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Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  – Galatians 6:1-2

I’ve been through church crisis one too many times. The longtime head pastor of my church that I grew up in passed away due to cancer. Our popular youth pastor was fired abruptly because the new pastor that came in wanted a whole new staff in place. My good friend became an intern for our church (after just becoming a believer) and had an affair with one of the staff members. He took his life soon after. The accountant at my last church embezzled almost half a million dollars. My current pastor had to resign due to extramarital affairs. Yes… the church experiences death, scandals and affairs just like the real world. I must note that in most of these situations, the church handled them very poorly (something I’ve experienced personally as well).

But how are we doing as Christians in handling these situations? Do we deal with those caught in sin in a loving way? Do we restore them gently back to Christ with the truth of the gospel? Do we act Godly when the media tears into us or do we get defensive and attack back? All I know is Satan loves to attack the church when things are going well. All the situations I described above happened when the particular church I was at was at their peak and experiencing tremendous growth. We forget that when we became Christians that Christ warned us that we would face persecution. One of the things I know is that Christians today do not handle persecution well. Look at the Chick-fil-a and Duck Dynasty situations and see how defensive Christians get when our views are spoken against. I’ve been embarrassed how Christians have reacted in the media about gay marriage and other topics that go against our beliefs. Do we not trust that God will ultimately prevail?

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.  –  Acts 11:19-21

God works during times of despair. He redeems and restores and takes these situations and uses them for his glory. The church isn’t perfect and it isn’t about one man or a building. It’s a living organic body of messy believers that come to together to grow and worship our Lord. We treat Pastors like rock stars and put them on a pedestal so high they could never meet the expectations we put on them. Pastors are just messy people being used by God. But God isn’t going to let his church fall. He is still faithful even when we are unfaithful.

What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.”  –  Romans 3:3-4

I have been impressed with my current church and how they have handled our current crisis. They are doing it in a loving biblical way. My last two churches were clueless in dealing with people caught in sin and usually let them leave without any restoration. When I heard the news in church, the first thing I did was look at myself. I took this as a warning sign that I myself am a step away from falling into temptation and sin. I am thankful for my community and that I can come to them about anything that I may be struggling with. I am thankful for my church and that God called me to be here during this crisis so I can see firsthand his redeeming power at work. I remember when my last church was going through its scandal, I was quoted in the paper at that time by saying “God is bigger than this”. My viewpoint is still the same – God has got this and He will prevail.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world – John 16:33

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Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly

1 Peter 5:2

It’s been a crazy few weeks as I have been really staying attentive to God and His will for me. I had this moment a few weeks ago where I was able to retrace my steps of where I am at today to a moment when I was struggling in my walk and I listened to God’s voice and made a step in obedience. It set off a chain reaction of events during a difficult time that brought me to where I am now. It’s so cool to know that God is always working and always restoring and all we need to do is listen and follow. Last year I set myself up financially for later in life with investments and retirement funds, etc. It dawned on me that I have a son who starts college next year and another one just a few years behind him and that I need to be a better steward of God’s money. So I got responsible with my finances and have been preparing myself for my future and where God may want me later in life. God has put some incredible mentors in my life that have walked me to this point and now I am able to give back to those younger than me. I have also had the opportunity to get some good teaching lately from some conferences of what is going on in the world and how I can acclimate my heart to God’s will. But recently He has called me to something that I didn’t think I would diving into anytime soon – church leadership. My first experience was both good and bad. I am always appreciative of Cornerstone church for giving me my first shot at leadership. I really learned a lot from that experience (and a lot about myself). But the biggest thing I regret about it is that I never had any formal training. I was hand-picked for the job and thrown to the wolves by doing it on my own. I was still a pretty new Christ follower and had lots to work through with myself. The last thing that the Pastor of that church told me when I left was that I had all the potential to be a leader and that I should continue to aspire to be a leader after I have taken care of my stuff first. I really took his words to heart that day. Today I am in a totally new phase of life and through praying with many of my mentors and people I trust, God has led me back to the first steps of returning to leadership. I honestly have no clue what this looks like as I refuse to try to define God’s will for me. But I do feel God is allowing me back out in the world and He is saying to me that this time we are going to do it right (that would be His way). I am beginning an intense lengthy training on church leadership next week with some of the most predominant church leaders in the valley. I am so looking forward to soaking in some teaching and learning the biblical principles of what it means to be a leader from some of these Godly men. I am excited because the training doesn’t just include leadership in the church, but also at home and in work field. I do have some nervousness yet at the same time I am excited to follow in God’s footsteps. It’s good to be in His will and take the proper steps for growth.

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David Booth and Louie Giglio

Judah Smith

Judah Smith

They showed a video showing the global impact Passion has had on the world. Passion does a world tour every summer and we were asked to pray for the all the different countries. Louie Giglio brought out David Booth of the Vancouver Canucks to talk about his passion for Jesus. I love seeing people in celebrity status that are willing to make a stand for Christ. Next up was Pastor Judah Smith of The City Church to preach the next session. I actually got to attend The City Church when I was visiting my father in Seattle. Judah spoke to us on community from 1 Peter 2:1-10.

God is singular in character, but plural in person (Genesis 1:26). He is in community with Himself and we are made in His image.

Church = Community

God intended for each of us to live in community. If we are alone, it isn’t good because God designed us for community. We are to reflect His image and without community, the world will not see God. It is impossible to accomplish our goals without each other because we need each other. In 1 Peter, God describes us like a living rock and He intends to build something authentic and real in our lives.

It’s imperative for us to stay connected even though it isn’t always easy. Our community (the church) is different from the world’s definition of community. Jesus is the living stone – the Cornerstone. We are built around the living stone to make His portrait. Mercy, integrity, faithfulness – the definition of all of these is Jesus. The Bible isn’t a book of concepts and principles, it’s a book about a person – Jesus.

What makes our community different than all other gatherings? JESUS. He makes us unique. We are average without Him.

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Sometimes before church we like to get together to be a family and a community. Coffee Bean has been a regular hang out for us before we listen to the Word.

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PhoenixONE had an amazing kick-off night that I won’t forget. It started off when I walked in I saw this amazing sunset outside Phoenix Historic Presbyterian First right before the event started. I felt God telling me to prepare my heart because tonight was going to be a big night. Downtown Devil captured the event in this article.

The guest speaker wasn’t announce for tonight’s kickoff beforehand. After worship was provided by Brian Wurzell and Ryan Axtell, Francis Chan of Cornerstone Simi Valley came out to our surprise as the guest speaker for the evening. Francis Chan is known for writing popular Christian book Crazy Love. I first heard him speak at a Passion conference back in 2007. Ironically I went with my friend Shauna who was also happened to be with me at Passion ’07. This was an awesome way to kickoff a new season of PhoenxONE. The audio of Francis’ talk can be heard here.

Here are my notes from tonight’s talk:

Take Courage

  • We are sons and daughters of God and we represent Him.
  • The world will believe when they see a fearless church.
  • Live in a manner worthy of the gospel.

“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

– 2 Timothy 1:7

  • The enemy gives us a spirit of fear.
  • God puts the Holy Spirit in us. God Almighty is with us.
  • We honor God’s word when we believe in it.
  • Do you believe he gives you not a spirit of fear, but of power?
  • Something in us changes when the Spirit enters us.
  • God gives us a spirit of power, love and self-control.
  • Some Christians will say they don’t sense Jesus with them.
  • Are you out sharing your faith with others?
  • In Matthew 28, Jesus says He will be with us when we go out and make disciples.

 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

– Acts 1:8

  • We all long for the spirit of love. We need to practice it in our local church.
  • Imagine if the world saw that life of unity in our churches.
  • With the spirit of self-control, we have the power over sin. We can overcome it!
  • God promises He will never let you be tempted beyond what you can handle.
  • When we gather, we are supposed to enCOURAGE one another.
  • Even Paul asked for prayer.

“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”

– Acts 4:29-31

THE PHOTOS BELOW ARE BY SUREFIRE PHOTOGRAPHY

(Photos from Facebook event)

Shauna

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Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

Ecclesiastes 5:1-2

Do we all have this approach when we are in prayer with our heavenly Father? Do we have this awe factor of God when we have alone time with Him. I know I don’t. Maybe we need to stop and just reflect on God before we pray. My time with God is good. I feel I talk to Him throughout my day. But my alone time with Him isn’t always spent wisely. I get distracted easily and I make other things more important than Him.

In this study I was asked to answer this question – what would be my first words out of my mouth when I first come into the presence of God? I immediately teared up and I though “why me?”. Why does God continue to pursue a broken-down person like me? When I think of how He sent His son to die for us and that He loves me unconditionally despite my rebellion, it blows me away. And the thing is, God uses me over and over again – even after I fail. Everyday I am used as His witness and for that I am grateful.

Revelations 4 gives this amazing picture of John coming into the presence of God. Some of it sounds amazing and some of it sounds weird. But when it comes down to it, can words really describe what it is like to come into the presence of God? I love the picture of constant eternal worship of our Heavenly Father. It sounds amazing! How I long to even worship my Lord and Savior for an hour a day.

I need to slow my days down. I need to make time for God and gaze at how awesome He is. I need to allow my time with Him to flow through my everyday life schedule. I want my thoughts and approach to life to always reflect Christ and how He first loved me.

God is HOLY  God is ETERNAL  God is ALL-KNOWING  God is ALL-POWERFUL  God is FAIR AND JUST

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us… Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like  

– A.W Tozer

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I really enjoyed seeing many of the Olympians in London give God praise and honor for their victories. Many did this despite being on a big stage with a huge television audience. As Christians, God puts us all in positions to share our testimony or witness to others. This morning I got up and heard Christian music in my living room. This guy that is staying with me was on his knees with his eyes closed and hands in the air. At first I though it was a bit too much, but then I immediately felt conviction. How often do I praise God like this? I got my heart straight with God at church and gave him thanks for putting this guy in my life to encourage me in my own walk.

I got on Facebook briefly tonight and saw this picture all over the place. It was like a huge celebrity showed up in town. A guy named Paul Jr was speaking at my old church. I will be honest with you.. I don’t know who this guy is. But there were enough people at a church excited about this guy that I felt I should know him. Apparently Paul Jr is a new Christ follower and he has a great testimony. I think he appeals to bikers and to those who don’t know Christ that watch his show – God will use anyone to share the gospel. But I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit I don’t always see the “attraction” model of church and their ways of reaching the community as effective.

Western churches and the mega church have become a big thing here in the U.S. It fits todays culture of serve as many people as can. The “attraction” model church believes in luring as many people through the door (advertisement, billboards, guest speakers, etc) as you can and hope somewhere within an hour service (but not too much than that because we wouldn’t want to bore people) someone will hear about Jesus. Now I don’t have a problem with preaching to the masses. Jesus did it and Peter preached a sermon that saw thousands come to Christ. I have been to crusades that many came forward and received Christ. But the problem comes with discipleship and the process of sanctification. I personally see the ‘attractive’ model as giving only a prelude to the what the gospel can truly do for someone who desperately needs Christ. Very rarely do you see much put into growing the members of their church within their ‘programs’.

I’m not bashing the church today. I attended a mega church for years and spent most of my Christian walk comfortably sitting behind the church walls waiting for people to walk through the door to witness to. I bought into this and saw churches with small attendances as ineffective. But today I have seen more effectiveness in my own witnessing outside the church in the community. Churches today scratch their heads at the lack of tithing. They want to know why Christians have a higher divorce rate and why we put more effort into our accomplishments at work than in our time with God. They see the numbers grow but they aren’t seeing the maturity. Are churches today putting too much time and effort in their gimmicky flashy ways of talking about Jesus and not enough in the A to Z gospel sanctification process? Is the gospel message not attractive enough? I’ve always been cautious of throwing immature Christians in the spotlight (especially celebrities) to be the God story of the week – even though their stories can be inspiring. What happens when our golden boy spokesman Tim Tebow that we created blows it someday? Then the non-believers laugh at us and the judgemental Christians annihilate him (and I personally know all about this..). All I know is that I felt Paul Jr and his bikes got a lot more glory and honor than Jesus today (and mainly from Christians of this church that claim to already know Jesus) and I saw a lot of church leaders patting themselves on their backs for the big numbers that came in. True gospel change can be a slow and long process and I personally would like to see more emphasis put into that than smokes and billboards. Broken people need people to walk alongside them and show them love without any judgement. Jesus preached to the masses, but He spent most of His time with the few teaching and training them to be true disciples. These are just questions that come to mind from my own experiences in the flashy church. Despite the ‘great things’ I did and patted myself on the back for, I still ultimately needed Jesus for change.

We have a broken world out there with hurting broken people. We as Christians need to go out there and find them, not sit back and wait for them to come to us.

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“Cities are the center of culture. Often, they are the intersection of art, politics, and business. New City exists to engage culture where it’s created, weaving the story of God into the story of Phoenix.” 

I love Brain Kruckenburg. He has really helped bring a vision to the local art scene in the heart of downtown Phoenix. Whether that be with New City Studio on First Friday’s or with the aaa program (action, advocacy, arts) at ASU’s College of Public Program, he has used God’s gift of creativity as a witness tool to the community. I was invited to attend New City Church this morning by some friends and I have always been encouraged by Brian’s support of what I got going on in my life. I love this church! Right now, Missio Dei is where God wants me and it’s my home and where I need to be to grow in my walk. But NCC taps right into my heart for the arts and photography. I try to stop in when I get a chance to say hi to good friends and to stay in touch with some of the local community events that they do. I’m looking forward to their next First Friday as they are displaying work from behind the scenes of local films.

Brian talked about us being humble leaders and how we need to keep advancing forward. This is done through both mission and vision. We need to always know our mission and stick to it. Vision is inside the mission and sometimes it can change and that is ok. Vision is both biblical and timely and the strategy is us. I sometimes find myself getting caught up my visions and forget the overall mission. I love to dream and God has blessed me with lots of passion and talents in different areas. Even now, God has opened up the door with the arts, photography, cooking and missions in several different areas of my life. But I want to make sure I follow the Spirit’s guidance and only follow the visions that lie within my own personal mission – which is to live a life that reflects the Kingdom.

I finished reading Erasing Hell by Francis Chan on the light rail today. There was an excerpt in the back of the book from a chapter of Forgotten God on the Holy Spirit that hit me:

I think we can all agree that living “according to our sinful flesh” is not what is intended for us as children of God. Yet even so, we often choose to face life’s issues and circumstances in exactly the same way as someone without the Spirit of God. We worry, strive, and grieve no differently than unbelievers. While it is true that we are humans like anyone else, it is also true that we are humans with the Spirit of God dwelling in us. Yet, whether consciously or not, we essentially say to God, “I know You raised Christ from the dead; but the fact is my problems are just too much for You and I need to deal with them myself.”

This has been the story of my life many times over. I can tell you countless of stories of when I was filled by the Spirit and God used me in amazing ways. But then, there are many times life was ‘too hard’ for me to handle and I ended up dealing with it on my own and the result was failure. You see this in the life of Peter. He denied Christ and made all sorts of irrational decisions during Christ’s crucifixion, yet he was filled by the Spirit and spoke a message that saved the lives of thousands of people not too long after that. This is why we have an amazing God who gives us grace. Our mission can only succeed with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit. My life has changed so much because of grace and I have so much peace and direction because the Spirit is alive in me.

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