Category Archives: Christianity

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

David - you are able

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.

Save

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.

dominique secret sister

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.

Change is good, but eternity is better

God is eternal

Change is good. We shouldn’t stay with the errors of the past. But some change-lovers go too far: they want to change the unchanging Word of God. It’s value lies not in an evolving interpretation subject to winds of change. It’s value lies in its unchanging nature.

You can’t modify God’s injunctions, no matter how much you would wish to see otherwise. There are good, profound and correct reasons that some sins cannot be taken off the sin list. Christianity is not like building code or constitutional updates. God doesn’t need to rewrite the code to patch vulnerabilities.

The beauty of the Word of God is its perfection, its immutability, its eternity. What was true thousands of years ago is still true today. It’s universal. There are things that are difficult for us moderns to understand. I’m sure the ancients felt the same way — maybe towards the things that we really do understand.

Overlooking offenses

forgiveness

Proverbs 19:11 praises you as a strong person if you are able to overlook an offense. Latin American hero Simón Bolivar said the greatest revenge was to forget the offense. In others, don’t validate it by giving it attention or credibility.

Of course this is very hard to do, and if you are able, you are an incredible human being. The rest of us are shooting as best we can for the goal.

‘Two strikes’ scared him, so this gang banger turned to Jesus

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Edgar Cervantes in his car. He delivers for the deli and he drives to outreaches all over to share about Jesus.

By Jasmine Cervantes and Mark Ellis

Little Edgar Cervantes shrieked with terror when the cops raided his home in Pacoima, California, hauling his mom, dad and uncle off to jail for the drugs, hot money and stolen jewelry retrieved on the property.

The tyke, then only 6, was unceremoniously dumped off with his grandmother. From a tender age, he was marred.

By the 11th grade, Edgar had fallen into a calamitous family pattern: smoking marijuana, stealing, partying and fighting. Pacoima, a poor neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley, was a gang war zone in 1990s, so Edgar, joining the fray, became part of the Pacoima Cayuga Street Locos gang.

He was tagging, handling plenty of illicit money and ditching classes. Three times he got arrested for grand theft auto. While kicking back with some “homies” one day, he got introduced to Nadia, and they started dating. After a few months, she told him she was pregnant.

Edgar “freaked out” because he was still young and lived with his parents. Nadia wanted Edgar to take responsibility and come and live at her house with her parents, who were shocked but wanted to make the best of the situation.

Edgar, who had dropped out of school, started working but maintained his drug use and gang activities. He preferred his drug trips to spending time with Nadia. After an extended time of not getting Edgar to change, Nadia got fed up and asked him to leave.”

Nadia was left alone working and raising her baby, Jasmine.

Every day Edgar woke up feeling depressed and lonely. He quit his job and turned to heavier drugs – crystal meth, for example – to numb the pain and forget about losing his girlfriend and daughter. The meth produced erratic emotional states and made him violent.

At one party, a homosexual was trying to “hit on him,” and Edgar wound up beating him so badly that he went into a coma. After weeks lingering between life and death, the victim woke up – and Edgar was spared a murder charge. Find out how Jesus saved Edgar – click here. There’s a big surprise at the ending.

Jasmine Cervantes wrote this article as an assignment for my English class at the Lighthouse Christian Academy on the Westside of Los Angeles.

A hostile nation could shut down our power grid

hacking power gridBy Anthony Gutierrez

In the wake of a recent hacker attack that shut down electricity in Ukraine, U.S. cyber experts have upgraded their warnings to utility companies about the potential of hostile nations to disrupt the domestic power grid.

The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have been touring the nation giving briefings to infrastructure leaders about the potential for foreign hackers to surreptitiously bypass security measures, commandeer master controls and even wipe out systems.

In the case of Ukraine, cyber attackers linked to Russia crashed the power grid for several hours on Dec. 23rd leaving 289 cities and towns either completely or partially blacked out. At the same time, perpetrators bombarded and overloaded the phone response system with spurious calls to divert administrators’ attention and prolong the shut down.

The malicious software attack was seen as part of the military conflict in which Russia has supported the pro-Russian Crimean separatists of Eastern Ukraine.

Ultimately, the Ukraine restored power by manually turning on switches. In the U.S., such a solution might not be so simple because of the greater dependence on computer automation.

“It is only a matter of the ‘when’ — not the ‘if,’” said Mike Rogers, head of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, in a speech March 2, as reported by the Jewish Voice news. “We’re going to see a nation-state, group or actor engage in destructive behavior against critical infrastructure in the United States. Read the rest of the article.

Anthony Gutierrez wrote this article as an assignment for my English class at Santa Monica’s Lighthouse Christian Academy.

Hindu radicals knocked this pastor off his motorcycle and beat him

Pastor-Ram-Prakash-has-faced-two-attacks-by-Hindu-extremists-in-Uttar-Pradesh-state.-Morning-Star-News-188x300

Pastor Prakash

By Anthony Gutierrez

After his hut was burned by Hindu extremists two weeks earlier, Pastor Ram Parkash was knocked off his motorcycle by three men who pursued him on motorcycles.

Shouting obscenities and reviling Jesus, the attackers beat him savagely as he lay on the ground on March 24.

“So finally, we are able to get hold of the Christian man who has been roaming around converting people to Christianity,” one attacker growled, according to Morning Star News.

Pastor Prakash sustained broken bones, abrasions and other injuries before police showed up and took him to the local hospital.

Prakash has pastored in Northern India for 15 years. On that fateful March day, he had just visited four Christian families, praying with them in the remote Karoate village in the Uttar Pardesh State. He was returning home on his motorcycle when he realized he was being pursued by hostile motorcyclists.

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Extremists in India (not from the Prakash incident).

Prakash tried to evade their pursuit, but one of his attackers hit the back of his motorcycle, which sent him spinning to the ground. The fall injured his right leg. The radicals began yelling at him, threatening him and ordering him to stop talking to people about Jesus. They dismounted from the bikes and began to kick and beat the prone pastor who couldn’t rise because of the pain in his leg.

“The Hindu extremists surrounded me, yelled at me, and they told me never to set foot again in their village and accused me of making people believe in Jesus and telling them not to eat food offered to the idols but rather to eat beef,” Prakash told Morning Star News.

Soon eight other Hindu hardliners arrived to mock, slap, push and kick the pastor, who writhed in pain.

Hindutva

Hardliners unrelated to the Prakash incident.

A passer-by wanted to intervene, but the attackers said the pastor had suffered a motorcycle accident. Other onlookers gathered, and one recognized the pastor and called his brother, who brought seven Christians with him to finally rescue Prakash.

After a half hour, police arrived and took Pastor Prakash to a local hospital. But the injuries required more medical capabilities than offered at the village hospital, so he was transferred to the district hospital.

The pastor’s brother told Morning Star that the Hindu toughs exercise an out-sized influence in villages over local authorities.

“The police are under the pressure of the Hindu extremist group, and they are reluctant to register a case against the attackers,” he said.

To the contrary, the assailants submitted a complaint to police, accusing Pastor Prakash of illegal proselytism.

“The accusation they levied against the pastor is completely untrue,” said area Christian leader Santosh Kumar. “People decided to follow Christ under their own free will.”

Previously, approximately 25 Hindu extremists armed with clubs threatened the pastor and ordered him to leave his village. They prohibited worship services and forbade him to speak of Jesus, threatening to seize his land.

When Pastor Prakash and his brother calmly refused, the Hindu extremists beat them and set the pastor’s hut on fire. Its roof and beds and chairs were burned. He and his wife escaped with only minor cuts.

The hate crimes have had a chilling effect on members of the church, Prakash said.

“Because of the constant persecution that we are facing here and in the surrounding areas, many are hesitant to come to the church now,” he said.

This article, written by student at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica, was first published on God Reports.

Alexander Rossi will roar into Heaven like he roared across the finish line to win the Indy 500

alexander-rossi-indy-indianapolis_3475754When the 100th Indy 500 concluded, Alexander Rossi had a greater reason to rejoice than his stunning rookie victory: as a Christian, he’ll roar into Heaven just like he roared across the finish line at the historic event on May 29.

“I believe there’s a greater plan,” Rossi told Bleacher Report. “I feel that driving race cars and being involved in Formula One and motorsports is my opportunity to share my beliefs.”

alexander-rossi-indy-indianapolis_3475756Ranked a 66-to-1 to win before the race, Rossi, 24, stayed mid-pack for most of the race to cut wind-drag and conserve fuel.

While the top two contenders made pit stops for a last douse of fuel in the final laps, Rossi continued driving at the underwhelming speed of 179 mph to stretch his tank and beat his opponents by staying on the track. He ran so low that he couldn’t finish his victory lap and had to be towed in front of the sellout 350,000 spectator crowd.

It was the strategy of the tortoise against the hare, and it worked. When he downed the traditional celebratory jug of milk, Colombian racer Carlos Munoz was clearly downcast over being outwitted by a driver in a slower car.

alexander rossi christianRossi grew up in Nevada City, California, where he started racing go-karts as a kid and graduated from nearby Auburn Forest’s Lake Christian High School. On his website, he cites God and his parents as his biggest influences. On his twitter account, he writes “In God we trust” frequently.

Rossi has been living in Europe where he races Formula 1 as a reserve driver for the Manor Racing. But he jumped at the chance to drive the Indianapolis 500 for the team Bryan Herta in conjunction with Andretti Autosport.

“Who would know that Rossi would win an oval race? Probably one of the toughest ones, too,” Mario Andretti told IndyCar Racing News. “Here again, it shows the moments of brilliance. It shows that he can be versatile, which is huge. I think it is a huge attribute to any driver to show versatility.”

Rossi is the 70th winner to enter the annals of the Indy fame. His name was already registered in the annals of Heaven.

This article first appeared here on God Reports.

Gratitude for others’ sacrifice

memorial dayConfession: I was somewhat unpatriotic as a youth. I always saw people around the world as equal. I learned in college that the belief in one’s superiority is ethnocentrism. I mixed in a bit of Christianity: God sees all people equal.

But when I was in dire straits, this country came through for me.After 16 years as a missionary, I fled kidnappers in Guatemala to the safety of America. My Guatemalan friends told me crime was everywhere, but it’s not true. Thank God for America. Thank God for godly principles upon which it was founded — and continue to be present despite a cultural distancing from God. Thank God for the blessings of America. Donald Trump says he wants to make America great again. He’s wrong; America hasn’t lost its luster.

I have seen the world, and there’s no place like America. No need to brag. America is still a light to the world, despite our many failings.

Thank God for men and women who have bravely defended our country, who have fought for freedom around the world, who have rained down upon evil men a hail of bullets and blasts. The university professors may criticize our government because we have the freedom to do so. I have been in countries where no one has the freedom to criticize governing authorities.

Today I wish to honor the dead and the living soldiers who keep America great.

This cat has forgotten what it is

Cats are supposed to hunt rats, not the reverse. Cats are not supposed to be chased, intimidated or harassed by rats. The nature of the cat is to hunt and dominate rats, but apparently it can be lulled out of its instinct by being spoiled.

So too the Christian is not supposed to be pushed around by the devil. It is their nature, their spiritual DNA, to hunt and kill devils, to free sinners from demons’ oppression. But we can be lulled out of our very nature. When we look for self-pleasing and self-blessing, we forget who we are. Then this rat becomes a picture of the devil chasing us around.

No Shangri La

shangri-laAt times, it’s good to remember that as much as we strive to bring Heaven to Earth, this is no Shangri La. We Christians are a poor reflection of the love of Christ — and His forgiveness.

The humanists have accused of us trashing Mother Earth because our worldview tells us Heaven is our permanent dwelling. Actually, I’m somewhat of an environmentalist myself. But it’s important to note that the greatest utopias have produced the worst hellholes. In the name of achieving unity, harmony and perfection specifically without God, the atheist leaders around the world have killed:

  • China 60 million.
  • Soviet Union 20 million.
  • Cambodia 2 million
  • North Korea 2 million
  • Ethiopia 1.7 million
  • Afghanistan 1.5 million
  • Eastern Bloc 1 million
  • Vietnam 1 million
  • Latin America 150,000 (Source)

The next time someone spills bile about Christianity’s supposed culpability for Crusades (1 million over 177 years) or the Spanish Inquisition (1,250 over 350 years). If people would study the facts without bias, there would be a lot less finger pointing at the religion that has freed people more than anything.

The human heart longs for a Shangri La, but human efforts to establish one here on Earth have failed horrifically.

 

There was opposition going forward

the fat of the land

“The fat of the land” was the King James version translation of the prosperity and blessing promised to the Israelites once they took possession of their God-destined territory. But there were significant obstacles — giants and stuff and heavily fortified cities.

When the Israelites finally mustered their courage, God blasted the walls in a way that puts modern demolition crews to shame. And the giants weren’t such a problem. Boys with slingshots took them out. Why did the first generation succumb to fear, doubt God and die in the desert? Yeah, in THAT place, they lived on the “lean of the land.”

Not everybody sees “fat” as bad around the world. In Nicaragua, they call a chubby guy “hermoso” — beautiful. That’s because in places where malnutrition is a chronic health issue, chubbiness is seen as healthy and blessed. Here in America, we’re blessed, but our forefathers had to act with great courage to win those blessings for us.

I encourage you to courage. Don’t stay in your comfort zone. Take up the greatest challenge God is stirring you to because that’s where His blessing is for you.

Loneliness, a great fear

loneliness

In Ender’s Game, Col Graeff isolates the child military prodigy: He must never think others will come to help him. He must find within himself the resources to solve his problems and triumph. In the end, the traumatizing “training” pays high dividends. Ender brilliantly defeats the buggers, who twice threatened to wipe out humanity. But the dividends come at a high cost: Ender can have no friends.

I loathe loneliness. I long for friendship, love, acceptance. Why must I face rejection in the place I expect to find love? Does God want me to learn to depend only on Him?

God made us to be social creatures. We thrive on affirmation. Without it, we can spiral. Social interaction can either help us serve Jesus or — depending on our friends — pull us away from Jesus. This is my basic ministerial tenet: give friendship to people and show them the way to Christ. Truth is critically important, but most people are not Socratic. They’re looking for friends, not truth.

Jesus associated himself with the despised: the prostitute, the tax collector, the leper. He touched a leper. That was forbidden by the law. He broke the law of God to grace an affection-starved human being. In medical terms, he risked getting sick to show love.

The church should not have outcasts, pariahs or blacklists. If it does, it approximates more the religious order of the Pharisees than of the disciples.

I still believe

I still believe

In 37 years of being a Christian, I’ve seen lots of friends tap out. They go through disappoints, failures, humiliations, emotional abuse. Out there, there are ravenous wolves disguised as sheep. Jesus warned as much, but it’s still pretty hard to swallow  bitter pills.

I haven’t given up in part because of the alternatives. As Peter said, Lord, You have the words of eternal life. Where else can we go? Jesus had just shown a horror flick, and His popularity took a nose dive; He had just told people to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Grisly material. Not even the disciples understood, but the stuck with Him.

I read articles and opinion pieces galore about trends of people leaving the church. They are “spiritual but not religious.” That sounds nice, but Jesus left just one institution. The gates of Hell would not prevail against His church. He did warn that there would be corruption in it.

Hitting up against corruption doesn’t feel particularly good. Or getting hit by it. Whichever. How much can a normal person stand? There’s no trite answer. All I can say is, “I still believe.”

Ark to sail to Brazil Olympic games

johanhuibers

A full-scale replica of Noah’s ark will voyage from the Netherlands to Brazil to be seen by tourists at the Summer Olympics.

The ark, a 3,000-ton vessel covered with wood planks, was finished in 2012 and floats at a dock in the Netherlands. The 450-foot long ark was the brainchild of millionaire contractor Johan Huibers, a Christian who has received 3,000 visitors a day to see and hear the story of the flood.

It is similar to an ark built by the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, KY. But that vessel, a project of noted creationist Ken Ham, rests on dry land.

By contrast, the Dutch exhibit floats at sea and is sea-worthy enough to make a 5,000-mile trip, assisted by tugboats, across the Atlantic Ocean. After making port at various cities in Brazil for two years, the ark will sail around the world and spread the gospel message everywhere it docks, Huibers said.

The Ark of Noah Foundation in Pasadena, California is organizing fund-raising for the initial sea journey.

Huibers caught his vision for building the ark after he dreamed that his native Netherlands was overwhelmed by flooding from the sea. A strong believer, he decided that building the ark would be a powerful witness to the public.

The boat is as tall as a five-story building and longer than a football field. It could hold 5,000 people at one time and cost Huibers $1.0 million to build.

According to the Foundation, Huibers will eventually make four stops along the U.S. coast at San Diego, Long Beach, San Francisco and Seattle. Prior to those four ports, it will visit Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Havana, Panama and Colombia.

“Johan overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve his ultimate goal of building a replica of Noah’s Ark,” the foundation’s website says.

Inside the ark are full-scale animal reproductions dispersed in cages and corrals on three decks. There are replica giraffes, elephants, lions, crocodiles, zebras and bison, among other animals. Museum displays tell the story of the Genesis Flood, the promise of the rainbow, the problem of sin and the hope of the gospel. There’s even a movie-theater inside this ark. Read the rest of the article.

This article, originally published on God Reports, was written by my English student at the Lighthouse Christian Academy.