The Christmas Story – 2015

COASTLIFECHRISTMAS_WLOGO

It only happens once a year, but gratefully it happens every year. Consistently and faithfully this day becomes an anchor of our childhood, our family memories, and on a much larger scale, even our faith. This one day that is different than the other 364. It seems that nearly everything about our culture and society has shifted, but this one day has some how withstood the crushing avalanche of change. The times and seasons change. For instance, I haven’t noticed a fight over Cabbage Patch dolls this year or people being trampled by a mob in search of Tickle Me Elmo. The times and seasons change, but Christmas day is a tide of consistency. In fact, this one day in December now casts a long shadow all the way into the month of October. October seems a tad early for Christmas music, but I sometimes watch Christmas movies in July so who am I to judge. Here’s a spoiler alert for that Christmas movie you are going to watch, it’s going to snow and everything works out in the end. Our economy still very much revolves around this one day. Our retail stores depend on one Friday in November to put them in the black. We call it Black Friday. It should be noted that it’s only Black Friday for Gap and Banana Republic. It’s probably Red Friday for the consumers. It’s still a wonder to me that a sizable portion of the economy of one of the most powerful and wealthy nations the world has ever known revolves around the birth of a baby in a small city called Bethlehem 2000 years ago. It’s not just commerce, but even our calendar hinges on this one day. Vacations and trips are planned, parties and family gatherings are set in motion. The season struggles to contain all of the activity that we try to cram into it. It would sometimes seem easier to negotiate peace in the Middle East than to negotiate which side of the family gets the Grandkids on Christmas morning. I honestly don’t know how long this will last for our society in general. It seems like our culture tries to reject anything to do with God, even his birthday. Yet, this day still influences the world around us. We all still spend a little more than we should, rush a little more than we should, so that we can stop, at least for this one day. Stop to share gifts, stop to share family time, and stop just to reflect. This one day becomes a birthday party celebrated the world over. How powerful is that? An event that happened 2000 years ago is still shaping and influencing the world around us. So what happened on this one day that made it more marvelous than all others.

I would say it was Favor Found. It was Grace discovered in cloth and a manger. People tend to search for things, especially answers. And especially to answers to questions like is God good or bad or perhaps indifferent? It’s a question that has rolled through the ages like tumbleweed. The world seems harsh. People seem harsh at times. If you have ever read through the Old Testament you find a mix of a God that seems to be imploring people in love to obey him. Yet, unable or unwilling to follow the commands the people like clockwork go astray. On time and on schedule the judgment of God would arrive. It was severe and yes, it would be harsh. We watch it play out in a never ending circle in 39 books that make up the Old Testament. God loves, but God has rules, and God has judgment. People break the rules and disregard God and then the judgment comes. That judgment was harsh. But one day a new page starts. It’s different. It’s not the same and will never be the same. The circle is broken. There, lying in a manger under starry sky is the same God of fiery judgment and watery retribution. It’s the same, He’s the same, but yet not the same at all. In Bethlehem the harshness of a judgmental God has turned as soft as a baby’s bottom. The rigid justice of a God of rules and regulations became as tender as a new born’s lips that Mary probably kissed more than a few times. All of that judgment, all of that justice, all of that authority and power. It was wrapped up in 10 tiny toes and one little nose. Weak and vulnerable, completely dependent, and even fragile. A baby lies in a manger. Maybe the world is harsh, maybe people are harsh, but maybe God isn’t so harsh after all. One day a God thundering on a mountain that causes the earth to burn and tremble. This day, this one single, solitary day, a God who’s cries are only heard by a caring mother and some random livestock. Born to rule in grace, born to save in love, born to conquer death and our sin, but first a diaper change and a nap. Is God good or bad? Is he harsh or angry? We can easily see there is harshness in the world he created. The bad is evident all around us. But in the tenderness of his advent we see the heart of the God who loves us. Omnipotence became vulnerable just to help me find my strength. Sovereignty got scolded by a mother just so I could have peace even if I don’t have all of the answers. Omnipresence got held in a Father’s arms just so that I would know that I am never, never alone in this world. So we stop. Or at least we should. Because this day, this one day, is special. It’s Christmas. Our savior is born.
We aren’t alone. We aren’t neglected. We aren’t left in our sin waiting for judgment. Immanuel, God is with us, for us, over us, good to us, and faithful to us. We often want God to fit with in the perimeters of our own comfort. A God of judgment that punishes for sin doesn’t sit well with us. It may be uncomfortable and even challenging, but its the perfect truth of God. But it’s against this bleak backdrop of sin and judgment that God painted the portrait of his grace. We no longer have to fear him, run from him, or hide from him. The God that thundered from mountains, and was off limits to mortals, is now as approachable as a baby.

Is Karma a Thing?

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Many people believe in Karma. It’s the idea that what you “put out” into the universe is what you will receive back. For instance, if you kick a Grandmother in the shin then someone will kick your Grandmother in the shin. Which raises the question, why are you kicking anyone in the shin, let alone a Grandmother? Which raises another question for me, is there any truth to this mystic belief? I believe the full idea of Karma is off kilter, but I also believe a portion of it is very true. The reason I believe it is true is because God is the originator of the laws of seed time and harvest. The bible clearly teaches the principle of “sowing and reaping.” This principle teaches that my words, decisions, and actions are seeds that produce a harvest. In fact, Paul said:

Galatians 6:7-9
7 Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. 8 Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. 9 So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

Here are a few things to consider about sowing and reaping:

1. Sow with faith and expectation – Every time we give we should understand that we are sowing a seed into an everlasting kingdom. In fact, according to Acts 10 our giving creates a memorial before God. Not only should we expect to see a harvest in this life, but we should also expect to see a harvest in the life to come. Only eternity will fully reveal the results of our giving and generosity.

2. Sow with a right spirit – Faith is never coerced. For an act of kindness, an encouraging word, or an offering to truly be a seed that carries a harvest it must come from a willing heart and a right spirit. The scriptures teach us “the Lord loves a cheerful giver.” Let’s create a healthy harvest for ourselves by doing the right things with the right attitude and believing God for the right harvest at just the right time.

3. Don’t give up – There is a harvest of blessing! Paul never questions the harvest, his only question is whether or not we will get weary. My prayer is that you are encouraged to be faithful during this journey that we are own. I used to be impressed with people that I perceived to have big faith. The older I get the more impressed I am with people who are simply faithful. Don’t get weary in being faithful because there is a harvest of blessing.

The 10 Commandments of Social Media for Churches and Church Leaders

Social media networks projecting out from smartphone. Editorial

I’m an avid social media user. In the early days of CoastLife Church we had no money for advertising or letting people know about our church. We barely had money for things like electricity and insurance. With no budget to use for typical means of advertisement we went to Facebook. It’s been a great tool to connect with our community. Did I mention that its free? Like most things there are pros and cons to social media. The same platform that helps get information out to large amounts of people instantaneously also creates disagreements and arguments. This started out as rules of engagement for the leaders at CoastLife Church, but I thought it might be helpful to others as well. Here are my 10 commandments of social media:

1. Use it – 1 billion people used Facebook in one day recently. There are 5 million more people who have a smart phone than a tooth brush. I have personally received friend requests from people who are homeless. People from all walks of life are on Facebook. We are called to reach, encourage, love, and inspire people. There is no better medium for this today than social media. Use it.

2. Be careful with politics – Ed Stetzer once said, “when you mix religion and politics you get politics.” I don’t personally endorse any candidates. My ministry is to people from across the political spectrum. If you aren’t careful with politics you will end up being the mouthpiece of a political party instead of being a minister to the people of all parties. You shouldn’t have to belong to a particular political party to feel welcomed at Church. It’s a fine line. I believe Christians should be engaged and active in the world, but I also believe we are called to serve people. All people, not just the ones who agree with us politically. I’m afraid if we aren’t careful we will win in our politics and lose in our purpose of reaching people.

3. Endeavor to keep unity – Division is a tool of Satan. Satan uses Facebook as well. Social Media allows every issue to be discussed and many times there is more than one side to the issue. No one wins when there is division in the body of Christ. Endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

4. Avoid foolish debates – Those are the Apostle Paul’s words and not mine. However, he probably had a prophetic vision of Facebook when he penned those words. Somethings just aren’t worth the time to engage them. Be careful about getting lured into a discussion that simply just doesn’t matter. If the whole world operated by this principle Fox News and CNN would only be on air about 2 hours a day.

5. Maintain correct doctrine – There are many different ideologies out there today. There are tons of motivational and inspirational quotes floating around. But there is only one source of timeless truth and that is the Word of God. If it doesn’t line up with scriptural doctrine don’t post it, don’t like it, don’t share it. The world is held captive under darkness, don’t help spread that darkness. Jesus really is the way, the truth, and the life. Share him, share the word in a life giving, grace filled way.

6. Don’t manipulate – Don’t heap guilt on people. Don’t shame people. For heavens sake, don’t try to be a religious bully. I’m tired of people trying to manipulate others. Now, prove how much you love Jesus by liking, sharing, and commenting on this blog.

7. Be loving towards non christians – It saddens me sometimes to see people struggle through life without Christ. It angers me sometimes when people post things that are offensive towards Christianity. Social Media is a place where people can flippantly say things in a thoughtless moment that they would never say directly to a person. I’ve seen things that both hurt and angered me. However, if I only love people who think like me, then the genuine love of Christ is not in me. Even the world loves those that think like them. It is the true benchmark of Christianity to love even our “enemies.” If someone is a serial offender I may unfriend them, but that is an extreme case for me. As much as I hate to see what they post, they need to see what I post. The love of Christ does prevail even over the most extreme of cases. Remember, no one was ever reached by being out debated or perhaps insulted.

8. Don’t go negative – Is there anything praiseworthy, anything lovely, of good report? Post about these things. Our speech is to be with grace. Especially when we are posting to the masses.

9. Never publicly speak against a church, church leader, or fellow Christian. Never. – The largest group of unfriended people for me are believers who speak negatively of other Churches, Pastors, or Christians. You don’t win when another Pastor or Church fails or gets caught in a scandal, only the enemy does. So why be a part of tearing someone down? When an accusation or rumor is stirred about a Church, Pastor, or fellow believer we need to use extreme caution in what we post. If you don’t know them personally don’t speak about it. If you do know them personally than deal with it personally and not on Social Media. Again, no one wins when a Church, Pastor, or Christian fails. I really believe we will answer for our social media posts in eternity when we take a shot at the “mega” Church or Pastor because we don’t like what they said or did. The kingdom of God isn’t advanced through that stuff only the kingdom of Satan.

10. Don’t forget to be genuine and personal – Here’s an idea. Why don’t you let people into your non Pinterest life? No, don’t post pics of your dirty undies in the laundry hamper. But not every pic has to be of a cappuccino with a perfect design and an inspirational quote. Not every post should be a deep and revelatory thought. You probably don’t walk around all day in the 7th heaven full of inspiration and revelation with a perfect cup of coffee. Post about sports, post about family, post something funny, post about whatever, just try to take people on an authentic journey of your life.

Disconnect to Reconnect

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Part of me believes the 24 hour news channels will be the undoing of our society. How can there be that much to talk about? The truth is there isn’t, so issues are created and then debated. Every day you can hear people arguing and debating about a different issue facing our country. I personally believe bare knuckle boxing would be a better way to settle these issues. After pummeling one another you could both hug and leave with a better appreciation for the other. I think I could make Tom Brokaw see things my way now that he’s gotten older and his right hook isn’t what it used to be. I’m all for discussion and I’m also for being an informed citizen. There are very real issues facing our society and our global community. However, do we really need 24 hours to discuss the real issues? Ultimately it seems to always end up with a “news anchor” in the center screen with a democrat and republican in their respective places arguing talking points that were agreed to by a think tank long before the segment was recorded. It’s just not genuine. We consume the talking points and then march to social media to express our opinions, which very surprisingly is shared by some and not shared by others. Who knew that people would have varying opinions? Think about this for a moment if you will. Twenty four hours a day. 24 hours. That would be a big 2 and 4. The news cycles, the social media scrolls. Opinion, debate, issue after issue rolls like waves constant and consistent. Then we wonder why we feel overwhelmed, anxious, and maybe even depressed. There is a tremendous amount of wisdom in the ancient, biblical principle of the Sabbath. I realize that it was a day of no work to honor God, but I believe the principle can be expanded. The Sabbath was a strategic, scheduled, and much needed rest. I really believe having a strategic plan and scheduling a break from all news and social media could help save your soul. Not turning a blind eye to the issues that we are dealing with. Not being uninformed and living in blissful ignorance. Just a scheduled time to disconnect from the exhausting debate to reconnect with something that will restore your soul.

1. Disconnect to Reconnect with God

When was the last time you spent time in the presence of God? A time to not just submit a list of needs or power through a few verses, but time to sit and listen. Sitting still long enough for the typical mind waves to become smaller ripples. Being quiet enough that the voices of tv, radio, and social media grow more and more distant until they are silent. Somewhere beyond all of those voices is the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. Speaking life, speaking dreams, speaking hope. Your soul will be restored when you hear that voice. But you will never hear it while the voices of the republican/democrat debate roar in your mind. Disconnect to reconnect.

2. Disconnect to Reconnect with your spouse

There is a sweet little thing in very close proximity to you. Yes, your husband may not be Chuck Norris, but go spend time with him anyway. My wife and I don’t always have it in the budget to do an expensive dinner or night out. Coffee is cheap, so is ice cream and they are both pretty good. We enjoy getting to drink coffee together and then strolling through stores or along the beach. No, it’s not fair that we have a local beach and others don’t, but life is rough sometimes. The point is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to spend time together. Not only will it be good for your marriage it will be good for your soul.

3. Disconnect to Reconnect with your kids

When was the last time you let your kids set the agenda for the night? Here are the rules, we can do anything (within reason) that you want to do as long as it doesn’t involve TV, IPad, or Kindle. This is usually where they say let’s go to Disney, and I remind them of the “within reason” rule. Usually it ends up as a game night, a bike ride night, or a trip to the park. On a recent evening we were walking back from our local park. The sun was low so the rays were streaming sideways through the trees. The beams illuminating the dancing particles in the air creating a heavenly backdrop for our lives. I fell a little bit behind so I could watch my son and daughter walk ahead of me. I loved them more. Appreciated them more deeply. It’s amazing how Fox News, CNN, and Facebook doesn’t help with that.

4. Disconnect to Reconnect with a friend

Don’t forget to be relational. We say things on social media we would never say to a person if they were sitting across a table from us. For one reason it would be weird to respond to a joke with ROFL. Your friend says something funny, you look back across the table with a straight face and say, “LOL.” Never underestimate the power of spending time with a friend. Talk about God, talk about church, talk about family, talk about life, heck, even talk politics if you want to. The point is to disconnect from the disingenuous and connect with real, authentic relationships.

These things are all good for your soul. They disconnect you from the wired world, but that doesn’t just typically occur. Develop a strategy for life that disconnects you from what drains you, and reconnect to what restores you.

4 Key Areas of Health

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When I started CoastLife Church I was all about growth. For good reason, we only had 15 people and without growth we wouldn’t survive. One day while reading the Parable of the Talents I received what I felt was a divine motivation to grow and increase. After reading that parable, maintenance and staying the course no longer remained an option for me. I think the pursuit of growth is a good thing and a God thing. However, I have come to learn that the approach to growth determines whether or not its right or wrong. At one point I realized that I was striving for growth, but what I really needed to do was to strive for health. Essentially our responsibility is to cultivate areas of health, and its God’s responsibility to give increase. In fact, I believe God has already established increase for your life and the result isn’t in question. The only question is whether or not we will do the work of cultivating an environment that is conducive to experiencing God’s increase. To put it another way, you don’t have to make a seed grow, God has already put growth inside of the seed. However, the seed will never do what it was designed to do unless someone creates a healthy, life giving place for it to grow. If you want to grow in your life here are 4 key areas that I think every person should focus on:

4 Key Areas of Health

This will be in order of priority from the least important to the most important, however, all 4 areas have importance in your life.

1. Physical Health

1 Timothy 4:6-9 (THE MSG)
You’ve been raised on the Message of the faith and have followed sound teaching. Now pass on this counsel to the followers of Jesus there, and you’ll be a good servant of Jesus. Stay clear of silly stories that get dressed up as religion. Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.

All discipline is good. Paul said going to the gym was useful, but there are higher things on the priority list. Physical health is important because I don’t want to abuse my body and cut short my assignment here on earth. I believe many people have had greater years of God’s purpose in their life, but had them cut short because of battles with health that were caused by a lack of physical discipline. I never want to have to ask Jesus to heal something I caused by poor dietary habits. Keep the temple healthy, so the treasure on the inside of the temple can reach its fullest potential. However, this area is lowest in priority because our physical bodies don’t determine our worth. In a world that seems to be increasing in its vanity, it’s important to note that what’s on the inside is greater than what’s on the outside. Don’t abuse food, alcohol, or drugs. Keep your temple clean, but don’t base your worth on your physical appearances. The reason Paul said exercise was only useful for a little while is because whether you exercise or not you are still going to die. Let’s take care of our physical bodies, but let’s keep eternal things in mind as well.

2. Mental Health

Proverbs 24:3-6
3 A house is built by wisdom and becomes strong through good sense. 4 Through knowledge its rooms are filled with all sorts of precious riches and valuables. 5  The wise are mightier than the strong, and those with knowledge grow stronger and stronger. 6 So don’t go to war without wise guidance; victory depends on having many advisers.

Mental health can mean a variety of things, but for this purpose I am going to simplify it to mean wisdom and knowledge. Scriptures teach us that we “build” or grow through knowledge and wisdom. I believe there is a partnership between the natural and supernatural. I also believe what we don’t know in the natural can hinder our usefulness in the supernatural. The bible tells us to pray for wisdom, but not for knowledge. The reason, knowledge is found in books, classes, instructors, and advisors. God expects us to put in the work to gain knowledge. Wisdom comes from God and experience. Ask God for wisdom and listen to those who have gone before you.

3. Emotional Health

Proverbs 4:24
Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.

Fear, anxiety, doubt, depression, insecurity, anger, and bitterness are emotions that occur in the life of every person. If we don’t deal with them, eventually they will deal with us. The bible teaches us to guard the area of emotions in our lives very carefully because everything we do is drawn from that well. Every thought, word, or action is drawn from the well of the heart You will never pull out healthy words, healthy thoughts, or healthy actions out of an unhealthy well. Be very diligent to take care of your emotions. Talk to Jesus consistently and be honest how you are feeling. Talk to close friends consistently and be honest about how you are feeling. Talk to counselors if needed and be honest about how you are feeling. Keep your heart healthy and you will be able to draw out good thoughts, words, and actions.

4. Spiritual Health

Mark 8:36-37
36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? 37 Is anything worth more than your soul?

Take this whole world, but give me Jesus. If I have perfect physical, mental, and emotional health, but I don’t have spiritual health then I have lost it all. Our spiritual health is the most valuable, but often least focused area of our lives. I grew up thinking that you could never pray enough, read your bible enough, obey enough rules and it left me jaded. So, I swung the pendulum the opposite direction and found that I wasn’t growing spiritually. I don’t want to give you a minimum amount of time you should pray everyday, or minimum amount of verses to read. Each person has their own relationship with God. However, there are no substitutes for spending time with God. Be intentional about your spiritual health, after all, it’s worth more than anything in the world.

As Clear as a Picture

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It’s only two pieces of wood. One vertical, and one horizontal. Many other signs, symbols, and images have portrayed a message. None of those however carry the significance of two pieces of wood that form a simple cross. The power of the message conveyed in one simple icon connects with the hearts of people from every generation, culture, nationality, and race. Regardless of where you are in the world, when you see the cross, you see the icon of God’s unconditional love. It’s simple yet significant. The significance isn’t in the two pieces of wood or the icon, its the body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was hung on them. The power is in the blood that stained them. Paul told the church at Galatia that the message of Jesus death on the cross was proclaimed to them just as clear as if they had seen a picture. When we see the cross we see very clearly the picture of what God has richly provided for us. We see a picture of our salvation, a picture of our healing, a picture of our redemption, and a picture of our freedom to be blessed. It’s Good Friday. Today we look to the cross and see the picture of perfect love. We see the picture of selfless sacrifice. We see the picture of Jesus death on a cross, so that we can have abundant and eternal life. Today, all over the world, business and organizations are trying to use an image to convey their message. No image will ever be more powerful, more universal, and more significant than the cross. When I see the cross, the story is clear, the picture is perfect, God loves me.

Happy Good Friday and a very Happy Easter to you and yours.

Why I Hit the Delete Button

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Recently the church where I serve as Lead Pastor, CoastLife Church, was embroiled in somewhat of a controversy. What seemed to be a pretty solid marketing approach for our Easter Outreach Campaign became the topic of a local Facebook Page with over 20,000 followers. The controversy was over our Cross Equals Love signs that began to appear all over the city of Venice and the surrounding areas. We printed them and made them available for people to display in their yards or businesses. Those signs went everywhere. I swear that we received a multiplication miracle because I don’t remember having that many printed. When the Facebook Page posted about the signs twice, a few hundred people decided to weigh in. Some comments were very supportive, some were neutral, and some were highly critical. Some comments were direct to our church and were an attempt to outright bully us. The critical comments ranged from legitimate criticism about signs that were placed in prohibited areas to very hateful comments about our church and christians in general. I posted one official comment on behalf of our church and felt that it was informative and professional. As the conversation continued I wanted to post more comments. Comments that would refute insane accusations, comments to defend our church, and comments to defend the message of christianity. I resisted the urge and let the conversation eventually fizzle out. Finally, a brilliant idea hit me. Something that I loved and knew others would love as well. It would have been a popular post with my friends on social media, and it would have rallied our team that has been a vital part of this Easter campaign. With the brilliant post on my screen and ready to be sent to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram I hit the delete button. Why would I delete something that would have been popular and even would have been a morale boost for our team? Because I realized that the result of criticism had caused me to become what I never want to be, an issue oriented christian. When we posted signs, hung door hangers, and passed out Easter invite cards it came from the very pure heart of our church to remind people of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and invite them to celebrate with us at our Easter services. The deleted post, although brilliant even if I do say so myself, was not pure hearted. It wasn’t based on a desire to reach the unchurched or the dechurched. It wasn’t to invite people to a life giving, life changing church. It was to win an argument. It was divisive between christians and non christians, and it was out of my need to be right. So I hit the delete button. Here’s my prayer in response to criticism and my desire to never be an issue oriented christian arguing politics, doctrine, and just arguing for arguments sake.

1. I want to be pure hearted

I don’t mind criticism. If you do anything of significance it will be accompanied with criticism. However, whatever I do in my life and ministry I want it to come from a very pure place. My prayer is that all actions from my life and ministry would be out of a love for Jesus Christ and a love for the people that he died for. Motives matter.

2. I want to be loving and forgiving

If Jesus could love and forgive the very people that nailed him to a cross, surely I can hold my tongue on social media.

3. I don’t want to circle the wagons

When we circle our wagons, we close our doors. It’s tempting as believers to circle our wagons and become very defensive about our beliefs and way of life. It’s almost understandable to do so. However, the problem is that when we circle our wagons we close our doors to the very people who need our message the most. Jesus Christ is the stumbling block and the cross is the offense. If people are offending by the cross or stumble over Jesus being the only way of salvation, it is their decision to do so. My prayer is that I would never cause someone to stumble over me and my arguments before they ever have the chance to wrestle with the decision of whether or not to follow Jesus Christ. Sometimes when we are overly defensive we circle our wagons so tightly over small issues, we don’t allow people the chance to get to the real issue and that is Jesus died on a cross for their sins, and they can either receive or reject that act of mercy and grace.