Mute the past

samuel-pisarSamuel Pisar became a Harvard-educated lawyer and statesman out of the horrendous beginnings of a Nazi concentration camp. He eluded death sentences twice while watching hundreds of fellow Jews die in gas chambers. He escaped on a death march. A hardened and cruel boy, Samuel survived post-war Poland selling cigarettes and stolen coffee grounds. A French aunt from rescued him from the streets, and he began a new and completely different life.

In doing so, he provides a model for Christians trying to slam the door on the past: “I had to wipe out the first 17 years of my life,” he said. “I muted the past” and “turned to the future with a vengeance.”

When God made us a “new creation” and “born again,” it was to “wipe out” how ever many years were previously lived in sin.

 

How to recover from a breakup, Rachel Ashley explains

rachel-ashleyIt seemed like an ideal relationship to Rachel Ashley because her boyfriend attended church, but after 2-and-a-half rocky years, he dumped her. “He told me he didn’t love me anymore.”

The Filipina American Youtuber with 5.5 million views confesses she lashed out at God for the heart-rending breakup.

“It totally broke me and I ended up blaming God,” she said in a video. “I got really angry, and I started questioning Him, like, ‘Why would you bring someone into my life if you knew I would get so attached to him? Why would you let this hurt happen to me?’ I started pushing myself even farther away from God.”

She was in the 11th grade and processing the tumultuous shattering of her heart was no easy matter. But as she reflected about the experience, she realized the guy didn’t draw her closer to God, even though he professed Christianity. In fact, for some time going to church for her was only about going to see him.

She started hanging out with the wrong crowd and maintained a facade.

“I would just to go to church to be there, because my family was there,” she said. “It wasn’t necessarily for me. It wasn’t helping me in anything. I didn’t want anything to do with it at that moment. I was just too stuck in my sorrows to even be myself.”

But after three months of moping, she received something of an epiphany.

“All of a sudden I got like this revelation,” she said. “Wait wait wait a minute. I think God did this for a reason. Maybe He knew that if my boyfriend and I stayed together down the road we would be in some kind of crazy situation. God just sent a peace over me.”

Then God gave inner promptings to her spirit: “The reason I took that guy out of your life is because… Read the rest of the article.

India: Grandmother beaten to death for son’s conversion to Christianity

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An Indian grandmother was stripped and killed in December in apparent retaliation for her son converting to Christianity.

Samari Kasabi, 55, was brutalized and burned in the village of Dokawaay in Chhattisgarh after an angry mob showed up looking for her adult son and his family.

Police detained the village chief but released him with no charge after two days, the UK’s Daily Express reported.

Attacks against Christians in the largely Hindu nation of India have been on the rise since 2013 as the nationalist Hindu party in power seems to turn a blind eye from such incidents, the Express said. A similar attack by religious extremists occurred against a Protestant church in Madhya Pradesh. Church-goers were pelted with stones after the service while police did nothing, eyewitnesses reported.

Fearing for their lives and safety, many Christians have turned their back on their faith to avoid persecution.

When rampaging villagers could not find Sukura, 35, and his family, they turned on the Christian grandmother. Sukura reported the murder of his mom to police, and apparently some arrests have been made, it was reported.

Workers from the Christian charity group Open Doors went on motorcycles over dirt roads to meet Sukura in the remote village, to pray with him and to encourage him.

“Since the day I came to faith no Christian leader from any place has visited us,” Sukura told them. “This is the first time someone has come and prayed for us. Thank you so

There are an estimated 63 million Christians in India, but 80 percent of the country’s 1.3 billion identify as Hindu. In the nationalistic furor stirring the nation, five states have outlawed converting to Christianity, and other states appear poised to follow suit. Read the rest of the disturbing article.

Bone regeneration in lab is breakthrough for Israeli scientist

shai-meretzkiIsraeli scientists successfully inject bone grafts created from fat tissue

A bone graft is usually invasive, costly and risky, but now an Israeli biotech firm has invented a lab-grown bone injection that could make the procedure cheaper and more successful.

Bonus Bio Group announced in December that bone tissue cultivated in their labs was successfully injected into the jaws of 11 patients in preliminary studies. Further studies are being launched as $14 million has been raised for the start-up, Jewish News Service reported.

“For the first time worldwide, reconstruction of deficient or damaged bone tissue is achievable by growing viable human bone graft in a laboratory, and transplanting it back to the patient in a minimally invasive surgery via injection,” said Bonus Biogroup CEO Shai Meretzki.

bonus-biogroupBonus BioGroup harvested tissue from patients’ fat cells, cultivated it in the laboratory and re-injected the semi-liquid bone graft back into the jaws of the patients. The substance successfully hardened and merged with existing bone to repair damage during the early stage of clinical trials, Bonus Biogroup reported.

If further studies are similarly successful, the procedure could replace existing methods to repair bone damage. One method harvests the patient’s pelvic crest and is painful and expensive. Another method uses synthetic substances or cells from bone banks, which risk a rejection from the patient’s body.

“I was looking for a way to do it cheaper and easier for the patient and the medical system,” Meretzki said. “We are growing bone through small samples of fat tissue and isolating the different kinds of cells that we need to create the bone.”

Finish reading the article, which was written by one of my students at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica.

The first woman to successfully mount a presidential bid is also a Christian

3a34bed800000578-3933784-donald_trump_and_his_campaign_manager_kellyanne_conwayWhen Donald Trump gets sworn in Jan. 20, he owes a debt of gratitude to Kellyanne Conway, the first woman to run a presidential campaign, who helped turnaround a double-digit polling deficit. She also happens to be a Christian.

“It was all down to her,” Trump said. “Kellyanne has been a trusted adviser and strategist who played a crucial role in my victory.”

Conway was raised in a divorced household in Atco, New Jersey. Her deadbeat dad left when she was three and never supported her or her mother with alimony. Instead, her mother, grandmother and two sisters helped raised Kellyanne with a strong work ethic, plenty of faith and an abundance of food prepared by a mom and grandmother with Italian roots.

“They doted on me with everything that is important — love, attention, prayerfulness, patriotism, the value of being more of a giver rather than a taker,” Conway told the Washington Examiner. “Faith plays a minute by minute part of my life,” she said. “It is constant.”

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She grew up picking blueberries during eight summers on a nearby farm. She picked so fast that at age 20 she even won the World Champion Blueberry Packing competition. “The faster you went, the more money you’d make,” she said. “Everything I learned about life and business started on that farm.”

Not only were her hands fast. Her brain also ran on 16 pistons. She was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society out of college and completed her law degree with honors in 1992 from the George Washington University.

Her quick intelligence earned her an invitation to join a law firm, but she politely declined. She had worked for Reagan political pollster Richard Wirthlin and had gotten hooked on the science of survey and market data. After working for pollster Frank Luntz, she launched her own polling company at age 28 in 1995.

As an entrepreneur, Conway successfully landed major clients like American Express, Hasbro, Major League Baseball ABC News and Vaseline. With conservative values, she worked for politicians Congressman Newt Gingrich and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who served in the House of Representatives then.

In 2001, she married George Conway, a conservative New York lawyer who helped spearhead the impeachment campaign against then-President Bill Clinton. The couple had four kids and met Donald Trump after they purchased a condo in a Trump complex. She sat on the board and chatted politics with the real estate mogul between mundane decisions about property.

Trump’s campaign was slumping in August of 2016. The pugnacious political disruptor found himself 10 polling points behind Hillary Clinton after he verbally attacked the family of a Muslim American hero who had died saving fellow American soldiers in Iraq. The dad of Humayun Khan lambasted Trump’s immigration stance at the Democratic convention, and Trump couldn’t let the matter alone. His second campaign manager was being thrown out, and supporters were moaning about the pointlessness of working for a candidate who would shoot himself in the foot.

That’s when Conway had a private meeting with Trump and asked him why he looked miserable.

“You are running against the most joyless person in presidential political history (Hillary Clinton),” she told the candidate, according to the Washington Examiner, “and you don’t look like you are having fun anymore.”

Right then and there, Trump hired her. Continuing reading.

Just days before daddy-daughter dance, her dad died

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Ten-year-old Kirby Minnick’s divorced dad was coming to visit her in America in only four days – but he never made it. Kirby found out after school her dad succumbed to a heart attack in London.

“I remember thinking, ‘I’m never going to see him again. He’s never going to walk me down the aisle. He’s never going to be there for my wedding,’” Kirby said in a YouTube video. “I ran upstairs and locked the door. I remember feeling so much pain and agony. I remember asking God, ‘Why? How could You do this to me? You’re a monster, God. Why do You hate me? What did I do wrong? This isn’t fair.’ I hated God.”

The bitterness of his untimely passing was compounded by flyers at school just days afterward inviting all girls to attend the daddy-daughter dance. As she looked at the flyer on her school desk, she burst into tears. Her friends asked her what was wrong.

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“My dad just died four days ago,” she cried.

“Eventually, I became like, ‘Ok God, let’s just forget this happened, like whatever, and move on,’” she said. “I began building up walls. I was so mad at God. My depression came back. I was so hopeless. I wouldn’t let people into my life. Eventually I kind of shoved everything into a corner in my mind.”

She fixated on suicide every night. But during the school day in Dallas, Texas, she pretended everything was okay.

“Whenever I went to school I was like the happiest kid,” Kirby said. “I was pretending to be that way. It was a mask that everything was okay and nothing was wrong. I let no one know.”

She traipsed in and out of therapy, blocking entire months and years of her childhood. At first the counseling was to help her overcome her parent’s divorce. Then it was for her dad’s death.

In eighth grade, a classmate began bullying her with passive aggressive behavior, eliciting in her a flood of insecurities.

“I thought I wasn’t pretty enough, I wasn’t smart enough, nobody loved me. I wanted to kill myself,” Kirby said. “I had this journal, and I would write in it every night, ‘I wish I could kill myself. I just want to die.’ Suicidal thoughts took over my life.”

But every time she resolved to carry out her plan, a voice in her head held her back: Just one more day, the voice intoned.

At a Christian summer camp before high school, she was going through the motions, singing the songs she sang every year at the camp. Her mom had heard about the camp and sent her hoping it would help.

“I was like singing, ‘Lord Jesus, blah blah blah,’” she said. Suddenly, God really showed up. Click here to read the rest of the story.

Somebody has to die

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I was shocked and pleased when Disney killed Hans Solo. I would’ve thought they lacked the guts to kill off such a beloved hero. But it made the plot 100 times more credible and compelling.

Now in Rogue One, Disney (spoiler alert) decimated all the good guys. They all had to sacrifice their lives to get the plans out of the Death Star to expose its structural weakness that could be exploited to destroy it. This is the backstory to the first Star Wars film.

landscape-1470743574-rogue-one-a-star-wars-story-donnie-yen-600x400Such willingness to script stars out of the franchise reflects reality and distances Disney from its sanitized fable fodder (and everyone lived happily ever after). Without sacrifice, nothing of good is accomplished.

Jesus sacrificed Himself. I’m sure He really didn’t want to go to the cross, but He did — and thank God for it. I would never find salvation under the impossible Old Testament system of animal sacrifice for every sin. Yup, me, hell-bound.

rogue-one-crew-posterSo this sacrifice stuff is inspirational, if not tidy. It might your tyke cry. But it teaches a valuable lesson. When I went down to Guatemala, I endured innumerable dangers and hardships — all to get the gospel to a needy people. Today’s Christians are too self-focused, too self-serving, too self-pleasing. Oh, they’ll throw a prayer and an offering (out of their excess cash) at world missions. But most of the time, they’re looking to minimalize personal discomfort.

In Rogue One, a lot of the characters excused themselves from the battle. They wimped out. That’s why the heroes called themselves “rogues.” They went against the council’s command to retreat in fear.

Princess Leia worth $50 million

carrie-fisherYou are worth more.

$50 million is the sum Disney could collect on the insurance policy they took out on their Star Wars hero. It’s a handy profit on the heart attack. Disney will cast about for a look-alike, and it shouldn’t be too much of problem.

Did she realize that she was worth more than that? God took out a policy on her life — on my life, on your life — that cost the life of His Only Son on the cross. That’s way more than what Disney fetched for Princess Leia.

Don’t marvel over the money machinations of the mega corporations. Marvel over value in God.

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There is snow in Los Angles (county mountains)!

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It was the blind-leading-the-blind as we drove up the Los Angeles mountains looking for snow. I guess I’m a Biblical pastor because I fulfilled Jesus’ warning against blind leaders.

Thankfully, we actually found more than just a few spots on the roadside. Cindy, our disciple from Guatemala, could see more than just a patch of white. She fell, got wet, got cold and got hit with snowballs. Snow does not exist in the subtropics of Guatemala.

img_4100Cindy had fun, and so did the Lighthouse Church from Van Nuys. We are only 6 months old as a church, and already a spirit of family is taking hold. I had proposed a boys-versus-girls snowball fight until I remembered Alex, our worship superstar, was also a superstar pitcher on mixed softball team. Then I suggested we “even out the teams” by putting Alex on the boys’ team.

That’s when my wife stepped in. She reminded me loudly in front of everybody that I was the pastor and should let others pick first. Man that burned so badly that I wasn’t cold anymore and even took my sweater off.

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“Lighthouse Van Nuys,” the scratched in the snow.

You could hear Brittany, screaming with glee, all down the slope — but that was not surprising. You can always hear Britt.

Dee made a snow angel. Four-year-old Kailee could not be torn from the snow. I suppose she will sleep well. We found a snowman that someone left, even with a carrot nose. Kailee and Dion decided to decimate the snowman. All I can says is that after they were done, Frosty was iced.

After coming down the mountain, we ate at In-N-Out hamburgers and fellowshipped.

 

Why New Year’s is a Christian holiday

new-years-christianThe Christmas-haters substitute “happy HOLIDAYS” for the Christ-bearing word. It doesn’t seem like they realize HOLY-days is still derived from Christianity and still points believers and non-believers ultimately to Jesus.

New Year’s is part of the HOLY-days. It is a time to make resolutions, to change, to emend wrongs and commit to rights. Change — and getting a new start through forgiveness — is the distilled essence of Christianity. Celebrate New Year’s discovering the “new you” that’s find only in Jesus.

Good, now I can wash my other sweatshirt

img_3978It’s been a loooooong time.

But I like my Barcelona soccer club sweatshirt so much that I really don’t wash it. I would miss it while it’s in the machines.

But for Christmas, these church members very attentively gave me a wonderful Christmas gift, a different Barca sweatshirt. Now I can finally wash the first one.

Hahaha. Christmas blessings.

Merry Christmas from Van Nuys

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I was surprised. These church members, instead of taking time off because of Christmas, came out to service. Christmas is a big family time. But the Van Nuys ch

urch members didn’t miss service.

Who would ever have thought that I could fit 25 seats into our apartment? A space efficiency engineer couldn’t have done better. It worked like a jigsaw puzzle.

All these people have been the best Christmas gift to me. One family had been praying for a Christian Fellowship Ministries church to open in the San Fernando Valley for years. Most of the members of our startup church play an instrument or two. Virtually all of them come to serve, not to be served.

This was the blessing of 2016 for me. I’m looking forward to what God will do in 2017.

God brought this blessing after six lean years of almost no ministry in my parent church. I thank God that the lean years are over and now I can function on all 8 pistons.

When Jesus gives, it is the best gift.

Break free from the prison of your mind

img_3939Inside of every one of us, there’s a child who’s been wounded. He puts up a mask of confidence. Or he tries to deaden the pain through partying. Or he pursues money. But when he dies, the money stays behind.

And his souls moves on.

God made the human heart. He is the only one who can heal and fill the human heart. Christmas is about God’s gift to humanity. Jesus died to restore relationship between man and God. You can lay hold of that blessing if you will just break free.

Break free from doubt, from prejudices, from intellectualism that denies God. Break from influences, for bad advice, from pressure to conform.

Break out of a world that is only material. Break into a world that is also spiritual.

As C.S. Lewis said, we don’t have a soul, we are a soul.

God designed you to spend eternity in loving relationship with Him. Don’t reject Him.

Homeless pill popper delivered by Jesus

marijuana-to-jesusFor six months, Yvette Castillo was homeless, popping pills and drinking alcohol. She was pregnant and found refuge in abandoned house with crack addicts where she was raped.

“I was trusting the drugs instead of trusted God to make me happy,” Yvette said in a YouTube testimony. “I thought it was an easier solution, but it wasn’t.”

Yvette now lives in Houston with her husband and kids and goes to church. She’s come a long way from the beginning of her downfall at three-years-old, when she was first molested.

yvette-castilloRaised by an alcoholic father and a mother who also disappointed her, Yvette became a troubled teen. With hate raging within from deep hurts, she actually invoked the powers of darkness one day while alone in her bedroom.

“I said, ‘Give me the power to hurt everyone, to stop people from messing with me.’” she said. “I didn’t know that I was making a pact with the devil. I knew who I was talking to, but I didn’t know how serious it was.”

She fought everyone at school who looked at her funny and disrespected her teachers. She was cutting and using drugs. Not youth camp, not juvenile hall, not counselors could help her change course.

She gave birth to a child at 14 years old.

“Not even my child stopped me from doing bad things,” she said. “It was a force that had taken over me, and nobody could stop me.”

Kicked out of school and her house, Yvette fell into the clutches of an abusive boyfriend.

“He hit me. He mistreated me. And I felt like I deserved every bit of it.”

In the midst of her ordeal, she had two abortions.

Leaving that boyfriend is how she became homeless. Pregnant and alone, she tried to mask the inner pain with pills and alcohol, which she paid for by stealing.

“I no longer had a heart,” she said. “I couldn’t love my kids. I couldn’t love myself. I was so drained.”

Her next boyfriend got saved and pulled her into church. She was on fire and serving God for a time, but then… Read the rest of the story.

The smiles are real now

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Behind the popularity, the beauty, and bubbly personality, Alison Henry harbored self-hatred and misery that led to broodings about suicide.

Today, the 23-year-old YouTube make-up artist with a following of 880,542 has found inner joy.

“I cannot even tell you how unhappy I was, and the bad thing was I couldn’t even tell you why,” Alison said in a recent video.

alison-henry-christianBorn in Atlanta, Alison was raised in a Christian family, lived in a beautiful house, and had the right pieces in place to become successful. But during high school, her torments began as insecurities rose in her heart. She locked herself in her bedroom for hours and spilled expletive-laden bitterness into a personal journal.

“In high school people would look at me and think I was normal, I was happy, there is nothing wrong with my life,” she said. “I put a smile on every single day. There was nothing wrong that people could look at me and tell that I was hurting. But I was hurting SO bad. I was messed up. I hated myself.”

She questioned her existence, felt like her life lacked direction and wondered if anybody cared.

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“I would really wish I was dead. I did really mean that. It was my little secret.”

Alarmed by their daughter’s downturn, her parents sent her to a professional counselor who prescribed anti-depressants. The medicine didn’t work, she said. “I’m unfixable,” she glowered.

Trying to anesthetize the hurt, Alison turned to boyfriends, weekend parties and alcohol and drugs.

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“It was a coping mechanism, but it never fixed things,” she said. “When you wake up, you’re as sad as ever.”

During her junior year, her best friend started attending a church youth group. That’s when the tug-of-war began: Alison would beg her friend to go to the parties, and her friend would beg her to go to youth group.

“For months I would say, ‘No, I don’t belong there. I’m not a church girl.’ I thought they were all like people who wore turtle necks and sang kumbaya around their guitar.”

alison-henryEventually, Alison caved in. Seeing hundreds of high schoolers lifting hands and singing to something invisible made her feel “weirded out.”

But “I didn’t understand it, and I couldn’t stand the thought of me not understanding something,” she said.

However, she decided to go back. During her third visit to church, God met her.

“I knew in my heart that the pastor was talking about me,” Alison said. Read the rest.

Professors from Harvard and MIT talk about their faith

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A group of high-powered MIT and Harvard professors were featured recently at a forum to debunk the notion that there is a conflict between science and faith.

Rosalind Picard and Ian Hutchinson are professors at Massachusetts Institute of Technology while Tyler VanderWeele and Nancy E. Hill are professors at Harvard University – and all four are firm believers in God and see no conflict between faith and science.

“People who think they can’t deal with faith are really just deceiving themselves,” said Picard, the founder of the branch of computing known as affective computing. “All people in science are accepting something on faith. The question is what are evidence for that, and do you accept the kinds of evidence that is not scientific?”

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Ian Hutchinson of MIT

Recently featured on the Veritas Forum, the academes are debunking the notion that all scientists are atheists and that science opposes faith.

“The famous scientists of history, many of them were in fact Christian believers,” said Hutchinson, who is developing magnetic “bottles” for nuclear fusion. “If you think about James Clerk Maxwell or Michael Faraday or (Arthur) Eddington or (Robert) Boyle or Newton and so on and so forth, these were people who were not atheists. They were deeply believing Christians. It’s a fallacy, it’s a myth that science and religious understanding of the world have always been at war.”

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Tyler VanderWeele of Harvard

Picard began as “proud atheist” who, in middle school, boasted to her mom that she would debate evolution and “whop those stupid creationists. I thought religion was something for people who were non-thinking or it was a crutch.”

Her neighbors in Atlanta invited her to church, and she faked stomach aches to get off the hook for six weeks, until finally they suggested she just read the Bible.

“Then I remembered it was the best-selling book,” Picard said. “I started reading the Bible, and I didn’t want to tell anybody. But I started to change. It started to change me. I thought it would be full of fantastical crazy stuff. I started reading Proverbs and it immediately hit me that with all my intellectual arrogance, I had a lot to learn.”

But it wasn’t until her undergraduate studies in electrical engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. She got her PhD from MIT in 1991 and joined the faculty seven years later, winning a full professorship in 2005. She is the founder and director of MIT’s Affective Computing Research Group.

Her research team is developing wearable technology that can detect stress in people who are poor at expressing their emotions, such as patients of autism.

Ian Hutchinson also grew up without God on his radar. When he studied as an undergraduate at Cambridge University, however, “I had some good friends whose lives seemed to be attractive and whose Christian faith seemed important to them and seemed coherent,” he said.

He agreed to attend some lectures by Michael Green and essentially heard the gospel for the first time in his life.

“After a period of consideration, I realized that I kind of did believe,” Hutchinson said. “Christianity made sense to me. It made intellectual sense to me. In order for me to be true to what I thought was reality, I needed to take a step of commitment to faith and become a follower of Jesus.”

As he learned about the natural world in universities, he learned about Christ in church, and there never appeared to be any conflict between the two, he said.

Today, Hutchinson is a professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT and researches nuclear fusion as a cheap and powerful alternative to produce electricity. He has written 160 journal articles and was the chairman of the Division of Plasma Physics group of the American Physical Society in 2008. He has written about the limits of science and the power of faith in a book titled “Monopolizing Knowledge: A Scientist Refutes Religion-Denying, Reason-Destroying Scientism.”

“Science has not disproved religion. That idea is wrong,” he said. “People believe or disbelieve in religion for much more complicated reasons than just their intellectual ideas.”

Tyler VanderWeele, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, rocked the secular world when he published in May of 2016 a study that showed churchgoers live longer than people who eschew the pew.

“For the most part, I see the relationship between science and the Christian faith as not one of antagonism but one of mutual contribution,” VanderWeele said. “Science has given us tremendous insight into our world and how it works. It’s made clear the incredible order that’s manifest in Creation. It’s given us a better understanding of God’s work in the world.” To read the rest of the article, click here.

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Gutter cleaning

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It rarely ever rains in LA, but when it did, I discovered all kinds of flaws in the gutters of the apartment complex I manage. My handyman and I realized they hadn’t been cleaned in approximately 36 jillion years. The dirt was caked into the gutter and blocking drainoff.

Today I got my hands and knees and crawled around the roof. I scraped and vacuumed with the shop vac. Not all of it was dry since there was a low point not draining that was mud. It was a dirty job, and I’m a klutz, so that’s how I splashed water and mud all over me and the stairwell. Now I have more work to clean up the stairwell.

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I don’t mind being on the edge of the roof right next to a 60-foot drop. I lost my fear of heights when I rock-climbed as a college student. Specifically, it was rapelling that defeated the fear of heights (you have to lean out backwards over the abyss with only a harness).

Gutters help direct runoff water to where you want it hit the ground. But if they get clogged with leaves and buildup dirt, they sprout leaks and become defective. You need to clean your gutters from time to time just like you need to clean your heart. Keep runoff flowing.

In your heart, forgiveness needs to flow. If it doesn’t, the hurt builds up and makes you into a mean and nasty person. Jesus said we should be like kids. Yeah, kids forgive and forget easily.

Lonely at Christmas?

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On the night before Christmas, he was kicked out of his house.

After years of “loose living and immorality,” Elliott Osowitt was driven out by a wife who had run out of patience. Downcast and despondent, he decided to go to a nearby motel and kill himself with a gun.

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Osowitt worked as a tour guide for “Heathen Tours,” a touring company that catered to tourists from England seeking sinful pleasures in America. It seems Osowitt indulged in too many of those allurements himself.

After Osowitt check into his room, he found a Gideon’s Bible next to his bed opened to John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

The power of God’s Word and the Spirit of the living God moved on his heart. Tearfully, he repented of his sins and asked Jesus to be his Lord and Savior.

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And that is how the Prince of Peace, whose birth the reformed Jew had never celebrated, came to Osowitt at Christmas in 1996.

He actually spent three days at the motel reading that Bible. He attended church with his wife, Polly, the following Sunday and quit working for the touring company. Osowitt began a new career with a Christian touring company instead.

On Christmas Eve, the Bible “caused me to stop. It caused me to cry. When I read it was Jesus, I had a hard time with it,” Osowitt told USA Today. “It literally began a process of healing that eventually led to the reconciliation… Read the rest of the story.

I’m dreaming of an enchilada Christmas

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With apologies to traditionalists, but I so would swap enchiladas for turkey or ham for Christmas. Hot sauce for gravy and ponche for sparkling apple cider. No offense intended but those are my taste buds.

Christmas is about family first, food second, so I really don’t mind breaking the routine. We had family last night, our new church family, and it makes tears want to come to my eyes to think that I am so lucky to be surrounded by people who appreciate each other.

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Jesus changes lives and puts the lonely in family. The church should be a place of acceptance, not rejection. Christ’s coming, which we celebrate on Dec. 25, was because God wanted to accept us, so we need to accept others.

The growth in my church in Van Nuys continues to astound me. I wasn’t looking for growth or numbers. I was just looking for people to love. In return, I got a big group of happy people who love Jesus.

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Leslie and her sister, Stacey

And I got enchiladas.

After worship and word, after potluck, we exchanged gifts. I gave Leslie an 80s-style blouse, and I got my favorite coffee. Even though I grew up in the 80s, I had no idea what that meant. So I got my daughter, who grew up in 2000s (in Guatemala, mind you), got the blouse for her. I hope she likes it.

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Gleeful me, the Valley Boy Pastor.

If you’re not part of a local church family, you’re missing out. Even if you have the best turkey.

So much for organic growth

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The Valley Boy Pastor at Lake Balboa in Van Nuys.

Starting my second church was very different from my first church: I left thinking maybe, just maybe, God would help me. If not, I didn’t care. I was going to serve Him. I was going to NOT stress and NOT strive and NOT try to force the Hand of God. I was just going to enjoy His presence and let Him bring growth organically.

It has been anything but organic. Suddenly, disciples are popping up all over the place. It has been sudden. Today, members showed themselves to be true troopers, braving chilly breezes in the park to still attend, despite the risk of getting sick.

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We call ourselves The Church on the Lake, a knockoff of “Church on the Way.” We removed ourselves a distance from Balboa Lake because the wet breezes were chilly.

I’m awestruck by what God has done. We had a new record in attendance, and the weather pretty much gave everybody every reason to miss service.

By organic, I mean that the church would grow or not grow very much, naturally, easy, slowly. Instead, I got a whole start-up church of members from Day 1 because that church was closing. Then another family who has been praying for the San Fernando Valley for years came. Yesterday, we outreached at the Panorama City Mall, something they dreamed of doing with their church for years.

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Alex and Martha, our excellent worship crew.

So what did I do to deserve these multiply blessings? Nothing. I can agree with those who enumerate the long list of my faults.

I just believed and waited on God.

I don’t believe I’m terribly talented. I don’t have such a great charisma. I’m not one of those larger-than-life leaders who attracted followers by oodles with their superman abilities. I’m just a simple guy who got bored sitting around doing nothing in the Mother Church and ask for playing time to get on the field. My pastor sent me out in June. I adopted the nickname the #ValleyBoyPastor as a way to promote the church. And here I am, relishing life, enjoying God.

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Boat missionaries along Mozambique coast see witch get saved

398df99e-2bf0-4320-ab51-7658916b4632-harrell-1By Justin Berry

Brian Harrell and his wife, Becky have persevered in their outreach to the 300,000 Makhuwa Nahara people in villages that dot the shores of Mozambique along the Indian Ocean.

These hamlets are so remote they are best reached by boat. Since 2004, the Harrells have steered their small wooden vessel through coastal waters to bring the Gospel to the small villages that fell to Arab traders and their Islamic faith 1,000 years ago.

Animism is also blended with Islam to produce a toxic spiritual brew. Because infant mortality is high, people resort to “spiritual protection” in the form of witchcraft.

adelina“Women fear for their children,” Becky said. “They perform ceremonial witchcraft to protect that life and to protect themselves from evil spirits during pregnancy.”

A certain witch in the village named Adelina “aided” her fellow villagers with divinations and spells in a grass-roof hut next to her home.

But amazingly, she also opened her home to a Bible study with the Harrells and listened intently. However, she didn’t convert and renounce the witchcraft under the preaching of the Southern Baptist missionaries — to the point that the Harrells despaired and almost quit.

78bff2a8-f1f7-4106-a3e6-dd005ccb1cba-harrell-5“We just couldn’t continue sharing the gospel right there next to this witch doctor hut,” Brian told Baptist Press. “What was the message that we were sending to the local community?” Adelina had been meeting with them for a year, with no sign of change.

But finally, one day before prayer… Read the rest of the story.

True joy at Christmas

9b248ee363e2c2a1c727272ec55a14e2As a tyke at the local Methodist church, I muffed my lines in the Christmas play. The question posed was: What’s better — giving or getting?

At the time, I really felt that “getting” was what Christmas was all about. I loved getting toys, not sweaters. But I messed up and piped up: “Giving.”

The adult in the play, under her breath, scolded me for getting it backwards and then continued with the play.

Since then I have matured and discovered that maybe my mistake was prophetic. I have discovered that the true joy of Christmas is being able to give.

The irony is that someone has go gleeful with the gift, so somebody has to enjoy getting. Kids make easy targets for this.

Santa was on to something after all. This is why Jesus, the ultimate Christmas gift came. The Father wanted to see His children squeal with joy upon receiving salvation.

Evicted!

colegio-cristiano-guatemalaA criminal pornographer hacked and hijacked my Guatemala CHRISTIAN school website for the Guatemalan ministry. He posted pictures of “girls next door waiting for you” and links to other sites where you can indulge all kinds of sin with pay-per-view (they do this to not pay their own hosting). The nightmare came at the worst possible time, right when moms are looking at new schools in Guatemala.

And evicting him was not easy. We deleted files, changed passwords and regenerated the original content. He came back. Thinking we were battling and invisible Trojan, we nuked the site and regenerated it.


He came back.

It was maddening. Thank God my friend (let’s just call him Yoda) discovered the posting number settings, which no one ever looks at or changes, were altered allowing the public to post on the site. Ugh! That was a sinister trick.

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After two months, I can confirm we are back to promoting God after a painful period of promoting Satan. Yes, I missed the best window of opportunity. But I have my clean bill-of-health from Google, and we’re back in business!

Please pray for new students in my old school in Guatemala. What a relief to have evicted the evil.

To forgive is to taste God

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Forgiveness is a pain in the butt, from a human perspective. Actually, it is humanly unnatural. That’s how my buddy Matt found out the Bible wasn’t written by men, as atheists are wont to say. Because it reiterates the need to forgive your enemies.

But when you receive the forgiveness of God, they you can enter the earthly nirvana of forgiving others and discover the best revenge is to forgive, to release yourself from the inner torment of holding a grudge.

To forgive is a privilege that the sinner cannot enjoy. It is beauty that the sinner is incapable of feeling or perceiving. It is a better medicine than penicillin. It heals the heart. To forgive is to taste the flavor of God.

God so loved the world that He forgave us our sins.

A shield of protection like Numbers 14?

A video posted by Israel News Online shows a cloud of dust and rain serving as a barrier between Israeli troops and ISIS on the other side of the Syrian border.

The miniature storm on Dec. 1 in Israel was such an unusual sight that some commentators attribute the meteorological phenomenom to a divine intervention.

“That’s God!” one comment on the Facebook post proclaims. Non-believers are chalking it up to sheer coincidence.

The video was filmed by Israeli soldiers just days after they repelled an attack by ISIS militants with mortal fire. Israel News Online refrained from speculating about the cause of the curious cloud.

“A weather phenomenon occurred at 8 a.m. Thursday on the other side of the Syrian border, in the same place where ISIS attacked Israel,” Israel News Online wrote with the video. “This strange storm of what appears to be dust, cloud and rain did not cross the border fence into Israel. It sat like a barrier between ISIS and Israel.”

Charisma News compared it to the cloud of Numbers 14, a shield against the enemies of God’s people. No news agency has produced evidence that ISIS was scrambling soldiers in the area at the time. Read the rest of the story.

Pursue beauty

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I have found beauty in the salvation of just one soul. It is a beautiful thing to see a life, lost in self-destruction, change to a smile and happiness. This is why I pastor.

I have found beauty in seeing students, who never thought they were good enough for college, realize they have what it takes to make it. They clamber out of the slimy pit of poverty.

I have found beauty in restored relationships, in rediscovering love between spouse, between sons and fathers.

I have seen beauty in God’s creation. My life is not lived for money. I do not have much. My life is lived for the smile in my heart that comes when I see God’s hand in all around me.

Photo credit: My friends, missionaries, in Ecuador.

Is there Christian anime?

vash-kenshin-and-spiritual-transformationAfter losing his house, his church and nearby family, Joseph Wentz fell into a prolonged depression and started watching anime, the Japanese cartoons for adults.

The Christians who surrounded him at college helped him pull out of the funk, and he brought his passion for anime with him.

“Anime inevitably touches on Christian themes from time to time,” said Wentz, executive editor of Beneath the Tangles website which sifts through anime searching for hints of the gospel. “There are plenty of extremely popular anime with Christian themes.”

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Joseph Wentz

Across the genre, anime doesn’t purport to teach a Biblical message, and there is plenty of violent and sexual content. But many of the cartoons, like a Shakespearean play, treat gripping themes dealing with the human psyche that echo the Bible. For the Christians at the Beneath the Tangles, and the similar web-based Christian Anime Alliance, anime is not a stumbling block but an inspiration.

“Christians can receive much from anime, spiritually, emotionally and culturally,” said Michael Morejon, of GamingAndGod.com. “Since I see the world with a biblical lens and ask the Holy Spirit to guide my life, even anime can have significance for me and other believers. When we watch, there will be many scenes, characters or plots that reflect something God can use for our good.”

haibane-renmeiHaibane Renmei, for example, suggests messianic themes when characters must rely on an external savior and acknowledge their own weaknesses in order to escape from the clutches of some grave sin. And Puella Magi Madoka Magica explores spiritual, moral and familial themes, Wentz said.

Christian attempts to present the gospel through anime flopped in the 1980s and 90s, Wentz said, because they oriented their cartoons for kids and because flimsy story lines favored more lessons over riveting art. They lacked the poignancy of  anime pathos and got panned as amatuerish, Wentz said.

“The Flying House, Superbook, and In the Beginning: The Bible Stories are hardly considered by modern fans at all,” Wentz said. “Fans can easily see that they are pushing a message more than they are trying to provide entertaining content.”

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Michael Morejon

ichaelIn similar effort, Christians produced the Manga Bible that got largely got ignored by the Japanese. “I live in Japan, and I’ve only seen it in two places — both were churches. I’ve never seen a Japanese person reading one,” Wentz said. “As evangelistic tools, I’ve never heard of them having success.”

Why hasn’t Christianity made greater inroads into anime? Simply put, the best anime is produced in Japan, a nation where 1% of the population is Christian, and none of the great producers are Christians. (In America, anime voice-over artist Vic Mignogna does respectable anime work and is vocal about his faith.)

Nor do the frequent use of crosses by anime characters, or the occasional Catholic priest, signify anything more than just the incorporating of of esoterica – much like the West dons the yin-yang and Eastern mysticism just to be cool and different, according to “Radical Dreamer” on the Christian Anime Alliance.

While anime dominates the young adult segment in Japan, in America it tends to draws “the ostracized, the lonely, people who have found meaning and community less through the in-person interactions that dominate most of society and more through friends online,” Wentz said. Read the rest of the article: Is there Christian anime?

God in Gotham: Finally revival comes

statue-of-liberty-new-york-cityNew York City – never considered the spiritual heartbeat of America — is now experiencing revival, especially among millennials flocking to upbeat services with vibrant faith communities.

“A lot of people told us, ‘this is the graveyard of churches. Don’t go there. All the hipsters won’t want to come to church.’ We felt that’s the best place to be, where no one wants to go to church,” said Josh Kelsey, senior pastor of C3 Brooklyn Church.

In 1989, less than 1% of city residents attended church, according to CBN. But now about 5% goes to church, and there are hundreds of churches, big and small, scattered throughout the city.

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The C3 Church in Brooklyn

“New York has reached the tipping point,” CBN concluded. If current trends continue, it could become a majority Christian city by the year 2026, according to CBN.

It turns out that Batman is not going to save Gotham City. Jesus is.

The formula for success has been to revive the unchanging elements like prayer and Bible study while changing the liturgy and relational dynamics to fit the multi-cultural, educated population of the city, pastors say.

“Church for me was a place where I always felt I had to be perfect,” said one church-goer. “C3 allows me to embrace my imperfections and know that God still loves me regardless. So it’s changed my perspective because I know I can still be a human and still beloved by God, which is not an idea I had before.”

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Pastor Josh Kelsey

A 2013 Barna survey found 32% of residents of the Big Apple considered themselves born-again, up from 20% in the 1990s, Religion News Service reported

“New York City is not known as a particularly religious place,” the RNS article stated. “But it is more spiritually active today than even 2001 in the wake of 9/11.”

The Presbyterians and the Dutch Reformed Churches were strong in New York City in the early 1800s but began to misfire as the city grew and changed its ethnic makeup, according to Pastor Tim Keller, a prominent minister in NYC.

When Catholic immigrants flooded Lower Manhattan in the 1880s, churches found themselves with fewer and fewer members. Restaurants, stores and theaters burgeoned, supplanting churches as a social gathering place. Many churches moved out of the ethnic downtown, and others built houses of worships in a fruitless effort to attract congregations, Keller said.

With numbers dwindling, churches grasped for fixes. Charles Briggs of Union Theological Seminary tried modernizing the message, teaching that much of scripture contains error. This gave rise to liberal Chrstianity, and instead of attracting followers with a more “intellectually reasonable” message, it finished off local churches, Keller said. Read the rest of the article.

Old meets new

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Cindy with my wife at Lake Balboa.

Saved at 14 in my church in Guatemala, Cindy is an old disciple from my old church. She just came to the U.S. and saw my new church with the new disciples at Lake Balboa in the San Fernando Valley.

It was thrill for me to introduce her: the new guys meet one of the old guys. There is a blessing in persevering in the work of Jesus.

At one point, I thought I wouldn’t have the energy to start a new church. But then I got so miserably bored in my mother church that I couldn’t stand to be there any longer. I was frustrated because I wasn’t fulfilling my purpose in life. God opened the doors for me to start a new church in the place where I’d grown up. I called myself the #ValleyBoyPastor, not because I’m a boy, but, hey, I’ve still energy in me. It is a joy.

We are meeting at #LakeBalboa, which is actually “reclaimed water.” That means it’s the filtered, treated leftover of every flush in the San Fernando Valley. No it doesn’t stink. Yes, fish and ducks live in it without any problem. They don’t recommend you drink or bathe in or eat the fish you catch from it. But I think they’re being overly cautious. After all, what do astronauts drink if not filter and treated pee?

I feel like Jesus. He preached by the lake, and so do I. It’s a beautiful setting, and the weather is always glorious in Southern California. (We are in December and we held church in the park with no need for sweaters! Sorry for much of the rest of America. I don’t mean to gloat.) Technically, we’re the Lighthouse Church in Van Nuys, but I’ve taken to calling us the Church on the Lake, a spinoff of the famous mega Church on the Way.

Thank you for your prayers for my church.

Savior’s Creed

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Christ came to overthrow the control of the devil. He came to die. Death was necessary to obtain the ever elusive forgiveness necessary to save mankind. The original script was written by God and can be found in the Bible. It is doubtful that Jesus’ birth was actually on Dec. 25, but since we don’t know and since tradition has held it for centuries, it is just as good as a day as any to remember His coming. Merry Christmas.

Pugnacious praise

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Praising Jesus…

With Omar, I’m praising Jesus for cherry pie and ice cream at my Bible study. It’s been a fun six months of planting this church in Van Nuys.

Lately, I’ve been off the blog because I’ve gotten sucked into the fray of political opinions, which I avoid on my blog. If you want to read my political opinion, go here. If not, don’t. LOL. I’ve become very pugnacious, and I never used to be. But the media made me do it.

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… for cherry pie and ice cream.

Meanwhile, I continue to be a nice guy, (ha, ha, ha!) as you can see from my Bible study pics. Enjoy Christmas with the love and joy of the greatest gift every given to man, Jesus Christ.

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Whoa! Who’s against abortion?

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Jack Nicholson’s teenage mom very nearly aborted him, which is why he opposes killing fetuses in the womb.

“I’m very contra my constituency in the terms of abortion because I’m positively against it,” the bad boy actor said. “I don’t have the right to any other view. My only emotion is gratitude, literally, for my life.”

Nicholson is not a lone voice in Hollywood. A number of celebrities are joining him in voicing their opposition to abortion.

jordin-sparksTake, for example, Apocalypse Now-star Martin Sheen. His wife, conceived from rape, was also almost aborted – or dumped into the Ohio River once born. He’s glad his wife grew up – and stole his heart.

“I have experienced the great joy of God’s presence in my children, so I’m inclined to be against abortion of any life. I am opposed anywhere people are sacrificed for some end justifying a means.”

Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli recounted in 2010 concert how his mom was warned that her baby would be born with some sort of defects due to a bout with appendicitis while pregnant. Doctors counseled her to abort.

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“But the young brave wife decided not to abort, and the child was born,” he said. “I can say that it was the right choice and I hope that this could encourage many mothers who sometimes might find themselves in difficult situations but want to save the life of their baby.”

He was born blind, but he also was gifted with an amazing operatic voice. The singer has sold 70 million records worldwide.

Rapper “Common” recorded the track “Retrospect for Life” to explore pro-life ideas through an imaginary young couple: “Let’s have this boy.”

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The Chicago artist, whose real name is Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr., describes abortion as “turning this woman’s womb into a tomb.”

“Our music can really change the perspective of someone’s life,” he said. “I honestly had a song about abortion and I’ve had people come to me and say that song was the reason why I decided to have my child.

American Idol winner Jordin Sparks has performed at pro-life rallies and once posted a picture of herself on her MySpace page of her at a National Right to Life Rally holding a sign that said, “Stop Abortion Now.”

Another musician, pop sensation Justin Bieber has also raised his voice in favor of life.

“I really don’t believe in abortion, it’s like killing a baby,” he stold Rolling Stone in 2011.

When asked about rape, Bieber replied “ Well, I think that’s really sad, but everything happens for a reason. I don’t know how that would be a reason. I guess I haven’t been in that position, so I wouldn’t be able to judge that.”

As might be expected, Chuck Norris delivers his pro-life stance with a karate chop.

“We need to get back to a view of humanity that emphasizes the immortal worth of every human being,” the black belt said. “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government.”

Canadian singer Celine Dios credits a priest with her life because her mom, who had 13 children already considered terminated the 14th pregnancy. But before she pulled the plug, she consulted at the church.

“The priest told her that she had no right to go against nature,” Celine said. “So I have to admit that in a way, I owe my life to that priest.” Read the rest of the story.

Finding Jesus in Iran is no simple matter

One man recounts how he turned from bad boy to Jesus follower and then emigrated to Europe

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Not the subject of this article. This man, a convert from Islam who emigrated from Iran, now serves Jesus in England. Pic. The Guardian

By Zach Catalano

He was the bad boy of his family. His parents worried that he might become a drug addict or get arrested. They never expected him to become Christian.

In Iran, accepting Jesus Christ can get you killed. But the now-27-year-old immigrant to Europe (interviewed by the World Watch Monitor) didn’t worry much about the risks when unexplainably he suddenly felt urges to learn about Christianity.

“My parents weren’t happy about my new faith, but they also didn’t give me a lot of trouble,” he said. “It was because of the people who discipled me that I eventually chose to leave the country. If the authorities would have found me, it would have led to those who discipled me, and they would have been in big trouble.”

Ironically, it was an undercover cop friend who investigated churches that told the youth where to find Christians who would, at great personal peril, break the law and explain to him, a Muslim, the tenets of Jesus.

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An article in the Daily Beast used this photo and discussed the long lines for Christian baptism in Germany by Muslims.

“My friend’s job was to track all underground activities, including ‘underground’ Christianity and illegal evangelism,” he said. “I knew that my friend could get into a lot of trouble for helping me to contact someone who could tell me more about Christianity, so I decided to bring up the issue playfully so he wouldn’t notice I was actually being serious. My plan worked. My friend gave me the address of a church that he knew was open to Muslims.”

Christianity is the fastest growing religion in Iran with an average annual rate of 5.2%, according to Wikipedia. But conversion is prohibited the Shia version of Shariah law.

At the time 18 years old, the young man lived a life of pursuing diversions.

“My father was always busy finding ways to earn more and more money,” he said. “He always followed Islam, except when it had to do with money; money was more important than religion. Like my dad, I also loved money. Money gives you friends, respect and fun. I just wanted to have fun growing up. Every night I spent time with my friends, going from place to place in the city.”

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He tried to follow Islam and be a good Muslim.

“But it was hard. Sometimes I would try to say my prayers regularly, but I soon forgot about them or skipped them to sleep in or have fun with friends.” he said. “As a Muslim, I often had the feeling that I was failing on so many sides. Then I thought, ‘I’m lacking in so many ways. I will not go to heaven anyway. What is the point?’”

That’s when bizarre thoughts surfaced in his mind: “Go find out about Christianity.”

He had always regarded Christians as “weird people.” Christianity had a long history in Iran dating back to the Day of Pentecost when Jews from Persia heard Peter declare the wonders of God. Despite its antiquity, it has always been a minority religion.

The Iranian Revolution of 1976 tried to quash Christianity. Consequently, the youth gambled with persecution for himself and his family by pursuing a quest for truth.

But when he mustered his courage to inquire, he had difficulties finding a Christian willing to talk to Muslim because doing so was punishable under the vice grip of Shariah Law. He approached a few Christians outside church, and one after another was too skittish.

iran-map-largeStill, the impulse toward truth only grew in his mind. That’s when he remembered the friend with the job investigating churches.

“I was so excited! I’d learned that Sunday was the day of the Christians, so the next Sunday I went to the address my friend gave me.,” he said. “When I got closer I saw that there was a worship service going on. At the time I knew nothing about Christianity, so I didn’t know exactly what they were doing. I didn’t know how long it would take. But I just decided to wait outside until someone came out.”

He queried the first man who came out. Like so many others, he was unwilling to answer any questions. Next week, he returned and finally a Christian emerged and invited him in.

“This is something you just don’t do as a Muslim in Iran, so my first thought was:,‘No, no, no!’” he said. “But at the same time I knew this was the moment. So I took a deep breath and said, ‘Yes.’ The man opened the door for me. The feeling I had when I entered the church was something I’ve never felt before. It felt so peaceful.”

He didn’t understand much of the sermon, but afterwards a man invited him home. He opened up with lots of questions.

“The answers were strange, but in a good way,:” he said. “It was, for instance, the way he talked about Heaven. ‘A place in God’s absolute presence,’ he [called it]. ‘A place in which your spirit is at peace totally with your Creator.’”

The man’s description of Heaven contrasted sharply with the Islamic version of paradise, where you spend your time fulfilling your sensual desires with different women.

“His words about heaven made complete sense to me,”

Another contrast was the concept of God.

“God isn’t a far-away Person but Someone who created the earth and put us as humans in the center,” he said. “God made us in his image. He even gave us a piece of his very own Spirit. I compared him to Allah, who was far away and got angry about the little things. But with the Christian God I was welcome the way I was. He created me with my weaknesses; He even used my weaknesses to be more like Him. This was a big difference from Allah, who would punish me for any small thing. No, God was my Father, someone who knew me as a person.”

“Still, my Muslim background was too strong to just let go. It took a lot of struggling. I told God: ‘If you really care, please show me the way.’

As he attended church, some of his friends realized he was drifting from his moorings in Islam, so out of concern they recommended he consult with a man specially trained to unconfuse Muslims who have been indoctrinated by Christianity, he said.

“The funny thing is he helped me understand Christianity better,” he said. “I call him a a ‘mini-Ayatollah,.’ With everything this religious leader said about Islam, I found an alternative in the Bible that was much better.”

Gradually, he came to embrace Christianity. “It was like the curtains that had been hanging in front of the truth for a long time had been opened for me,” he said. “What I saw was beautiful.”

As certain friends discovered he was becoming Christian, so did his family. After all, he brought home the DVD movie of the life of Jesus and watched it at home with his younger brother.

“I had always been a bad boy and I started behaving differently,” he said. “They’d expected me to go on drugs, or get in trouble with the police. They didn’t expect me to become a Christian. My parents weren’t happy about my new faith, but they also didn’t give me a lot of trouble.”

But with the new faith came the danger of persecution. So at age 18, the man decided that only by emigrating to Europe could he save his family and his disciplers from governmental crackdown. For nearly a decade, he hasn’t seen his parents.

“It’s a big sacrifice,” he said. “Despite everything, I am undoubtedly happy and thankful.”

Zach Catalano is a sophomore at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica.

K-Pop awash with Christians

siwon-who-am-i-casting-crownsAs Kyuhyun Cho lingered between death and life in a coma, his dad argued with the surgeon about saving his son’s vocal chord while the doctor focused on the young man’s lungs punctured by a car accident. He thought about his son’s singing career.

“Are you crazy?” the doctor retorted. “Your child is about to die, and you’re talking about singing? There is no other way to operate.”

Given a 20% chance of survival, Kyuhyun bounced back from the 2007 van accident that left fellow band members with glass shards embedded in their backs.

The Korean pop sensation is back to singing and glorifying God. His father, a successful businessman, who originally opposed a singing career for his son,  embraced his son’s dream after the accident.

“I am thankful to God for giving me a second chance to live,” Kyuhyun said. “I hope to spread the glory of God through singing, and with this target in mind, I work hard to continue living. And to God who knows everything about me, I hope to be able to keep receiving his endless love.”

super-junior-jesusKyuhyun belongs to the 13-member boy band, Super Junior, the best-selling K-pop artist for the last four years. They won 13 music awards from the Mnet Asian Musica Awards and 16 from the Golden Disk Awards. In 2012, they were nominated “Best Asian Act” in the MTV Europe Music Awards.

Nine members of the band are Christian and aren’t shy about spreading their faith in concerts and interviews.

Fellow band member Choi Siwon told CNN: “In the future, I would like to become a missionary. I’d like to go to countries where I have received much love as a musician and personally return all of that love.”

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Kyuhyun in a Bible study

Siwon, who wasn’t in the car accident with Kyuhyun, frequently tweets Bible verses and prayers. During a 2010 “Super Show 2” concert, Siwon sang “Who am I“ by the Christian group Casting Crowns. About half of Super Junior’s repertoire is in English.

Siwon cited Jerusalem as his favorite place to visit, Jesus as his hero and the Bible as his lucky charm, “a must-have item when traveling overseas.”

Korean Pop, or simply K-pop, broke out in South Korea in 1992 with choreography, fashion, modern music and transnational values. In a land awash with Christianity, it’s not surprising that Christians fill the ranks of singing stars.

“It is not hard to look within the realms of K-pop and find artists that wear their religion proudly on their sleeves,” writes “Warda” on SeoulBeats.

When four band members were returning from a radio interview, a tire blowout caused the van to flip and roll in 2007. Kyuhyun flew from the car and was found lying unconscious on the pavement. Read to the end of the article.

Metamorphosis by Kafka

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When I heard the end of Metamorphosis on audio books, I was sure I was missing a CD. The ending left me hanging. Did the man never get turned back into a man? Did his family rightly move on and past him, forgetting him, burning the bridges?

I got the book. And the ending was the ending.

It disturbed me. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. The brother’s metamorphosis — never explained — into a bug brought about a positive transformation in his father, mother and sister. He died, and it brought them back to life. Just like the metamorphosis of a bug. The worm must die for the butterfly to come alive.

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Only when her brother dies can the sister start her own grown-up life.

The novela, filled with angst of rejection, ultimately explores the need of sacrifice for others to succeed. It is not a Christian parable, but there are elements of Christian narrative in it. Christ had to die to bring out the best in all of us.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was right

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Love will prevail.

He escaped the clutches of a witch and a pact with Satan

img_3430Enticed by the allurements of wealth, Daniel Urrutia, 26, was one minute away from making a pact with the devil.

It was close to midnight, four years ago, and a witch promised Daniel that Satan would show up and give him everything he desired.

“She was a witch. I felt it, not only through her words but also energy-wise,” Daniel said. “I felt like there was a lot of little pins pressing on my chest. It was hard to breathe.”

Overcome, Daniel broke down and fell to his knees just moments before the wicked conjuring materialized. “I knew you wouldn’t go through with it,” said the disgusted witch, slamming the door behind him. “Don’t ever come back.”

Today Daniel has been a rededicated Christian for six months. His testimony gives insight into the murky world of Satanism that few Americans are familiar with or dare even to think extends beyond scams and unbridled superstition.

Daniel stumbled into the lair thanks to a tenant at his uncle’s house in Mission Hills, a suburb in the San Fernando Valley. Jose paid a couple hundred bucks to sleep on the couch and often left a Book of the Dark Arts lying around for anyone to peruse.

Daniel, who was trying to befriend Jose, picked it up one day and returned it to its rightful owner. In a friendly way, he tried to warn Jose about the dangers of dabbling in Satanism. He even invited him to church that night.

But Daniel apparently got the church schedule confused because when they got there, it was locked. On the walk back, Jose said he had to use the bathroom. He asked a “random lady” on the street if she knew of a bathroom, and she invited them both in.

While Jose was in the bathroom, the lady asked casually, “So what is it that you want in life? Fame, fortune, power?”

“Money would be nice,” Daniel responded, casually. Read the rest of the Christian news article.

How to transition from public school to Christian private school

fullsizerender20Attending Lighthouse Christian Academy has opened my heart and my mind.

At my old school, I felt I had to be on guard and protect my emotions and feelings. At LCA, a small Santa Monica Christian school, I feel like I can be myself. I’m learning and growing everyday to be a better person and better student.

My old school, East Clinton, Ohio, was a public school and not very motivating or inspiring. I wanted to move to California because my aunt lives here, and I love it here. My aunt was searching Christian schools online, and LCA popped up on an internet search. She contacted me and told me it was a private school and it required uniforms. I was not looking forward to it at all because I absolutely hated the idea of uniforms.

I came in to do my interview with my principal, Mr. Mefford. He asked me questions about God; I know about Him, but I didn’t really go to church in Ohio. I felt like I didn’t think I could really fit in.

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I love LCA so far. The teachers and kids are so inspiring and always positive. The teachers really care about you and your grades. They want you to do your best and succeed. At East Clinton, I felt like I couldn’t really talk or be myself without getting made fun of. At LCA, you can be yourself and no one judges you.

LCA doesn’t dwell on people’s past. They move forward and focus on the present and help you become a better person.

Bullying was really high at East Clinton. It was a much bigger school — bullying, fighting and lots of drama, but the school didn’t handle it the same. At LCA, if there is an issue, it gets resolved very quickly.

East Clinton didn’t really give the kids much freedom and didn’t trust us to do the right thing. LCA trusts the kids and gives them choices to pick between right and wrong, and it teaches us self-control.

LCA is a college-prep school and the schedule is like a college schedule. The schedule here is very different compared to East Clinton where we had four classes per day plus two electives. That meant math, history, science, English and usually study hall and gym. Read the rest of the article.

How do we eradicate racism?

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Left: I was a teacher 20 years ago and Right: today at the same school.

Clinton was the answer, Trump the problem — the new standard liberal line is not true.

I’ve deeply troubled by some friends heavily worded FB posts calling the Trump presidency a huge reversal to racial equality. I’ve been disturbed by the outlandish assertions by the Huffington Post. So I fired off some retorts to counter the evil narrative, and a bunch of friends worried about my uncharacteristic tone on FB.

When I was a little kid, my grandmother told a riddle about house, green on the outside, red on the inside, with a lot of blacks (not the word she used): a watermelon. When I retold the riddle, my neighbors informed me it was racist. I defended my grandmother because I couldn’t believe that sweet old lady would be racist. As it turns out, the N-word was racist. I never heard it in my house before, and I didn’t understand the connotations and the history. I was maybe 8.

michael-ashcraftWhen I was 12, I was bused to a Latin neighborhood. My parents never opposed busing, so I assumed it was an okay thing. But those kids were scary, street tough and fighters. They intimidated me, and I tried not to get into trouble. Of course, some of them became friends too.

In college, I was assigned to the special interest group beat as a campus reporter and spent a lot of time listening to grievances from the Black Student Alliance, the Mexican Chicano Association and even the Asians. I became sensitized the many ways they face overt and subtle institutionalized racism, hurdles and inequalities. I became a ferocious hater of racism.

When I married Chinese, my mom — for the first time in my life — expressed racism. She asked me why I couldn’t marry white. I was completely flabbergasted because I never remotely would have guessed she harbored any vestige of racism. I objected vigorously, and she repented immediately.

I thank God that my parents didn’t pass on their latent racism. This was critical for me to be free of it.

As an adult, I forced a kid out of my car because he wouldn’t stop saying the N-word. Of course, he was rapping along with music and not hurling hate, but I was adamant: he couldn’t ride back from the soccer game with me and say that word. I had zero tolerance. Actually, I violated school policy and probably the law in doing so because he was a minor for whom I was responsible and abandoned on the streets of L.A. I wondered if I would fired for my brashness, but I figured it was worth it to make a strong stand against racism. The next day, the students tittered at my over-reaction, but it made an impression: racism would not be tolerated at our school. That was good.

I never understood how African Americans could use the N-word and not be racist, but I left that dilemma up to them because they had suffered decades of oppression, not me. One day I allowed a Latin student talk about racism in the class. He prepared a 10-page report that confronted some of the students in their bad attitudes. He explained the difference: when an African American uses the term, he is objectifying the hate, naming and proclaiming his freedom from oppression from the word. Maybe I’m not doing justice to his explanation, but it made some sense to me. If a white man uses the term, it hails to an entire history of slavery and racism. If a person of color uses it, it represents an emotional triumph over the oppression of that word. You may not accept this, but I do

I have tried to fight racism. I support body cams for cops not just to condemn them but to exonerate them if the situation goes South and they were forced to resort to force. I am appalled by the Virginia cop who fired multiple times on an unarmed African American simply because he ran away. I am appalled by the racist who entered an African American church and started killing them in hopes to provoke a race war. I am disgusted by the KKK and wish they could drop off the face of the Earth. I am horrified by drivers plowing through African American protestors who form human chains to obstruct traffic in protest.

But I am equally appalled by people ambushing cops, regardless of whether they may be racist. This is absolutely disturbing.

I am not at all thrilled by million-dollar-earning athletes taking a knee during the national anthem to complain about racist oppression. What oppression? They have better salaries and lives than I do. Also, it strikes a sore spot for me. When I fled organized crime in Guatemala, I came to America, a safe place, that opened its arms to me and offered me freedom and refuge. I have seen racism around the world, and I think comparatively America is far better than other places. No excuses for the evils that do occur. But maybe these guys should go live in Guatemala for a decade to appreciate the blessings of America. So I simmer and grumble about that protest.

Just today, I went ballistic. The Huffington Post floated the narrative that Trump’s victory was due to racism. Several posts on Facebook, from friends whom I love and respect, echoed the simplistic story. Later in the day, I saw a Washington Post article that performed greater analysis and avoided logical fallacy that said that people not educated by the university (not because they are white) were the force behind Trump’s surprise victory. These are people who have suffered over trade treaties that only benefit the oligarchy. These are people who cherish traditional values and don’t adhere to liberal elitism.

I felt that Clinton was as bad or worse than Trump in the racism category. Her divulged emails revealed derogatory attitudes toward Latino fundraisers (and the media, protecting their darling, scanted the story). She’s had her own history chumming up with David Duke. She hugged an N-word spewing rapper at her rally (would Trump get away with that?). Her support of abortion — in my view — represents a genocide targeting minorities, a eugenics akin to Hitler’s ethnic cleansing. To top it off, her attitude of dictating what minorities should vote and support hearkens back to the white plantation owner paternalisticly condescending to his slaves. How dare she impose her views on minorities? How dare the Huffington Post despise and insult its own readership? How dare my beloved friends simplify such a complicated picture? How dare they front the white-spawned narrative: Trump is racist, Clinton, the solution to racism.

I posted on Twitter and Facebook the alternative narrative. We, the voters, sent the true racist, Clinton, packing. Now all we needed to do was continue to stamp out any vestige of racism. I’m passionate about fighting racism.

But the liberal narrative is pocked with its own guilt, fallacies, self-righteousness smugness, corruption and self service. I wanted to fight fire with fire. One friend thought I got hacked. Another was alarmed by my tenor of outrage. One more worried I had joined ranks with the cavemen.

What is the answer to racism? So far, I have taken the non-confrontational approach to try to educate white friends in whom I stumble upon racism — to my shock. Others may think that stronger means are needed. I cannot say what will be the answer, but I know that it is NOT the Left badgering disenfranchised non-elitists with its holier-than-thou sanctimonious snobbery.

My hunch is that it will be coming together, not splintering apart. I applaud Obama — whose policies I largely do not applaud — for admonishing the nation to get behind Trump and work toward a common good, a common solution. Everyone needs to overcome racism and to actively fight it. There is no place for it in our nation anymore.

Beyond cell phones

z4nmu09gzrlrlmcqzbotThey entertain us. We can tailor them to our every like and desire. They greet us when we wake up and send us off to bed. They keep us in contact. We can share with other people our triumphs and failures. They give us news, shows us directions, find us the best prices.

But there is more to life than this marvelous device that makes our life easier and not boring. If all you have is your phone, your emotionally bankrupt. Beyond the cell phone, there is a God who satisfies much greater needs.

Our Lord said that life didn’t consist of what we eat and drink. In our day, we’d have to add: Life does not consist of your cell phone.

Falling leaves

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You must shed the leaves to get the new ones next Spring.

Reprise of miserable faces (the 2nd conjugations test)

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No, I don’t enjoy torturing poor children. I derive no joy in seeing them squirm and cry over impossible tests.

img_3394No. What I want to do is drill in solid Spanish, get kids to pass the AP test, form bilingual students. But sometimes my motivation exceeds theirs.

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This was try #2 to get these victims pupils to conjure up present, preterit, imperfect and commands — all in one test. 😦  Apparently, I ruined their day at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica.

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I’m going to stop giving this test and hope they catch it in the future. This time I went blue too.

Repaint your life

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During his retirement, my dad took up repainting. He’s no Michelangelo, but he has fun.

One cool thing about painting is if you get it wrong, it’s no problem; you just paint over. You can literally cover your prior mistakes with a fresh coat. You can start anew as many times as you want. Keep correcting until you get it right.

God is painter. And he covers over our mistakes (sins) with a fresh layer. He cleans up our blotches and smirches. He’s making our ugly flailings into beautiful art.

The rent is great

img_3366We’re meeting in a park next to a lake (of reclaimed water) called Lake Balboa. I feel like Jesus preaching next to the lake. We are called Lighthouse Church, but I have taken to calling us Church on the Lake, a spinoff of the nearby mega Church on the Way.

The colors are beautiful. We get visitors from all the passers-by. The shade is good, as is the weather in Los Angeles. If you get bored of my sermon, you can enjoy the view. So why do some church members want a “building?”

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The rent is cheaper here (we pay $O, though others paid with blood the price of freedom in America). We just grab an available picnic table in the shade, set up some chairs, play an acoustic guitar, use the music stand for a pulpit, pass the toilet paper basket for offering and — presto! — free church.

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People can sit discreetly at he benches a ways back and hear the sermon.

It was my goal, on being sent out to “pioneer” a new work, to charge nothing to the parent church, which was burdened heavily with the Guatemalan ministry. I wanted to show that with faith and prayer it was possible for other pastors to plant churches at no cost to the mother church. Today we had 16 people.

Eventually, we will outgrow the park and need a building. Until then, I’m enjoying the view and the ride. It’s a blast for me, the #ValleyBoyPastor.

The face of misery (Spanish verb conjugation test)

img_3291Learning the rules of conjugating verbs is hard enough — let alone all the exceptions of irregulars. It’s like juggling balls — keeping them all in the air — to be able to remember and apply them all immediately as needed.

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Real tears?

My Spanish 2 students just completed the imperfect tense, which is the perfect time to sum up and see if they remember the other conjugations: present, preterit and command forms.

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The highest grade was a 69%, from my son, a native-born Guatemalan. (We were missionaries.) Not a passing grade at Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica, where only a C is considered passing.

img_3290Conjugations belong to the branch of linguistics known as morphology, how words are formed. The dizzying array of conjugations in Spanish (there are 302 variations for each verb) frustrates native English speakers since the changes on the verb in English are few and simple. The poor student asks: Why?

Despite marketing (by Pimsleur and others) alleging that reciting and rewriting lists is useless, I still assert that the old style of learning is the best way to mastery. After all, it worked for me. I didn’t just “catch” Spanish by immersing myself in Mexico; I studied before and during my time of immersion at the University of Guadalajara (sí soy chivo, soy tapatío).

What do you think about conjugations? Can you post a more miserable, conjugation-learning face in the comments?

Delegate

revival

Not sure why we are obsessed with mega-church pastors. Not even Jesus did that.

No, Jesus prepared for revival after His departure. He sent out 12 with full power, then again 70. He was training and equipping followers for when He would no longer be with them.

I must confess I fell into the nobody-can-do-it-as-good-as-me trap once. God slapped me across the face for my selfish pride. I would do everything: teach, preach, sing, evangelize. Then He allowed my voice to get damaged. I had to relinquish singing.

Others could rise up and get ready for ministry. They could practice with live experience and do start-ups with confidence. Why had I been so blind?

A key to revival? Don’t be a ball hog.

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Normal/ not normal in LA

20161029_1947551I drove home with the makeup on. Didn’t draw the slightest stare. This is LA.

What is unusual in LA is that the get-up (devilishly handsome, if I may say so) was used for a church outreach called a zombie chase. If both your flag football-flags got pulled, you were out, escorted to the pen (i.e. Hell), where only the showing up of Jesus set you free.

I played the devil, stalking, looming, swirling my Draculesque cape with menacing panache. I guarded Hell. Two of my disciples were zombies and chased the kids who dared to play in the Lincoln Heights Recreation Center where Pastor John Jurenec holds church service. Behind the Halloween fun was a lesson.

At the end of the day, 50 kids said the sinner’s prayer.

Then I drove home and walked into the apartment complex I manage. The tenant who spotted me didn’t look twice. Such a costume and makeup is everyday normal in Los Angeles.

img_3230What’s not normal is outreaching for the gospel with it.

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More than see

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Both the priest and the Levite could see the man wallowing in his own blood. But they were too important or too busy to be bothered. No doubt, they were doing work for the Holy One. So they didn’t have time to do the work the Holy One dropped in front of them.

The good guys were bad and the bad guy was good. Along came a halfbreed Samaritan. No respectable Jew would associate with the Samaritans, whose blood was contaminated irremediably with gentile DNA. They weren’t children of God, the chosen people.

But the Samaritan did what God wanted. He administered first aid and brought the wounded man to the Inn, where he paid for his care during recovery.

Jesus asks: Who loved him like God does?

It is not enough to see the need around the world. To complain about godlessness, paganism and hedonism does nothing. You must act, showing the love of Jesus in real – not imaginary – ways.

Rest in Jesus

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Martha is the typical American. She’s busy doing. She doesn’t have time to sit and listen to idle chatter, even if it is Jesus who is speaking.

On the other hand, her sister Mary completely neglects the cooking to instead hear the pearls of wisdom that Jesus constantly spills from His lips.

This angers Martha. Overwhelmed with the double load of work, she resorts to Jesus. Surely, the all-knowing teacher would be kind enough to easy Mary out of her flagrant laziness and into the kitchen to help.

Jesus responds with words eternal that crept into the Canon: Martha, you are busy with many things. Mary has chosen the better portion, and it will not be taken away from her.

Don’t be too busy – even with ministry – that you exclude time just enjoying being with Jesus.

Because somebody just needs a hug today

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… and an affirmation that you are special, unique and loved. You are worth so much, but those negative thoughts persuade you you’re worthless, and all you feel is pain. You want a release.

Jesus heals and loves the broken heart.