to help people find Jesus. We’re not looking to be the biggest church, we’re just trying to help more people find the hope, love, compassion, and salvation we’ve found in Jesus. There are people who are looking for the coming Messiah just like these men were.

We’re going to use the same message the early church used. The method might be different, but the message hasn’t changed.


After you’ve been to a gathering make a commitment to grow spiritually. One of the primary ways we see people growing in their faith is moving into a small group. This is a big spiritual growth step. Flip back to the book of Acts to see what a small group looks like
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:42
The focal point of growing is doing life with other people. There is a devotion to the teaching of God’s word. There is a commitment to spending time with other believers and growing in prayer. These are some basic components of growing in Jesus.

We live in a time of increasing Biblical illiteracy and being involved in a small group is a way to combat this. Groups help you open your Bible on a regular basis. Groups give you a safe place to share prayer requests with trusted individuals. I believe, with my whole heart, that if you will commit to being in a group for ten weeks it will change your life forever. Your marriage will be stronger, you faith will be stronger, your passion for Jesus will grow, and your confidence in Scripture will increase because you are going to know God more!

People gain confidence in God and His truth by studying His word with others.

I’ve been following Jesus for over eighteen years now. The first group I was in was a men’s group who really shaped my faith as a young man. Those men taught me about prayer and Scripture memorization; they shaped my future for Jesus. When I got married, Charity and I attended a small group focused on marriage. It was refreshing learning from couples who had been married for ten, twenty and thirty years. I can still hear those couples saying, “You guys could be our kids.” And we needed to learn from them.

Serve (John 13)

After you gather to worship and start growing in your faith there is a natural progression to serving others. Quite often people think of serving in the negative sense. It can sound like something that is below a person. Let me remind you about Jesus
"Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26-28
Jesus spoke of His eternal Kingdom when a mother asked that her two sons sit on the right and left. It seems this happens frequently, we have half the information but what all the benefits. God had already determined who would sit at the right and left of Jesus, it wasn’t a debate. Jesus needed to remind His own disciples that He is a servant.

For you and I, serving is the next logical step in growing in our faith. When I was a young man and had been attending church for a few years I began serving. I began serving in a classroom full of four year olds. It was a joy! I had so much fun serving those kids. They gravitated to me and I learned about the love of God. Their kindness and acceptance began to transform a former drug dealer. Serving taught me more about the love of God than I think I taught anyone.

You might wonder why we want to see people serve. First, we think it’s Biblical. Second we are a non-profit. Third, we think you will find fulfillment in life when you serve others. Fourth, we think God created you to serve others.

Send (Acts 1:8)

The next part is not the final part. There is no end to our spiritual growth here on earth. The next part is an obedience to the words of Jesus
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
Jesus gave the disciples a clear direction on what to do. After saying these words, Jesus ascended to heaven. Let’s talk about a realistic plan of action for those of you who are ready to be sent. I’m aware that not everyone will grow to this point in their spiritual growth, in fact, I recently heard that 90% of Christians will never share their faith. Ninety percent of people won’t share the hope that changed their life.

Let’s look more at what Jesus instructed. Jerusalem was the center for many of these men. Jesus was essentially saying, “Start right here. Start right where you are at.” I give you the same encouragement today. Start sharing the love of Jesus with those closest to you. Start in your neighborhood, your home, your work place or your school. You don’t have to be a trained evangelist to share your faith. But the hope is that since you’ve been gathering, God is working in you. Your small group has helped you grow in your faith. Through serving you’re looking more like Jesus. Now you can confidently be sent to tell others about Jesus.

Once you’ve shared the love of Jesus with those closest to you we want to see people start serving in our community.

From there we long to see people invest more into helping people find and follow Jesus. We have a handful of mission partners who are in the state of California.

After this, we’d love to see people go global. We’d love to see every person get on a plane once every five years to serve the world. This follows the progression Jesus gave us in Acts 1:8.

Finally, when we think about being sent, God might do something a little more. We want to be a church that plants churches. We are praying that in three to five years God will let us plant a church somewhere in Ventura County. We don’t have all the details. We don’t have a plan. But we have a vision and a passion.

We long to find more people with the Coastline DNA who can be sent to start healthy churches. We long to see Ventura County have more healthy churches who are focused on teaching God’s word.


When we think about a pathway to spiritual maturity, this is a life long commitment. Following Jesus will be the best commitment a person can make. Think back to the locker room talk Vince Lombardi had. He took professional players though the basics and they won. Let’s focus on the basics so we can grow in our faith. The path to growth is not like McDonalds.

The path to growth is a lifelong process. This is why I want you to commit to a life of spiritual growth. Commit to a life of looking and smelling more like Jesus. This might take a while. It might be slower or faster than you thought. It might be harder or easier at times. You might hit road blocks. But don’t quit.

“If Christians around the world were to suddenly renounce their personal agendas, their life goals and their aspirations, and begin responding in radical obedience to everything God showed them, the world would be turned upside down. How do we know? Because that's what first century Christians did, and the world is still talking about it." -Henry Blackaby

Monday, August 13, 2018

Does authority matter?

Two years ago Time Magazine published a story about an incredible mountaineer.

Ed Viesturs is widely regarded as this country’s foremost high-altitude mountaineer. Ed has summited Mount Everest seven times. He didn’t accomplish this feat until his third try in 1990. He had made it close before that but had to turn around, 300 feet from the summit, due to grueling weather conditions.

Many climbers would have pushed on, facing the possibility of death, but not Ed. He is known as a conservative climber who understands that climbing is a round trip.

Not only has Ed summited Mount Everest seven times, he is also the only American to summit the world’s fourteen highest peaks without supplemental oxygen. In his interview with Time Magazine Ed referred to the mountain as the final authority in a climb. Ed says: “We call it listening to the mountain. The mountain decides what you get to do.”

For Ed, the mountain is the final authority in his decision making process. Who is the final authority in your decision making process? What is the main authority in your life? Is your main authority local government; maybe the police or other law enforcement? Is your boss at work your final authority? Maybe you live with your parents and you look to them as your final authority.

We each have different authorities we listen to and focus on. In face there are some aspects of our life that each of us have allowed to control our actions at times.

Different Sources of Authority 

Let’s just look at five different authorities people turn to when making decisions in their life.

Emotion- The first source you allow to guide your decision making process is your emotions. God wants to speak to your heart. He loves your emotions, in fact it was He who created them. It is good to be in touch with your emotions. Think about a time in your life when you had a “good feeling about this” and it came out to be true. Your emotions were right in directing your heart.

On the other hand, your emotions can be misleading. People have come to speak with me before and said something like: “Neal, I don’t feel God in my life right now.” Good thing God isn’t a feeling. Just because you don’t feel God, that doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist. God is an eternal being. Emotions can be misleading in your life and take you places you never wanted to go. Invite God to speak to you through your emotions but don’t let them be the final authority in your life.

Experience- The next source of authority is past experiences. The best way to describe experience is information that comes from a direct encounter, participation or observation you’ve made. If you’re a Christian, you should expect to encounter God in your life. God will use your experience to open doors and shut doors in your life. The longer you walk with Him, the more data points you will have on your experiences with Him.

But experience, like emotion, can be deceptive. Some people try to manipulate God based on their past experiences. It can easy to think that if God worked one way in your past that He will always work in that same way for your future. But you can encounter a situation where God doesn’t in the exact same way because He is teaching you something new. If your experiences are contrary to the word of God, then the Bible needs to win as the final authority.

Reason- God wants you to use the mind He’s given you. God has given you the ability to think critically, reason with others, solve problems and make wise decisions. Whether you’re a believer or not, He has endowed you with this ability. Your abilities in this area are by no means perfect, but God desires for you to be reasonable. As with emotion and experience, reason is not perfect. There are times when you misinterpret or misunderstand data. Think of a time you thought you had all the information to make a smart decision but you didn’t, and it turned out poorly. You can never have all the information, therefore you cannot allow reason to be the main authority in your life.

Google- Let’s move the fourth authority on our list. She always is right. She tells me how to get places. She never backtalks to me. You know who I’m talking about, right? I’m talking about Siri or the internet. The internet is the last source of authority we allow to direct us. When was the last time you were with someone and you ran into a problem where you didn’t know the answer? Maybe you were talking about a recent story and wanted to fact check it. One of you most likely went straight to Google to find the answer. The internet is a great source of information but we all know you can’t believe everything you read online.

The Bible- The final authority you need in your life is the Bible. You might be familiar with the Bible, but let me give you a crash course. The Bible is a collection of sixty-six books and its comprised of two main sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The oldest books in the Bible date to around 1500 years before Christ. The last book in the Bible dates to the end of the first century. You’ve probably heard the Bible referred to as “God’s Word.” This means that when the Bible speaks, God speaks. The Apostle Paul told his disciple Timothy that all Scripture is God breathed
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The Bible needs to be the ultimate authority in your life.

When we look at these five different sources of authority, they are all good. God gave us emotion, experience and reason to help us process what comes at us in life and the internet is a helpful tool, but we can never allow these top four to be the final authority. If you’ve found yourself relying on any of these more than on God’s word, look at Psalm 119 and see why it might be time for a change.