A Conversation with God. Week 1: ASK

How does one begin teaching a child to talk?  After the usual ‘mama’ and ‘dada’ words come, the focus typically begins to revolve around the question: ”What do you want?”

Are you hungry?

Are you thirsty?

Do you want the ball?

As a parent we cannot wait for that time where our children can communicate with us what they want and need.  It is not that we want to become the servant of our children and fulfill their every request.  It’s that we love them and want to help them.  We want to establish the fact that we are the ones in this world that they can depend on.  As a father, I want my children to come to me first when they are in trouble or need help.

When Jesus taught his disciples about prayer, he said this in Matthew 7:7-8:

 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

A major component of prayer is asking.  It’s not the only thing, but it is a big one.  Of the 20 instructive passages about prayer in the New Testament, 10 are about asking God for what you want and need.

Because this idea of asking comes to us so naturally, it is here where we are beginning our teaching series on Prayer: A Conversation with God.

To see the whole message from this past weekend, check out the following link: https://www.palmvalley.org/messages/conversations/

In the weeks ahead, look for additional posts that will unpack the prayer aspects of seeking and knocking from Matthew 7.

The Rhythm of Rest

We live in a culture that does not celebrate rest. Don’t get me wrong, most people feel like it’s important and we enjoy it when it comes. But we don’t celebrate working at a sustainable pace. In fact, our culture doesn’t even encourage it. Don’t believe me? When was the last time someone at your work received employee of the month for leaving every day on time and using all their allotted vacation? I can’t think of one either—and I am responsible for selecting employee of the month at Palm Valley Church!

According to Psychology Today’s article, The Tell-Tale Signs of Burnout … Do You Have Them?,burnout is the physical and emotional exhaustion that is the result of working at an unsustainable pace over time. Symptoms include chronic fatigue, insomnia, increased illness, loss of appetite, anxiety, anger, tension, irritability, pessimism, detachment, apathy, hopelessness, lack of productivity and performance, isolation, loss of enjoyment, depression, forgetfulness, impaired concentration and physical symptoms like chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath.

So, what does a sustainable pace look like? How can we avoid burnout in a culture that celebrates and rewards people who work themselves to exhaustion? It starts with a weekly rhythm.

“There are daily and weekly rhythms designed into us as human beings. Living within these rhythms brings health. Fighting against them breaks us down physically and emotionally over time.”

God set out a rhythm for work and rest in the very opening statements of the Bible. He didn’t start with a command or rule. He started with an example to follow.

Genesis 2:1-3   “So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. 2 On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.”

God did not rest because he was tired or worn out from His work. Creating the last herd of elephants on day six of creation did not push Him over the edge. God rested for one reason—to set the example and expectation of rest as a weekly rhythm. Because this example is set out in the Bible, it is often mistaken as a spiritual practice. Some believe that the seven-day cycle of work and rest is a religious construct and does not apply to everyone.

From Subversive Sabbathby AJ Swoboda, “The seven-day work week is not something that can, or should, be tinkered with, although some have tried to. In 1793, France, in an effort to increase human productivity, de-Christianized the calendar by modifying the seven-day week to a ten-day week. New clocks were invented to reflect the revised week. The experiment radically failed: suicide rates skyrocketed, peopled burned out, and production decreased. Why? It turns out humans were not made to work nine days and rest only one in a week. We were made to work six days and rest one. The seven-day rhythm is sacred. The seven-day work week is not the result of human ingenuity; rather, it is a reflection of God’s brilliance.”

Not only is this Sabbath day of rest an example to follow, it is also a gift to be enjoyed. Jesus, when questioned about His healing activities on the Sabbath, makes the clarification that the day of rest was made for man, not man for the day of rest. It is a gift from God to be enjoyed.

So how do we establish this rhythm of rest?

Pick a time

We have to be intentional about setting time aside for rest. Ideally, this is a consistent 24-hour block of time. However, there are so many factors that play into this; changing work schedules, multiple jobs, conflicting schedules with spouses, single parents, the list could go on and on. The point I am trying to make is that there are many reasons not to rest. Work hard to carve out some time. You might start with several blocks of time in your week; two 12-hour or three 8-hour blocks. Start there for now.

Prepare for it

Work hard to make sure you are ready to rest. When I go on vacation, it seems like my longest, busiest work day is the day before I leave. I am tying up loose ends, making sure I have coverage for all my responsibilities, and wrapping up projects. I do this so that when I leave for my vacation I can really unplug and not worry about work. What would it look like to prepare this well for your day of rest each week?

Practice it

I don’t mean put it into practice. I mean practice doing different things on your days of rest and find what gives you the most refreshment. Start with some simple questions:

What fills me? What activities make me fill energized and rested? Fill you day with these things.

What drains me? What activities drain my energy and leave me feeling depleted? Try to avoid these activities on your day of rest.

There is no set list. What fills one person might be a drain for another. The point is to leave this day or period of time refreshed, energized and ready to re-engage with work.

Want to know more, check out my message on the Rhythm of Rest here.

#WeArePVC – Week 1

Family Life Ministry Highlight

Summer is an incredibly busy time for our Family Life team at Palm Valley Church. This team consists of all the ministry we do from birth to high school students. The summer is full of camps for each age group, fun activities, and mission trips. All of this is in addition to the weekend services designed specifically for each age group that incorporate music, drama, teaching, and small group activities. Countless hours are put in by our dedicated full- and part-time ministry staff as well as the real heroes, the PVC members who serve in these areas using their God-given gifts and abilities.

In the past, we would take time after each major event and spend a few minutes in service highlighting what God did through our summer camp and mission trip experiences. This year we decided to kick off our #WeArePVC series with an entire weekend highlighting all the efforts. It was amazing! There were students leading worship and sharing their personal testimonies about their mission trips. We saw video highlights of camps. There was even a quick peak at some of the amazing actors we have that put together incredible dramas for our PVC Kids camp. If you missed last weekend, you can check out the service online here.

Then I took a few minutes to share why we put in all this effort. For me, it goes back to a verse in the book of Judges.

Judges 2:10

After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel.

What an incredibly tragic statement! Who was this generation that failed to prepare the next one? Who was this generation that dropped the ball? One could argue, it was one of Israel’s greatest generations, it was Joshua’s. This was the generation that saw God part the Jordan River and then entered into the Promised Land. They saw God fight their battles as cities like Jericho had its walls fall down at the sounds of the shouts and trumpets. When this generation were children, they saw God lead them through the desert from slavery by his physical presence in a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire at night. God fed them for forty years in the desert by providing manna from heaven. This generation experienced God’s presence, faithfulness and power on a daily basis—yet their kids grew up and didn’t acknowledge the Lord.

As a father and pastor, I read this passage and it inspired me to be intentional with the next generation. I want to put intense efforts into reaching, teaching, inspiring, equipping and empowering the next generation to lead the church.

There is some discouraging news, we are losing the fight.

Currently in the United States we have a trend where each successive generation is rejecting God at a higher rate.

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This is why we put so much effort into our Family Life Ministry. It takes intentionality to change a trend like this.

  • Intentionality in prayer – we cannot do this without God.
  • Intentionality is resources – we cannot do this without financial investments.
  • Intentionality in effort – we cannot do this without gifted members serving.

I am not a doomsdayer. I have hope. My hope is in the fact that as much as I love the next generation, God loves them even more!

Palm Valley Church is a place where children and students matter!

The Missions Question

The Missions Question

When I get asked about the work Palm Valley Church does in Cote d’Ivoire, Mexico, and Haiti, it usually goes something like this:

Why would you travel long distances to serve people when there are problems right here in our own community? Shouldn’t we fix homelessness (replace with: addiction, orphans, foster care, etc.) here before we help others?

I understand this question. I mean, it makes logical sense. Work to fix problems in the areas that are the closest to us, then travel out from there. The problem with this way of thinking is that it is contrary to Jesus’ instructions. Check out the Great Commission given to the disciples and to all of us.

Acts 1:8 (NASB)

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

The wording of this passage is very intentional. The geographical progression uses the word AND not THEN. The strategy was not meant to be progressive in the sense that when one location was completed, the next was to begin. There is a tension in the belief that we are supposed to be engaged in all three.

There is also the fact that if one area had to be completed before moving on to the next, we would never go beyond our own communities. Jesus said, “You will always have the poor among you.” Therefore, we will never completely solve the problem.

So how do we manage the tension of AND?

Honestly, most of our resources at Palm Valley Church are dedicated to our own community. In fact, our most successful evangelistic program receives more financial support, staffing support and volunteer support than anything else we do. It is so successful, that every weekend people from our community come to Christ. Every year, hundreds of people from our community are baptized. What is the program? What is this amazing evangelistic tool? It’s our weekend worship service.

At Palm Valley Church, our weekend worship service is designed so that people who are far from God and those who are invited to attend will be welcomed and cared for. Every weekend, we communicate with them in a language they can understand. We teach principles from scripture that can be applied immediately to their lives. And we provide an opportunity for them to hear and respond to the Gospel message. Our members personally inviting their friends and neighbors to church is our most effective tool in reaching our community.

We also use resources, both financial and manpower, to meet the physical needs of our communities. Our work in the community over the past three years has impacted almost 15,000 children and families. Our partnerships with local government, schools, and non-profit organizations answer the call of Jesus to help “the least of these.” Palm Valley Church members have also made a significant impact in the local foster care crisis as many families have opened their homes and lives to children in need.

We do all of this AND go to the “remotest parts of the earth.”

The financial resources are a fraction of what we use here, and the hours spent are a fraction of what is given here. But we are called to do BOTH.

We do it with joy.

We do it with sacrifice.

We do it because we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to go.

 

Addition by Subtraction: Part 3 of 3

Developing the Plan

How do you communicate changes in a way that values everyone involved?

Due to the types of changes we were making, we believed face-to-face interaction was imperative. After all, Palm Valley Church is a place where people matter.

What was needed was a rolling communication plan. First, we needed to speak with the individual members of our team who were being directly affected by either the elimination of their role or a major reassignment. Then, we needed to work through the tiers of leadership. Our hope was that we would minimize the possibility that information about changes would reach someone before we had the opportunity to speak with them in person.

Here is where things got tricky. November 6was the date of our first meeting as a Strategic Team. It was in this meeting that the 2-week timeline was developed.

In order for Glendale’s last public service to be held before the launch of our Christmas push, November 18, I needed to be at the Glendale Campus on November 11 to deliver the news in person.

This was the plan we developed:

November 6 — Communicate changes to campus pastors, staff members whose roles were dramatically changing (i.e. changing campuses) or who were being released. Keep Trustee team in the loop on the new timeline.

November 7 — Announce changes to the entire staff in an all staff meeting.

November 8 — Call together all the leaders, staff and volunteers, from all campuses to communicate the changes to them.

November 11 — I would be at the Glendale Campus in person to deliver the news about the campus closure. We would also make the announcement at the Buckeye Campus about major staffing changes, including the new campus pastor. Nothing would be said at the Goodyear Campus during this weekend to prevent information from spreading prematurely in Glendale and Buckeye before their services on Sunday morning.

November 6thwas a whirlwind of a day. Tough decisions. Tough conversations.

What was so amazing to me was to see God’s hand in it all. The unity in the team was amazing. We were able to work quickly and effectively through the objectives. All key decision makers were in the room and God worked through the collective wisdom and experience He had given everyone.

Was this timeline too short?

That’s a tough one. If we had more time, we certainly would have used it, I do know that. But what would we have used it for? More deliberation? More discussion? At the end of the day, there was no preparation for the tough conversations we were going to have. Staff members and the church body already new finances were tight and that changes would have to be made without a rebound. The specific conversations we had to have would be just as difficult this week as they would have been next week or next month if we drug the process out. There are no preparatory conversations for the ones we were having besides the groundwork that had already been laid.

Here is what I learned from this situation:

Once the vision is set, plans can be made fairly quickly. I had to be crystal clear with the Strategic Team about the new model and our specific objectives. Giving them this direction gave us some very clear running lanes to make quick, thoughtful and informed decisions.

Having the right people in the room is key. For visionary decisions, I think a smaller group is more effective. For strategic and tactical decisions, having all the stake holders in the room speeds up the process—if the vision is clear.

Diversity is a blessing. More people in one room who are all the same is not helpful. That could give a false sense of feedback and input. If everyone in the room is of the same sex, race, and comes from the same background, you are not necessarily getting the benefit of collective wisdom. You are just getting multiple voices saying the same thing. Unfortunately, it’s hard to understand this until you’ve experienced it. We like to trick ourselves into believing that our teams are different: “We aren’t technically diverse, but we think diverse.”As leaders, we constantly surround ourselves and attract others who are just like us. If you want to lead a diverse church that matches your community, intentionally surround yourself with leaders who represent the body. If there is a level of leadership at which, above that line, everyone is the same, there is a problem. The diversity of your church will never be greater than the diversity of your highest levelof leadership.

Unexpected Outcomes

We made these decisions for the future growth of the church. I believe God has called us—and every church—to reach the community they are in with the life-transforming message of the Gospel. I believed that if I made these changes, we would have a greater impact in the future. What I didn’t realize was how quickly some of the changes came.

The first change was in the area of giving.

As church leaders, we preach stewardship all the time. We are not owners, but managers of God’s resources. The decisions that were made to close a campus, reduce and redeploy staff, and change our strategy were all stewardship decisions. How could we best use the resources God has given us?

We talk this way.

We operate behind the scenes this way.

But when we laid these values out on the front lines for all to see, I didn’t realize what an impact it would have on the body. I thought people would pull back. Instead, they leaned in.

People want to invest their finances, their time, and their relational capital in organizations they trust. And trust doesn’t come from being perfect. It comes from being authentic.

We admitted mistakes.

We took corrective action.

We told people why.

Palm Valley Church has been in existence for over 18 years. Since the announcement of all these changes, we have received our four largest single gifts in the history of the church. The budget gap was reduced to $30,000 by the end of the year from a high point of $300,000. This was due to giving, the financial cuts are for the 2019 budget.

The second change was in the area of attendance.

One month later our Christmas attendance was 4% larger than the previous year. As I write this at the beginning of June, we are up 10% in attendance from last year.

Addition by subtraction.

Sometimes this phrase is used relationally. A team gets better by the removal of a toxic teammate. This is NOT what I am referring to here. What I am referring to here is ENERGY.

When we focused our energy and efforts on fewer things, we became more effective. We now operate with one less physical location but reach more people than we did before. By taking the resources we had and positioning them where they can create the greatest impact, we saw a resurgence.

Redeploying staff members into new roles

Re-budgeting finances

Redirecting my personal efforts and energy

God worked in and through the leaders, volunteers and members of Palm Valley Church to initiate an incredible turn around.

God is doing some amazing things. God-sized things.

I cannot wait to see what the future holds.

The Fear of Missing out

This weekend we wrapped up our series on the weight of fear by talking about the fear of missing out (FOMO).  At first glance this doesn’t seem to be incredibly impactful.  I mean what’s the worst that could happen?

Let’s try that though experiment.  Imagine the worst possible outcome from a missed opportunity….  Got it?

OK, now make it twice as bad.

I have no idea what the scenario going on inside your head is right now, but what I do know is that the result, regardless of how terrible it is,  can’t compare to impact FOMO had in this passage of scripture.

Genesis 3:1-6

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

2 “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. 3 “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

4 “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. 5 “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

6 The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. 7 At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.

Adam and Eve believed that God was holding something back from them. There was something out there better than what they were currently experiencing.  They were missing out!

Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God’s one rule cost them EVERYTHING.

It cost them….Their home.

Their purpose

Their relationship with God

The other fears we have walked through in this series had costs associated with them.

The fear of failure can keep us from trying new things and opportunities.

The fear of bad things happening can cause us to insulate and isolate    ourselves.

The fear of inadequacy can keep us from understanding our God given potential and using it.

What these all have in common is that they hold us back.  This is bad.  Not good.

However, FOMO is much more dangerous because doesn’t hold us back…it propels us forward.  It launches us out in directions that can cost us everything.

The risky financial decision made because the window of opportunity is closing, and you don’t want to miss out on what everyone else is benefiting from.

The dating relationship has red flags all over the place, but you move forward because you are afraid you will never find anyone else and don’t want to spend your life alone.

The risky health decisions made for quick results because time is running out.

The business decision that you know is wrong but is a “standard practice” that everyone else uses to get ahead.

Jesus addresses this very issue.

Matthew 6:31-33

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Our focus is this passage rightly goes to the action step…’seek the Kingdom of God.’ But for the purpose of FOMO, lets pause on the phrase…’your heavenly Father already knows.’

God is all knowing.

We are afraid we are going to miss out.

God knows exactly what we need.  He knows the past, present and future.  He knows the big picture and the small details.  He knows how much food is in your house and exactly how long it will last. He knows your bank account balance and exactly how far your car can get on the gas that’s in its tank.  He knows your employer’s financial situation.  He knows how the business is going to go.  God knows everything.

It is from His character…who is He, ALL KNOWING, that He tells us not to worry.

Check out the rest of ‘The Weight of Fear’ series online at: https://www.palmvalley.org/messages/weight-of-fear

The Weight of Fear

This has been such a fun series to teach so far!

I have been teaching through the different fears in life that weigh us down, paralyze us, and keep us from all that God has for us.

The fear of failure.

The fear of bad things happening.

The fear of inadequacy.

The fear of missing out.

We started the series off by looking at the account of Jesus calling out Peter to join Him in walking on water.

Matthew 14:28-33

Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”

29 “Yes, come,” Jesus said.

So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.

31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”

32 When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. 33 Then the disciples worshiped him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.

Peter’s problem was that he took his eyes off of Jesus.  He began to focus on the waves and wind and became terrified.  Fear literally weighed him down and he began to sink.

This gives us the main theme for the series: “We don’t fix fear by fixing ourselves…we fix our eyes on God.”

This series is not about developing a three-step process to overcoming fears or developing coping skills to work through lives tough moments.  There are many Biblical examples and principles available to handle fear in this way.  However, I was led to fix our eyes on God.

In reality, this is a series about God’s character.

When we fear failure…we look to God’s patience and faithfulness.

When we fear bad things happening…we look to God’s goodness.

When we struggle with the fear of inadequacy…we look to God as our creator.

When we struggle with the fear of missing out…we look to a God who is all knowing and all powerful.

Join us next week as I wrap up the series.  You can catch up on the previous messages or entire services at http://www.palmvalley.org/messages/weight-of-fear