31 Questions

Over the years, I have accumulated ideas and questions that have been helpful to me in transitioning casual conversations into spiritual ones. Here is that list of those conversation starters. Perhaps some of these might help you easily engage others in a conversation about faith…

  1. Where are you on your spiritual pilgrimage?
  2. Who is the most impressive person you have ever met?
  3. What single thing would you like to make absolutely certain you do (if at all possible) during your lifetime?
  4. What historical character, from any period of history, would you like to meet?
  5. What are you reading for leisure these days?
  6. How do you know you’ll go to heaven when you die?
  7. How are you growing personally?
  8. In your opinion, how does one become a Christian?
  9. How would you describe your father and his impact on your life?
  10. Do you have a mentor?  Tell me about his or her impact on your life?
  11. What do you think would probably surprise most people about you? Why?
  12. What is your greatest strength, and what are you doing to develop it?
  13. Why do people do what they do? What are the assumptions you make about people?
  14. How do you handle pressure?
  15. What do you consider to be the two major turning points in your life?
  16. What is something you consider to be a great personal success? Why?
  17. What is your key to maintaining balance in your life?
  18. What are two or three major truths upon which you base your decision-making?
  19. Tell me about two of your life long friends, and why they have had such an impact upon your life?
  20. How would you describe your mother, and her impact on your life?
  21. In your opinion, who is Jesus Christ?
  22. If you could know God personally, would you be interested?
  23. What have you found to be the best way of absorbing disappointment, rejection, distress and discouragement?
  24. If you could ask God any question, what would you ask?
  25. What is the most important thing in the world to you, and why?
  26. What gives your life value?
  27. Does your worldview, have an answer for why there is pain, suffering and evil in the world? If so, what is it?
  28. What is your basis for morality (what is right and wrong)?
  29. If you were to inherent a million dollars today, and couldn’t spend it on yourself, what would you do with it and why?
  30. Has anything ever happened to you, which was dramatic, personal or spectacular enough to have caused you to be certain there is a God who is both infinite and personally caring?
  31. What in your opinion is the meaning of life?

Refuel

Today I was talking with a pastor friend of mine about the need for Christian leaders to refuel themselves in ministry. Ministry responsibilities can be hard work, resulting in long hours and challenging days. In 1 Samuel 30:6, we read how “David strengthened himself in the LORD his God,” during an emotionally difficult season in his life. In looking at David’s example, it’s important that those who are in ministry, either vocationally or as a volunteer, take time to fill their tank, so that ministry is the overflow of an emotionally healthy self.

Over the years, I have gotten better about taking time to refresh, rejuvenate and renew. Each person rejuvenates differently, but here are six things I have found that fill my tank and inspire me in the race that God has called me to…

  1. Listening to music – Nothing uplifts my soul like an inspiring or upbeat song.
  2. Practicing spiritual disciplines – Time spent with Jesus in prayer and Bible reading gives me perspective, hope and principles for living.
  3. Reading – There’s something very inspirational to me about reading a good biography or Christian living book.
  4. Hanging out with inspiring people – I love to hang out with visionary leaders who want to impact the world as well as hear the amazing stories of God’s redemptive work in others lives.
  5. Enjoying hobbies – I love capturing the beauty of God’s creation through the lenses of a camera! And I marvel in the strategy behind a great baseball game.
  6. Getting away – Unplugging and getting out-of-town, even for a few days, clears my mind and helps me refocus on what’s really important in life.

By being a healthy leader, you motivate others to live a healthier life as well. So take time to refresh. In doing so, you give yourself and those you lead a great gift.

Be a Tourist

This past week, I had the opportunity to travel with my son Zach to Sacramento as a chaperone for his school’s 4th grade field trip. Since Zach was born in Sacramento, and my wife and I lived in Sacramento for 20 years, we went into the experience thinking, we knew and saw everything there was to know and see. Boy were we wrong! While we had pretty much been everywhere the tour took us, having the experience of an educational tour guide opened our eyes to the events and experiences that brought Sacramento’s rich history to life in a whole new way.

As I have reflected on the trip over the last couple of days, I got to thinking…how often do we play tourist in our own city? As a kid, I grew up only 20 minutes from San Francisco, but would rarely go into the city as a sightseer or really take time to learn about its diversity and history. Even my wife Jennifer, who was born in San Francisco and raised just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, has never been to Alcatraz, which is one of the city’s hottest tourist attractions.

Almost every city or county has certain facets that make it unique: the natural environment, historical sites, tourist attractions, walking trails, hometown diners, architecture, or quirky local treasures. And when you decide to play tourist in your own town, you set out to discover some of the things that you might otherwise take for granted. Such was our experience in Sacramento this past week. While we lived there for many years, there was so much history we failed to integrate into our day-to-day experience, which if we would have taken the time to understand, would have helped us connect the dots of mills, forts, street names and schools. Things we often took for granted while we lived in Sacramento, because we never really spent the time to really learn and play tourist in our own city.

My history teacher Mr. Ladendorff would often say, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.” There is such rich history in our city, in our state and in our country. By learning from the men and women who have gone before us and taking the time to be a tourist in our own surroundings, we might just discover something we’ve been missing. So try setting aside a day every once in a while to learn more about the lesser known facets, or experience familiar ones in a new way. You’ll not only gain a greater appreciation for the place that you live, you might just enjoy yourself as well!

The Power of a Question

When’s the last time someone challenged you to step out of your comfort zone and to make a difference? Think about it! Seriously, when was the last time you pushed the limits of your comfort and you truly had to depend on God to do his wonders through you? Whether for personal gain or for God’s eternal glory, the idea of stepping out of our comfort zone is often met with excuses, rationalizations or indifference.

As a pastor and Christian leader, challenging men and women to follow God’s call to step out and serve others is part of what I do. I know that life is best lived in following God’s principles. And to speak into people’s lives and challenge them to become the person God designed them to be is a privilege. I absolutely love it when the light goes on and they get that God wants to use them to make a difference in our world.

Many years ago, I asked a college student to consider giving himself to serving God for one summer before giving the rest of his life to serving in the corporate world. It took a great deal of courage and faith, but that soon to be college graduate, believed that God was up to something and trusted him to overcome some big obstacles in order to spend the summer working with international students at UCLA. That summer God did something amazing in this young man’s life and today Steve Hong serves as the Fund Development Director for Epic, a ministry of Cru, helping other Asian Americans overcome their own obstacles and live radically for Jesus.

Recently Steve retold some of his story for a video to be used by Epic. In the video below, Steve talks about how he took baby steps to follow God’s leading in his life and what he saw God do! He shared the video link with the “disclaimer” that everything in the video is accurate, with the exception that the person who plays me is Asian. Had to laugh.

In watching the video, I am reminded of the power of a question! And I’m thankful to have made a difference in Steve’s life and for those who continue to challenge me to live in absolute surrender to God’s plan and purposes.

45 Things

Here’s 45 things you might not know about me…

  1. I was born and raised in San Mateo, CA, just 20 miles south of San Francisco.
  2. I trusted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior in August ’80 at Camp Sugar Pine in Oakhurst, CA.
  3. My first official job was at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour in San Mateo.
  4. My first car was a ’67 Volkswagen Bug. Deep red with a sun roof.
  5. I was a DJ at KCSB and KGFT while in college at UC Santa Barbara.
  6. I traveled to the Soviet Union during the summers of ’86 & ’87, in the era of communism.
  7. I was interrogated by the KGB twice, while traveling in the Soviet Union.
  8. I graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a BA in Communication Studies.
  9. I joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ after graduating from college and served with them for 4 years.
  10. I met Jennifer while serving with Campus Crusade for Christ at Sacramento State.
  11. I love to dance!
  12. I was in five productions of the Living Christmas Tree at First Baptist Church San Mateo.
  13. I sang the National Anthem at the Houston Astrodome.
  14. I have been part of the live studio audience for Late Night with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Conan (click Conan link to see me).
  15. I was the first customer at In n Out Burger in Folsom when it opened in January 2009.
  16. I graduated from Western Seminary with Honors in 2003.
  17. I love baseball!
  18. My favorite National League team is the San Francisco Giants.
  19. My favorite American League team is the Los Angeles Angels of Anahiem.
  20. My favorite color is blue.
  21. I wish Seinfeld was still on the air.
  22. My uncle, Billy Hardwick, was a professional bowler and Bowler of the Year in ’65 & ’66.
  23. My middle name in Allen. It was also my grandfather’s middle name.
  24. I love Mexican food.
  25. My weakness is ice cream!
  26. My favorite ice cream is Roselani Kona Mud Pie (only available in Hawaii).
  27. My ’93 Honda Accord has 245,000 miles on it.
  28. I was a traveling sales rep for DaySpring Cards, a subsidiary of Hallmark.
  29. When I need a good laugh, I watch I Love Lucy!
  30. Growing up, I wanted to be a lawyer. I went to college to pursue a career in broadcasting.
  31. My favorite concert of all time was the Amy Grant Unguarded tour at the Santa Barbara Amphitheater.
  32. My favorite section of the Bible is John 13-17, known as the Upper Room Discourse.
  33. My favorite book of the Bible is Romans.
  34. My son Zachary’s name is derived from Zechariah, which means “God remembered,” as we were told by the doctors that we would never be able to have children.
  35. The first president I voted for was Ronald Reagan in ’84. Reagan won every state but Minnesota that year.
  36. I was an early adopter of Twitter, opening my account December 19, 2007. I have “tweeted” almost 3,000 times since then.
  37. I love reading the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis to my son Zach.
  38. My favorite vacation spot is Hawaii! I’ve spent two summers, my sabbatical and celebrated my honeymoon there.
  39. I have a file of encouraging notes and letters I’ve received over the years. I read them when I need a little perspective or encouragement.
  40. I love my wife’s blackberry pie!
  41. I love to BBQ!
  42. I met the entire cast of Leave it to Beaver back in the 1980’s.
  43. I enjoy playing racquetball and golf.
  44. I want to write a book someday.
  45. I love Disneyland!

The goal of this post is to build bridges of commonality and interests. So please take a minute and tell me something unique about you!

Change Your Life

It’s been said that the two biggest life change factors in your life are: 1) the people you hang out with; and 2) the books you read. God’s been reminding me lately that this is so true in my life, and that this truth has so many implications:

  1. This is why our personal time with God is so important. Spending time reading God’s word and in prayer can be the biggest catalyst for change in our lives. I am always at my best after spending time with Jesus!
  2. This is why we need to constantly assess who we’re hanging out with and make sure we’re rubbing shoulders with people who are wiser, smarter, more successful, and closer to God than we are. Lately I’ve been reminded that you can only take people only as far as you have been. So I’ve been seeking out those who are further along in the journey than I am and the result is that I’m being uniquely challenged in my leadership as well as in my walk with the Lord.
  3. This is why we need to be even more diligent and systematic in our personal reading and leadership development time. I read quite a bit, but not as much as I need to. Right now, I’m reading: Move by Greg Hawkins & Heaven by Randy Alcorn, but there are still plenty of unread books next to my bed that are begging to be cracked open. Leaders are readers.

So, who are you hanging out with? What are you reading? If you tell me the answers to those two questions, I’ll tell you what you’re becoming.

Rising from the Ashes

Last Tuesday morning, a fire erupted at the offices of Flood Church in San Diego, causing an estimated $1 million in damages to the building and to the churches resources just days away from the celebration of Easter! My buddy Matt Hammett is the Lead Pastor of Flood Church, a church he founded 12 years ago. Matt and I have been friends for over 20 years and as I watched this story unfold over Facebook and through the media, I have to say that I am proud to know this man and to see how this church triumphed in the face of adversity.

When I first found out about the news of the building on Tuesday, I immediately texted Matt and told him that I was confident that God would bring beauty from the ashes. Confident in God’s ability to do something wonderful in the midst of this loss, I was so encouraged to learn what God did over the last week.

Here’s a few of things that God did through his people:

  1. The sister of church of Flood, College Avenue Baptist Church, immediately opened up office space for Flood to take up temporary residency and to continue in its operations.
  2. The church had a tremendous outpouring of volunteer support and the Easter services went on without a hitch.
  3. Flood had it’s largest gathering in it’s 12 year history, with over 2,500 people celebrating Jesus’ resurrection.

In addition, as I read emails from Matt, watched video blogs, and read articles in the news, I was so encouraged by this churches priorities. The message was clear, the church is not about a building, it’s about God’s people. Their was no saddness in their message or tone. They weren’t living in the past. They were forward thinking. Even still prioritizing their plans to put together care packages and send financial resources to their church partner in Haiti this next weekend.

God truly does “give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair” (Isaiah 61:3). Way to go Flood Church!

Empty Promises

If you’re looking for a good book to read, I want to encourage you to read the newest book from Pete Wilson, Empty Promises: The Truth About You, Your Desires, and the Lies You’re Believing, which released yesterday. While I haven’t read it yet, I have read some of the reviews, watched the trailer and thoroughly enjoyed his last book, Plan B. Even American Idol contestant Colton Dixon tweeted yesterday about the book saying, “I’m reading Empty Promises right now on my Nook, it’s amazing. can’t put it down!”

Here’s what Pete Wilson has to say about it…

This book is incredibly important to me because I think one of the biggest problems in Christianity today is that we mainly focus on “sin management.” We want to edit behaviors instead of change hearts, but I think Jesus made it clear that he wasn’t interested in us spending our time trying to perfect external Christianity.

We want to pretend like God just wants to rearrange a little furniture in the house or maybe dust it up a bit. But if you look out the window there’s God with a wrecking ball. You see the issues we face in our life go down to the very foundation.

Sure we can tell you…don’t be greedy, don’t be self preoccupied, don’t be sexually promiscuous, don’t be power hungry, don’t be addicted to approval. But what if we asked what it is about your heart that makes you want to chase after those things?

This book is not just about sin. It’s about the sin beneath the sin. It’s about what’s fundamentally broken in the human heart and how all of that can be healed in and through the person of Jesus.

Sounds like transformational stuff! I can’t wait to read it and hopefully you will to. You can also check out this video trailer about the book as well.

Living In Grace

  1. The Law says, “Do this and you will live.”
    Grace says: “Live and then you will do.”
  2. The Law says: “Pay me what you owe me.”
    Grace says: “ I freely forgive you all.”
  3. The Law says: “Make yourself a new heart and a new spirit.”
    Grace says: “A new heart will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you.”
  4. The Law says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
    Grace says: “Here is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
  5. The Law says: “The wages of sin is death.”
    Grace says: “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
  6. The Law demands holiness.
    Grace gives holiness.
  7. The Law says: “Do”
    Grace says: “Done”
  8. The Law makes blessings the result of obedience.
    Grace makes obedience the results of blessings.
  9. The Law says: “If…”
    Grace says: “Therefore…”
  10. Under the Law, salvation has wages.
    Under Grace, salvation is a gift.

by Hannah Whitall Smith

Good Friday @ SCG

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to be part of the speaking team for our Good Friday services at SeaCoast Grace. It was a powerful time as we considered God’s great love for us in going to the cross. What I have especially loved about our Good Friday services is that the pastoral team, as well as the worship teams from the different venues, have all played a part in this service over the past two years. We truly have a talented bunch of teachers and musicians. If you weren’t able to attend the service, I encourage you to see it in its entirety below.

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