Category Archives: Christianity

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Delegate

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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.

Save

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.

Redemptive narrative for medical mission

fullsizerender17Dr. Bill Wright wasn’t impressed by the numbers.

After setting a one-day record for patients seen, Lighthouse Medical Missions almost equaled it on Thursday with 720 in Coban, Guatemala. At a celebratory dinner, the state hospital director thanked the team for helping offset the crushing load of 100,000 patients yearly they see.

But the only number that mattered to Dr. Wright was the number one. One life changed.

At a time when all volunteers were in a flurry to alleviate daily sicknesses, post top numbers and take care of line that stretched down the block outside the Bible institute where the clinic was staged, the team leader waxed eloquent about slowing down, taking time to pray with each patient and fixing lifelong ailments.

That’s because Dr. Wright was not always the shining light of altruism that he is today. There was a time when he was a heavy drinker, who punctuated his successful family practice with liquor and drug use.

“I was at a point where I really didn’t care about my life. I’d go to work and I’d go home and I’d drink or use drugs or whatever,” Dr. Wright said. “I had hoped that the different things I’d done would satisfy my life, they would satisfy this thing inside. But nothing ever worked.”

The change came, he said, through a conversion to Christianity 35 years ago.

“Jesus lifted this burden off of my heart,” he said. “That’s when I got saved. God came into my life and really changed me.” Read the rest about our Christian medical mission.

Lecrae escaped gangs and drugs through Jesus

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Lecrae backstage at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015. (Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

As little Lecrae sat on his uncles’ laps, guns and alcohol were passed around. He never met his father, so he followed his uncles into gangs, drugs, sex and hip-hop.

But after he turned his life over to Jesus, Lecrae Devaughn Moore became one on the biggest Christian hip hop rap artists worldwide.

“I grew up wrestling with significance,” Lecrae said in a video. “I didn’t feel like I was gonna get it from being this manicured, good all-around person. My uncles were young and wrapped up in the streets, gangs and drugs and just promiscuous. I idolized that life and wanted to be just like my uncle. I chased power, pleasure, possessions – just something satisfying.”

lecrae-concert-768x512.jpgAs a little tyke in southern Houston, Lecrae listened to his uncles’ braggadocio, a steady stream of tales of shootings, stabbings and partying. This, he surmised, must be the essence of manhood. He decided his family members were heroes worthy of emulation.

His grandmother took him to church, but he quickly inferred that church services were for old people.

His mother, a single mom who had to work and couldn’t watch him, urged him to read the Bible. He defied her good wishes.

“I remember ripping the pages out of the Bible and throwing them on the floor, saying, ‘I don’t want this Bible,’” he recalled.

Still, Lecrae kept the Bible in his car as a good-luck charm. When a cop arrested him for trespassing, the police officer happened to see the Bible on the passenger’s seat and decided to let Lecrae out of the cuffs.

“I’m going to let you go,” the cop told him. “And I hope you discover the meaning of the words in that Bible.”

At the University of North Texas, a friend invited him to a Christian conference. In all honesty, he went for the girls and the good times, but he was taken aback by the Christian hip-hop and testimonies of ex-gangsters. He wound up giving his life to Christ.

“Someone got up and told me the story of Jesus on Golgotha, Him carrying the cross, Him bearing all of my sin on His back, and I thought, ‘Wow. Somebody thinks I’m significant enough to die for me.’”

Finally, he had found the Father figure missing in his life.

“God just loved me unconditionally even when I felt like I didn’t deserve to be loved,” Lecrae said. “I feel very fortunate to have a huge family that is beyond race, creed, culture – and have a Father who shepherds us all.”

But Lecrae didn’t immediately walk in God’s grace very well. He was living a double life of partying and church – and he knew he needed to cut out the sin.

He cried out to God, “Get me out of this anyway. You need to. Just don’t kill me.”

When he failed to negotiate a turn, his car went over an embankment and rolled several times. The car was totaled, with mangled metal and glass shards sprayed everywhere. Even his glasses got “molded” into the car frame. But Lecrae walked away unscathed. Read the rest of the story.

Don’t forget the pigs

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Today is an investment for tomorrow. If you goof off, you lose out. America is saturated with the financial future message, but what about the spiritual message?

The first pig lived carefree. He didn’t want to invest time into a costly and time-consuming construction. Preferring the party, he built a house of hay.

The second pig was middle of the road. He wasn’t as reckless as the first pig nor as much as a bore as the third pig. He built a better house, one of sticks.

The third pig invested time, effort and money to safeguard against tomorrow. Sure enough, it paid off. The first pigs were eaten by the wold (in Grimm’s version), and the third survived the onslaught.

three-little-pig-houses-at-pig-crash-sceneIt’s funny that people who take pains to assure their financial future are so careless with their eternal future. You would think that they would understand based on the same principle. Even more, since eternity makes this life pale in comparison, you would think they would work harder to build their heavenly mansion.

The wolf is coming. He will blow your construction down, if he can, and eat you up.

This applies to marriage as well. How much are you investing in your spouse? Are you still wooing her like you did when you were dating? A lot of people these days are saying that a marriage of sticks or hay (not bothering to formalize their live-together union) is just as good. Pay attention to the pigs.

The spirit of Lighthouse Christian Academy in their first football game for 2016

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Jelove is #99

Nobody embodies the spirit of the Santa Monica Lighthouse better than Jelove Mira: He hates football.

But when his undermanned school needed another guy to just barely have enough players for its 8-man football team, Jelove put others ahead of his own desires. He’s an artist, not a jock. But he donned a football uniform and stoutly blocked on the line of scrimmage Saturday against Calvary Christian of Downey.

And when the 2016 iteration of the Saints stopped the Badger runs not once but twice in the second half, Jelove was endangering those artistic fingers for the good of the team.

levi photenhauer Christian football santa monica“Even though I really don’t like football,” Jelove said at half time, “I’m creating memories for myself.”

The Lighthouse Christian Academy made one touchdown against the superior fire power of Calvary Christian. It’s a team composed almost entirely of freshmen and inexperienced players.

After a powerful run by freshman Marcus Scribner, fellow freshman Garrett Lahood caught a pass to set up sophomore Justin Berry for the touchdown pass that he greedily grabbed out his opponents’ hands. Ha! You thought you got a pass interception. Ha!

Read the rest of the story.

When you don’t get what you deserve,

DSC_1527-0thank God because that is Hell.

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

The wages of sin is death.

These verses from Romans show humanity’s desperate need for forgiveness from God. Fortunately, He is more than will to lavish us with mercy. All we need to do is ask.

The spirit of entitlement, our zeitgeist, says we deserve more. We’re getting cheated out of a whole of good stuff. By the 1%. By our family. By God.

But what are we truly entitled to? Hell.

Because of our rebellion, our sin.

What we get instead? Heaven. If only we ask for it, want it.

Life is unfair!

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#ValleyBoyPastor and his undeserved congregation meeting at Anthony Beilenson Park at Lake Balboa in the San Fernando Valley.

Because there are far better pastors than myself, who have worked far more, and are way more consecrated to God. And they didn’t get the blessing I did. I was gifted a fully developed (albeit beginning) congregation. I started in June. After one week, I had serious disciples.

I swear: it’s not my fault. Nothing to my credit. I did nothing to deserve His blessing!

Probably any pastor from my church-planting denomination, the Christian Fellowship Ministries, would love to waltz into the blessing of people with virtual no work. Why do I get the blessing? The only answer I can deduce: Life is unfair.

But this time, I’m praising Jesus for the unfairness.

After Africa, they chose a medical career

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Cathy Kayne at her graduation, with her family.

After helping on two medical missions in Africa, Cathy Kayne decided to become a registered nurse – and that she did at 56 years of age.

The Culver City resident is part of a lesser touted statistic for Lighthouse Medical Missions: the number of volunteers who make medicine a profession.

To date, there are at least three doctors and half a dozen nurses who got their first taste of dispensing medicines in the hinterlands of West Africa where the word “acute” defines medical needs almost as much as “chronic.”

Kayne went to Sierra Leone in the spring of 2005 and to Burundi in the summer of 2008 to help in a logistics capacity

“It brought me a lot of joy to be out in the field and involved in helping people in a medical capacity,” Kayne said. “It caused an old childhood dream to resurface. I had wanted to be a nurse but didn’t get the chance to pursue it. When I went to Africa, I realized this is what I’m supposed to be doing.” Read the rest of the article.

Class clown no more. Today Juan Guillermo is a famous poet.

juan guillermo leraEditor´s Note: Juan Guillermo was a class clown. This article, which traces his less-than-stellar start at my school in Guatemala, the Liceo Bilingüe La Puerta, to international poet. In truth, you shouldn’t underestimate your impact. To my many English-only readers, sorry that this one goes out in its original publishing language.

Hoy Juan Guillermo Lera, como poeta, es conocido internacionalmente, puesto que tuvo la oportunidad de viajar recientemente a México y leer, en diferentes escenarios, parte de su trabajo escrito.

¿Quién hubiera esperado que llegara tan lejos aquel chico que cursó quinto y sexto primaria del colegio cristiano el Liceo Bilingüe “La Puerta”?

“El Liceo, debo decir, me brindó, hasta ese momento, un aprendizaje bastante sólido del idioma español, cual no recibí en la escuela en mis años anteriores de primaria” – dijo. – “Ya había leído algunas obras en casa, sí, pero nunca en la escuela, nunca en grupo, nunca con la instrucción y el dinamismo de un profesor. Esto me marcó mucho.” – enfatizó con un dejo de entusiasmo.

Leyó Romeo y Julieta y Los de abajo (aquella novela de la revolución mexicana), entre otras obras literarias, dentro de las aulas  del Liceo.

Ahora el joven de 23 años de edad  es invitado para impartir talleres de lectura y redacción en el Instituto Tecnológico de la delegación Gustavo Madero de la Ciudad de México. No está de más mencionar que el centro ITGAM II es una de las sedes del famoso, y muy importante  centro de estudios técnicos universitarios el Instituto Tecnológico Nacional.

Con el apoyo de otros estudiantes y poetas jóvenes,  Guillermo también tomó parte activa en  talleres de poesía  en la prestigiosa Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Read the rest of the story..

Apparently, I’m 94 years old

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The older you get, the quicker the years fly by. But this time, after my 48th birthday last year, the passing was dizzyingly fast.

I’ve always said, on the basis of Gen. 6:3, that I would live to 120 years. (I don’t know why Christians cite more frequently Psm 90:10 which promises a mere 80 years). As far-fetched as they may sound, it now appears realistically possible, thought it’s not what I had in mind.

Seriously though, I believe Christians should take care not only of their souls. Good nutrition, sleep and exercise mean we will be useful for the Lord’s service for a longer time. Our bodies are temple of the Holy Spirit, so we shouldn’t abuse them.

Some wise-crack: I’m not getting chubbier. I’m just extending the tabernacle of the Holy Spirit. Very funny but not very Biblical. Others grow mystical citing God’s sovereignty over the years of their life. In other words, no matter how many sodas and brownies I ingest, I can’t shorten my life, because God has set a definite time period for my life. This is recklessness and irresponsibility. God’s plan should work seamlessly with our participation, not contrariwise. Sadly, I’ve seen several great servants pass prematurely to their eternal reward, their years of useful labor cut short by poor health choices.

A sovereign work

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My son, Rob, manned the grill. His eyes are closed because of the smoke.

I have slogged through years of labor with not so much fruit in Guatemala, so when I start a new church with the Christian Fellowship Ministries in Van Nuys, I’m expecting an uphill battle.

But then God pours out His grace and blessing in unexpected ways on this Valley Boy Pastor.

IMG_1351When He moves and brings revival, we call it a “sovereign work.” That means the pastor didn’t work to manufacture the revival. It came 100% from God.

On Friday, we hosted a barbecue outreach in my apartment complex. We didn’t even pay for it. It was paid for by the apartments’ owner. I can’t stop admiring how God does everything.

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Members of the Lighthouse Church Van Nuys enjoy the tacos too!

Of course, my wife, my kids and members of the church did a lot of work to prepare the banquet. But what we did was minor compared to what God did. Now we are waiting to see who will come to the Bible study.

Forget about the booming voice. God speaks through burritos.

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The assistant pastor was making the case that God wanted him to eat two burritos. As a burrito lover, I can really sympathize. He was saying he never would have ordered two because of the appearance of gluttony. But he got the second little pillow because his kids wanted it for a homeless man outside, who mysteriously disappeared after being promised the prize.

I have heard from God over burritos myself. Specifically, I have fallen in love with the Corona burrito of Van Nuys. It’s now my favorite on top of Pollo Loco, Qdoba, Chipotle and any other respectable burrito.

When I proposed to my family moving to Van Nuys to start a church with the Christian Fellowship Ministries, there was an onslaught of reasons this would not be a convenient move.

Standing against the heat, distance, danger and whatever else everybody objected was this lone burrito which prevailed in reason.

Of course, I’m being extremely facetious (and the burrito is extremely delicious). But I’m always a bit skeptical about “hearing” God’s voice. I prefer finding open and closed doors. What I mean is that you pray, ask for direction and get an impression. If it doesn’t contradict the Word of God, don’t just wildly embrace it but pursue it cautiously. If God opens doors before you, then possibly/probably you’re in His will. If He closes doors in front of you, then you probably not.

If, for example, you’re singled and you think God has told you to marry Mr. Guapito, but he doesn’t agree, possibly it’s not God. Or if you think you should “outreach” to your worldly friends at a party and you keep falling into drunkenness, then probably you’re not hearing God.

So the burrito seems like a good omen (hahaha). I mean, what could be anti-Biblical about opening a church, saving souls, making disciples? The heat of Van Nuys (compared to breezy Santa Monica) is a real downer. Why not find something that compensates for the Valley Boy Pastor (me)?

You should’ve started a long time ago

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We put things off because of fear.

My disciple in Guatemala put off starting a Bible study because he worried about getting asked a tough question. Maybe he worried no one would come.

Now, two people are coming. And there haven’t been any tough questions at this Christian Fellowship Ministry Bible study.

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At the end of the day, the results are God’s responsibility. So why do we worry? It’s His kingdom, His interest, His will. Just do it — do your part and let God do His.

That is why the Bible exhorts us to be bold and not fear. It also tells us that the battle belongs to the Lord.

That’s two people brought to Jesus because one many obeyed. What would have happened if he wouldn’t have started?

I owe this man a kazillion dollars

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Not the baby boy, the big guy.

Meet Pastor Matt Sinkhorn. Apparently, I inherited his church members as he moved on to start another church in the Christian Fellowship Ministries.

This is an incredible blessing. I had been hunkering down for the long haul of evangelism, prayer and loneliness to build the church in Van Nuys from scratch. Then I got a call. Pastor Matt had lost his lease. His pastor wanted to move him. His disciples needed a new home.

Presto! Instant church for the Valley Boy Pastor!

And they are good disciples. They invited people to service every time.

I’m in a dream. What did I do to deserve a shortcut on 5 years+ of work?

God is good. Thank you, Matt. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, my friend and blog reader, for your prayers.

I text Pastor Matt my thanks and told him about the kazillion dollars. He said that if it was so, he could loan me $10.

While everyone is collecting pokemon, I’m looking for souls

pokemon_go_3I wish Christians were as “crazed” about what God is crazed about as zillions of gamers are crazed about this game. Sorry for being so passé.

God hasn’t given up on you

IMG_1180(1)Pablo was a great youth in our Guatemalan church. He was working on telephone lines with his cousin. Above on the ladder was his cousin, below, Paul held the ladder steady.

Then the cousin dropped a hammer (pictured), and it fell on Pablo’s head.

Ouch!

God in His mercy spared Pablo’s life. God is not done with you yet, hijo. He has many things for you to do still in the Iglesia Cristiana La Puerta.

Don’t think that God has given up on you, that He is finished with you. He still is working in your life, and He still wants to use you.

Planning and praying

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Carlos se quejó de que había un pelo en su pan. Yo le dije que diera gracias a Dios que no hubiera un pedo un su pan.

I jumped at the chance to get my study group to help my church form a business plan. We worked hours analyzing strengths and weaknesses, projections and budgets, vision and philosophy. The resulting 20-page report had us planting a new church every two years. It was a glowing success and got us an A at the Central American Theological Seminary in Guatemala. Our plans were splendidly conceived and brilliantly explained.There was only one problem.

You can’t plan revival because revival comes from God.

Prayer works better than planning.

Don’t get me wrong. I fully believe in planning. I agree with the adage: he who fails to plan, plans to fail. BUT, the church is God’s. We can only submit to His will. We cannot force Him to bless our plans.

There is no way I could have planned this guy’s salvation (pictured). It comes as a confirmation of the strategies God has given us in Guatemala: the school and outreach. I can only praise Him for His work — and welcome Carlos heartily to salvation.

Pouncing on the plunder

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Saul lost his ministry and revival the moment he pounced on the plunder. God wanted a sacrifice similar to when the Israelites conquered Jericho; they were not to touch any of the riches. King Saul should have remembered Achan, who sneaking away silver and a Babylonia tunic, was judged by God.

But no. After decimated the Amalekites, the Israelites swarmed on the riches, a normal practice in ancient warfare that God ordered them to abstain from this one time. But the people and Saul couldn’t suppress their greed.

God had warned Saul that he was losing credibility, but even so he paid no heed. It was here, when Saul and others pounced on the plunder, that God sent Samuel to anoint David as the next king.

Let the church be warned: when we love money more that souls, revival is over. God gives us money to reach souls, but when we grab it for our pleasures, God retires from that church. I don’t care if you’re a big church. Bigness doesn’t mean Godness.

Listening to God in Guatemala


We hear human voices — both good and bad — too much. Our fans and our critics occupy our thoughts too much. We can wrongly believe our own publicity or the devil’s condemnation. The hard thing to do is to hear God.

I want to learn to screen out all the negativity. I want to be careful to not let my head swell with human praise. All this is a distraction. When we block it out and we listen to God, He moves.

We went out on an outreach like many before. I have screamed my voice hoarse street-preaching. I have done dramas on the plaza. I have hurt my feet walking door to door. The best outreach, however, is not human effort. It is when God moves.

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Maria Cristina accepted Jesus as Lord on Sunday

On Saturday, we simply passed out fliers on the Sixth Avenue. And God brought in a lady who accepted Jesus Christi as her personal Savior and Lord.That’s what we need in the Door Christian Church, part of the Christian Fellowship Ministries church planting movement.

Wow! There’s nothing better in life. You can have the nice car and hotel stays. You can have the movies and the malls. I want Jesus.

Elijah said he was continually in the presence of the Lord. After 35 years as a Christian, I haven’t learned to stay in God’s presence. I want to learn it still.

Recovery

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My 88-year-old dad finally got back to painting. He fell and broke his hip in April and hasn’t felt like he could concentrate on his creative efforts. He has a fantastic rehab coach and a 24-hour caregiver. He has good doctors and a couple of good sons. His taste buds finally reactivated, so he’s getting back to his ideal weight.

Last but not least, he’s started painting — and with it hope is reborn in his heart.

Except for the smallest of children, we’re all in some sort of recovery. Sin — life — tends to damage. Recovery is not just for the alcoholic. It’s for marriage that you want to last. It’s for forgiveness you’re struggling to work out. It’s for the person at the gym. It’s for slip-ups and backslidings.

Recovery is for humans.

Pride would have you believe you don’t need any recovery, that you’re completely successful with every area of your life under control. You know why I’m a Christian? Because I’m more honest and real than that. I fully acknowledge my need for a Savior and my need for his ongoing recovery process ministered continually by His Word and His Spirit. Recovery is a good thing, so I embrace it whole-heartedly.

Flamingos turn pink due to diet

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The image you project to the world as a Christian is a matter of your diet. If you feed constantly on negativity and denigration, you won’t project of confidence, joy and victory. You need to feed on the word, not the sewers of the world’ media.

Trivia: Flamingos are born with gray feathers but turn pink because they feast on brine shrimp and blue-green algae, which contain a dye that affects the color of the flamingo.

If you feast on the world’s news, you might turn yellow.

If you feast on Facebook, you might turn green with envy.

Heck, even your “brother” in Christ can constantly tear you down. Don’t let that happen!

But if you feast on prayer and God’s unadulterated Word, you’ll turn radiant like the sun. You’ll project the joy and confidence, the love and humility which naturally draws people to Christ.

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Happiness is fruit

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I spend oodles of hours — thankless hours — doing SEO for my school. I believed in this school. It’s a Christian school in Santa Monica, but leaders didn’t really have a publicity strategy. I guess they just “left it to God in prayer” but did little else. There were more than one who rolled his eyes when I told them what I was doing. Some said nothing would come of my efforts; it was impossible. I worked for two years. It was a lot of work, but it fit our budget of $0.00. Ha!

That’s ok. Joy comes with the fruit. Ruby had been bullied at her prior school, so the Christian environment was going to help her heal and provided her love. Others signed up. Actually, last year was supposed to be the year we were going to have to close the school. Church leaders were going to sell the property.

But I believed in the old vision for the Lighthouse Christian Academy, the vision to save souls and disciple kids — my kids too! — through the school. So God did a miracle. The school grew 50% — an unheard of rebound. (I’m making a manual available if you similarly have a Christian school off the radar that you need students for to not close.)

Now, I’m starting a church in Van Nuys. It’s pretty gimmicky, but I’m calling myself the Valley Boy Pastor. I’ve had one family from my apartment complex come and a foursome of young adult ladies sign up. Just today, Brittany asked if I could go outreaching with them Saturday (I’ll be in Guatemala).

Whoa! Usually it’s the pastor who tries to get the church members to go to outreach, not the other way around. God is doing great things, and the joy comes in the fruit. I pray for my all blogging friends to enter into a season of great fruitfulness.

#BeLikeJesus

This is my message. This is my life. Come join us, as imperfect as we are.

Don’t be intimidated

IMG_0336If those two hulking young body builders would have cut in on my station at the gym, I would have gone to another machine and waited for it to get free. But now my new 70+ year old friend. Even though he was alternating between two exercises and the guys had no idea that the guy was also using the bars, he got up from his sit ups and told them to buzz off.

Well, not those words. But politely and unafraid, he sent them running.

Well, maybe not running.

But… I couldn’t believe. One old guy scared off two young muscle-bound punks. Wow.

Don’t be scared to cast out demons (no comparison between the courteous gym rats and Hell slime). Even though they look big and scary, they must go in the name of Jesus.

Once in Guatemala, some church members wanted to call me in to take on some demons who were manifesting. I scolded them because I’m not the “big guns.” Jesus is. And we all have the same access to and authority in Jesus. We have spiritual authority in Jesus’ name.

You are not alone

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Gehazi panicked when he woke up and saw the city surrounded by the Syrian army. It turns out the entire military was bearing down on the city to capture just one man — Gehazi’s boss, Elisha.

For his part, Elisha wasn’t worried. In fact, he already knew about the manhunt. He also knew about the angel hunt. And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. — 2 Kings 6:17 NIV.

When Gehazi saw that they were not alone, he probably laughed.

He laughed more at what happened next. Elisha prayed and the Syrians were “blinded.” He himself went out to them and asked them who they were looking for. When they responded that they sought Elisha, he said, “He’s not here. I’ll take you to him.” And he led the entire army to another town, where he prayed their eyes be opened so they could see their mocked haplessness. The king of Samaria asked Elisha if he should imprison them or kill him, but Elisha said, “Nah, give them something to eat and let them go.”

Are you the only one in your family or workplace that’s a Christian? Do they gang-up on you and pick on you? Do you feel alone? You are not alone. More are with you than with them. Pray for the Lord to turn your torment into triumph.

They call it freedom

freewayHere in LA, freeways aren’t often “free.” They’re clogged and miserable.

Here on Earth, the free ways of sin aren’t either. Being “free” from God’s law makes you a slave to sin. You may persuade yourself you’re free and happy — but that doesn’t, can’t, won’t last. True freedom, joy and peace can be found only in Jesus.

The intelligentsia has done a wonderful job of publicity. They have barraged the public with a continual onslaught so that people believe that Greenland is actually green. Ha!

If you’re tired of the lies, come to Christ and enjoy true freedom.

Transparency

Christian transparencyOne of things they hate the most about us Christians is we pretend to be better than we are. God hates that too; just look at when David condemned a rich man for stealing his poor neighbor’s sheep when David had slept with Bathsheba and killed Uriah.

Really, we’re no different than people in the world: they like on their resumes, we in our testimonies.

There are forces that push us to insincerity. One is that we cannot deny the Word even while we are not living it. The world says: I don’t criticize your sin; you don’t criticize mine. Even if Christians are in sin, they can’t verbally embrace it. To do so would be to renounce Christ. It’s better to be a failed Christian than not a Christian.

Another force is the pressure of ministry. A standard of conduct is required for any job. When we hedge that, it’s too easy to cover up. This is a universal tendency. “Hypocrite” is a quick and easy way to bash Christians. But in the Greek, a hypocrite is an actor. I live near Hollywood, and when a person calls himself an actor, it’s a compliment. Everybody on the planet is a poser. Not even Socrates was so sincere.

But having explained why Christians are insincere, I want to state that a push for sincerity will attract people. Ultimately, we are saved by grace, not by works. We are just as messed up as people in the world. We experience temptation and fall. We get back up, ask for forgiveness and try to serve Jesus again. A sinner has no one to turn to. We turn to Christ from the holes we fall in.

If you make an effort to be sincere, people will relate you. If all you do is brag about how good you are, you’re turning people off to you and the gospel. Not even Jesus bragged about how good He was, and He was sinless. To the contrary, he cracked down on the Pharisees pretended to be good in front of society but wanted to kill Jesus — now that’s what I call “hypocrisy.”

To win, you must surrender

Appomattox Marks 150th Anniversary Of Surrender Of Lee's Army In Civil War

People resist the Bible because they can’t get the paradoxes. They feel like God is going to rip them off, that He’s a tyrant, a killjoy, a cruel taskmaster whose greatest delight is to snoop for mistakes and send lightning bolts — or pestilence, famine and bad luck.

If you don’t have a mind prepared to understand paradoxes, you’ll have a tough time. You’ll be snapping at God about “catches” and raw deals.

One of the great paradoxes is that we are in warfare. But the irony is that the way to WIN is to LOSE. When we surrender to God, we obtain victory on other fronts. When we fight against God, we lose on other fronts.

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‘Sheriff of Skid Row’ ministers while he arrests

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For 20 years, he’s patrolled the most dangerous, smelliest, grungiest disease-saturated section of Los Angeles, a one-square-mile on the edge of downtown called Skid Row where 2,000 sleep on the streets each night.

And Deon Joseph loves it because he gets to share Jesus. He’s never used his gun and has made more friends than arrests. He’s started mentoring and self-defense programs and even become a sort of spokesman to city officials about the need to address mental health issues.

“We need to be lights in dark places,” Joseph told Liberty University students. “If ever the world needed us to be a light, it’s right now.”

It’s only a 15-minute jaunt from the hipster-dominated financial district of downtown. But for some, the journey to Skid Row is a life of bad decisions that lead to the last way station before death.

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“When I was 5 years old, I wanted to be a famous R&B singer,” Joseph said. “I did not realize my steps were ordered by God to be on Skid Row. I never thought I would be dealing with crack addicts, drug dealers, loan sharks, pimps and prostitutes.”

Joseph was born to Christian parents who, through the years, welcomed 41 foster kids into their household. His dad got saved when he mugged a preacher. He married his mom, dug ditches, collected cans, fed the homeless and started a construction business to give work to people like him, who had grown up in the Jim Crow South.

When Joseph finished his LAPD training phase, he volunteered for Central Division, not realizing it would lead him into the heart of darkness.

Skid Row is now being called the “homeless capital of America.” It’s the product of anti-police policies and NIMBYs (the acronym Not In My BackYard is for homeowners who wish to corral all the trouble-makers into one bad area of LA), Joseph said.

“I came from Venice where you have beautiful women, lattes and fine eateries,” Joseph remembered of his first day in Central. “And when I worked in Skid Row, it was as if I tripped and fell into Dante’s Inferno or Mad Max’s Thunderdome.

saving our inner cities“There were rows and rows of people destroying themselves with crack and heroin, beer, having sex on the sidewalk, defecating on the sidewalk with a porta potty right next to them because the gangsters wouldn’t let them use the toilet,” he said. “The smell was a combination of blood, feet and fish. It grabbed you by the nose hairs and shook you.”

Despite the dehumanizing exploitation and the desensitizing constant crime, Joseph fell in love with the beat.

“Why am I in this place that could easily be compared to hades, and I’m comfortable?” he asked his mom. “My mom said, ‘Son, if ever you feel comfortable in chaos, it’s probably where God called you to be.’ On Skid Row I realized I was home.”

It was never easy though. On his first two months, he worked the front desk where he saw firsthand the mayhem.

“Every five minutes somebody was coming in with their arm broken backwards at 45 degrees, lacerated cheeks, swollen eyes,” he said. “One guy came in and his intestines were hanging out. And they didn’t want a police report because they were that scared of their attacker. All they wanted was an ambulance to whiz them away to the hospital.”

He formed friendships with mentally ill people – only to see them die tragically months later.

One such was “Hurricane Linda,” who knocked over desks at the station, ripped out phones and spat on officers. Joseph was nervous the day she came in like the Tazmanian Devil. Spotting him, she directed a laser gaze on him that made him even more nervous. Read the rest of the story.

Saved from Islam, abuse, demons and the hitman

maz a 2Her own dad paid a hitman to behead her.

Maz looked for the right words to tell her dad, a staunch Muslim, that she had converted to Christ.

“It was so hard to forgive (my dad),” Maz said in her YouTube video testimony. “It was so heart-breaking to know that your own dad would do something like that.”

For much of Islam’s existence, the death penalty was the preferred punishment for “apostates,” and some hardliners still adhere to that iron-handed brand of justice.

Maz grew up in the UK under a strict and even abusive form of Islam until she ran away. Her sister, then a minor, was placed in foster care by the Department of Community Services, and for a time was under Maz’s care.

But the abuse is not what drove her to Christ. It was the demons.

“I’d be waking up in the middle of the night, and I’d feel like there was someone there choking me. I couldn’t breathe, she said. “Or I’d feel like someone there was stabbing me with a knife. I’d feel the pain – all sorts of paranormal activities that you can think of: doors slamming at night, I’d hear someone breathing next to me. It was absolutely terrifying.”

After she could stand it no longer, she sought help from people of every walk of life – but none could help her. She even called a sheikh. But then she spoke to a Christian friend, who brought a man practiced in spiritual warfare.

“As soon as he commanded every evil spirit to leave in the name of Jesus Christ, you could feel peace. You could feel the power of the name of Jesus Christ,” Maz said. “Something moved me from the inside. It was so powerful. His name is incredibly powerful and everything would just run. We knew there was something there (to Jesus), something very special.”

Confronted with the undeniable power of Jesus’ name, she began to attend Bible study to learn more about Jesus, but for her Islam-inculcated mind the gospel didn’t make much sense – especially the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

“How could God die?” she asked. “It was like a foreign language for me. I didn’t understand what it was all about.”

Whenever the demons returned, she would rebuke them in Jesus name and find tranquility. But one day she came home to find her sister in complete terror, and it took hours to convince her to explain. The demons had threatened that if the Christian man ever returned, they would exact revenge on Maz and her sister. Read the rest of the story.

How did we get so much junk?

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Not my move-out dumpster.

It took a couple of weeks to complete our move from Santa Monica to Van Nuys. I let the ladies handle most of the decisions of what to throw out because if left to me, everything goes. I become a vicious minimalist.

But when our deadline came and went, it was time for me to take over and throw out a dumpster full of stuff that — in theory — we might use possibly once in our lifetime given the right conditions. When it comes to junk, I’m not very sentimental. (Why are we saving the wedding dress?)

The Great Purge of the Ashcraft household raised a question: How did we get so much junk?

When we got of the plane fleeing a life as missionaries in Guatemala, we had nothing. Just clothes. The church let us stay in the parsonage. People donated furniture and stuff so we could begin to eke out a life here in the lap of luxury. It’s been six years. Apparently the accumulation and consumerism has progressed unchecked all this time. I am a guilty party: I read, for example, that a water filter made for better coffee. I could never taste the difference.

All this stuff really doesn’t improve our quality of life. It doesn’t contribute to our essential happiness. Why did I buy into the lie that another thang is going to make me happy? How did incessant consumerism possess my heart? We can’t take it with us when we die.

Admiring stars

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Don’t tell my son, but I threw out his collections book for the just-ended America Cup soccer tournament. The house is pell-mell with my recent Valley Boy Pastor move to Van Nuys, and I need less stuff to put away. He hadn’t purchased any of the stickers, which are expensive, and it’s not as fun after it’s over than when it’s about to begin.

Soccer star collections are fun because you can reminisce about past exploits and wonder who will overcome. People collect memorabilia about movie stars, famous war heroes and Anime characters.

There’s one star collection I will never throw out: It’s the Bible. The other collections are temporal. People debate who is the greatest soccer player of all time (Maradona or Pele) and speculate if anyone will ever do better. Most get forgotten. Time tends to do that.

Not the stars in the Bible. They continue to shine brightly as an example to us today, not only for their superheroic acts but also for the failings. By reading the Bible, we can deduce some mistakes to NOT make, we can emulate some good qualities.

After all, what is life really about? I think the soccer is only an entertainment.

But I’m only worried about the toe nail clipper

IMG_0866There are boxes and piles around my apartment as I just completed my move to the San Fernando Valley to start a church. There 1,749 things that need to be sorted out and put away. But I’m not worried about any of them.

I’m worried about finding just one thing: the toe nail clipper. These are the misadventures of the Valley Boy Pastor.

The ridiculously mundane can crowd out Jesus. So easily I get stressed out or bummed out. Out of what? Out of the joy of daily relationship with Jesus.

There’s a lot to do and detractors prowling. It’s easy to forget Priority #1 among so many priorities. This is an appeal — to myself primarily — to keep focused on Jesus always as I plant a church in Van Nuys with the Christian Fellowship Ministries.

You are not able

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So said Saul to David, just before the shepherd boy cut off Goliath’s head in single combat.

Boy, nobody believed in David. Not his brother. Not his king. I guess Saul figure there would be nothing lost if David lost: You are not able. — 1 Sam.17:35

And then David went out and, with a stone and sling, showed he was able.

Of course, God was behind the miracle. The story of how David sunk a stone in the giant’s forehead is actually the first laser-guided projectile. Yeah, God was the laser guidance system.

And the giant fell down. And David ran to him, took his own sword and cut his head off.

The Philistines, who no doubt were thinking David wasn’t able, panicked and ran.

The next time someone tells you you’re not able, laugh and go out and do it in the power of God.

Run, don’t walk

run dont walkShimei was bad — or so I always thought.

He cursed King David in a moment of weakness. From his own house, David faced rebellion. As his son Absalom worked a coup d’etat, David fled. Shimei pelted him with stones and insults at that time. Shimei was a relative to the former king.

So when the coup collapsed and David returned to assume the throne, Shimei was the first to hustle to ask forgiveness. And he was granted it. (2 Sam. 19:16-23)

Shimei is a picture of grace. We shouldn’t resist coming to God. We shouldn’t be lackadaisical or half-hearted. We are dead dogs with no hope. Run, don’t walk. Get God’s grace quick. Don’t fight it. Don’t retrench. Let’s humble ourselves quickly and repent.

Availing ourselves to the love of God now is the only logical human response. I’d always seen Shimei as bad because of other parts of his story. But this time through the Bible, I got stuck on this one good part.

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All you need… #ValleyBoyPastor musings

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You don’t need a fancy building. As a matter of fact, a fancy building can be the ruin of a church. Where does the New Testament say Christians focused on buildings? In the first century, they met in homes, next to river and then in catacombs.

All you need is the Spirit and the Word. These two activate all the elements that comprise “church.” They — not American luxuries — bring revival. Revival is not getting a fancy building. Revival is the Spirit moving on the hearts of many men.

I got a building once, in Guatemala (so I’m not speaking from a poverty mentality of resentment and envy; I’m speaking from experience). I believe the building has its upsides. But now that I am starting a church in Van Nuys with the Christian Fellowship Ministries, I want to stay as far away from that headache as possible. I want to follow the Acts example. I want the Spirit of God, not a storefront church.

I know a church in Africa that has met under a tree for eight years. It is a church, people congregate, disciples are being raised up, the word is preached with power, transformation is being done, and they have no building. After the building comes the improvements. We end with the Sistine Chapel, gaudy gold and Michelangelo, void of Spirit. Money that should have been spent on getting souls saved is diverted to personal comforts.

Dominique Moceanu got gold — and then a sister

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As she vaulted, tumbled and dismounted, the daring and graceful 14-year-old Dominique Moceanu stole America’s heart as she helped the “Magnificent Seven” win America’s first team gold in women’s gymnastics at the 1996 Olympics.

Little did fans realize that behind the winsome waif was a nightmare life of overbearing Romanian coaches and an iron-fisted dad who would ultimately drive her to derail her gymnastic career, rebel against her parents and fall into rave parties and drugs, her autobiography Off Balance reveals.

When, at 17, she sued her abusive dad to legally “emancipate” herself, tabloids accused her being a spoiled brat. The gymnastics facility her dad built with her million dollar earnings eventually shuttered as her world unraveled.

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Dominique Moceanu with the sister she never knew. Jennifer Bricker, born without legs, was adopted by a strong Christian family.

But none of this shook her as much as the revelation that she had a secret sister. Her Romanian immigrant parents had efficiently disposed of their third daughter, born with no legs, through the American adoption system.

“I was overcome with emotion,” Dominique told Christianity Today. “I was enraged, I was so upset that I had been lied to by omission for 20 years and for all that time I didn’t know and we were missing out on somebody’s life.”

She was 26 years old, married, pregnant and studying for final exams at college when the package arrived with a letter, pictures and adoption papers to demonstrate its sender was not just a fan trying to get an audience.

“You have been my idol all my life, and you turned out to be my sister!” the letter gushed.

Jennifer Bricker, adopted by a strong Christian family, had been raised to never use her disability as an excuse. She was strangely drawn to gymnastics and even won Illinois’ state high school tumbling championship. From an early age, she loved Dominique on the television and felt a strange connection to her.

“All the dots were connected from above, because all of this is too unbelievable to have it be just coincidence,” Dominique said. “Jennifer is very faithful, and we believe that God was leaving clues so she could find (me) one day.” Read the rest of the article.

Rocky, Rambo and Ross got redeemed

expendables

Stallone in the purple jacket.

Action megastar Sylvester Stallone has always done his own stunts, which sometimes resulted in broken bones and hospitalizations. The Italian Stallion’s faith in Christ survived many blows as well, until the Hollywood prodigal found his way back to the Lord.

“I was raised in a Christian home,” Stallone told the Dove Foundation. “I was taught the faith and went as far as I could with it until one day I got out into the so-called real world. I was presented with temptation and I lost my way and made a lot of bad choices.”

rocky-balboa_punched_ignStallone, 70, was born in New York City. His father was a hairdresser and beautician. His mother ran a gym, being an astrologer, dancer and promoter of women’s wrestling.

His birth was accompanied by complications. The obstetrician used forceps that accidentally severed a nerve causing paralysis in portions of his face, contributing to his trademark mad dog look and slightly slurred speech.

His parents divorced when he was nine, which may have had a bearing on his poor school performance. Evicted when he was 24 and sleeping at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, Stallone accepted a role in a soft-core porn movie for $200.

sylvester stallone“It was either do that movie or rob someone, because I was at the end – the very end – of my rope,” he told Playboy.

He landed some other minor roles but hit huge success with the 1976 Rocky, which won three academy awards and seized the American consciousness. The underdog boxer became an American icon.

Six sequels and a Special Forces series called Rambo followed that success. The Expendables came later. From the dregs of society, he was catapulted to the summit of Hollywood success, and the flush of money and fame brought a glut of temptation.

“All of sudden you’re given the keys to the candy store and temptation abounds, and then I began to believe my own publicity,” Stallone told Pat Robertson in an interview. “There’s no question. I admit it. I just lost my way.”

He divorced twice, first from Sasha Czack and then from Brigitte Nielsen. He is currently married to Jennifer Flavin, with whom he has three daughters.

His personal struggles have become fodder for the introspection in some of his later films. His 48-year-old half sister Toni Ann Filiti succumbed to lung cancer in 2012. In his most recent film “Creed,” Rocky Balboa needs to be pushed to fight cancer by Donnie Johnson, the youngster Rocky is training to fight in the ring.

By his own account, Stallone spiraled downward for 12 years until he finally had a prodigal son epiphany and decided to return to the faith of his childhood.

“Finally I realized it had to stop,” Stallone said. “I had to get back to basics and take things out of my own hands and put it in God’s hands.”

Even in the anti-Christian environment of Hollywood, he unabashedly acknowledges his faith in Christ – and he spills enthusiasm about going to church.

“The more I go to church and the more I turn myself over to the process of believing in Jesus and listening to his word and having Him guide my hand, I feel as though the pressure is off me now,” Stallone told Focus on the Family. “The church is the gym of the soul. You cannot train yourself. You need to have the expertise and the guidance of someone else.”

Now older and wiser, Stallone admits to some distaste for the shallow violence of his earlier films. But he stands behind the Rocky series.

“This is a story of faith, integrity and victory,” he said. “Jesus is the inspiration for anyone to go the distance. You could compare his courage to that of David, who as the epic underdog defeated the giant Goliath in battle. It’s a metaphor about life. ”

A sequel to Rambo has been in the works for some time, with discussion of one version being a rescue of missionaries out of ISIS’ control in Iraq. But this film may never get done.

The Stallone trademark for his movies is that he does his own stunts. This has resulted in injuries that he has tried to mask with tattoos on his shoulders, chest and upper back. The first tattoo was a portrait of his wife Flavin.

For Rocky IV, he told Dolph Lundgren (who played his Russian opponent): “Punch me as hard as you can in the chest,” he said at a Comic Con panel. “Next thing I know, I was in intensive care at St. John’s Hospital for four days. It’s stupid!”

The injuries too are a metaphor because when we wander from Christ, they tend to make us reflect about what is most important and bring us back to Jesus. It would seem to be something Stallone would say.

This article was written with Alex Cervantes, a student of the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica, where I teach. It was originally published on God Reports.

Christian Fellowship Ministries – Tucson Door Christian Center

The Prevailing Church – Final Cut – Re-Arranged from Retell Stories on Vimeo.

I got energized and excited about my Christian faith in CFM Bible conferences, headed by Pastor Wayman Mitchell in Prescott. Through those conferences, God re-activated the call to pastor in my life. For 16 years, my wife and I “pioneered” a church and school in Guatemala. Now we are scrambling a start-up church in Van Nuys. Here’s the inspiring conference video  from the Tucson Door Christian Center led by Pastor Harold Warner. This video was produced by Nate Scribner.

Dwight Howard flies high with Jesus in NBA

dwight howard jump

When Dwight Howard was 15 years old, he had national coaches admiring his basketball skills, friends galore following him around and lots of girls throwing him kisses.

Then he broke his leg, and the coaches, the friends, and the girls all disappeared as if by the rapture.

“God said, ‘Dwight I had to humble you,’” he said in a YouTube video. “After that I told God, ‘I will never ever be cocky again. I will always be humble because I never want this to happen to me again.’”

dwight howard at baptism

Dwight has proven the naysayers wrong who figured he would never make the NBA after that accident. An eight-time NBA All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight led the Orlando Magic to three division titles and one conference title. At 30 years old, he just finished his 12th season as center for the Houston Rockets.

Through it all, he has consistently talked Jesus. In a recent video, he wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the words: “Y’all need Jesus.” When he was drafted straight out of high school (the #1 pick!), he declared he would use his fame in basketball to “raise the name of God within the league and throughout the world.”

As a kid, his parents always took him to church in Atlanta, Georgia. When he was 12, he had his first real encounter with God. He was at home asking God what his purpose was in life. Then he heard an audible voice saying, “Dwight.”

There was nobody else at home at the moment, so Dwight was more than a little frightened. He heard his name again: “Dwight.”

Half afraid and half marveling, he went into the bathroom. There, God told him his purpose: to glorify Him in the NBA.

Yet he doubted the supernatural encounter. Find out what he did. Read the rest of the story.

Why did American media largely ignore the story of forgiveness

forgivenessSomething extraordinary happened — just days after Dylann Roof killed nine African-American church-goers a year ago — and the MM almost completely ignored it. In court, mere days after the white supremacist snuffed the lives of their loved ones, family members forgave him in court statements. Most of the media saw fit to omit the quotes.

dylann“You took something very precious from me, but I forgive you,” said a victim’s  daughter as reported by the UK’s Guardian. “It hurts me. You hurt a lot of people, but may God forgive you.”

The New York Times included the quotes in the video segments but didn’t put them in print. Other media didn’t include them even on their video. Discussions of racism and gun control abounded, Christian love at its finest, got overlooked.

But while the MM — mainstream media — continually hit readers with the onslaught of post-Christian drivel, a quiet revolution of revival is shaking our country, off the radar because it doesn’t fit their concept of utopia. It is the revolution of the triumph of good over evil, of love over hate, of Christianity over Satan.

These are my celebrities #ValleyBoyPastor

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You can have your selfies with actors. I’ll take Aruna and Juliana Bangura from Sierra Leone. They were born in a country forgotten by the world, once classified by the United Nations as the second poorest in the world. As youth, they got involved in a new church being planted by Alvin Smith. The disciples fought over the candles after church to keep reading their Bibles at home (no electricity).

They distinguished themselves as uncommon followers of Christ. They planted a church in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where they learned French. Yesterday, they were announced in Bible conference to plant a church in Marseille, France. The model of sending Third World missionaries to the First World may seem counter-intuitive, but it seems to have God’s blessing. Another Sierra Leonan is already seeing revival in Marseille from our mission, the Christian Fellowship Ministries.

So you can dote over photo with actors. I’m thrilled to have snagged a pic with someone who’s famous in Heaven.

Let God’s light break in on your darkness

God's light

My daughter likes the dark. I’m always turning on lights, and she goes around turning them off.

Some people persuade themselves that they like the dark. But after the fake fun wears off, then there’s the Word of God ready to enthrall your heart.

I’m glad God broke into my darkness. Inexpressible joy and peace displaced the depression and loneliness in my heart.

Oh, I’m not immune to depression and loneliness, but there’s a difference between a superficial, temporal bout and a chronic, acute case.

The greatest irony of Christianity is that people are absolutely convinced that they don’t want, like, need what they really want, like, need.