Reflections on Thanksgiving

As some of you may have figured out, I came late to the American culture full of Peanut Butter, Cheeze Wiz (yuck!), Little Debbie Snacks and special holidays like the 4th of July and, more recently, Thanksgiving.  So, I look at some of these things with a little “outside” perspective at times.

Now, concerning Thanksgiving, let me just say a few things:

1.  Late November is not the time of year to gather your family together, venture off early to the city of Detroit and huddle together while lame floats make their way through a crowded and mostly cranky crowd.  If you do choose to “enjoy” this event, make sure you budle up extremely well, take plenty of hot chocolate, coffee and snacks and be sure to bring your 10 foot folding ladder if you actually want to see anything of importance.  Otherwise, you will be very disappointed.

johnson-c-get-081127-3062.  Avoid wearing a Detriot Lions shirt unless you  want to be the never-ending brunt of every joke on that day.  Seriously, could there be any worse team for the whole of the USA to be watching while families are together, laughing and enjoing one another?  I just really feel bad for the players.  I wonder what their wives must say to encourage them:  “Honey, at least there will be some turkey leftovers when you get home” or “I’ll just be praying that it isn’t worse than last year.”

3.  Why is it that we spend so much time preparing a turkey, potato’s, yams (yummy!), stuffing (eewww!), recipe_roasted_turkey_with_mushroom_herb_sauceand Salad, only to be outdone by the appetizers:  Lumpia (like an egg roll), Pigs in a blanket, artichoke dip and some heated cheese stuff you eat with crackers.  Seriously, I am always full by the time the turkey is served, and it is all good…

4.  Coupons, coupons, coupons…  It seems that this year I forgot to perform my Thanksgiving ritual of spending an hour or so hunting down the special “Thanksgiving Edition” of the local newspaper…not for the newspaper itself, but for all the coupons and flyers about all the great sales taking place in every store.

5.  Turkey – enough already! – Turkey sandwiches, tamales, burritos, tacos, with eggs, on toast, etc. Seriously, freeze it, burn it, hide it…but let it go.  Anyone for Chinese or Thai?

This Thanksgiving was, as usual, a great time to be with family (all 30 plus), eat well and enjoy goodness of the Lord.  We really do have lots to be thankful for – even the superfluous stuff – but mostly the goodness and the grace of God on our lives.

I hope that you can say that too…

Well, I must hurry up and go…Christmas is coming and we must get some shopping done…

“The Valley”

Grief…if you are not experiencing it, just wait, your turn will come.  That’s a sad reality of life, but you don’t have to face it alone.  Actually, you can face it, walk through it with the help of the one who truly understands grief, who walks with us during our valley…

Listen to my associate, Pastor Don Ott, as he shares his testimony…

Come and join us this Sunday Night, November 23rd from 6:30-8:30 here at Castro Valley’s First Baptist Church as we seek to struggle through grief together…

  • The King of the Valley – Pastor Jere Lester
  • Hope in the Valley – Pastor Rod Phillips
  • Comfort in the Valley – Pastor Don Ott

If you are experiencing grief this seminar will help you.  If you want to be a help to those who are going through grief, this will benefit you too.  We hope to see you there!

Reflections On Our Ministry in Russia

p1010488It is hard to imagine serving as a pastor of the only evangelical presence in a city of 70,000 people, getting up in the morning, having devotions and a light breakfast of bread, sliced sausage and cheese; only to leave and find plastered on the side of the building notices to the community to avoid any contact with the “Baptists” because they are a cult.  Or to have your children singled out at school as the cultists because everyone else is “Orthodox” (i.e. members of the Russian Orthodox Church).

Can you imagine how alone believers in such a context must feel.  Their meager fellowship of 25 people who meet in their apartment because no one will rent a building to a cult.  They eagerly anticipate their gatherings as they know that Jesus Christ is their Savior and Lord and will give them strength to endure the trials He has for them, and, because He is God, will with the trial bring glory to Himself and continue to build His kingdom.

Can you imagine praying over a town, leaving the comforts of your home with your family and planting yourself in that town with the hope of planting a church?  Then, after one year and ten conversions, the local authorities begin to give you a hard time.  You are no longer welcome in some establishments.  When you go to the grocery store the owner will not allow you to purchase the items in your basket because you are part of a cult.  You are not “Orthodox” so you are an offense to the true Russian Orthodox Church.

p1010459Can you imagine living in a remote village and working in a local factory where you earn barely enough money to sustain your family.  Add to that the fact that you live in a shack of a home that must endure sub-zero temperature, to the point that in the middle of winter you and your family must wear your winter coats inside the house as the wood stove just isn’t enough heat to keep you warm or you can’t afford more wood to sustain a fire.  Add to that, not only do you work a job, live in difficult circumstances, but you also are the pastor of the only evangelical presence in your town, the House of Prayer.

These are just some of the examples of the men that our Northern California Antioch Coalition and the other 21 Antioch Coalitions nationwide minister to.  Each coalition is a group of local churches working together to help train, support, equip and strengthen an Oblast (state) in the former Soviet Union.

This week I met with about 20 other pastors who are leaders of their coalitions from places like Spokane, Tulsa, Detroit, Colorado Springs, Traverse City, Ft. Wayne, Calgary, etc.   Each coalition has about six churches who partner together in this initiative that at its core sends two teachers 3-4 times a year to train and equip national pastors so that they can develop their churches to be “Antioch Churches” from Acts 13:1-5…

valentineSince the Antioch Initiative began in 2004 with two coalitions (Northern California & Colorado Springs) 19 more coalitions have started and as of today (although two are teaching as we speak) the following facts are true (shared by Kyler Welch at SGA):

  • 108 Participating North American Churches (21 Coalitions)
  • 109 Antioch Initiative courses completed on site in various cities in Russia
  • 66 Russian Church planters supported in the Antioch Initiative regions
  • 27 Total ministry teams sent – this reflects construction, camps, dental, music and humanitarian teams
  • 18 Unique conferences – i.e. Youth, Women’s, Parenting, Music, etc.)
  • 21 Construction/Renovation Projects
  • 10 Visits by Regional Russian Pastors – brought over by their Coalitions
  • 144 Total coalition oversee trips

Now, why do I share all this with you?  Brothers and sisters, we at CVFirst are a part of something big that “is” having an impact in Russia.  As I met with my co-laborers it was very clear that the possibilities of continued ministry by North American churches to or in Russia may be coming to an abrupt halt.  Of course, we serve  a great God who can keep any door open that He so chooses, but the way politics is moving and the climate of our Russian/American relationship indicates that the door of opportunity may soon be closing.  It is amazing what our grand coalition of churches has been able to accomplish in only four years, and we pray that much more can be done in the years to come.

Since we are working uniquely in Ufa, Bashkortostan, I want you to see what we are doing in light of the greater whole.  Pastors are being strengthened and equipped to teach and train their own men.  That means that we are making progress.  The Word is being faithfully preached, lives are coming to know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, ministries are being planted and followed up by purposeful believers, rehab centers are meeting the needs of those wanting true freedom, street children are being fed, clothed and kept as much as possible out of serious trouble…and the list goes on.

p1010475The one theme I heard from my co-laborers was that the pastors who are being taught in cities all across Russia all say, “When are you coming back?”  And the beautiful thing is that we “can” say, “we are coming back in the spring, or the fall,” because we have churches working together to support a persecuted and often struggling church.

It does seem like a lot of money invested by the church in America, but let’s face it, compared to the rest of the world…

  • We have great financial resources
  • We have gifted and credentialed teachers (Seminary graduates, etc.)
  • We have the time and freedom to travel
  • We have a great God who wants to use us to help teach, train, equip, support and send out our Russian Brothers…

So, let’s keep to the task, and let’s do our part to strengthen one other region in the world…

Operation Ufa 2009

That’s Ufa, Bashkortostan in Russia.  I know, you probably havn’t ever heard of it until now, but Bashkortostan is a republic in Russia near the Oral mountains about two hours flight east from Moscow.  Our church, along with sister churches from the Northern California Antioch Coalition, have teamed together to help support, train and equip one thousand or so belivers in that region so that they can do the work of evangelism and church growth in the towns and villages.

group-1This coming January, I, along with seven from our church (CVFirst) will be traveling to Ufa to spend two weeks in ministry.  You can learn more about the team at our blog as well as the opportunities before us.  We need to raise $13500 by January 10th to be sure that all our expenses are covered.  This will be our church’s third trip to that region and we hope to build upon the foundation already laid. Among other things we will be…

  • Hosting a Women’s Conference
  • Hosting a Conference on Issues in Biblical Counseling (Grief, Anxiety, Anger, etc.)
  • Teaching Homiletics to the National Pastors
  • Ministering in the Children’s Ministries – Street Kids, Orphans, etc.
  • Ministering in the churches

logo_sgaThis week I am in Rockford, IL, which is about 1 1/2 hours northwest of Chicago (yes, it was snowing today) to meet with all the other Antioch leaders – Coalition leaders – at Slavic Gospel Association.  At present I believe that there are 22 coalitions of churches that are working in 22 regions in Russia, teaching, training and equipping the Russians to do the work of the ministry.  It is a great privilege to not only pastor a Gospel Centered church, but to have a part in the ongoing ministry in another region around the globe.  Please pray that this meeting will be effective and productive and that we will better know how to come along side our Russian brothers and sisters.

Signing off…


A Family Driven Faith

logo_sideI have just returned home from a two day conference at Grace Church in Napa where we were taught, encouraged and convicted through one of God’s unique servants, Voddie Baucham.  He is the author of the book, “Family Driven Faith”, and he truly encouraged us to step up to the plate and be the kind of families God has called us to be.

There were four sessions and I will do my best to give you the gist of each one…


As an introduction, Voddie shared with us the following foundational truths:

1. “There is no formula to guarantee Godly kids.”

2.  “Parenting is about the pursuit of the Gospel.” We have a responsibility to be missions minded within our own family.

c8700a6f8e8a9e005f6926552c93065dimage164x2503. “Our God is not too small – He’s big enough to overcome bad examples and troubled homes.”  Here Voddie shared that he was the product of a single Buddhist mother, and that he didn’t hear the Gospel at all until he was in college.

Session #1 – Getting Our Houses in Order

In the first session Voddie identified the evidence that  teens are abandoning the church after their freshman year in college, that our birth rates are declining at an alarming rate and that there is a lack of discipleship in the home.  The reasons for these realities is that too often parents don’t have a plan for the spiritual development of their children – It isn’t a priority to them.  They have had little or no training in how to nurture a child’s faith as well as no related standards or goals that they are seeking to satisfy, and they experience no accountability for their efforts.  The antidote to this trend is to promote a Biblical view of children (Psalm 127:3-5) and resurrect Biblical discipleship through the homes (Ephesians 6:1-4).  It was a call for discipleship that taught our children to believe and to behave.  That our orthodoxy and orthopraxy would be handed down to our children.

Session #2 – Developing a Multigenerational Vision

This session was basically an exposition of Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”

Voddie rightfully debunked this verse as a personal life’s verse and showed how, in it’s context, this verse was a promise given to a people who would never see the promise fulfilled beause it was a multigenerational promise.  It would take 150 years to fulfill and to wrench it out of context and make it a personal promise was to do injustice to God’s Word.  voddie_baucham02Then he went on to talk about the context of this verse and how God was calling that generation who would be invaded to “build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and earth their produce.  Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease.” We are to prioritize marriage and we are to prioritize having children.

Session #3 – How to Discipline Your Kids – Ephesians 6:1-4

Voddie emphasized the three stages of discipline:

Phase 1 – Discipline/Training – This is where we say, “Give me your attention.”  He emphasized teaching three concepts during this stage…

  • Do what you are told
  • Do it when you are told
  • Do it with a respectful attitude

He also took time to teach us what to avoid (inconsistency, anger, contradiction) and what things to employ (encouragement, teaching/training, spanking.

Phase 2 – Catechism –  This is where we say, “Give me your mind.”  He emphasized that during this phase we need to be teaching “What we believe” and “Why we believe it.”  Again, he told us to avoid some things (inconsistency, comparison, one-size-fits-all approach) and then to employ the following – A chatechism that fits your faith tradition, Scripture memory, Great hymns of the faith, CD’s/Music and family worship.

Phase 3 – Discipleship – This is where we say, “Give me your hand.”  This is where we teach them to live out what they have come to believe through life-on-life experiences and quality time together.  During this phase we should avoid some things (sending our kids off during this critical time, discipleship by proxy, i.e. someone else – like a Youth Pastor – doing it, gender confusion) and to employ some things (time together, interaction with other significant adults and supervised interaction with peers – with a view toward critique)

Session #4 – Family Worship

Voddie challenged the attendee’s to do have family worship for the next 30 days using the following method:

  • Pray – Pray the psalms together – for each day there are 5 psalms to review and to choose one to pray through.
  • Read – Read the Proverb that corresponds to the day of the month
  • Sing – Choose 4 Hymns/Songs and sing one every day for a week
  • Catechism – Learn a Q and A every day – use a tool like, Catechism for boys and girls. (click here)familydfaith

He emphasized that Dad’s need to lead this and wives need to not get in their husbands grill when he struggles to lead – rather encourage him.

Well, this was an excellent conference and I would encourage you to do all you can to listen to these sessions and implement the Biblical instruction given.

Here are two ways God spoke to me through this conference:

1.  I determined that I want to be a Godly Patriarch.  No matter what kind of upbringing I, or my wife Elia, have had, I want to set the course for being a Patriarch for the Phillips family.  I want to be purposeful and look far beyond my immediate family and to my grand kids and great-grand kids, and their kids, and so on.

2.  I want to do a better job with our Family Worship.  We do have family worship, but I want to do a better job at it and want to take the challenge for the next 30 days…

Why don’t you join me?

Hopping Mad…


There are reports of a new problem in Australia. Some of the kangaroos have developed a thirst for revenge against the traffic that keeps knocking them down.

Drivers have reported that they’ll pass a herd of roos that are hopping along peacefully, but as soon as they’ve passed them, the roos suddenly change direction, and veer right towards the vehicle. The driver then has to drive as quickly as possible to escape the rampaging marsupials.

Drivers are being urged to keep an eye on their veer-roo mirror at all times.

President Obama…

110408_obama00Yesterday millions of people took time out of their day to do their civic duty and vote for the candidate that they believed was best suited to lead our country.  These are always hard and difficult times for our society as the usual phenomena of a country during an election is the polarizing of its citizens.  People have debated their thoughts accross cubicals, in school classrooms, on street corners, over fences and even in Sunday School classes.

Now, as God’s children, we have to ask ourselves, “have we allowed ourselves to enter the frenzy of the political movement of our country, or even State, to the degree that we have actually harmed our far more important delight which is to glorify God and be a part of building His kingdom?”  Another way to look at it is to ask if you still have a good relationship with your neighbor who had a “Vote No on Prop 8” sign in his yard when you had a “Vote Yes on Prop 8” in yours?  Or has this years politics caused a wedge in the development of that relationship and built a wall for a Gospel witness?  I fear that in our zeal for rightness that we can also cause damage.

recountSo, honestly, there is a part of me that is relieved that it is over.  No dimpled chads, no recounts, no disenfranchized Military.  That is very refreshing.  Think about it this way, no matter the outcome we wanted, today is a new day.  Our God sits securely on His throne and is already at work accomplishing his plan and purpose through the national events that took place yesterday.  God raises up some rulers and brings others down, He does whatever He pleases.  That brings me great comfort!

So, I want to leave you with some basic thoughts and cautions:

  • It seems that Barack Obama will be our next president.  He needs our prayers and I want to encourage you to hold him up before the Lord.  Pray that God would give him wisdom as he chooses his cabinet.  Pray that God would protect him and give him strength to serve this country with honor and dignity.  Pray that God would use the weight of his presidential responsibility to turn his gaze toward the one and only Savior Jesus Christ.
  • yesonprop8It seems that proposition 8 (here in CA) confirming that marriage is to be between a man and a woman has passed.  This is not a time for gloating or rubbing it in to any particular people group.  In fact, many people are hurting because of this, and they need our compassion, understanding, care and prayers.  So, let’s be thankful that the measure passed, but let’s also be sure to empathize and minister to those who are hurting.
  • It seems that the Kingdom of God is still functioning and we have a big role to play in that ongoing purpose and plan of God.  Let me encourage you to evaluate if you have been distracted, and if so, ask God for wisdom and humility to get back on the track to be a part of building His kingdom for His glory.

Signing out…

Jerry Bridges Conference – Report – Part 2

I have already note the first two sessions in Part 1, so here is a summary of Jerry’s messages on Saturday night and Sunday Morning…

5.  Righteousness

Hunger and Thirst speak of the craving or the passionate desire to have something, and here it is a craving after righteousness.  Now, righteousness is used in two ways…bridges

  • Imputed Righteousness – this is the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to believers.  It is the righteousness that is from God (Rom. 10:1-4) that is imputed to us, not the attempt of righteousness that comes through the Law.  This righteousness is imputed or credited to us based on the work of the Cross because God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”  Therefore, our sins are forgiven because His death and perfect obedience are imputed to us.  It is also important to note that the word Justification encompasses all of this.  It is “just as if we had never sinned” as well as “just as if we had always obeyed.”
  • Righteousness that is obedience – just as Romans 6:15-18 teaches us, it is through out obedience that we are producing righteousness.  This is the pursuit of obedience  that comes because we are righteous.

Therefore, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness” is referring to the latter, the obedience that we are to pursue because of our righteousness.  When we are hungering and thirsting for obedience we are earnestly desiring and with a sincere effort pursuing righteousness.  We will not achieve it, but we want to pursue it.

But spiritual pride creeps in and doesn’t see the need for change.  So, what creates this intense desire?  It is the Gospel.  Since we are already right with God (i.e. justified or declared righteous) we pursue obedience as an outflow of our spiritual standing.  We want to be obedient because of the beauty of the fact that we are declared righteous.  This is a Gospel Driven Sanctification.  It is the Gospel that motivates.

6. Pure In Heart

The word heart refers to the inner person.  It is a word that is synonymous with soul, spirit, inner man and mind.  The expression “poor in spirit” is referencing the same arena, the arena of the heart.  To be pure means to be free from anything else and is why we use it to describe clean clothes, pure gold and pure grain.  All of these things have been cleansed and purified from pollutants.

To be pure in heart then is an attitude that is pursuing the removal of all sinful desires.  It is a pursuit, not a final place.  As James 4:8 tells us, “purify your hearts, you double minded” we recognize that we need to be single minded.  We need to be focusing our efforts on the removal of sin in our lives.  Our sin has been paid for, but the lasting effects of sin remains and Christ is calling us to pursue a cleansed heart.

Many Christians have a divided heart and are not bothered.  Here are some verses that speak to that issue:  Matthew 6:24, 33; Psalm 86:11; 1 Corinthians 10:31 and Colossians 3:1-2.

Now none of us will have a completely pure heart, but we want to pursue that.  So, how does this help us develop “Humility in Action”?  We must be God focused, not self focused.  In other words are to be concerned with God’s will, God’s agenda and God’s glory above all.  This all comes as a result of gratitude because of the Gospel.

05_08_88-stone-cross_webOn a final note it is important to note that we cannot do these things without the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.  We are all utterly dependent on Him.  We must try harder in dependence on the Holy Spirit.  We can do all things through Him who strengthens us.

7. Peacemekers

Is this the Kind of peacemaking that we see on an international or national scale?  No!

How can we be peacemakers?  Well, in order to answer that question we must determine the cause of a lack of peace and that is found in James 3:13-4:1 where we are told that the cause is our own flesh, our own sinful nature.  In Galatians 5:19-21 the Apostle Paul lists for us both flagrant sins and tolerated sins.  When we look at that list with integrity we realize that we have met the enemy and it is us.  Contrast that list with the fruit of the Spirit and it is interesting how similar the lists are in that they show what needs to be put off and then put on as Colossians 3 teaches.  We should seek to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit with the Spirits help.

This is what is called “The Principle of Dependent Responsibility” – cultivate fruit plus depend on the Holy Spirit.  Memorize key Scriptures, Pray to make peace in your life…  For example:

  • Romans 12:18 – So far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men
  • 1 Peter 3:8 – “Let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly…”
  • Hebrews 12:4 – “Pursue peace with all men…”

WE need to take the Bible seriously!!!  It means absorbing hurtful words and actions against us.  It means taking the initiative to be a peace maker.

8. Persecuted (Reviled)

Persecution is commonplace, but here in the comfort of the United States we identify more with being reviled.  This could come to us when we are passed over for a job because of a Biblical stand we are taking, whereas persecution speaks more to a physical activity.

Reviling is a form of ridicule.  It is what professors are doing to Christian students in High School and College.  But, if you enjoy the favor of God, you will likely be reviled.

Now, it is worth noting that being reviled or ridiculed because of “unchristian behavior” is not what is being talked about here.  It should only come because we are living our lives faithfully before God and our fellow man.

As a true encouragement, Jesus reminds us that we who experience these things can rejoice because we stand in a long line of faithful prophets who also endured both persecution and reviling for the cause of Christ.

So, as Peacemakers “Humility in Action” means the seeking out of people who have wronged us.  It takes humility to take the initiative and to pursue peace.  As ones being persecuted or reviles our “Humility in Action” is spelled out by how we graciously absorb the ridicule and that we don’t take it personally.  We know who is really being persecuted.  It is Christ through us.

wccclogoFriends, this was a great weekend of ministry from a man greatly used by God.  It was a privilege to sit at his feet and be strengthened, convicted, challenged and fed.

On another note, we partnered with Wellspring Church, a Sovereign Grace Church here in San Leandro.  They were an extreme blessing to us.  We enjoyed the fellowship and the joy of coming together for the sake of the Gospel was an excellent example of what unites us.  Thank you Wellspring for you partnership, your support, and your friendship.