Friday, April 04, 2014

Growing Spiritually: Intentional Listening

So far this week we’ve talking about having a regular time of prayer and daily Scripture reading.  Another way we can grow spiritually is through intentional listening to the voice of God.  This may be the most difficult spiritual practice I’ve ever implemented in my life but it’s also been one of the most refreshing.  In the forty-sixth Psalm we see the Psalmist write about how listening to God changes us:
He says, "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Psalm 46:10
The Psalmist explains God as a refuge for us to run to and an ever-present help in our time of need.  He makes mention of the sea raging and its waters foaming.  Can you relate to that this?  Does your life seem like the waters are raging around you, sometimes too much to bear?  The response to a crazy busy life is just the opposite as we would think.  The response is to slow down, to be intentional to listen to God.  There is something special that happens when we stop what we’re doing and take the time to listen to God.

One morning of seminary, the summer of 2009, our professor took our class to the church he lead.  Behind his church was a prayer trail into the forest.  After a 15 minute walk we found a small stream.  Our prof had us spread out in the forest that morning where we spent two hours, alone, with God.  It was one of the most refreshing times I enjoyed, as God was growing me spiritually.  Most of you aren’t currently enrolled in Seminary but the thought of getting an entire morning to spend with God excites your soul.

Here are some ways I think we can be intentional to listen to God in our context.  First, you may want to shut the radio off in your car.  If you have a long commute this could be your opportunity to be alone and listen to God.  You can stop listening to sports radio and start listening to your maker who calms the raging seas in your life.  If you don’t have a long commute you may want to turn the TV off at night and get some extended time with God in your home.  Another option would be to head over to the beach or walk a trail with the expectation God will meet you there.  You know yourself best and you’re going to know the best time and way for you to be still and know God.  Be creative with this time and I trust God will show up and meet you there.  Spiritual growth happens in many ways; let it be motivated by a love for God.

I hope talking about spiritual growth prompted you to action and connection with The Lord.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Growing Spiritually: Daily Bible Reading

The value of daily Scripture reading in our lives is not to be overlooked; there is a reason the Psalmist wrote: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I mighty not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11) and “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105).

The only way you can hide God’s word in your heart is through reading Scripture.  The Psalmist is telling us when we hide God’s word in our heart it becomes a safeguard in our life.  When we become tempted with sin our heart reminds us of the truth of God and helps us to avoid sin.  When we avoid sin God’s word becomes a light for our path.  I want you to think of God’s word like a bright flashlight you can use on a dark night.  A flashlight doesn’t show you everything around you but it lights your path so you can safely get where you want.

Maybe when I mentioned daily Scripture reading you remembered the time you tried to read through the entire Bible in one year and how ashamed your felt quitting in March.  Statistics tell us: at least 90% of all households in America own a Bible but only 20% of those who own a Bible will ever read through it, in its entirety, in their lifetime.  It’s staggering to think only 20% of Christians will ever read through their Bible in their life.  Once again, growing spiritually never works when motivated by guilt.  You may never read through the entire Bible but how does Scripture reading become a priority in your life at this stage?

Starting on January 13 my church started a church-wide Bible reading plan that we think will impact people who are seeking Jesus all the way to those who’ve been Christ followers for years.  Its a Bible reading plan that doesn’t have any dates attached so you won’t feel bad if you miss a day (not guilt based Bible reading).  Its a Bible reading program built around 100 carefully selected short Bible passages — 50 from the Old Testament and 50 from the New Testament.  Its going to enable you to get the big picture of God's Word and in the process of a daily Bible reading habit.  Its called the Essential 100 but for short its called E100.

The E100 Bible passages are usually one to two chapters in length and can easily be read in 10 minutes or less.  The E100 Challenge will take us through all of the major types of biblical writing including: Historical books, Poetry, Wisdom Literature, the Prophets, the Gospels, Acts, the Epistles and Revelation.  My hope, this morning, is to wet your appetite for daily Scripture reading and I think this is just the way.  You can read the E100 in your Bible or if you have the You Version App on your phone or tablet you can access the E100 plan there also.  We’re also going to link the reading plan to our church website!

Before you convince yourself there’s no way you could possibly commit to 100 days of Scripture reading you need to know the value this will have for your life.  Our Campus Pastors and Elders just finished reading a book titled Move.  Move was a study done by Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago to measure spiritual growth.  Over a six year time period data was collected from over a quarter million people in well over a thousand churches of every size, denomination, and geographic area in the US.  Of all the data presented in this survey, the thing that stuck out most to me was: daily Scripture reading was one of the major catalysts for Spiritual Growth.  To say this differently, if you’re going to grow spiritually it has to involve daily Scripture reading.

The E100 challenge may not be for you, but find a daily Bible reading plan!  Share with others what you're using.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Growing Spiritually: Regular Times of Prayer

The first way we can be growing spiritually this year is by committing ourselves to a life of prayer.  As I look back on the summer of 2009, one of the main things I neglected in my spiritual growth was a regular time of prayer.  I’ve always loved what David wrote in Psalm 5:3 "In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly."  You may be able to relate to David, you currently have a time of regular pray where you connect with God.  My prayer life was far from what David wrote here, in fact it looked more like Vince Vaughn in a scene from The Dilemma.

We neglect time with God, we get busy and our prayer life becomes scattered.  Now I understand everyone of us is at a different place in our spiritual walk and I want to be sensitive to that.  I’m going to do my best to address all the different spiritual walks represented.  Some of you can totally relate to Vince Vaughn from the movie The Dilemma where he has no clue how to approach God in prayer.  Next, there are those of you who have recently given your life to Christ.  You haven’t been following Christ for long and you’re not sure what a regular time of prayer would look like in your life.  Maybe when you think of prayer you naturally go back to your childhood where you were taught to recite The Lord’s Prayer.  Finally we come to those of you who’ve been following Christ for a long time.  You have gone through wonderful times where you’ve spent regular time with God and encountered times where you’ve struggled to figure out how to connect with God.

Its easy to talk about regular times of prayer when you’re sitting in a church service, it can be more difficult to implement regular times of prayer in our daily life.  While reading Psalm 5:3 you saw “the morning” and immediately started thinking of twenty-seven reasons you could never wake up in the morning to pray, before you stop reading, check this out.  The coolest part about this verse is that before David even opens his mouth God has already heard his request.  Don’t get hung up on the morning part; you may be a night person and the night time might work best for a regular time of prayer.  If you look back to the end of Psalm 4 in your Bible you’ll actually see David make mention of night time.

I like to think about prayer like spiritual food.  Most of us eat three meals a day to keep our body sustained, but are we caring for our soul three times a day?  The great thing about prayer is we can always return to God throughout the day and it doesn’t have to be hour blocks in the morning, it may look like text messages with God throughout the day (read Refuel by Doug Fields).  It could be a quick prayer after lunch or on the drive home to refresh your soul once again.  What it comes down to is you finding what works for you.  The main thing is to make sure your regular time of prayer isn’t motivated by guilt, but a love for the Father.  It can become very easy to turn Christianity into legalism; a self-imposed check list used to validate ourselves based on what we do or what we don’t do.

You can probably think about more than enough to pray about but just in case you need some help to get your regular prayer time going start with the list of things you’ve been worrying about lately.  Paul wrote to the church at Philippi and encouraged them to “Not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil 4:6).  So instead of worrying about how you’re going to send your kids to college pray for God to provide.  If you’re having a hard time in school ask God to help you out.  If you’re marriage is struggling ask God to help you love your spouse.  If you don’t have a spouse, and you’d like one, ask God if this is His will for your life.  If you’re struggling with your work situation pray for God to give you contentment and show you how to serve your boss... or ask for a new job.  The list could go on and on.

What would you add to regular times of prayer?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Growing Spiritually

The summer of 2009 was a time in my Christian walk where I felt spiritually stalled; it was like my relationship with God hit a wall.  Looking back, it shouldn’t shock me I was feeling like this.  There was so much that had changed in my life and it all impacted my relationship with God.

For example my work situation had changed.  The church I was serving in had just announced the resignation of our Lead Pastor due to moral failure.  Being one of the longest tenured staff members I was put on a team of five men who helped lead the church during the transition.  This meant preaching on a regular basis on Sunday mornings while still leading my regular ministries: High School Ministry and Missions.  Our family dynamic had changed.  Our beautiful little Sophie Marie was born just nine months earlier and it was taking time getting adjusted to being parents.  Being a dad was like being hit in the face with my selfishness and it was tough to bear.  Did I mention Charity was pregnant also?

In addition to work and family I was currently enrolled in seminary.  I was at this place in my graduate work where I was too far in to quit but the light at the end of the tunnel was extremely dim.  To be completely honest, I was at a point in my life where I wanted to quit seminary, leave our local church and move to Hawaii with my family.  I didn’t know how to manage the new responsibilities in my life and therefore my spiritual growth was quickly shoved to the back-burner.

Have you ever felt how I felt that summer?  Have you ever felt like with all the responsibilities of life you’ve shoved your spiritual growth to the back-burner only to forget about God?  Maybe the time you once set aside for morning prayer became stale so you quit waking up to spend time with God.  Maybe you were twenty-seven days behind in the Bible reading plan you committed to so you stopped reading God’s word.  Maybe you once clearly heard the voice of God but your life situation has changed and you’re struggling to hear your Savior’s voice.

This week I want to talk about three ways we can grow spiritually, check back tomorrow as we look at having regular times of prayer.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Responsive Reading- Discouragement

This Sunday we used a responsive reading in our time of worship (Thanks to Kathy B for helping making this happen).  If you haven't done a responsive reading before I encourage you to do some research on them and incorporate them into your worship service.  Responsive readings have been used in worship services for hundreds of years.  You may think: "Aren't they old and outdated?"  I would say, "yes, they are old.  But just because its old doesn't mean its not meaningful."  Using a responsive reading is an opportunity to bring meaningful response to your worship service.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.
Psalm 42:1

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:5

My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. Psalm 42:6-7

By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me. Psalm 42:8a

I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Psalm 42:9-10

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:11

Vindicate me, my God, and plead my cause against an unfaithful nation. Rescue me from those who are deceitful and wicked. You are God my stronghold. Why have you rejected me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? Psalm 43:1,2

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 43:5

You might think: "How do you use a responsive reading?"

We have the person who is our regular host come up, after a few worship songs, and invite the body to read with them.  The Leader starts out with their part and then invites the congregation to read the All section.  We put the readings on the screen to invite everyone to involve themselves in the reading.  One great thing is for those who choose not to read, they still get to see God's words on the screen and hear God's word being read.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Steelhead Fishing

A few weeks ago I did something I rarely do, I woke up at 3am.  Now if you know me, you know that me and 3:00am are not friends!  I woke up, slid out of bed, brushed my teeth and headed out the door.  I arrived at my friends Frank's house around 4:00am where we jumped in his truck and drove North to Santa Rosa.  Now to be honest, I tried to sleep in the back of the truck but it was a little tough.  We arrived at the Russian River about 5:45am, it was still pitch dark outside.  By the time we had the boat in the water the sun was barely coming up over the river and it was time to fish!

I would guess we started fishing around 6:45am and it wasn't long until I had my first bite, but it wasn't a keeper (it was a baby fish).  See I grew up fishing with my dad on small streams, but nothing as big as the Russian River.  We didn't have a boat growing up so most of my fishing was from the bank of a lake or stream.

After hours of fishing it happened; I had my first Steelhead on line!  I was shocked when I had this fish on.  I've heard the stories of people fishing for steelhead for 2-3 years before catching their first one.  I had been steelhead fishing for about 7 hours when I finally had my first one on.  This fish hit hard and ran quick.  I started reeling in my line and have never fought a fish like this (better fighting than tuna fishing in Mazatlan).

After fighting the fish I finally saw him.  He got close to the boat but darted the other direction.  Every time I thought I had won the fight he took off.  Thankfully my buddy Frank knows how to row a boat and when the fish took off upstream he rowed upstream to keep me close.  We had another guy with us, Gino, who netted the fish for me.  It was an amazing feeling holding this fish in my hands!  After reeling him in, my hands were shaking from the adrenaline rush!

Another picture showing my joy of landing this fish!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Rwanda Teaching

I still can't believe I went to Rwanda...

Earlier this month a few of guys from the States were invited to Huye, Rwanda to teach in the Second Annual East Africa Apologetics Conference.  It was a huge honor to speak to the 125+ university students who gathered from 6 different countries to attend this conference.  While in Huye I also taught a college rally and two local churches.

Conference Teaching
(Mark Mitchell teaching)
For the conference my topic was: Is Jesus The Only Way to Heaven?  This is a great question people have been asking for thousands of years... its also one of the toughest questions to ask.  If you simply answer "Yes" it can make a Christian sound pompous, when in actually its a statement of humility.  I could go on about the answer to the question but I want to share what I learned while teaching.

I learned when teaching in a foreign country bring half the material you plan to cover.  For example: I was allotted approximately an hour and a half for the conference.  I brought about 10 pages to cover which would normally take me 45 minutes.  This allowed for 45 minutes for translation for those who didn't speak English.  

Probably the biggest lesson I learned was; I should have introduced myself more.  I prefer to talk about myself less but I think my talk would have been more effective if I shared about my life for 5-10 minutes at the front end of my talk.  Basically I wish I would have shared my testimony so it would have given me more creditability.

Preaching in the Local Church
On Sunday morning I was invited to preach in two local churches; an Assembly of God church at 8am and an Anglican church at 10:30am.  You probably couldn't have someone preach in two church bodies that are much different on a given Sunday.  It was a huge blessing to share God's word in Huye with these bodies of believers.

The Anglican church sticks out most to me.  It was a small thatch church located deep in the bush.  The church was constructed out of trees, to support it, had a tin roof and the walls were thatch.  I was so impressed at how many people they packed into the room.  The kids had a small mat they sat on near the front.  The youth sat just behind them and everyone else sat on wood benches.  There was no sound system, no lighting board and no electric guitar.  That morning we worshipped God as the body of Christ and I shared a word of encouragement from 1 John.

I can't believe I went to Rwanda and I feel so blessed to have been able to teach in the conference and the local church. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Rwanda Overview

I still can't believe I went to Rwanda!

January 7, 2014 I hopped a plane, actually 3 planes, and headed to Rwanda with my pastor.   We went at the invitation of a man in our church; Chris Foreman.  Chris has been involved in Rwanda for the last decade.  During this time he's formed relationships, trained university students, almost completed a wonderful building and much more.  Chris invited us to teach at the Second Annual East Africa Apologetics Conference.

Mark and I landed in Kigali late Wednesday night, we both wanted to get to a hotel as soon as possible and crash out.  Instead we got in a car, drove around town, ate dinner and took a three hour trek to Huye, Rwanda.  Going to bed at 2:30am isn't my regular routine but for this trip it was just how the plan worked out; we were on Africa time.

Waking up in Huye was a sight for sore eyes; I wasn't prepared for the beauty this city had to offer.  I expected the town to be more of a desert environment but I was wrong.  The land was very fertile and gorgeous.  The people we met were amazing; so loving and caring.  I was constantly impressed at how engaged the people were, maybe because everyone didn't have an iPhone to look at or constantly felt the need to update Instagram.

While in Rwanda we taught, preached, made friends, visited a genocide memorial, worshipped, laughed, ate, shopped and much more.  In the next couple days look for new posts about: teaching in the conference, the friends we made and Rwandan worship.  I just don't have room to cover the whole trip in one post.

I still can't believe I went to Rwanda but I'm so glad I did.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Two Years Later

Its been two years today.

I still remember exactly where I was sitting when I found out the news; in fact I wasn't sitting I was laying down on my couch in Vegas.  I wasn't feeling well and Charity took our girls out to the park.  I was relaxing on the couch when she walked in our home and told me.  Actually she asked me if I had heard.
Me: "Heard what?"
Charity: "Did you see something happened to Bear?"
I will never forget those words... or that conversation... or that day.  My life isn't the only life impacted by the news we heard of the loss of our friend.  This is the last picture I have with Rob and I miss him.  It wasn't the last time I saw him but it was the last time I got my picture with him.

There hasn't been a week gone by in the last two years I haven't thought about him.  I wish I counted how many times I had dreamed about him.  My dreams were so real I would wake up thinking I just spent time with him the other day only to come to reality and know I will not see my friend again here on earth.

The loss of my friend, at such a young age, reminds me of three things I need to keep in mind:

1.  Life is Short
Rob passed away before his 32nd birthday; this is way too short!  The years we spent together were filled with excitement, turmoil, ruckus and laughter.  We bickered together, fought side by side and fought each other at times.  I wish I had more years with Rob but I don't.

2. Call your Friends More
About 5 weeks before Rob passed away he called me and I called him back and we kept missing each other.  I was with my in-laws for Thanksgiving and told him I'd call him later.  We texted a little bit that Thanksgiving but I never called him back... and I feel horrible.

3. Don't Get Too Busy for Friends 
We're all going to grow up, its inevitable.  What I've learned from my life is I get busy real quick.  This year I want to spend more time with people than I spend with my phone, computer or iPad.  I want to make more memories with my friends and family.  I don't want to look back on my life and wish I hadn't been so busy.

Miss you Rob!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Rwanda Prayer List

I'm leaving for Rwanda on January 7 and as I prepare I wanted to ask anyone who takes the time to read this short blog post to pray for me and Mark (my pastor).

In Rwanda we will be teaching at an international Apologetics conference, visiting a genocide memorial, teaching in the local church, connecting with local pastors and much more (I hope eating amazing food makes the list).  We're traveling with Come and See Africa and excited for this opportunity.

Here are the top 5 ways you can pray for us while we're gone:

  1. Pray for God to use our teaching time to honor Him
  2. Pray for safe travels (planes, cars and anything else we may ride in)
  3. Pray for relationships to form that are mutually encouraging 
  4. Pray for God to open doors that may be closed
  5. Pray for our families while we're away
If you want to add something to the list it would be our health to remain strong!

Thanks for praying; I'm excited to share what God does. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Preaching to Murderers

My mind has been bothered lately... I think my soul has too.

Let me explain this to you and how it came about.  See in about a month I'm going to Rwanda with my pastor.  On our trip we'll be teaching at an apologetics conference and preaching in the local church.  As we've been prepping for our trip my pastor read a book titled Mirror to the Church: Resurrecting Faith after Genocide in Rwanda.  After reading the book he passed it on to me and I read it; here's what I learned.

Before Europe conquered Africa and divided up the land Rwanda was lead by a king.  The king has three leaders over three different aspects of life: Military, Livestock and Agriculture.  The leader of the Military could be a Tutsi or a Hutu, the leader of livestock was always a Tutsi and the leader of the agriculture was always a Hutu.  Once Belgium came in they were under the assumption that the Tutsi's were better leaders because of their height, lighter colored skin and positions they were currently holding.  Therefore they promoted the Tutsi's and educated them more, leaving the Hutu's out to farm.  The Belgians also brought identity cards with them solidifying the segregation.

Years of this segregation created an undercurrent of frustration in Rwanda that climaxed in April 1994 with the genocide.  In the genocide 800,000+ people were murdered, read that line again: 800,000+ people were murdered.  Estimates guess that 20% of the nations people were killed in the genocide.  No country intervened for months, if I remember correctly it was about 100 days of killing.  The Hutu's were fed-up and started killing all the Tutsi's because: their skin was lighter, they had livestock and they was a different nostril flare.

Now before you try to separate this emotionally and put some rational behind the killing you have to remember the majority of the killing was done with machetes.  I've never killed anyone, but my first choice wouldn't be to use a machete.  A machete would be an intimate way to kill someone; there is very little distance and you would become closely acquainted with you victim.

Now you have to add a layer to all this senseless killing.  The killing wasn't done by a country to invade another country.  The killing wasn't done with bombs and snipers.  The killing was done with machetes who killed their neighbors.  People who were being killed would say things like: "John (fictitious name), how come you're doing this, you're my neighbor."

The genocide in Rwanda was neighbors killing their neighbors with machetes.

If you're still reading then your interested in where I'm going.  I'm guessing that when I preach in the local church, most of the darker skinned men, and maybe women, over the age of 38 have killed someone.  The disturbing facts of group evil are at play here.  Something an 18 year old male is unwilling to do on his own, he is willing to do in the company of other men his age: group evil.

I can't get the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount out of my head:
You have heard it was said long ago: "Don't murder" but I tell you anyone who even thinks about hurting their brother or sister has committed murder in their mind. Matthew 5:21-24 (my translation)
I shouldn't be surprised that I'll have an opportunity to preach to murders but its been messing with my brain.  The reality is we've all committed murder in our mind, the people I may or may not get to meet acted on the thoughts.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Rwanda Bound: Prep

Last week I started really preparing to go to Rwanda.  I've shifted a lot of my mental focus to preparing for this trip.  I've slotted time on my calendar to ready myself.  I'm started studying my material for preaching in the local church and creating material for the conference we're teaching.  I also went and got my shots (not my favorite) at the hospital.

About 3 months ago I called my doctor and found out what I needed to update for shots to prepare for my trip.  Last week I went to Kaiser to pick up my prescriptions and get my shots up to date for my trip.  I started by going to the pharmacy and picking up my prescriptions that were called in.  For the trip I needed to update my Typhoid vaccination, tetanus shot, get malaria pills and bring an antibiotic just in case.  While getting information about my prescriptions I learned Typhoid is not a shot anymore but a 4 pill oral vaccination.

As the pharmacists was explaining my prescriptions she suggested I go to the third floor to get my shots before they closed.  I quickly headed up where I was the last one in to get my tetanus shot and they talked me into the flu shot.  The conclusion of that: my arm hurt for three days.  I went back downstairs and my prescriptions were ready.  I got the Typhoid pills, malaria pills and an antibiotic for any stomach problems that may arise.

Overall I'm pretty much ready (physically) for the trip.  I'm going to start my Typhoid vaccinations next week and will take the malaria pills about a week before we leave.  Thanks for your prayers for my trip; I really appreciate it!

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Confessions of a Pastor: Happy Holidays?

The Holiday's are an amazing time of the year!
We spend priceless hours with our families at the table for Thanksgiving.  
We get extra time off at Christmas to spend with family members we haven't seen in years.

So how come the holiday's are still so tough for me?

You can ask my wife and she would have a kind response to how I struggle so much with the holidays.  I've noticed how my attitude changes around Thanksgiving and I've been examining my life to get some answers.  I'm pretty sure why the holidays are so difficult to me has to do with my childhood.  

While most of my friends were hanging out at their house with their parents, eating family meals, opening presents and going snowboarding I was probably sitting in a car heading to my dad's house.  As I've processed this I'm realizing how coming from a broken home was so tough on me.  I want to make it clear I am not writing this to bash my parents; I love my parents.  I am writing this to share my personal struggles with the holidays.

I thought that when I gave my life to Christ this would magically change... it didn't.  There are some years that are better than others but like clockwork at the end of November I get these unexplainable feelings inside.  I get unsettled feelings.  I go back to my childhood and wish I was able to experience normal holidays (if that exists).

Now that I've pinpointed the issue I've been able to work on it.  As the Holiday's have started I've seen my attitude change, its happening again.  

This year I'm aware. 

This year I'm praying more about my attitude.  I'm thanking God for my family.  I'm asking God to help heal the unexplainable feelings inside.  The best part is being married to Charity.  She has taught me more about the joy of Christ during Christmas than anyone else I've ever met.

Merry Christmas! 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

CORE Gathering

How do you get your leaders into the room for a time of worship, teaching, fun and installing deacons?  You call it a CORE gathering and feed them all food (at least that's what we did).  After school started in the Fall we decided to do something we've never done on our own at our Foster City Campus.  Our other campus' have done a CORE gathering and we've done an all church CORE gathering but this was my first time leading one so I wanted to share my thoughts:

For our first CORE gathering I knew I was going to need my entire team involved.  I needed to get their buy-in as much as we needed to get our campus involved.  We took time at our weekly staff meeting to plan the entire service order.  I knew we only 2 hours of our people's time and I wanted to get our staff leaders involved in the night; we have an amazing team who is so talented it would have been unwise for me to not get them involved.

As we were planning our CORE gathering our team decided we needed some time to worship together.  We started the night with a fun game and after laughing we took time to worship the Lord together.  Many of our leaders are serving during our worship service so they may not always get to join in worship through music.  Looking back on the night worship was a huge part of making the night a win!

This was my major concern for the entire night; we had a lot riding on the night.  When you introduce something new you have to make it worth people's time.  To be strategic we planned it on a night when the Niners weren't playing to help us out.  Honestly I was nervous.  I knew a lot was riding on me since I had a 15 min slot to provide the leadership training for the night.  We had 150+ leaders there and I wanted to have a training that was applicable to Children's Ministry and Worship Ministry leaders.  Looking back we made the night a win by making it an amazing night.

Before my teaching we installed new Deacons and prayed for them
To help us out we planned to serve dinner.  Incase everything else failed we would still have dinner to send them off with a fully belly.  The dinner was just icing on the cake!  We served dinner and slotted 30 minutes for ministry leaders to connect with their team, pray together or provide additional training.

Looking back on the night we had a huge WIN!
Thanks team for all your help!
Thanks volunteers for being so amazing!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

San Quentin Preaching Class

On February 14, 2000 I walked out of Vista Detention Facility in San Diego County; I actually ran once I made it to the parking lot

On Friday October 25 2013 I willingly walked into San Quentin State Prison

It was an interesting feeling to willfully walk into a prison.  After making the 45 minute drive I was escorted in by Dr. Chris Foreman who teaches a preaching class to nine inmates through Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.

Upon entering San Quentin we stood for a few minutes to allow me to adjust and get a bearing on what's around me; to realize I am in a prison.  We headed for the chapel where we greeted a few men; one man was anticipating my visit and greeted me by name.

While the preaching class started I had an opportunity to have a conversation with a man who less than five minutes into our conversation told me he has been in prison longer than I've been alive; it was a sobering thought to process.  I had a wonderful conversation with this man and learned quickly he has been a follower of Christ for the last 30 years.  I was impressed at the hope this man has in Christ; the joy he has deep in his heart.  This man once lived his life one way, met a man named Jesus Christ in one of the darkest places in America and now is a changed man (Ephesians 4:22-24).  At the conclusion of our conversation he asked how he could pray for me: I was humbled.

During the preaching class I had an opportunity to interject some of my thoughts/experiences from preaching over the last decade.  The class lasts for three hours and after the break it was my turn to preach.  I preached a 15 minute message and afterward the inmates critiqued my message; it was rough getting critiqued but I think I handled it well.  They picked apart my entire message: introduction, text, Biblical application, transitions, big idea, exegesis of the text, tone of voice, influx, cadence, closer and much more.  After it was all said and done I passed!  I got a 96.5 on my message.

Our three hours were complete and it was time to head out.  After passing through the entry way; with two doors to keep you in.  As we left I casually asked the guard how many visitors come in daily, his answer was "about 100".  As I jumped in my truck the first thing I did was to call my wife to let her know I was safe.  It was a humbling experience to have donuts in the morning with my girls, preaching in San Quentin and head home.  This trip was great for me to help some guys become better preachers but a humbling experience I needed.

Three things I'm taking away from this experience:
1. I am a blessed man
2. I was encouraged by the incarcerated church
3. Going to prison is a humbling experience

Monday, October 21, 2013

Good People Still Exist

If you've been discouraged with the world lately at all (maybe you've seen: the government shut down, school shootings, war, disease, or death) then you need to read this because it helped me!

Earlier this month our family went on a vacation to Disneyland (the happiest place on earth).  After spending approximately 10+ hours in California Adventure our Sophie asked for a toy.  Now we're not the parents who buy our kids everything at Disneyland.  In fact, we may be the opposite.  We bring in our snacks, drinks and lunch.  We want to buy them a treat while we're there and even will splurge on a stuffed animal.

Sophie had been doing an amazing job.  Leah wasn't feeling well so I had been carrying her most of the day.  As we approached the world of color Sophie had seen someone carrying a Bullseye toy (think Toy Story).  We headed over to the boardwalk to find one.  As we entered the first store, bullseye, there she was!  Unfortunately it wasn't the one Sophie wanted.  We were told we could win one just down the way, so off we went.

We found the game where you can win bullseye.  Unfortunately we were too late, they were closing the carnival style games.  This is about when Sophie lost it and began crying (remember, its past her bedtime).  As we approached the world of color we saw a man carrying the Bullseye horse she had been looking for, it was hanging out of his backpack.

I approached the unknown man and asked him where he got it.  He told me he won it over on the boardwalk.  I shared how it was closing and this was the only thing Sophie wanted.  As he looked at the 5 year old on my shoulders he took his backpack off, removed the fluffy horse and it handed it to the beautiful blonde on my shoulders.

I pulled out my wallet and tried to give him money to which he refused, so I tried again and he refused again.  He was so generous and even excited to give the horse to my daughter.  He even told us he was giving us his 13 year old daughters toy he had won for us!  WHAT!!! ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?!?  A stranger just gave me a toy he won for his daughter and wouldn't take my money.

That night I learned another lesson from God.  The lesson of: you have not because you ask not.  Sophie learned a lesson too: there are still good people in the world.  She doesn't know about all the crap happening in our world but she knows a complete stranger gave her something she longed for.  The question I ask myself now is: "How do I give to others to make sure good people always exist in this world?"

Monday, October 14, 2013

Rwanda Bound

Gosh, I'm not sure where to start this post...

Life is a journey... I want to go where God leads me!

In a few short months I will be traveling to a small Africa country that was torn by civil war and genocide.  Most people would think I'm crazy for going there and some are right; I am a little crazy so I want to invite you to journey with me as I go Rwanda Bound!

I guess the best place to start is to give you the info I know as of now.  You should never journey alone, so I'm not going on this journey alone. I'll be traveling with my pastor (Mark Mitchell) and we'll meet up with Chris Foreman, founder of Come and See Africa, once we're on the ground.

We're slotted to help teach a conference on Apologetics (how to defend your faith) in a local college in Butare (south of the capital city).  We're expecting about 125 students from four countries to be at this conference.  After the conference is over we will preach in two local churches.  From what I understand; I'll preach in one church while Mark preaches in the other and then we swap for the second service.

What I've learned with trips like this is: be flexible.  I still need to get my shots and malaria pills but wanted to invite you into the journey with me!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Bringing Up Girls /// Book Review

Title: Bringing Up Girls

Author: Dr. James Dobson

Pages: 285

Publisher: Tyndale

Recommend: Emphatically YES

Quotable: "You will make the difference in your daughter's life." (Page 20)

This is one of the books Charity asked me to read about 2 years ago, with seminary and moving I wasn't able to read it until recently.  In fact the book was so confusing, impacting, interesting and life changing I stopped reading it after 8 chapters.  Yep, I stopped reading it!  I took a month break from the book to think about, process and apply what I'd been reading.  Once I felt like I could pick it back up again I grabbed it and restarted reading the book.  Its not a short book, but its a great book!

Here are some major themes I took away from the book:

My daughters need me
Coming from a broken home I have a skewed view of parenthood.  I'm not saying my view is completely incorrect, I'm not saying my parents are bad people; I am saying I've never lived in a home with a set of married parents (beside my home today).  Dobson takes the time to explain, throughly in this book of how important my role is in the life of my daughters.

Show appropriate physical touch
The key word here is appropriate.  All too often, from what I read, dads are showing inappropriate physical touch: sexual touch.  My daughters need me to show them appropriate physical touch.  For me, this involves lots of hugs, kisses, cuddling, hand holding and carrying my kids.  Dobson talks about how important my role, as a father, is in my daughter's life and my physical touch will show that.  Working with students for almost a decade I've seen the effects of girls who don't have a dad and boy I don't want my kids to act like that.

Engage, Engage, Engage
There are times I want to run... from my kids.  There are times my kids are: screaming, crying, whining, and having a tantrum (I have normal kids even though I'm a pastor).  When they act like this I want to leave; just being honest.  I have actually given myself time-outs before and taken walks to clear my head.  Dobson shares about how important it is for dads to engage with their kids and not push them away.  Dads, we need to engage our kids all the time, frequently and when its tough!

I've recommended this book to so many dads.  If you're a dad go get it and start reading it!  Hit me up if you want to talk about it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Worst Punishment

I have a confession to make.  My wife knows this sin I struggle with and I want to share it with you; on Saturday nights I watch COPS.  For me, there is something about seeing people get caught for doing stupid things.  It could be the ex-criminal in me or just the need for laughter but I really enjoy COPS.

See in America we have a judicial system with different levels of security and offices to help protect our citizens.  Generally, the smaller crimes are enforced by local police officers and these criminals are taken to county jail where they are released or spend less than a year for a misdemeanor.  As the crimes increase so does the enforcement of those crimes.  If you are arrested and sentenced for a felony, you will typically go to prison for longer than a year.  As the severity of the crime committed increases so does the security around you increase.  Most people think the worst punishment is capital punishment; I disagree.  I think the worst punishment a criminal can experience is solitary confinement.  We were created to do life in relationship and the judicial system knows the worst punishment a person can experience is no human contact.  

You may feel like your Christian life is being lived in solitary confinement; you’re not experiencing fellowship with God or with other believers.  There is something special about having Christian fellowship, but Scripture tells us fellowship is secondary to fellowship with God (I John 1:1-4).  No matter where you are in life I want to share three ways you can break the feeling of solitary confinement in your life:

1) Reading Scripture

2) Time Spent in Prayer

3) Corporate and Personal Worship

What else would you add to break the feelings of solitary confinement?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Your First Interview

Over the last couple months our church has been in the process of hiring for a few roles.  With this I've read through hundreds of resumes, had a good number of phone interviews and even had some Skype convo's with people.  So far in this series of posts I've blogged about: (1) How to write your resume and (2) How to submit your resume.

Let's assume you've written amazing resume, that's no more than 2 pages, and after following the directions to submit your resume you caught the attention of your future employer.  Now lets talk about the next major step in the interview process; you're first interview.  Up till now, let's assume, you've never spoken with the person who's hiring for this role you're super interested in.  Here are four pointers to ruining your first interview and a solid way to never get a call back on the position you're so excited about:

1. Talk Bad about your Church
Your first phone/Skype interview is your chance to shine; think of it as a first date.  At one point in the conversation you will most likely be asked: "So why do you want to leave ...."

Here are two potential responses you can give:
"Well, my senior pastor is completely incompetent.  He doesn't know what he's doing and is killing the church.  We've decreased our attendance by 40% and there's no hope of it stopping.  Our Elders don't know what to do, the ministry is in shambles and I just want out."

Or you could say this:
"I'm a point in my life where God has been stirring in me to look for another place to lead.  I think I've learned the lessons I'm going to learn here and its time to move onto my next adventure in ministry.  Through prayer my wife and I really trust God has another place for us to minister."

Who would you rather hire?

2. Detail the Dysfunction 
When I was applying for a new role there were a few times I explained some of the dysfunction in too much detail.  My wife, graciously, helped me see this and we began using the line: "less is more".  A sure fire way to scare off the hiring team is to detail out all the dysfunction of your current church.  Pastors know ministry is messy, but you don't have to talk about how your friends are starting to leave the church because of the poor leadership you're under. You don't have to share how the new lead pastor has systematically fired everyone on the staff and you're the last man standing.

3. Just Keep Talking
Some of my favorite conversations in life are when I get to say nothing!  If you want to seal the deal of never getting a second interview just keep on talking.  When asked a question, make sure to talk as long as you possibly can.  When the interviewer tries to sneak a comment in there act like you didn't see them move their lips or hear anything from their mouth.  Make sure to talk too much!

4. Question the Leadership
Most likely before you get the initial call you will have been asked to, or you're smart enough to, research the church on the internet.  You may have looked at the staff, read about the different ministries, done some stalking on Facebook or read the church's position papers.  If you want to put the final nail in the coffin make sure to start off the conversation by questioning the leadership of the church or provide a critique on what their currently doing.  This is a great way to make friends and start the conversation off on the right foot.

Obviously these four pointers are completely outlandish, but unfortunately people are having conversations like this right now applying for a role.  What would you add to the list to help you completely miss out on your dream job?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Peninsula /// Year One

Its been just over a year since we moved to the Peninsula; its been an amazing year being back in Cali! Charity and I've never lived in California as a married couple so its nice to be back to our home state.  I lived in Northern California back in my teens for a year and Charity has never lived here.  I figured since we've been in an amazing place I'd take some time to share some of my favorite family memories from this year:

1) Farmers Market

Well Farmer's Market isn't my favorite family memory, but its the first one to come to mind.  I've loved going to the Farmer's Market with my family; I think I like it the most.  I enjoy being able to get fresh fruit, vegetables and kettle corn for the girls.  It's not just the fact of buying the food, but its been some time for me to spend with my family outdoors.  We get to walk around, talk a little, smile, eat free samples and try new food.  I hope our time at the Farmer's Market pays off and helps our little girls have a desire to eat healthy when their older.

2) Monterey Bay Aquarium

When we moved up here we heard great things about the aquarium.  Charity took the girls to meet her sister there one day and it was so cool I knew I had to go.  Just a few weeks ago we had some friends in town, I had the day off and we packed in the Pilot to go to the aquarium.  It was great holding my wife's hand, looking at jellyfish and laughing with our kids.  We looked over the ocean, saw sea otters and touched animals I can't even name.  The aquarium has some really cool places designed just for kids!  I enjoyed watching Sophie and Leah play in these areas and seeing them be hands on with so much!

3) Pescadero State Beach

Now I love the mountains and Charity loves the beach.  The beach is 30 minutes and Tahoe is 3 hours away.  Our daughters love the beach and I get to walk with my wife on the sand.  We've been to many different beaches up and down the coast but our favorite is Pescadero State Beach.  Charity found the beach this summer and its a bit further down the coast than Half Moon Bay but worth the drive.  There are they really cool caves there Sophie and Leah love to play in!

4) Rockin' Jump 
I've only taken the girls to Rockin' jump once, but they love it!  Charity has taken them a few times and they love it!  They love jumping on the trampolines, jumping with daddy and watching me do flips.  This place has a sweet deal on Saturday mornings!  They open from 8am-10am and its only open to kids under 6.  This way our girls can jump around, run, and play in the foam pit without worrying about  big kids hurting them.  Its such a great place to have some family fun here.

5) Giants Game

One day we got free tickets to a Giants game.  It was a night game, so that meant we would have to keep Sophie and Leah up late.  We decided to pack in the car, drive to the city and enjoy the game!  We had a wonderful time watching the Giants.  We got some of the yummy treats available at the game, bought the girls Panda hats (they think the Giants are called the Panda's now).  It was great to be able to be outside with our girls, enjoying the beautiful weather!