Achieve the sublime

achieve the sublimeFor me, the most inspiring thing about this photo is the dancer is a friend of mine. The leap is dumbfounding and graceful. That it’s a regular guy only makes it more extraordinary for me.

Javier dances with the Los Angeles Ballet and, for a season, attended Lighthouse Church where I go. He even invited me to see him perform La Sylphide last year. I’m not even an initiate for ballet. I went just to show him support. I had to read online about the plot. The only way I realized a particularly spectacular dance move was done was by the applause of the rest of the audience. So I applauded with them.

Out this came an appreciation for a dance form that heretofore was esoteric for me. Ballet is the pinnacle of dance. And it’s amazing what the human body can do with vigorous training, dedication and hard work. It’s downright inspiring.

When Javier flies, so does my imagination. It’s inspiring for us to all strive to attain the heights of beauty and perfection in whatever talent God has given us to bless mankind.

He was a runaway, gay, drug addict until Jesus changed him. Now, he’s a pastor.

Paul GualtieriMolested a few times when he was a child, Paul Gualtieri dabbled with homosexuality as a largely unsupervised 13-year-old in Palm Springs.

It wasn’t long before he found himself in his bedroom proclaiming his destiny: “I’m gay. I’m a homosexual,” he said out loud with no one around. It was a pivotal moment of his life. “There’s power in confessing both good and bad things. When I declared I was gay, I gave a right to a spiritual force in my life.”

When he was 13, he ran away to Hollywood and threw himself headlong into the partying and gay lifestyle. “I just got sucked right into it,” he recalls. “I thought it was great.”

He was too young to be admitted to the gay bars but prostituted himself to support a lifestyle that included drugs like Quaaludes, coke and meth.

“I just ran rampant,” he says. “I had different boyfriends. We would panhandle every day to buy drugs and pay our hotel.”

He slept at anybody’s house who’d have him, in Plummer Park and in the “Hotel Hell,” once posh lodgings for movie luminaries that became decrepit and abandoned on Hollywood Boulevard. Read the rest of the story.

The best surprise

God's surpriseTo the “Christian” of blunted intelligence, faithfulness is boring.

It is, however, the key to breakthrough. The best surprises are the ones God gives. You’re going along, attending church faithfully, tithing faithfully, struggling but trying to stay consistent. At some times, it seems even mechanical, dead. You don’t feel it anymore.

The temptation is to give up. It seems that all is for naught. You think you’re just wasting your time. Then, boom!, God drops a huge blessing into your life, and the romance with God is fresh again!

One of the most overlooked characteristics of God is His love for surprise. I’ve never seen it an a theology book, but it’s in Genesis 2:9. He warned Adam and Eve against the tree of sin. But He said nothing about the tree of life, which also was in the Garden of Eden. It was going to be a surprise. Regrettably, our father and our mother never discovered this pleasant surprise because they wanted more by their own devices. They ate the forbidden fruit, believing it contained blessing. They wanted more; they got less.

Hang in there for God’s surprises.

He evangelized nude

Christian Fellowship MinistriesHow was he supposed to know that you shouldn’t witness about Jesus while you’re naked?

But there he was on a nude beach in Australia, newly saved after reading theLate Great Planet Earth, and he hadn’t learned all the norms of Christianity yet. Yes, God showed abundant grace, mercy, and patience with Bruce Callahan in his early steps of faith.

bruce callahan

Before Christ, the beach was his passion. Now Jesus is.

Raised in Boston, Callahan fell into drugs before his friends. He smoked marijuana and abused psychedelic drugs like LSD. When he was 18, his girlfriend became pregnant.

“I was on the cutting edge of sin,” Callahan says. “Back then nobody got their girlfriend pregnant, but I did. Religion didn’t work for me. My religion was the streets.” Read more about this Christian Fellowship Ministries pastor.

100 pastors barred from attending Chinese Christian conference

zhang and liuAbout 100 Chinese pastors were barred by police from attending a Christian conference in Hong Kong in early March, China Aid reports.

Another 2,000 pastors were granted the entrance/exit pass needed to visit Hong Kong, which retains some of its freedoms since the British colony was turned over to China in 1997. Some of the attendees were from Taiwan, which is not under Chinese dominion.

The conference – sponsored by China Aid, China Ministries and Evangelistic Ministries Intl. – featured well-known pastors, lawyers, professors, authors and scholars. It focused on evangelism, “kingdomization,” and aligning the Chinese church with Christian values, China Aid reports.

China Aid spokesperson Rachel Ritchie was reluctant to speculate as to why some invitees were barred from the conference. But a pastor who has traveled to and ministered in China says persecution comes in waves and is sporadic.

The barring is being seen as part of an intensifying of persecution under the new Communist Party regime – with a new president and new prime minister assuming offices in March 2013. The leaders are looking to consolidate their power and thwart any potential adversaries, real or imaginary. Since the Christian church is growing astronomically, it is viewed as a negative, Western influence and a potential mobilizer of the masses.

In Wenzhou – called “China’s Jerusalem” for its high concentration of Christians, the Central Government ordered the demolition of churches and the removal of crosses, some of which had won permits with local authorities in early 2014. Continue reading.

THAT was NOT a foul! Lighthouse’s basketball tournament ends in controversy. Yeah, I lost. That’s the controversy.

Los Angeles Christian schoolLighthouse Christian Academy’s annual basketball tournament ended Friday, and I’m mad. They called a foul on my son.

I was seated on the benches right in front of the defensive action. I had, by far, the clearest view of it, and I can assure you in no uncertain terms that it was not a foul.

It was a mugging.

Rob Ashcraft powered-up aggressive play to come close to winning the teacher-students 3-on-3 mixup coinciding with March Madness. In the end, the weeklong competition was won again by Pastor Zach Scribner, a former quarterback for UCLA football (ok, he was sixth string, but he WAS on the team). Not even muscle-bound Rob could out-muscle him at our Christian school in Santa Monica.

Rob, a junior who’s really more of a soccer player, shut down Shane Berry, arguably LCA’s best basketball player. Over-active defense limited his baskets.

“Shane didn’t want to defend,” Rob said, explaining how he beat him. Read the rest of the article.

Endless energy for marathons and medical missions

Dr. Bob Hamilton | Lighthouse Medical Missions

Dr. Bob pauses from the L.A. Marathon at mile 23 to take a picture in front of his banner. It is rare to get him to take a pause.

If the U.S. needs an alternative source of energy, it might try connecting a power line to Dr. Bob Hamilton’s house. They could tap into his brain – or his heart – and siphon off his excess personal energy during the night to supplement the local power grid.

On Saturday night, Hamilton, a board member for Santa Monica Symphony, was relishing Vijay Gupta’s masterful violin interpretation of Beethoven’s toughest concerto in the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Korea Town.

On Sunday morning, he was running the L.A. Marathon to raise funds for another pet project, African medical missions.

I was stationed at mile 23 to snap his picture and interview him. He wasn’t talking about pain. He wasn’t groaning about crawling to the bitter end. He was jogging at a good pace, and he was planning his work immediately after the race.

“I’m going to Africa in a week and a half, and I’m thinking that I have a lot to do before I go,” he said as I jogged alongside him.

What, no rest – even after a marathon?

At all times, Dr. Bob is a tornado of activity. And thanks to a mythical work rate, he’s established Pacific Ocean Pediatrics in Santa Monica, served on half a dozen community boards and headed 22 medical missions to Africa and elsewhere. Read the rest of the story.

Mexican food unites with pediatrics in Santa Monica to help Africa | LA Marathon

Gilbert's Restaurant | Santa MonicaBetween the two of them, mother and son have run 16 full marathons, but never before did they run one for Africa.

On Sunday, Estela and Johnny Huerta, part owners and operators of Gilbert’s El Indio Mexican Restaurant in Santa Monica, are running the L.A. Marathon to raise funds forAfrica medical missions. Johnny has seen people in abject poverty before.

“Seeing their appreciation for things we would consider small exposes the privileges we take for granted here,” said Johnny, 25. “We feel entitled, but really these things are a blessing and privilege. I’ve run other marathons, but running for Africa makes it more special.”

At last count, $2,838 was pledged for the 10 friends who are running with local pediatrician Bob Hamilton for Lighthouse Medical Missions, which twice yearly sends medical teams to some of the remotest spots on the globe.

Only 10 days later, Johnny will board a plane to fly to Mwanza, Tanzania, along with 24 others on this year’s Spring team outreach.

“I’m excited,” Johnny said. “I don’t know what to expect. I’m a little bit nervous. I think I’m going to come back with a whole new perspective as to what’s important in life. I want my heart to break for what breaks God’s heart. I want to feel what He feels.” Read the rest.

Due to my personal ruling, we won

Lighthouse Christian Academy teachers | Santa Monica

I’m in the red sweat pants. And Zach Attack is frustrating Raymond.

You see, they need to give old guys like me a five point handicap. We lost 6-3 (one point per basket) playing against the former UCLA quarterback who passes himself off a laidback teacher at Lighthouse Christian Academy. I mean, that’s fair, right? A 47-year-old going up against this stud?

They call him Zach Scribner, but from now on I’m calling him Zach Attack. The game was like a twig trying to hold back a tsunami. Zach was quicker, stronger, sharper. He could score at will, block at will, rebound at will. The only reason the humiliation wasn’t worse is because Zach didn’t even try. Dude, I’m looking at the after-game pictures, and this young punk is smiling as if he’s on a stroll with his baby and wife in the park.

Lighthouse Christian Academy

Look at the air Zach Attack is getting! He could’ve jumped over all 6’3″ of me. Is that fair?

Meanwhile, I’m huffing and puffing chasing kids around. No fair.

I don’t think my teammate is very happy with me. Raymond LOVES basketball. A student from China, he’s come to sharpen his skills agains the L.A. boys. He couldn’t have had a worse teammate.

So I’m the oldest teacher at LCA, so I’m invoking my seniority and over-ruling my boss, the principal. And I’m announcing through this medium, that my team won and we advance to the next round of LCA’s teacher-student 3-on-3 mixup annual basketball tournament. I’m going to win by decree.

I’m not playing basketball. I’m break-dancing.

basketball klutz

At this point in the game, I decided to do something very random: practice break-dancing. I have never done break-dancing in my life. And fortunately, I didn’t break anything. Ruby, my opponents, asks, “What are you doing on the ground again for?”

At Lighthouse Christian Academy’s opening of our annual student-teacher mixup 3-on-3 basketball tournament, I spent more time on the ground than on my feet.

Despite the inordinate clumsiness, we still won. One of my teammates, Raymond, a Chinese student who LOVES bball, did just about everything. He scored, defended, hustled, passed, pressured, ran. dribbled, shot.

I fell.

Don't laugh. I'm playing basketball.

Don’t laugh. I’m grimacing to intimidate opponents.

This all fun in the Son. This is what having a small Christian school is all about: good friends, lots of fun, lots of learning.

I’ve been teaching at LCA since I got back from missionary work in Guatemala, where in addition to a church, I planted a church, during almost 16 years. While I was there, I learned soccer.

What am I doing playing basketball?

He shoots and -- he falls.

He shoots and — he falls.

My height — at 6’3″ — should be an asset. My weight too. (Well, I guess my height isn’t going to help much since I pass most of the time on lying on the ground.)

Last year, I was on the winning team. But that was due mostly to Pastor Zach Scribner, who took me. Pastor Zach snuffed his competition in another game today. He looks like the team to beat.

I know, I know. I’m not supposed to ask for prayer to win basketball games. The next one is Wednesday for me. Basketball is game played by talented people.

Guilt is not so easy

scarlet-letterJust because Hester Prynne unclasps her scarlet letter and flings it away doesn’t mean disposing of guilt is so easy.

As a symbol of the difficulty of working through guilt, Pearl the brat demands her mother put the fabric “A” back on her dress. On one level, the infant simply can’t accept a disruption in her mother’s appearance. But on another level, for Pearl, the letter is like a wedding ring, and casting it off is tantamount to breaking worse her already broken family.

If all you come away with in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book is stones to throw at repressive religion, I respectfully suggest you’re not delving past a superficial reading of The Scarlet Letter. That is only one of the themes. Hawthorne’s genius explores the intricacies and complexities of the human psyche, and you’re settling for gold dust and missing the mother load.

scarlet-letter-hester-pearlTo be sure, Hawthorne rains his pen down on failed religion. Arthur Dimmesdale flogs himself and performs excessive good works yet cannot find peace. His understanding of Jesus is deficient. A Christian is neither saved by piety nor charity; he is saved simply by Christ’s forgiveness, which Dimmesdale is blind to.

The book is full of ironies because Dimmesdale’s brokenness makes him the town’s favorite minister. This is eminently keen insight. If you have never suffered, you can’t have compassion on your fellows when ministering the word.

Hester Prynne herself, after her one sin of passion, likewise constrains herself to a rigorous life of charity. She dresses the drabbest colors and constricts her luxurious mane of hair to the insides of a bonnet.

After seven years of suffering, the pair meet in the forest and scheme to run away together back to England. Suddenly, sunshine pours in on them and the feel the exhilarating release of nearly a decade of pressure, scrutiny and condemnation.

It’s a good plan — except that they see themselves a sinners for doing it. Pearl is only the first to ruin it. She insists with a temper tantrum that her mother restore the letter to its rightful place. Then Roger Chillingworth, the evil avenger, completes the fatal stroke by booking passage on the same ship.

In traditional Greek fashion, the story must end as a tragedy. Hawthorne is sounding the dark regions of the human conscious, not writing a treatise on salvation. Nevertheless, the message emerges that only grace, only forgiveness in Jesus, can heal the heart. Religion never works — only relationship with Jesus.

The traditional spin on this book is that society is to blame for oppressing these free spirits. If you want to read the book that way, go ahead. But I can’t help but see deeper. You can’t just throw away guilt so easily. You and I need to come to Christ and be healed of our sin. Restoration works, not repression.

Nine years ago today, my mother died

legacy | missionary

Guess which one is me. I “stand out” a bit from the teachers who now lead the Christian school in Guatemala in my absence.

It was a glorious conclusion to a life lived for God. In her later years, she had served as a chaplain in the Sylmar juvenile hall facility to counsel wayward youngsters back to the the Lord’s path. She oversaw the preparation of turkey dinner with all the trimmings for incarcerated youth and solicited toiletry packs for the kids.

“You are so lucky to have Chaplain Beth as your mom.” The hoodlum’s words hit me hard. I had accompanied her to a Bible study one day. The thug’s admiration for my mom exceeded my own. To be honest, at the time I was annoyed in typical teen rebellion by some of her irksome attributes (all humans have them). It took a delinquent to set my thinking right.

fam14revised

With my family last Fall.

Years after, I set my life-course onto the mission field and served with my wife in Guatemala for almost 16 years. When my mother died, I could affirm at her funeral that she was alive — in me. I had no regrets because I figured I had caught all the good lessons to learn from her. I’m still serving Jesus today. I teach at a Christian high school in Santa Monica for no other reason to help kids get into the right path. My mom helped kids inside jail, I help kids outside.

My pastor sometimes says he feels as if his dad were with him, encouraging to glorify Jesus. I don’t feel my mom with me. I feel she is me. I live what she lived. Everything she stood for, I stand for.

I can’t hardly remember the things that irked me about her (stuff like nagging). Now what stands out is her legacy.

I love coffee.

I love Jesus, my wife, my family, my ministry and coffee — in that order.

There are rich and famous people who are widely admired by the world, but when they die, they become forgotten. They leave nothing to the world. Give me the simple soul who plants his imprint on a fellow human being. You can change the world one soul at a time.

I wonder if I’ll ever meet that kid from juvenile hall again. If I do, I’ll thank him.

Am I supposed to say I miss Mom? Am I supposed to brood and fret over no longer being physically present in my life? Sorry. I feel like her death was a glorious graduation.

‘Bonde’ girl gets Jesus and gets out of sex industry

Ministry to strippers JCS GirlsLaura Lee Bonde had to cry. After she courageously shared her Christian testimony at a porn industry convention, a man coldly offered her a job to get back into the ‘adult entertainment’ industry.

Read the rest of her amazing story.

Such diabolical assaults go with the territory — she takes on the hellish spiritual hordes behind the porn industry frontally.

Laura Lee BondeAs the leader of the local chapter of JC’s Girls, an outreach to former strippers, Laura goes into nudity clubs around San Diego once a month and passes out pink Bibles to dancing girls. And she opened a booth at the Los Angeles porn convention to share hope in Christ for all the needy and hurting souls that swarm its aisles.

“My past is so dead,” Laura says. “I really learned that my identity in the past was dead in baptism. I’m simply no longer the same person. My identity is the cross. I am so solid in my purity now that I refused to be kissed until my wedding day. My old identity is a sunken ship, and I won’t raise it again.”“My past is so dead,” Laura says. “I really learned that my identity in the past was

But still the subtle snake always beckons. When aforementioned man dangled high pay before her eyes, she took a break from the convention and went to the bathroom, not only to cry, but also to declare once again her born-again identity. Upon returning, her trusted friend prayed directly into her ear for five minutes.

“Finally, I could breathe without tears,” she writes on her blog. “I struggled with feelings of unworthiness again. It was crazy because I am righteous in Christ. The lie wants to be a stronghold in me.”

He denied God because of lack of evidence. Then he came across evidence.

atheist turns to ChristAs he left behind childhood Vacation Bible School and studied for a degree in electrical engineering, Clay Lein lost his faith in God.

“I had a very rational mind. It had to be logical. I needed proof. There had to be evidence. And if there wasn’t proof then it was just something people made up,” Lein told KHOU Channel 11 News in Houston. “Part of the training for engineers is to be skeptical, to demand data, to want to see evidence.”

He married, got an MBA and launched a successful career at Intel. All his achievements and the world that surrounded him seemed very concrete and observable. There was no need to believe in something intangible that required you to suspend your scientific mind, he reasoned.

Why would I need God? I mean, if he even existed why would I have any need for him, he thought.

But his wife pleaded with him to attend church, and he acquiesced because he thought “church was a place nice people go.” All the while he tactfully but firmly let people know he was an atheist.

Then he volunteered at a youth camp and that’s when his skepticism got shattered. Read the rest of the article.

Appalling people who won’t help kid in T-shirt in freezing New York

What is wrong with our country if after two hours of NO ONE responds to an obvious need of a child freezing in New York.

Well, there is a heart-warming end to this video project (which was acted and is not a real runaway), but the last person you’d you expect reaches out. Where is America’s heart?

Marathoning doctor raises funds for African medical missions

hamilton marathonAt the sprightly age of 61 years old, Santa Monica pediatrician Bob Hamilton is running the L.A. Marathon this month – and he’s subjecting himself to this grueling pain just to raise funds for medical missions in Africa.

“You just do it,” Hamilton said. “You have to keep moving or you become inert. It’s an opportunity to further the cause.”

Then, with a mere 10 days to recover, he’s leading his 23rd group of doctors, nurses and other volunteers into the most desolate corners of the earth. Twenty-two brave souls are heading to Mwanza, Tanzania, March 25 – Apirl 6 where they’ll diagnose patients and hand out free meds, toys and reading glasses.

At his age most doctors are thinking only about visiting the golf course, but Hamilton shows no signs of slowing. His Lighthouse Medical Missions has become a regular contributor to health in West Africa. A container of food and supplies recently arrived there from Hamilton and crew.

Read the rest of the article here. This is my article that originally posted in the Santa Monica Patch. Dr. Bob goes to my church.

McAllen pastor started life as a fighter and an addict

san antonio crime | changed by ChristWhen his father died of a heroin overdose, an embittered Roman Gutierrez vowed to do the same.

“I’m gonna stick a needle in my arm, God,” he uttered, as quoted in the biography Twice Dead. “The same way You killed my father, You can kill me.”

At age 11, he fulfilled the vow and jabbed his arm.

Roman grew up on San Antonio’s west side, where drugs and violence were pervasive, the child of a broken home. He was sexually abused at age seven. He became a fighter and a partier who lived recklessly because he hated life.

The rage following his dad’s death was only compounded by the fact that he received the news when his dad was supposed to pick him up for some father-son time. His was a life void of love.

His first arrest came when he and friends broke into a local convenience store late at night to steal alcohol. Since they heard no alarm, they carted off case after case. Eventually, a patrol car pulled up and nabbed the youngsters.

While in juvenile hall, he busted a kid’s nose for mocking his father’s death and seven months were added to the original six-month sentence.

Read the rest of the story and his conversion here.

Not one stone left stacked

stones stacked

In Jesus’ day, the people were impressed with the big buildings in Jerusalem. They were like skyscrapers to the country bumpkins from Galilee. They ooooo-ed and aaaaah-ed.

Then Jesus bummed them out: Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down — Mark 13:12 NIV. Directly, the prophecy was fulfilled when Roman General Titus decimated the temple in 80 A.D. But indirectly, the prophecy speaks to us about NOT oooohing and aaaaahing this world too much, but it’s all gonna end dust.

What lasts forever is your soul. Do you work on your soul as much as your retirement plan?

*Picture from stand and face the sun. I’m not making any money on it. Excuse the pun: You rock.

Step on you class

step on meSome people take Step Class. Others Step On Others Class.

They adhere to the idea, that to get to the top, they must climb upon others. To feel good about themselves, they must make others feel bad about themselves. This pernicious poison is more pervasive than you might think.

You ought to take a class in loving others. This is what was so revolutionary about Jesus: He practiced love, especially toward the sinner. But the person who held himself in self-proclaimed piety got His wrath.

*This pic comes from a gym in Santa Cruz, and I adapted it. Sorry if you are offended by it. Please know that I’m not making any money on it. I give you kudos for a great pic.

When you criticize others, you criticize God

criticizing othersBecause He made them.

*Oh yeah. The image is not mine. I’m not making any profit on it. Thanks to the genius who shot it.

Ostracism and bullying

ostracismThe whole town turned against Hester Prynne. She got caught — by the out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

The Puritans forced her to wear a scarlet A on her dress always as a continual stigma of shame. She was violently flung from human friendship and affection. The hardened ladies looked at her with eyes of condemnation. Preachers wanting to exhort congregations or crowds about the dangers of sins pointed out Hester. Newcomers to the town gazed curiously at the letter, wondering what it meant. Kids, unaware of the concept of sin, treated her as an outcast following behind at a distance and making fun of her.

No one should be subjected to ostracism and bullying — no matter what the cause.

Such mistreatment can make a person turn into a sociopath.

Scarlet Letter teaches loveHolding up under psychological pressure for years and years, Hester doesn’t become a monster. The hero of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter becomes a saint, giving to the poor and helping the sick. But she is the exception.

Maybe, just maybe, one of the reasons we see so many massacres, so much mental illness, is because of the way we reject people. And the absolute last place where rejection should be pervasive is Christ’s church.

We all need motivation to do and be good

Hester prynne

Mistress Hibbins invites Hester Prynne to witchery in the forest. She refuses but admits that she very nearly would have gone.

Why? First the Puritans forced Hester to wear a red letter A on her dress always as a testimony that she was an adulteress. This public shaming she withstood. But when the somber town fathers threatened to take away her baby, she would have nothing left to live for. Barely was she allowed to keep her child.

Scarlet Flames

Mistress  Hibbins then gives her the satanic invitation. “If they would have taken my child away, I would have not only joined you but I would have signed my name in blood in Satan’s book,” she responded.

The power of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is its knack for portraying poignant psychological realities. If we are deprived of all motivation to do and be good, we will be bad.

Heaven in us

heaven in usJesus didn’t die just to get us into Heaven. He died to get Heaven into us.

We should walk about with Heaven excitement in us always.

#33 in Lighthouse Christian Academy football

Christian school Los AngelesNumber 33 was Pastor Rob Scribner’s number when he played for the L.A. Rams, four years in the NFL.

Then, his brainchild, Lighthouse Christian Academy, started a football program. Since it was a small school, they played 8-man CIF league.

Of course, among the new jerseys was #33. And one of the best players picked that number. He would continue the tradition of legends. Twice, the lowly Lighthouse, with a fraction of the enrollment of its competitors, nearly snatched championship from the entire Southern Section.

Lighthouse Christian Academy | Santa MonicaThe #33 was honorably bequeathed to another great player – and then another.

All the while its aura of greatness grew. Opposing teams could have figured out who to double-guard on offense, who to avoid on defense. Who would blast past them with a 90 yard sprint into the End Zone? Who would tackle them so hard that they would see stars from the sidelines – for the rest of the game?

Yup. Number 33 was not to be messed with — ever.

Then, the mighty number — which spoke volumes of history — was handed out to 107-pounder Chinese student who had never played football before.

When Henry Sihao Yu, our not-too-formidable tight-end, donned the prophetic mantle, was he our best player? Read the rest of the article.

The cup makes the coffee

real ChristiansIf I drink my home-percolated Costco coffee in a Starbucks cup, that makes it Starbucks coffee, I’ve decided.

It’s a good decision. I’ll enjoy it much more now, and it’ll certainly be a lot cheaper than going to Starbucks.

He is a Jew who is inwardly, Paul says in Rom. 2:29. By extension, a Christian is one is inwardly, not one who “dresses” the part, though it be a lot cheaper.

Pastors are like trashmen

I was watching Ethan for my boss, while he taught class. The 2-year-old loves watching videos of trash trucks! What a funny thing.

garbage-truckAs I meditated on why (I suppose he like the big machines with hydraulics), I realized that pastors are trashmen. They are constantly helping people to get the trash (sin) out of their lives.

Trash is a part of life (we are all sinners, the Bible says). But you don’t want to wallow in it; you want to get it out of your home because it poisons. Sermons expose the trash lurking in our hearts. (We thought it was having fun! What a shock to find out that our “fun” was wallowing in trash like the pig loves mud!)

Don’t be offended the inglorious comparison. I’m a pastor too.

A church for Muslims: Compassion not suspicion

Adrian-churchPastor Adrian Rodriguez has been preaching the gospel, translated by his wife, to about 30 people every Sunday in a church on the outskirts of Hartford, Connecticut, and not one of the congregants is Christian.

All of them are Muslim.

“We’re dealing with very hardcore Muslims,” he says of the immigrant refugees from the Middle East who are drawn to his church. “They’re very indoctrinated. But God is speaking to their hearts.”

Pastor Adrian’s response to America’s burgeoning Muslim enclaves is perhaps Christianity’s best model: View them with eyes of compassion, not with eyes of suspicion.

With 375 Muslims per 100,000 residents, Connecticut is the 14th most Muslim state in the nation, according to a Huffington Post article in 2012. The number of mosques has doubled to more than 2,100 nationwide since the year 2000, according to a survey.

While most Americans are not hostile towards Islam according to reports, there has been concern about radicalized youths. The Homeland Security Department estimates 100 U.S. citizens have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS.

Read the rest of the article.

He was just a tyke at Lighthouse when I taught there. Now he’s a hero.

saving Iraqi refugeesAs a scout for the U.S. Marines 4th Light Armored Battalion, Tyler Smith is no stranger to weapons. But now in Iraq on a dangerous mission near the Islamic State war, the Santa Monica resident is completely unarmed.

Tyler, who studied and worked in Santa Monica, is currently deployed in Iraq with Operation Soul Shepherd helping refugees. He and seven other men as part of an advance team are setting up a safehouse for women and girls who have been raped by ISIS jihadists.

“I couldn’t let myself sit at home doing nothing while people here were suffering so immensely,” said Tyler. “I CAN help, so there’s no reason not to. I’m just a man trying to do the right thing. I’m not a hero.”

Not everyone agrees with his self-effacing.

“Every one of these guys are heroes,” said Paul Neier, founder of Mississippi-based non-profit that fights human-trafficking. “They made made a choice to go into harm’s way. The craziest thing about this is they are in the belly of the beast. They have no weapons to defend themselves.”

Read the rest of the article.

I thought it was the year of the ram

year of ram?But my gym told me it was the year of me.

:(

Again? Selfishness prevails always.

Well, I went to Chinatown for the Chinese New Year’s parade and cheered on the marching bands. The exploding confetti bursts were exciting. My wife is Chinese American, so it’s cool to learn about culture. They say it’s the year of the ram, whatever that means.

photo(4)So you can imagine how completely disillusioned I was this morning at the gym to see that it’s not going to be the year of the ram. It’s the year of you.

I’M TIRED OF LIFE ALWAYS BEING SO SELF-CENTERED! Can’t we think of others? When is the year of others?

Christian forgiveness will prevail over Muslim hatred


The brother of two of the Christians decapitated by ISIS in Libya says the atrocity has only “strengthened our faith” in Jesus.

“Since the Roman era, Christians have been martyred and have learned to handle everything that comes our way,” says Beshir Kamel. “This only makes us stronger in our faith because the Bible tells us to love our enemies and bless those who curse us.”

His comments, translated into English by subtitles, were made live by phone to host Maher Fayez on the Christian television show SAT-7 ARABIC, which is broadcast in Arabic, Persian and Turkish across 22 countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

When asked about forgiving his brothers’ killers, Kamel calmly says, “Today I was having a chat with my mother asking her what she would do if she saw one of ISIS members on the street. She said she would invite him home because they helped us enter the kingdom of Heaven.”

Read the rest of the article: Forgiveness will prevail over Islam.

Revival in Southeast Asia

[Editor’s note: Mark Ellis is my editor at GodReports.com. He is currently in Southeast Asia reporting on God’s moves there. The following is one of his articles.]

Revival in Southeast Asia

By Mark Ellis

Raised in a strict Buddhist family in Chanthaburi, about three hours east of Bangkok, her parents didn’t understand when she became a born again Christian.

“My parents brought me to the temple, but I never felt connected to those things,” says Blue Erika Ployamporn. “They prayed in a language I didn’t understand.”

An unusual thing happened to her as a young teen. “When I was 13 brushing my teeth God called me,” Blue recalls. Her mother had been ill, and she told Blue she would have to take care of her brother and sister if she died.

She began to weep because she realized she didn’t know where her mother would go after she died. “I didn’t know how to see her again,” she says. “They said there is the next life, but you can’t choose where you go. I felt so hopeless.” Read the rest of the article here: Revival in Southeast Asia.

ISIS stealing, selling body parts

[Editor’s note: Forgive me for posting such disturbing news. This blog has generally been a place for uplifting devotionals. I post this because it is my reporting on GodReports.com and because I believe exposing evil and raising awareness is part of the solution.]

Pic: Daily Mail

Pic: Daily Mail

As a means to finance their murderous “caliphate,” the Islamic State is harvesting organs to sell on the black market in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, according to the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations.

Mohamed Alhakim said his country has found dozens of bodies with surgical incisions and missing body parts in shallow mass graves in recent weeks outside Mosul, where ISIS remains in power, the UK Daily Mail reports.

“We have bodies. Come and examine them,” says Alhakim, who made the allegations before the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday. “It is clear they are missing certain parts.”

Furthermore, dozens of doctors in Mosul have been executed in Mosul for refusing to perform organ harvesting, he says.

Read the rest of the article: click here.

God is a fireman, not a policeman

God firemanHis rules are for self-protection. He’s not prowling looking for somebody to bust.

God’s principle job is rescue.

We are a sinners, incapable of saving ourselves. God did that for us. Don’t conjure an image of a finger-pointing deity who is hankering to haul the sinner off to jail. That’s contrary to the message: God is love.

If you violate the fire codes, don’t be surprised if you get burned. You may not agree with the fire codes. You may use academic language like “morality is subjective.” But the fire codes — His Bible — is there to help you, not to hurt you.

Regardless, if you violate the fire code, God will rescue you when you call 911 — when you pray to Him.

Christian vets join the fight on the ground against Islamic State


The latest foreign fighters to flock into the war zone in Iraq and Syria are Christians who want to do more than their western governments allow.

U.S. vet Jordan Matson engages in firefights regularly with ISIS soldiers alongside pro-Western Syrian Kurds, according to an interview with Fox News.

“I decided that if our government wasn’t going to do anything about it, I would,” says Matson, who’s fought ISIS since September 2014. “We’re getting shot at on pretty much a daily basis. It’s more of a World War II or Vietnam style fight. We don’t have the technology that the United States military has to push our enemies away.”

Read rest of the article here.

Revival at our Christian high school

high school revivalOur students are experiencing revival. After frolicking on slopes of Utah snow, they savored a sermon by Pastor Zach Scribner and then Five Guys burgers. Since there was a community board, they posted “Jesus loves you” notes.

And even them I’m stuck here in Santa Monica writing articles about the Islamic State and not enjoying the fun, I rejoice. While other religious schools have trouble with church kids bolting their faith, at our Christian high school in Santa Monica kids are embracing Christ wildly.

Chinese students in Los Angeles high schoolThis is what I pray for, what I work for, what I live for. To see the fruits brings indescribable satisfaction.

I pretty much got kicked off Reddit, a mecca for sarcastic atheists. Have you seen American Sniper? You could call Reddit “American Snippier.” In any case, post after post mocks Christian warnings against sin.

Chinese students learn to ski | California high schoolOnce I read about a former Christian school kid forming a “support group” for those who were subjected to the horrors of being forbidden alcohol. I remarked on that message board that it was ironic that some ran from alcohol to Jesus and that others from Jesus to alcohol. I never heard from him. Nor do I know if she could appreciate the irony.

Excuse me for being so curmudgeonly on this post, but I’ve seen so many suffer and even die for flouting God’s ways. It is a joy to see kids embracing God’s ways. Some of them have been bullied in public schools. Some were lost in cutting. Now they are living happy serving Jesus. Why would you make fun of that?

Fatigue failure

fatigue failure

I was surprised that planes crack more from pressurization than from turbulence. That’s why 747s that do long flights have been around fro 30 years while small planes doing several flights a day hit the scrap heap quickly.

It turns out that we can only stand so much. Depending on the elasticity of the material, the on-and-off loading wears it out and it eventually breaks.

God promises NOT to give us more than we can bear, but sometimes it seems like it is more than we can bear. God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it – 1 Cor. 10:13 NKJV.

I’ve wondered why older Christians struggle with bitterness. There’s some truth to burn-out. Pray for renewed in your strength, rejuvenated in your spirit and to run like the youth.

But those who wait on the LORD
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.
– Isa. 40:31 NIV.

Irena Sendler “An Angel among us”

MustardSeedBudget.wordpress.com:

Amazing story. May she inspire us.

Originally posted on johncoyote:

Remember this lady?
Remember this lady?

View original

Take her shopping

shopping is sufferingI can handily find 1.75 million other needful things to do rather than go shopping. When forced to shop by myself, I’m a laser: straight to what I need — and out. Fast.

But here’s a key to a happy marriage: don’t make it “me” time. It is “her” time. Don’t impose on your wife what you like to do. (You can do what you like some other time — say, with your buddies, for example.)

When Dianna and I shop together, time goes into slow motion. Words get slurred, shoppers drudge about, my eyes cake up with glaze. I lose my ability to see color — everything runs grey (more than 50 miserable shades). There wasn’t even a Starbucks for me to take refuge at the concentration camp premium outlet. (No, it wasn’t a concentration camp. I couldn’t concentrate on anything.) It was surreal. (This is not hyperbole. This really happens.)

Why did I subject myself to such woe-begone suffering? Why did I willingly (yes, willingly) do what no man in his right mind would normally do? No, I’m not in torture training with plans to report journalistically  from the Islamic State with risk of being kidnapped.

No. I did it to make my beautiful wife happy. (Her beauty was the only glimmer in the T.S. Elliot-styled wasteland outlet.)

You see, if you manage to make your wife happy, she’ll make you happy.

If you always expect her to make you happy (because you’re the fist-pumping, Bible-thumping leader of the household), then maybe you have failed to notice that the Bible says you’re a leader only as Jesus was a leader (remember He laid his life down in sacrifice for the beloved church?).

Sacrifice yourself a little to be happy a lot.

Lust or sacrifice

valentines

For love, some only understand lust. If we are merely evolutionary beasts, then we can satiate whatever kinky idea that occurs to us. The “Sexual Revolution” is a misnomer; it is a “Sexual Devolution.”

These don’t know about the sublime love of Jesus. Lust procures to get for itself. Jesus’ love came to give. He sweated drops of blood, such was His agony in the buildup to his arrest and crucifixion. But he endured it all because He loved you and me. Jesus’ love is so unlike ours. It’s from another dimension. Can we even grasp?

The broken-hearted, the girl who’s cutting her wrist, the guy who’s contemplating suicide — needs to grasp it. The divorcee whose pain gushes where love once flowed. The celebrity who flashes smiles before cameras but drowns out his sorrows when alone. Christ is for losers — and in this cruel world, we’re all losers.

As the Good Book says, we’ve all fallen short of what God intended us for. We need something more gratifying than the excitement of sex. We need forgiveness. Are you lonely? Christ is inviting you to be His valentine.

Original image: Google. Thank you for your genius and creativity. I don’t own the rights to this image, and I’m not making any money on it.

Ben Franklin’s failure is the Spirit’s success

tongues of fireUltimately Ben Franklin’s attempts to reign in his flesh failed because making lists and checking off behavior charts smacks of religion. Only the Holy Spirit can truly change a person.

We just read in our literature class fragments of Franklin’s autobiography, and Franklin discusses a sort of perpetual New Year’s Resolution scheme he had. He charts his successes and expresses frustration over his failures. While laudable, human power trying to dominate human impulse is doomed.

Instead of a list of “don’ts,” your relationship with Jesus Christ is better seen as love. I didn’t adhere to a list of prohibitions when I fell in love with Dianna. I simply WANTED to be with her and to please her.

This is what the Holy Spirit does, those tongues of fire that descended on the disciples on the Day of Pentecost. Peter, the despicable coward who denied Christ to a child, didn’t need to psyche himself up to eloquence, despite the danger of testifying publicly to the Sanhedrin. Once the Spirit came on him in power, he just flowed.

Don’t strive for less of world but for more of God.

*original image from smashingapps,com by Jayan. You’re awesome. I don’t own the rights to it, and I’m not making any money on it. Thank you.

Relatable Christian post #1: Temptation

relatable Christian post | temptationDang, why is temptation all around?

Lead me not into temptation, Lord. – the Lord’s prayer.

I can resist everything except temptation – Oscar Wilde. Yeah, I know, he’s not a Christian quotable, but maybe we can relate because we’re all human.

Thank God for His grace, forgiveness and restoration. We can start tomorrow with a pristine desire to not dig into the carrots.

Original picture source: Google+. Kudos and thanks to whoever worked this. I don’t own its rights, and I’m not making any money on it.

Outlasting stress and strain

stress and strainStress is the force exerted on the jet wing. Strain is bending to the elasticity limit; if it bends beyond that, it breaks.

My dad was the test engineer who discovered, with a torque rod, that the outside two wing cylinders would break on the F-104. But his superior thought faulty testing side load was to blame. So Lockheed skipped the redesign.

f-104When the prototype flew, the same cylinders were compressed. The redesign, so late in the game, was much costlier.

We all have our breaking points, when too much stress is straining our hearts more than we can bear. Just like different materials and different designs have different load capacities, so too all of us have different limits. There’s no point in making fun of me if my capacity to enduring stress is lesser than yours.

I want to spring back into the original shape. I don’t want to be distorted by the strain of bitterness, disillusion, betrayal. God increase my elasticity!

Same tragedy, different outcomes

blind beggar

Two men became blind in the same factory explosion — one doomed to pathetic beggaring, the other a successful insurance salesman.

Fourteen years after the accident, they meet up and the blind one corners the rich one for a handout, which he obliges. But as he presses for extra money, he rehearses the story. The guy behind me, knocked me down and trampled me to get out, he moans. The story is meant to heighten sympathy and squeeze out an extra dollar or two.

But the rich one confronts the beggar. No, he says, it was you who pulled me down and trampled me. The beggar had not recognized the rich one. In the re-telling, he lied to make himself a greater victim.

mackinlay-kantor

MacKinlay Kantor

In this genius story, Man Who Had No Eyes, by MacKinlay Kantor, one man succumbs to tragedy, another overcomes adversity. Which one will you be? Which will I? Will our painful circumstances reduce us to a shell of the former, outgoing, optimistic selves.

To get a better idea, read the super-short story yourself.

Embrace change

murmuringwithout murmuring. The Israelites complained so much at almost every step of the way out of slavery. They didn’t like the food. They were thirsty. They were afraid. God was too strict.

Then they said it. We were better off in slavery!

Can you imagine someone wanting to go back to slavery?

Ultimately, their bad attitude kept them from entering the Promised Land. The first generation died wandering in the desert. Their children possessed the good land.

If you’re in great upheaval right now, praise God for the trial. Try not to complain. I know it’s hard.

Image source: Beautiful pictures on Google+. I don’t own the rights to this image, and I’m not making any money on it.

Deflategate Christians

under inflatedUnder inflated Christians are easier to grip (for the devil).

So make sure to fully inflate with the infilling of the pneuma, the Holy Spirit, the rushing wind, the breath of God.

The importance of schmoozing

fellowship Being the American that I am, I believed fervently in work-aholism. If you want to get things done, work 17 hours a day.

The lackluster church growth prompted heart searching and method revision. I discovered the power of not working (and praying). I also discovered the incomparable value of socializing. The latter upended my idea that useless chatter was a waste of time.

imagesIt turns out that socializing inspires people. If you want people to do things for you, then show them how important they are by talking to them. Here’s how it works: two or three people can always get more done than one. So if I’m the leader, I multiply my impact by delegating to followers. And I motivate followers to work by just taking the time out of my busy schedule to talk to them.

It wasn’t a sermon full of conviction that brought Zacheus to repentance. It was sharing a meal. Jesus took time out of his busy schedule to schmooze. That human connection made friends into followers, socialites into servants — for entire lifetimes.

socializing

from google images

Learn the importance of social activities.

*All the images are from Google. I don’t own the rights to any of them, and I’m not making any money on them. I applaud the photographers’ genius.

Not deflated balls but chaplain key to victory, Patriots QB says

jack easterbyQuarterback Tom Brady says it wasn’t under-inflated balls that helped the New England Patriots clinch the AFC Championship. It was the team chaplain. The 4-time Super Bowl winner is telling people that Jack Easterby, 31, gets a lion’s share of the credit for the Patriot’s season, which culminated with a final win against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. “He’s just a great person and friend,” Brady told ESPN. “You feel a special connection with him and with his genuine caring for all the people in his life.” patriots chaplainWhile some team chaplains may feel neglected by their organization, Easterby is on the Patriot payroll with an office near Coach Bill Belichick. He’s an exceptionally upbeat former college basketball player who connects with professional athletes. His website, “The Greatest Champion,” encourages viewers to accept the greatest champion of all — Jesus Christ — who hung on the cross and resurrected from the dead. Safety Devin McCourty called Easterby “a godsend to this team” who has “helped create better men,” ESPN reported. Read the rest of my Christian sports article.

I’m proud of the kids

Lighthouse Church School

There was no one faster in the league than our midfielder and defender, Caleb.

We were down 0-2 at halftime, and the kids walked off the field dejected.

Hey! We’re only down two goals. It’s not over! Let’s go out there and win this! I gave specific instructions to the kids. We needed more longer balls, through balls that our forwards could run on and beat defenders.

When the whistle blew, my son Hosea and his partner, Garrett Lahood, zipped through the midfielders and defenders straight to goal with three crisp passes. Garrett smashed it home. Woohoo! Now let’s get some more!

Santa Monica Christian school

Garrett’s quickness and ball-handling skills made coach move him from defender to forward.

But we didn’t win. Our inexperience began to show more. Errors were made, and our opponents, Westside Neighborhood School, beat Lighthouse Church School 7-1.

I’m not upset. Winning would have been almost impossible. For our small school with a co-ed team, to have made it to round 2 of playoffs was already an impossible dream. I’m proud of the kids.

It was a fun season. Kids learned about soccer, teamwork, effort. These are lessons they must apply to life.

Saints win 5-0 in middle school soccer

LCS Middle School SoccerMAR VISTA PARK – Lighthouse co-ed’s team resoundingly defeated Windward 5-0 to advance in middle school playoffs to round 2 on Monday.

They gelled when it counted most. Here was a team that during the league season would lose 8-0 and 7-0. The story of their turnaround is one of not growing frustrated, of learning from mistakes and of combining slow kids with fast kids, talented kids with not-so-talented kids into optimal formation.

Many middle schools have an A-team, a B-team and even a C-team. With less than 50 students, Lighthouse Church School in Santa Monica has only one team, combined with all sorts of players. To say all candidates make the cut is an understatement. Sometimes, the school begs kids to play.

With teams like that, the wrong thing to do is to let that one star do everything. Just give him the ball and get out of his way. Instead, the Saints focused on building a team around the stars.

A critical moment came when the Saints showed poor sportsmanship. In a pre-league scrimmage against Westside Neighborhood School, the Saints behaved very… um,unsaintly. After losing 4-1, some of the kids spat into their hands at the end-of-the-game high five, smearing it on their unwitting opponents’ hands.

Ugh! How despicable can you get?

While the opposing kids may not have realized they were the victims of an ugly prank, the opposing parents had seen it all.

Understandably incensed, the WNS coach spoke to Lighthouse coach. He couldn’t believe his ears (he had been herding stragglers to form part of the line when the offenders committed their crime).

LCS coach scrambled a quick investigation, which more or less confirmed the worse. A photographer produced incriminating photos. Kids broke down under interrogation and confessed.

It is sad to see top clubs and national teams defend their players – no matter how repugnant their behavior. Whether it is racial epithets uttered on the field or biting incidents, it’s shameful to see teams try to confuse the facts just so their players won’t be suspended.

LCS, a Christian ministry of the Lighthouse Church, decidedly reacted against self-defense. The athletics director and the coach immediately sent profuse apologies to the league organizers and offended school. They requested to NOT be excused; they asked for a sanction from the league.

Ultimately, league officials opted against punishment, acting on WNS’s gracious forgiveness. But Lighthouse benched for one game each of the offenders anyway. It was a matter of character – what Lighthouse most is trying to teach.

More important than winning league games was winning the souls of men. Since at least three players fessed up, three players sat out – and the team suffered on the field.

Read the rest of the story.

Latest martyr of ISIS, Japanese journalist was a Christian

kenji gotoJapanese journalist Kenji Goto, beheaded by ISIS in a newly released gruesome video, also happened to be a devout Christian.

A reporter seasoned in war zones, Goto traveled to Syria hoping that Japan’s pacifist stance would grant him relative safety, unlike other journalists from nations leading airstrikes against ISIS.

He failed to take into account this new brand of terrorists are breaking all previous norms, with no apparent limits to their depravity.

“You, like your foolish allies in the Satanic coalition, have yet to understand that we, by Allah’s grace, are an Islamic caliphate with authority and power, an entire army thirsty for you blood,” a masked militant says in the video while holding a knife to Goto’s neck. To read the rest of the article, click here.