Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Sing to the Lord: Connecting Minds with Hearts in Praise

Worship Songs with Substance

Anyone who has spent time talking with me about worship music knows that I place a high value on “substance” in the songs I sing. What do I mean by substance? I suppose I use the term in contrast with “fluff”. There are plenty of “fluff” songs that make their way into worship services, most with catchy hooks, powerful melodies, and not a whole lot to say to God (or about). I like songs that have something to say! Songs that preach, songs that have weight, songs that declare the greatness of God; who Christ is, and what He has done. Now, far from another blog lamenting the state of contemporary worship music, I want to talk about why I like songs with substance, not complain about songs I don’t like. I like songs with substance because I believe only such songs have the ability to engage both heart and mind in worship.

The Challenges with Corporate Worship

I think there are two challenges we can face with our corporate worship in song.

1) First, we can sometimes find ourselves singing from our minds, just making our way from verse to verse, but never being effected in our hearts by the things we are singing. We aren’t stirred, we aren’t moved in our affections and our adoration of Christ. We are just mouthing words and “following the bouncing ball” until the guy behind the mic says we can sit down.

There are a few reasons this sometimes happens. One being that we are just not prepared to worship. We may have had a bad morning, or a hard week, and our mind us just disconnected from the moment. In this case, we need to remember what we are participating in, not just an event, but a worship gathering. We need to pray, even seek for the prayers of others, and ask that the Holy Spirit would prepare our hearts to worship. In other cases, this can take place simply because the songs lack the kind of substance, passion, and depth, that would require the full attention of our hearts.

2) Second, we can sometimes find ourselves so enraptured in the music, so caught up in the movement of the melody, that we are shouting and singing with all our hearts, but, if we were to stop and consider the lyrics we are so passionately belting out, we would have little, if any idea what they even mean! If this is the case (and believe me, it is more often than people usually want to admit), we need to stop and evaluate why we are doing what we are doing. When we do, I believe the answer we will most often find is that we just aren’t thinking. Worship has become all about emoting with hearts in high gear, but with our brains sitting in park.

Words of Encouragement

What I want to encourage you to do, is to equally engage both heart and mind in worship. Slow down long enough to stop and consider what you are doing, and why you are doing it. That when you sing together with the family of God, to think about those great gospel truths up on the screen.

Think, meditate, relish, embrace, treasure, and SING!

When you do, you will find that the heart will be stirred in equal passion as the Holy Spirit takes those precious truths, and applies them over Your life. Your will there see Christ, and all of His goodness, given to you, and your heart will say “I must rejoice! I must declare my love for my Savior who has given Himself for me.

So, worship Him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, He is worthy!

~ Chris Centola
Oasis Community Church

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Essentials of Being Jesus Disciple Part 1

In my previous blog post I shared some of the big lessons I received from my time of rest on Sabbatical.  I would like to take this opportunity to expand on one of those lessons. The principles of being Jesus disciple. While there is much to do as a disciple of Jesus often we trade the doing for the being or consider that if we are doing our being is just fine. This is not the case. We have an example of this in the Mary and Martha narrative found in the Gospel of Luke

Martha finds her being by doing, while Mary finds her being in sitting at Jesus feet listening to His teachings. And therein lies the temptation, to trust in the tasks we are performing as a replacement for the simplicity of just being with Jesus.  So how do we practice this being? in simple terms it is returning to the spiritual disciplines. I will highlight three areas essential to every disciple wishing to “sit” at Jesus’ feet over my next few blogs. Up first: 

1. Listening for His Voice - Time spent with the Word of God  

This feels like a no brainer, but if we were all honest it perhaps the easiest to dismiss in our lives. We get stuck on busy or in distraction and usually find more time for “binge watching” the latest AMC show (guilty), than for the life giving words of Jesus found in the scriptures. Am I simply telling you to read your bible? Yes! Because we honestly don’t! Despite the bible’s own command to its study and devotion. The danger of this to our being is incredible.

Consider this illustration: I know my wife’s voice. I can pick it out on Sunday Mornings when she sings with the worship team, I can tell from her tone what emotion she is experiencing, I take delight in her greeting first thing in the morning and comfort in her last whisper at night. How am I able to experience these things? Because I have taken the time to listen to her. Time spent quietly in her presence soaking in her voice.

Now imagine the benefit this has on our relationship and the consequences to it if I could not recognize her voice. What if I couldn’t distinguish her voice from others? If she had need of me, could offer aide to me, desired to share things with me? This, my friend, is the same peril we place ourselves in when we neglect to know the voice of Jesus from the scriptures.

A simple coaching thought when it comes to opening the bible is to consider this method, “Read for Breadth and Study for Depth”. 

Another illustration perhaps might help us here. I often will share with the congregation that some of my sermons are like water hoses and others are like well buckets.  A water hose is meant to spread a lot of water over a large area, a well bucket is meant to draw water out of the depths of the earth. Our time with the bible needs to use both of these approaches. There are times when we will simply open the scripture and read, just soaking it in, there will be other times where spend more time delving deeply into one place of the scripture seeking to draw out the deep truths Jesus has for us.  I find the water hose approach works well for a daily habit and the well bucket approach provides a weekly opportunity to reflect deeper on the truth I’m reading and put it into practice. 

Feeling caught in the trap of doing? Slow down and begin with just you and your bible, I and Jesus promise it will be worth it. 

Held in His Grace and Grip,

Pastor Vinnie 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Sessions & Lessons from Sabbatical

How it Started…

In January of 2016 I was burned out.  We had undertaken a huge remodel project the previous year, which I foolishly attempted to manage in addition to my full time lead pastor responsibilities. Over the previous 15 months, we were beginning yet another staff transition and I had recently begun pursuing a masters level education program. All of these areas piled onto my 8.5 years of full time ministry, coupled with my prideful resistance to make time to truly rest and recuperate on a regular basis, left me questioning my calling and gift to pastoral ministry. In my darkest moments, Sunday mornings brought anxiety and pain instead of joy and excitement.  I was suffering from panic attacks at moments that should have been restful and my emotional state of being was fractured, leaving my moments of joy almost manic and my moments of sorrow, crushing.  It was in these moments that the Holy Spirit asserted Himself and helped me understand that I couldn’t make any determinations about my future in this clouded broken state of being.

In February I reached out to my good friends in ministry who helped me to share my thoughts and feelings with the Elders of Oasis Community Church. Upon hearing my struggles, the elders graciously asked “How can we help?” rather than “What happened?” That simple yet kind response spoke volumes. 

Our agreed upon solution was a three month sabbatical to coincide with the summer months, where I’d get more time with my family, as my wife and children were on vacation from school and work.  Our church planting network ACTS29 graciously covered the cost of personal coaching from Cross Point Ministries during this time. The focus of my sabbatical was simply to rest. It was intended that all ministry responsibilities both regular and emergency would be lifted from me so I would be free to recalibrate with no expectations. It was during this intentional time of rest that I learned some of the most impactful lessons. I hope you’ll join me today as I share:

1. Being not Doing. 

This feels like a no brainer, but honestly I had lost the art of just being Jesus’ disciple.  My prayer and devotional life were laid on the alter of the “To Do” list.  Growing in grace and discernment traded for “successful ministry metrics”.  Freed from many of the (self) imposed burdens of what I thought ministry was I was able to get back to being a Christian, daily pursuing Jesus as the first affection of my heart and the first allegiance of my mind.  I know re-entry into ministry will bring the temptation to cast this lesson aside often and I am sure I will fail, but the beautiful thing about understanding this truth deeply is that once you sit with Jesus and embrace his presence daily you can more quickly recognize when you’ve left it. 

2. Mindfulness 

As I mentioned above, my emotional calibration severely affected by my burnout.  I’m an emotional person to begin with, but my lack of real rest had left me on the ragged edge at all times. I found myself reacting all the time without giving myself any time to respond to people and circumstances. In the best of circumstances this had me reacting to things on the fly and in the worst of circumstances blowing my top over trivial or minor problems.  When discussing this with my sabbatical coach he recommended a book that became a great tool in understanding both my current condition and provided some helpful tools to combat it.  The most helpful tool was the process of developing mindfulnessWhile it’s roots come from eastern philosophy and religion, the principle of transforming your mind comes right out of scripture, practicing the skill of mindfulness enabled me to slow down and process the emotions that would flare in me and allow my mind and thoughts to catch up before responding. 

3. Receiving Grace  

My burnout was a result of many of my faults, but one that became very clear in the first few days was my inability to receive the grace that I would often preach so passionately about.  Forced into resting, I was faced with wrestling my own pride and refusal to admit I couldn’t handle or do it all.  I had to admit I couldn’t. That I am a creature in need. That I am dependent just as all of God’s people are. Being freed from the responsibilities of doing and developing the ability to slow down and stay in the moment I began to reflect on what a gift the Grace of God is.  The loving kindness of the Elders, the affection of the church family, the support of Gospel partners and friends all of these hit me like a ton of bricks in these moments or reflection as tangible examples of God’s love for me.  I had always struggles receiving that reality. My time away enabled my to reflect on this unmerited favor our God has for us.  

How it will end…

Early in my time in pastoral ministry I remember telling a brother wrestling with sin that we all as God’s children return to Him, We can walk back or crawl.  I pray have come out of a season of crawling back to Him, He might grant unto me the wisdom to walk toward Him from now on.  

Rested and Ready, 

Pastor Vinnie 

1 a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique

2 Romans 12:2 (ESV) — 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Feel the Love of God Surround You

2 Corinthians 5:14–15 (ESV) — 14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

God Loves you! 

This small phrase seen on bumper stickers, t-shirts, poster board at football games, leaves most of us assuming on the love of God.  We see this as God offering himself to us, like the shy 6th grader hoping we will take him up on his offer to dance.  God’s love is seen as a passive offer we are free to take him up on at our choosing and our discretion.  

Yet the Apostle Paul paints a very different picture of the love of God in 2 Corinthians 5:14.  He describes the love of God overruling, overmastering, and holding him.  He is held in the grip of God’s love, unable and unwilling to be freed.  It is this grip of the love of God that influences Paul to act and live the way he does. It is the love of God that calls us to no longer live for ourselves and to live for Christ.  

What is our great motivator for life and worship?  The love of God seen in the death and resurrection.  As the world celebrates romantic, hallmark love, we will be taking a different look at the love of God. Enjoy the ride. 

Post in the comments below ways you have been gripped by the love of God. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

45 Years of Service

Hi I'm Pastor Ron, you know the banjo player?

I would like to share a little of my 45 years in here goes the reader's digest condensed version. 

I'm a Pastor, Not a Saint!

First off I was raised from the beginning in a Christian family, went to church all my life studied the catechism and went to Sunday school classes from 1st grade all the way through high school. Pastor Mike Larsen used to call me the “Christian poster child” on how it’s supposed to be. Ha!

But let's be real, I’m a Pastor not a Saint! I wish I would have studied more on the scriptures and not have gotten lost in the music.

I started my quest towards musicianship by playing drums when I was in 6th grade. I played a baritone horn in junior high school and played the drum set for the pep rally band because none of the drummers could play a full drum set. I was 13 years old when I got my first guitar for $12.99 at the Stop n Go market on the corner by my house. My Dad told me if I showed interest, he would buy me a better guitar. So for my birthday, he bought me an electric guitar and amp for $20.00. at the pawn shop. My parents signed me up for lessons at the Park and Rec but by that time I was past that and the teacher said she couldn’t help a “rock and roll guitar player! Ha! We didn’t have internet back then, so to learn a tune you had to play a record over and over again until you learned the song….wore out a lot of record needles…I was sure I was going to be the next big rock star! (By grace my soul was bought and paid for by Jesus not some cut throat record company)

All through high school I played in various bands and various instruments. While doing that I was going to a very conservative Reformed church in which the music consisted of an organ (pipe) and piano. Which, as a lot of us know, bored a young musician to death! (Ask me today? I love it!)

So the first chance I had to play anything but that style of music I jumped on it! The “Maranatha” music scene was picking up and there was a lot of alternative Christian music coming out. My older brother had worked on his skill and had become an accomplished singer so I knew if I was going to sing with him at all, I was going to have to learn harmony skills, so I listened to every recording I could find of the best harmony singers and just sang along for hours and hours!

When I was around fifteen years old my brother and I sang for the first time in a church very foreign to ours, where you could play a guitar, and we sang “Jesus is just alright” which the doobie brothers did in 71 or 72? Which by the way, if I had to sing that song again really? Jesus is JUST alright! I should have been ashamed of singing such a song! Thank goodness God is forgiving!!

Well that did it for me, and I started playing any Christian venue I could find! Playing drums for revival meetings, singing in choirs, playing drums, guitar or bass guitar any chance I got!! My younger brothers in the meantime had become musicians and put together a youth Christian rock band so off and on I played with them. We played youth rallies and concerts all over southern California.

I had met Brenda in high school and told her that she was going to be my future wife, Yep! Started going to church with her and received a call to ministry in which I became the church's youngest Deacon and an Awana leader and sang in the choir and played for the youth kids off and on. 


From "Rockstar" to Standing on the True Rock

(Side Note) During all this I had spent three years playing drums and singing back up with a Rock band traveling all over. Playing at nightclubs and seedy places where people didn’t care about your music as long as it was loud and you played all night. I didn’t drink so I was always the designated driver. It was such an oxymoron playing to crazies at night and playing to church folk on Sundays, so eventually, it took its toll and I walked away from the Rock band and decided to pour myself into the message of a hope in Christ and his message that Christian ministry and music delivered!

I remember moving to the desert in 1984 and visiting a few churches; fell in with a Baptist church meeting at the Hesperia High school. I had gone for a couple of weeks when I approached the worship leader who was singing all by himself and asked if he needed some help and he said “what can you play?” and I said, “what do you need” so I played a couple of weeks on bass guitar and singing, when at the end of the second Sunday I played with him he handed me the songs in a file and I said “you want me to learn them?” In which he responded “No you’re the new worship leader I’m moving to Washington!” So, for the next two years I stepped into the role of worship leader at Sunridge Community Church. From there I went to Hesperia Baptist Church on 7th street. Played guitar for worship and sang with the choir - but that was short lived.

I had been all this time struggling with doctrinal issues that these churches had been preaching and just knew I had to get back to my roots after all I’m a home grown Calvinist, and was raised in the Reformed church!

So, My mother told me of a Pastor who was the Son of her distant cousin and was planting a church in Hesperia! So we visited, I fit in well, after all Pastor Roger was a Dutchman! So, we became a part of the family and have been here (except for a few, sabbaticals that’s another story!) since it’s inception.

God has called me and allowed me and blessed me to have served as Youth leader, (Pastor Vinnie was a little guy back then!) Deacon, Elder, played in worship under some great worship directors, served as worship Pastor, covered as worship leader, started and lead community groups, and, became Commissioned as a Pastor through the RCA.

God has blessed me in being able to do service for the last 45 years in all areas of ministry. While, working in a great Job for General Electric for thirty years! The road has been a bumpy winding path and a distance only God could have directed. But I would not have changed any of it!

Music has been my passion but not my gift. My gift has always been able to step in and help other ministries in times of strife and helping them to continue and succeed, but my love for reaching out to people in the hospitals or homes to be there to comfort and pray for them when they are sick or in need of comfort has always touched me the most.

Ministry is not an easy gig it takes its tolls in many ways, but I believe if you are exercising your gifts that God has ordained to you, God will always give you the strength to continue through all life’s adversities. If you take the “I” out of ministry and put the “HE” (Jesus) in it’s place and follow His lead true Joy in ministry is attainable!

Through all the ups and downs I will always be thankful to have been a part of this church family and will always be thankful that God has lead me and my family to Oasis Community Church.

P.S. We still have a lot of work to do - Amen?!!!

~ Pastor Ron  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Power Of The Gospel

In our day, there is a proliferation of discussion surrounding “the gospel”. Books and blogs abound in which you can hear all about the gospel; gospel-centeredness, gospel-mission, gospel proclamation and so on. All of that is good, and needed, and hopefully, this will add something to all our discussion about the gospel. What I feel we often forget is the “power of the gospel.

The Power of the Gospel

I find that there is, in much of our preaching and teaching, much emphasis on what we, as Christians, must “do”. 

But what can be easily missed, is the reality of what Christ has done.

This is tragic for more that one reason, but here, I want to argue that it is tragic because it is in that, the simple news of who Christ is and what He has done, that the power of God for salvation resides.  Look at what the apostle Paul says in Romans chpt. 1:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. - Romans 1:16

Paul understood that the power of God for salvation had nothing to do with him. It was the gospel itself that is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes. 

Later in 1 Corinthians, he says:

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:17-18

There is such encouragement, such comfort for us here in this truth!

The power of the gospel to save doesn’t rely on you, your wisdom, your eloquence, or whatever. It is a power that is inherent in the gospel itself, the power of God that become active upon the hearts of people as the good news of Jesus is made known. Paul himself understood that there can be a propensity to be ashamed of the gospel, for indeed, it is “foolishness” to the world. But Paul said “hey, here is why I’m not ashamed, because I know that there is power in the gospel!” We can rest in that power, and trust God to work.  

So, as we discuss gospel “things”, let’s not forget the simple message, the news through which God has promised to work, to save, and to transform.

There is power in the gospel.

Author: Chris Centola
Worship Pastor
Oasis Community Church Hesperia CA

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Value of Visitors: From Stranger to Family

Every Sunday morning around the world, Christians gather to celebrate and worship the Resurrected King. God does something amazing every single Sunday for his people. He sends them gifts. Gifts? Yes, gifts! These gifts that God sends every single Sunday are people like you and me. They are the new visitors that walk through our door each week. 

At Oasis Community Church, we understand the value of every visitor and try our best to be hospitable.  Every Sunday tons of new visitors visit churches all around the world and many times, churches have no idea what to do with them. There are two reasons for this: 
  1. They aren’t sure how much we value them. (In other words, we know they are important, but we don’t know how important they are.) 
  2. They don’t know how to reach out to them. 
Here are some ways we understand the value of a new visitor and try to reach them.

The Value of the New Visitor:
  • We understand that new visitors don’t just wander into our churches unguided and on accident. These new visitors are gifts from God to us given freely and intentionally. 
  • In John 4, Jesus pursues the Samaritan woman over and over again even though she rejects him. Jesus demonstrates his eagerness to see this woman transformed by the Gospel. We should demonstrate this same type of eagerness whenever God leads a new visitor to our churches. 
  • Jesus tells us in Matt. 28 to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. Why? Because Jesus wants to transform sinners into saints. Jesus values all people and so should we. When a new visitor shows up, we must see them through the lens of Christ. Only then, we will understand how much value people have. 

How To show Biblical Hospitality: 
  • The purpose of Greeters at the door way entrance at our church is not only to welcome our church family (although that is important), but rather to help identify new visitors. 
  • Once a new visitor is identified, we need to have someone ready and willing to show them where the children’s ministry is, the bathrooms, the Sanctuary, etc. We use the mantra, greeted, directed, treated and seated to describe the way we care for first time visitors. 
  • During the service (usually during announcements), we make sure there is a moment where we welcome new visitors and tell them how much we value them, the same way God does. 
  • We also invite all new visitors to the Visitor Welcome Center where a member of our connect team thanks them for coming, has a gift for them, and invites them to a lunch with the staff and Pastors. 
  • Along with all of this, we also reach out to them via email and the mail to invite them back and receive feedback from them about how well we were able to care for them on their visit to our church. 

By understanding the value of each visitor and seeking to show hospitality toward each person, we as a family of God can help welcome in His children. We hope you'll join us in this mission we feel called to.

Blog post author:
Director of Ministry, Joey Venegas

Favorite bible verse:
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. - Joshua 1:9