Saturday Night Reflections

Gobble, Gobble!

Last night we had a special family service and we showed a little montage of Fresh Life Kids telling what they are thankful for. Kids are so rad.

I absolutely love the kid who was thankful for Christ and His crucifixion–I think he has the makings of an evangelist! Tied for second place in my mind is the girl who was thankful for Pandas and the boy who was thankful for elk. That is definitely a very Montana thanksgiving comment, I never heard much Elk-thankfulness in Orange County!

I love Thanksgiving. And I look forward to Thanksgiving dinner all year long. But as good as the yams, turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy are going to be in a few hours we need to make sure to remember that today is about more than food, football and flying. It’s all about having an attitude of gratitude. That was what our first president George Washington said in 1789 when he proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving. “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection & favor; & whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint committee, requested me to recommend to the people of the US a day of public thanksgiving and prayer…”

Today we should all take time and go around the table sharing what we are thankful for and then praying and telling God how grateful we are. ”…In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 The reality is we should give God thanks every day, and we have so very much to be thankful for. Most of all for our salvation. Yesterday in the Rose Garden of the White House President Bush granted a pardon to a turkey as has been the yearly tradition since President Truman first granted clemency to a turkey 60 years ago and it stuck. This was President Bush’s last opportunity in his final year as president and he made a young bird named Pumpkin very happy, it will live out the rest of it’s life safe from being served for dinner. Above all things we should be thankful that God has pardoned us from our sins because of Jesus Christ, granting us a full and unconditional pardon.

I am also so very thankful for my wonderful wife, Jennie, and my daughters, Alivia and Lenya. These three girls are such an awesome gift from the Lord and a thrill to live life with. (here is a picture of us taken last night at church before service.) Additionally I am thankful, more than ever, for God’s Word. I shared on Sunday morning, how after the Preach the Word conference, I am more committed to and stoked about teaching the Bible than ever before. And I really am genuinely thankful to God for how it never returns void, but always accomplishes what it goes out to do. I’m thankful that God lets me preach and teach His Word.

This week I definitely got to do plenty of that. I set a new personal record for maximum messages in a week: In addition to the 3 weekend services at Fresh Life Saturday and Sunday, I spoke Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings from 9am to 12pm at the Montana Bible School. I squeezed all 12 Sex and the Scriptures teachings into the 9 hours and communicated three months of messages into 3 days. To finish it all off I spoke last night at our Fresh Life family Thanksgiving service–in all 15 messages in 5 days! Wow, I’m tired just thinking about it. Good thing I get to get full of tryptophan and take a nap today.

P.S. I’m also very thankful for all of you who read my blog! God Bless you and happy Thanksgiving.

Harvest Crusades Year Recap Video

I saw this video on Greg Laurie’s blog, which if you don’t read–you should! And I was so stoked seeing the big picture of the way God has used Greg and the Harvest Crusades in 2008. We have been honored and blessed to have Greg come and speak at our church a number of times and it has always been epic. (I always feel like fresh life is getting an elephant gun where they are used to a fly swatter, but I know he really enjoys his time in Montana, and so did his son Christopher.)

I esteem him highly (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13) and admire the mixture of his gifts both as a pastor, who loves to teach the Word, and as an evangelist, who brings the good news to lost people. There is no one whose style and example I have looked at and tried to follow as much as his. And I am so thankful that he has taken the time to take me under his wing and mentor me as a young pastor. Part of it has been through sitting under his teachings, which I do ever week through podcasts and webcasts–Thank God for Technology. And a major part has been through being his friend and watching his life preach the same message his sermon does. He became a pastor at an even younger age than me and has given me so much practical advice and wisdom starting out as a church planter.

This has been a bitterly hard year for Greg and his family, walking through the valley of the shadow of death, yet they have feared no evil, remembering that the Lord is with them. Greg gave the last message at the Preach the Word conference on pain. Both dealing with it in the ministry yourself, as he has this year as his beloved son, Christopher, went to heaven, suddenly and unexpectedly. And ministering to people who are hurting as we all will. I am continually stunned watching how bravely he has faced the pain, keeping his mind on Christ and his heart set on reaching out to others, and he is a steadfast example in suffering for me as he has been in service.

I know you will be blessed by watching the video which shows the impact of this years Harvest Crusades, and if you have partnered with Greg in prayer or through supporting the crusades–it is fruit to your spiritual account as well.

Dr. John Macarthur

I was blessed by the opportunity to meet John Macarthur.  I felt like I was hanging out with a chapter to be written about in future church history books.  He has been ministering to the body of Christ for decades by Unleashing the Word of God–one verse at a time, as his ministry slogan has been from the beginning.  My dad gave me a love and appreciation for Dr. John’s teaching and I grew up with the clarion call of his voice constantly coming from our radio speakers. One massive contribution he has made to the Body of Christ has been his New Testament commentary series.  So many expository teacher have benefitted from them. I know I do.  As you study the scriptures they provide exhaustive bulldozer work to dig up gems hidden in the text.  Another tool that so many believers have benefitted from is the Macarthur Study Bible.  I refer to mine on a regular basis and enjoy it very much.  
He spoke at the Preach the Word conference on how Christ is the head of His Church and when preachers will accurately unpack the meaning of the Bible, preaching the Word verse by verse, we are allowing Christ to communicate to His Church.  He gave rich background on how this doctrine was handed to us on a river of blood by those who gave their lives defending it through out history.  Before he spoke he was apart of a question and answer panel and when they were asked how a preacher can be relevant and not compromise his integrity in the process he said something to the effect of:  “You don’t have to make the Bible relevant, it is relevant, our job is to show people exactly how relevant it is.”

Words fitly spoken!  He was very cool in person and quite an encouragement to me as a young pastor in the ministry.  I got to share with him a little about fresh life church and I told him that I have really been enjoying his commentary going through the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation and he was very glad to hear that his books are blessing our little church in Montana.  The funniest thing was standing backstage with him while Greg Laurie was introducing him before he spoke. Greg was giving a very nice introduction, talking about how many thousands of radio stations his teachings were on and how much he respected him and so on and so forth.  John turned to me and said, “I feel like I should be dead….the way he is going on, this could be my funeral.”  It was very funny, but very neat to see such humility up close.
Should the Lord tarry, John’s teaching, preaching and writing will no doubt still be a major help to believers a hundred years from now as they seek to understand the Word of God and I am stoked that I got to sit and listen to him teach in person. 

Southern California Fires

As you all know there have been extremely devastating fires in Southern California lately. I had a chance to catch up with my good friend, Ricky Ryan, who pastors in Santa Barbara. In that city alone 219 homes burned down. Here is a first hand update.

Very Stoked to Preach the Word

I have been down in Southern California for the Preach the Word conference since Monday. Since then I have sat in on 11 sessions under the teaching of some of the most profound and respected Christian leaders on the earth. I have felt a little like a kid in a candy store listening to hours and hours of Bible study from people I admire and admittedly want to be like when I grow up. I have taken page after page of notes (something like 30) and God has been really speaking to my heart. It will take me some time to be able to fully process all that I have been learning because there has simply been so much. It’s almost as though after each session you want to push your chair back, linger and reflect about what a gourmet meal you just ate, but there’s no time because you are headed into the next session to be served up some more 5-star truth. I think I will be like a cow, chewing my cud from this conference as I reflect on my notes and ponder all that I learned for weeks to come.

What was very cool was that there these guys weren’t just giving polished “conference messages” but really sharing their hearts. They were very blunt, honest and open about the struggles and sweetness of ministry. And there were several panel discussions and other times where very practical nuggets of truth were produced in additions to the formal sessions.

Off the top of my head (and keep in mind it is one in the morning and my seven AM wake up call is drawing near) I would say that I have been the most deeply impacted by Chuck Swindoll. I have been listening to his teachings and reading his books for years but this was my first opportunity to listen to him in person. Wow. What a powerhouse. Chuck’s voice is unmistakable, his delivery is impeccable, and his content is inspirational. He spoke two times, once on dealing with problem people in ministry, he called it “Boars in God’s Vineyard” and another time on what should be involved in studying, preparing and delivering sermons. He was super practical, very open and vulnerable and you could really see his heart, both for the Lord and for us, the next generation of pastors coming along behind him and others upon whose shoulders we stand.

I had the opportunity to meet him and chat for a little while. He was very cool. He is 74 this year and I can definitely say I hope and pray to be as faithful and going as strong as he is if the Lord tarries and I reach that age. I definitely want to run the race of faith with endurance as he has.
His final words in his message were challenging and have been ringing in my ears: “In this tragic but marvelous era in which we live, there is no substitute for the prepared man of God to deliver the Word of God, so STAND AND DELIVER! I’m counting on you.”

Here is a little video I shot before a question and answer session started today
And Here is an article that the Christian Post wrote about the conference.

Preach the Word!

I am down in Southern California with a couple of the assistant pastors from Fresh Life for a pastors conference called Preach the Word.  The conference is based on the words Paul spoke to Timothy when he said, Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.  –2 Timothy 4:2

Preach the Word

The lineup for the conference is awesome, truly some of the greatest expositors and teachers in the country.  I read their commentaries, listen to their podcasts and look up to them with great respect.  There are over 1,200 people at the conference from all over the place who are here to get charged up before going back to their place of ministry to preach it up.  
Tonight Greg Laurie spoke at the first session and gave an awesome message showing how in Acts 17 we can look to Paul’s message at Mars Hill and find principles on how to minister in a culturally relevant way without compromising our message today.  Here is a fun little video of Greg recapping his message (and getting nostalgic about a toy from his youth) after he spoke.  

First Saturday Night Service

Church went great tonight, it felt strange heading in to church tonight as I normally spend Saturday evening making final adjustments for Sunday mornings. But service went great, a couple hundred people came, all the volunteers were in place and it was a lot of fun. Tonight was also the first service with our new coffee ministry selling Starbucks coffee to keep people awake for my message. 😉 We bought several heaters, for out front, so that people can stay warm while enjoying coffee and fellowship before and after service. We studied Jesus’ words to the church at Pergamos, the worldly church. The title of my sermon was Church 90210, and we saw how God doesn’t want his church to be conformed to this world. 6 people came forward at the invitation making decisions for Christ! It was a killer start to this new venture in faith and we still have two services to go tomorrow.

The last traces of fall

Autumn in Montana
Here in Montana the last days of fall are in the air. Most trees have lost all their leaves but some are still hanging on to the last few golden brown pieces of Autumn, as though they are reluctant to admit that Winter is coming. We had our first snow of the year last week and as I type this it has just begun snowing lightly again outside. In the distance you can see that the trails on Whitefish Mountain Resort are starting to get dusted white. I love this time of year, the days are crisp but early mornings and late nights are chilly.

Ministry in a bar
I had the chance to speak at a funeral for a person who worked as a bartender this week. They held the memorial service in the bar that he had worked at. The family asked me if I minded speaking in a bar and I told them I definitely did not. I am sure that Jesus would have accepted, He really seemed to dig reaching out to people right where they were at. I could hear the tinkling of glasses and saw a couple people taking shots in the background as I prepared to speak and could think of no better place to minister. Some in the audience listened with beers in hand as I shared the gospel and when I gave people a chance to give their hearts to Christ three people (including the little brother of the man who had died) responded and prayed with me. Praise the Lord.

Back to 1 Samuel
Last night we returned to 1 Samuel and studied chapter 25. David got very annoyed at someone and almost did something he would later regret. I think we can all relate (especially driving through the construction on hwy 93!) Thanks to the quick thinking of a chick named Abigail he was spared future regret. I called my message Beauty and the Beasts and if you missed it you can catch up here. I love the midweek services. It is a great chance to study the Bible in depth and worship the Lord halfway through the week, kind of like a pit stop for your soul. Kevin is out of town at a worship conference so my lovely wife, Jennie, filled in and did a great job. Here is a little video I grabbed during sound check.

Saturday Night Live!
This week is the first week of our new Saturday night service. The church has grown so much in the past year, it is hard to believe we are already having to add another service but our two on Sundays have been uncomfortably full for weeks and weeks so we were left with little choice! We are hoping that many come who work on Sundays and are praying that God will bless this new service. If you live in the Flathead Valley make sure to invite someone to come the day after tomorrow and for everyone else, please pray for God to bring many to know Him.

Under fire and on fire

In our study of Revelation we are currently going through the 7 letters that Jesus sent to the 7 churches in chapter two and three. In them we get to see what Jesus thinks about those churches and by extension every church, ours included. Having already studied the letter to the saints at Ephesus, the robotic church that was busy but loveless, we turned our attention to Smyrna, the persecuted church. It just so happened that yesterday was also the international day of prayer for the persecuted church which made our study all the more timely and heavy hitting.

It’s hard to imagine that in our civilized and modern age that over 200 million Christians are facing persecution for their faith in Christ today. Dr. David Jeremiah put it this way: “Living in a country where we are not tortured or killed for our faith in Jesus, it seems remote that we might be called upon to be martyrs….Most of us cannot comprehend what it would be like to have our fingernails torn out or to see our children slaughtered before our eyes….” But it is an ongoing reality for Christians all over the world as it was for those Christians living in the city of Smyrna at the end of the first century. They were financially bankrupted, tortured and murdered in horrific ways because they wouldn’t worship Emperor Domitian as Lord. The amazing thing is that rather than destroying the church, the persecution actually strengthened it. The church at Smyrna was one of only two out of the seven that Jesus had nothing negative to say about whatsoever. He simply encouraged them to continue on and that they would see Him soon in heaven.

Interestingly enough, it is in also the shortest letter of them all. I think that in His brevity Jesus’ gives us a pattern for ministering to people who are grieving, suffering and hurting. We might be tempted to be long-winded and spout all sorts of truisms and platitudes but people in pain don’t need theological lectures they need friends. This has been on my mind especially as today I will be conducting a funeral for a 23 year old young man who died this week. He had attended Fresh Life on 4 or 5 Sundays and had just started to get involved, checking out our mens discipleship group and inquiring about getting plugged into the worship ministry. His early departure from this earth has left his family and friends obviously devastated but they are comforted in the knowledge that he had placed his faith in Christ. Funerals are always an open door for the gospel because everyone who attends is confronted with the brevity of life and the certainty of death. When I met with this young man’s family this week they told me that some of his friends who don’t know Christ will be coming to the service and they definitely wanted them to have an opportunity to come to know God. I told them I would, of course! Please keep the family and those who are hurting in prayer and that souls would be saved.

Through all of the difficulties and hardships we experience in this life, we can learn from the persecuted that God is capable of bringing beauty from ashes. The church in Smyrna that was under heavy fire was more on fire in their faith because of it. Charles Spurgeon put it this way: Never did the Church so much prosper and so truly thrive as when she was baptized in blood. The ship of the Church never sails so gloriously along as when the bloody spray of her martyrs falls upon her deck. We may never experience persecution of this magnitude, but we should be praying for those precious Christians who do.