Meanwhile we throw away a stadium full of food every day

food waste

The Huffington Post reports that Americans dump daily enough food to fill a stadium. What wasters we are.

Meanwhile, malnutrition plagues Africa, Asia and Latin America. Ugh. I hate waste. Yes, I’m one of those annoying people who tells his kids to eat everything on their plate. And the wise-alecks who tell me to send it in the mail to Africa, I wana sock ’em. (Yes, my faith goes on hold momentarily).

We don’t have a lot of money, but I always try to have plenty of food on hand in case anybody is hungry. We live on the same property as our Christian high school in Santa Monica, and most of the time that means hungry teens can traipse into my house, open up the fridge and help themselves — the only requirement for them is to clean up afterwards and NOT waste.

What can we do to eliminate waste and help the hungry?

Photo: Pinterest.

Don’t worry about the foundation

All foundations are equal, they say. Don’t worry about what the Bible says, they say. Morals are relative, they say.

Jesus says: Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock — Matt. 7:24 NLT.

In 2016, I’m still sticking with the Bible. I’m not joining the downgrade crowd, those who want to “move on” from the Bible to “better things.” Because when your life gets swallowed up by the uncertain foundation, it’s too late to change.

New Year comes regardless if you want it. New you, only if you want it

Michael-Bernhardt-1-810x508The New Year grinds forward. You may long for it or try to hold it off. You may think it augurs a new beginning, or you may be fretting for 36 things still to do in 2015. It’s forward progress is unstoppable.

But a new you doesn’t proceed forward in the same manner. A new you comes only if you change existing habits. If you set new goals — or maybe just goals, then you can pursue. A new you requires effort.

This is why I am a Christian. I want a better version of myself. I want to resolve not just once a year but daily for it and strive for it. Christianity is all about looking forward, embracing change. Christianity is about idealism and yet it is practical.

I encourage you to seek the new you — and, yes, I highly recommend you find it where I think it can only be found, in God.

Image: Michael Buehner on Pinterest.

Humanism worships us

humanismHumanism cuts God out of the equation: We don’t need the supernatural any more. We can engineer our own solutions. We have done good, not God. Humanism points to humanity.

Amid the constant carpet-bombing of the humanist message, I point to God. We Christians are not opposed to science or using the wisdom and talents God gave us to achieve. But we recognize our limitations and mortality. Science may continue to advance but ultimately will come up short.

Don’t look inward, look upward. There is a God who loves you and beckons you into relationship with Him. This is not superstition. This is common sense recognition that we, as much as we can create, ultimately cannot create creation. God made the raw materials which we use to make things.

Image: Pinterest.

Don’t ditch it

marriageMarriage is worth the work, the heartache, the pain.

We study thousands of hours for our careers. But we don’t want to spend any time preparing or repairing our marriage — and yet a good marriage is by far a better source of happiness than a career!

Some are so impatient they are floating alternative models: shacking up, equality marriages. The message is always the same: it’s just as good.

It is not.

One has the solid foundation of the Bible. The other has no foundation. It is a hastily-erected hut on dirt. It will stand and look pretty but won’t withstand an earthquake.

Love is worth it.

Many of my blogging friends have faced divorce. In order to succeed, marriage requires 100% of both — and yours collapsed because only you were giving 100%.

Remarry. Give happiness another shot. Give your 100% to another person.

The first “institution” was not the church. Nor was it government. God instituted marriage from the very creation.

Don’t ditch it.

Image from Pinterest.

Speak life

speak life

It only takes a few words to destroy a fellow human being. And some are actually proud of blandishing their words like a caveman his club. Meanwhile, the sensitive among are committing suicide — some only to their self-belief, their self-worth, their dreams. You will be held accountable by God for the words you uttered, and there will be no justification.

Why not speak life to those around you instead? As much as words can hurt, they can build up, encourage, spark genius, give the impulse to carry out success. You can make a person smile. You can make a person beautiful just by your words. You can save a life.

Use your words wisely. Here is a great secret of wisdom: not everything that occurs to your head needs to occur on your tongue.

Original image: Huffington Post via pinterest.

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions

resolutions

They only last three weeks. Then the gym empties out, the fridge fills up, and the checking account empties out. It’s sad.

I believe in church service. At the end of each service, we have the chance to go forward to the altar and “repent.” For the unchurched, that means, we make resolutions. No, were not a bunch of hypocrites. We’re just human. And humans need to constantly redirect their paths for the good.

We receive exhortation to forgive, to avoid pratfalls, to put our family first, to not waste our money, etc. I go to church at least three times a week. I make resolutions to be a better man at least three times a week.

This actually helps me to be a better human being. The constant forming of resolutions works better than the once-a-year grandiose life-changers, at least in my opinion.

Have you ever succeeded at at New Year’s resolution? Maybe I’m wrong. Share in the comments your experience.

The only basis for pastoring

basis for pastoringA pastor holds a delicate position in society. His job is to get his people into right relationship with God. He must not confuse his will with God’s will. Because he speaks the word of God in the name of God, he can mistakenly think everything he says is of God. He can abuse the trust given him by insisting on his way, by wanting always to get the credit, by injecting self into ministry.

If you love others selflessly, you’ll do well in the pastorate. If you love God above all else, you’ll do well. Beware if you love self intensely. You are going to hurt the flock of God.

I still have one day to fulfill 11 of 12 resolutions for 2015

new-years-resolutions1

Last night, I finally fulfilled my first of 12 resolutions for 2015. Yippee! Now I have 24 hours to carry out the other 11!

‘Black Hawk Down’ hero found a better way to transform the world than ‘kicking in doors and slinging lead’ with enemies

MAJ-Ret-Jeff-StrueckerWhat impacted Jeff Struecker most was NOT the thousands of hostile Somalis swarming his Humvee, nor the hailstorm of bullets and RPGs as he attempted to rescue fellow Rangers in the ill-fated 1993 raid of Mogadishu made famous by the movie Black Hawk Down.

What impacted him most was the next October morning back at base when his buddies one by one asked him about death and afterlife.

“It changed my life forever,” Struecker said. “I would still be a sergeant in the ranger regiment today if it wasn’t for what I saw the morning after the firefight. It wasn’t really the blood and the bullet holes that had an impact on me. It was back at the base the grown men, some of the toughest warriors on the planet, with tears in their eyes. They said, ‘Jeff, what happened to my best friend who just died last night? Jeff, what happens to me if I get on a helicopter or a Humvee tomorrow and I don’t make it home?’

fast rope“Almost all of them were saying, ‘Jeff, there was something different about you last night, and I want to know what it was,’” he said. “For the next 24 hours, I had guys lined up to ask me about Jesus Christ because they could see the difference that He makes when you’re getting shot at and when the bullets flying.”

Tom-in-Black-Hawk-Down-tom-guiry-25144097-853-480So 24 hours of giving advice did more than the extended, intensive Ranger training to direct Struecker’s career. Seeing a chance to impact the lives of men, Struecker became a chaplain for his same Ranger buddies in the 82nd Airborn Division, a post he’s held for more than a decade.

black-hawkThe Ranger/Delta Force mission code-named Operation Gothic Serpent on Oct. 3 began to go awry when Ranger PFC Todd Blackburn failed his fast-rope drop-in and fell 70 feet to the ground headfirst While other Rangers secured the perimeter and Delta Force operators seized two of Mohammed Farrah Aidid’s top lieutenants, the subsequent efforts to rescue the fallen ranger led to two helicopters being shot down and 18 deaths. Click here to read the rest of the article.

I’ve cut down on sarcasm

sarcasm“Sarcasm” comes from “sarx” in the Greek, which means flesh. It is cutting someone up.

It’s telling someone he’s stupid and you’re superior, more intelligent. You resort to sarcasm to show how obvious something is (but wasn’t to the first person who made the statement or asked the question — hence he’s dumb.) It is a humiliation.

Of course, sarcasm has plenty of attractiveness. It makes people laugh. It makes you look witty. People like to hang out with winners. You’re the winner if you use it quickest and cuttingest. It’s a pride thing.

I’ve cut down on sarcasm because I’ve been cut up by sarcasm. I’ve decided that I don’t need it to attract friends. I’ve realized that true friends are what I want, and they won’t be coming around for my barbs and witticisms. They’ll love me if I love them. The only love the sarcasm knows is self-love.

Don’t place a halo on my head yet. Sarcasm comes out more frequently than I’d like to admit. I’m not totally sincere and humble. I’ve still got my flesh.

Sarcasm is delusional. You begin to believe you are superior to others just because of quick tongue.

Maybe procrastination is not all bad

Christian school Santa MonicaWill Clancy was annoyed with Lighthouse at first. They kept talking about Jesus in every subject. From the second grade onward, he had been taught evolution, so he had long ago lost what little faith he might have had belonging to a family that went to Catholic church once in a while.

But while Lighthouse initially peeved him, he also perceived something different in the teachers and fellow students that ultimately brought him to faith and salvation.

“Everybody was happier. It was a closer community,” said Will, 16, an LCA junior. “I thought that was nice. I wonder why everybody was like that. Pastor Rob would always preach that the reason why people were so happy is that they had the joy of Jesus in them.”

Will accepted Jesus in a Harvester’s Homecoming, a Fall Bible conference in which pioneer pastors come back to their launching pad, the Lighthouse Church, to get fired-up about Jesus again. His mom required him to go to church.

One of the breaking points was talking to other youth at the Tucson Bible conference in June. “They were telling me all this stuff about how God was impacting their lives,” Will said. “For some reason, that broke through to me.”

Will enrolled in Lighthouse Church School 2012 in eighth grade. He is now a junior at Lighthouse Christian Academy along with his brother, Chris, a senior. His mom, Lisa Clancy, teaches Classical Literature to the freshmen and works as a counselor for the student body.

When he enrolled in Lighthouse, Will actually regretted it because his brother, Chris, got into Saint Monica’s Catholic School in Santa Monica. “I didn’t get my application in on time. I took too long,” he said. “But now I’d like to thank my procrastination for getting to where I am today.” Click here for the rest of the article.

She forgave would-be killer

immigration attorney los angelesWhen the gang-banger was on trial for nearly killing her brother, Cynthia Santiago wrote a letter to the court asking for leniency.

“We are Christians. We believe in forgiveness,” said Santiago, 31, now an immigration lawyer based in El Segundo. “We prayed for him (the shooter). We prayed God transform his life. I’m not the person to pass that kind of judgment on another human being.”

Santiago said her brother got involved in a race-based altercation at 20th St. and Delaware in Santa Monica in the early 2000s, and he was shot with a 22-caliber gun from close range. One bullet shattered his jaw and another pierced his heart and lung, she said.

He was rushed to St. John’s where he lay unconscious for nearly three weeks. When he woke up, he asked about his kids. After months of physical therapy, he returned to normal life.

Santiago’s extraordinary plea for clemency is part of the troubled past of a Santa Monica once beset by gang violence. Part of the reason she chose law is because she saw her own parents, as working class residents, struggle to get sound legal advice for her troubled brother. Read the rest of the article.

Editor’s Note: Cynthia Santiago was the flower girl in my wedding 25 years ago. My wife and I lost track of her when we spent 16 years in Guatemala as missionaries. When I found her on Facebook 24 years later, I’m surprised to see her all grown up and a lawyer! I praise God she, coming from a family without college students, had the wherewithal to study and achieve a dream. It seems to me that her choice to forgive is extreme and compelling. Her choice to help the neediest who need help only makes me admire her more.

Thank you for friendship

AshcraftsTo all my followers who have been with me through the ups and downs, exchanging encouragement and exhortations, thank you. Some of you are dear friends. Others of you I would like to get to know more.

Gifts received and gifts given

gifts serviceA gift received is a gift given. Whatever God has given you as a talent or a special characteristic, you must give to others.

Too many stars and intelligentsia use their talents for themselves. They believe themselves entitled to superior treatment. They fail to recognize that their beauty, voice or ability comes from God. God didn’t give you that gift because He has favorites — not to use it just for your own benefit.

If you are in the church, you must understand that God’s giftings come from God and are owed back to Him. I’m mystified by Christian servants who charge fellow servants for the use of their giftings. We are governed by capitalism more than the Bible. If we hold back on our service to the church, we are not being faithful to God.

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in various forms — 1 Peter 4:10.

 

 

Difficulties at Christmas

difficulties ChristmasSometimes I have to remind myself that God has everything under control. He’s permitting the difficulties. He’s shaping me. I don’t understand. I can’t see the big picture. Job didn’t know about the cosmic bet between Satan and God. All he could see was a completely unfair and incomprehensible situation.

If you are going through tough times at Christmas, remember: they might be a gift from God. Of course, you wouldn’t want this kind of gift. But you’ll like the results when God has finished His product. So hang in here, don’t lose heart. Thank Jesus for the difficulties.

Being highly favored

mary angelHail, Mary, highly favored of God! That’s how the angel greeted Mary in Luke 1:26.

Though she was favored to carry in her womb the Son of God, she was also in for some bad trials — like the loss of her “normal” life and dreams for a perfect marriage with Joseph. Her son would be crucified in front of her eyes. Yeah, a lot of trials.

But what I want to say here is that we are all favored of God. He loves us all. We all have a unique destiny. God has good things for us.

For Christmas, just realize how special you are to God. You are a gift to Him!

Shame’s power

young-pip

Pip

From the moment Estella despised his coarse hands and thick boots, a shroud of shame hung over Pip’s life, in Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations.

And that’s how Pip came to despise his dad, Joe Gargery, and his life’s destiny as a country blacksmith. Pip strives to become a “gentleman” but instead becomes a snob and a spendthrift. When his sham of a life implodes, it is the humble blacksmith, Joe, who pays off his bills.

Estella great expectations

Estella

Shame is dynamite to blow up family, loyalty and values. When we live for others, we lose ourselves.

Shame entered the world with the first sin and continues to rage, a byproduct of sin. Paul exhorts us to never be ashamed of Christ (Rom 1:16). Only worry about receiving praise from Him.

Every child wants to have an adorable monster friend

adorable monster friendQuite accidently, I’ve discovered the formula for Disney. As a joke, I got pictures of me, made up as the Ghost of Christmas Future, with the happy little kids in the play with fearful faces.

It seemed the kids were drawn to me, playing high-five-down-low-too-slow and what not. Every kid wants to have a friendly monster as a friend. I was the monster.

IMG_8702But here’s the flipside. If kids like it, so do monsters. The beast gets turned into a prince. The bad guy becomes good. Innocent love executes a transformation.

Who wouldn’t want to restore to the pristine innocence and untainted joy his monster soul? That’s why Jesus was was “without sin.” His love is pure, uncontaminated, simple childlike glee. Jesus says we must come to Him like children. We can shed the burdensome cynicism of being an adult. We can leave behind sin like a snake its skin. This Christmas, accept the best gift you could ever receive, the Giver of gifts.

Of course, our church Christmas play was very much along the Scoorgian lines. While I was waiting my role backstage, my mind was running through a completely different plot.

He could have played for instead of against

lionel-messi-Lionel Messi, with whom defenders can only keep up with their eyes, was loaded with so much talent, but clubs in Argentina were unwilling to give him the costly growth hormone he needed.

At 9, he would put 100s of touches on the ball to elude the best kid defenders. At 11, he was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency. His club, Newell’s Old Boys in Rosario, agreed to pay the daily injections that would cost $1,500 a month but only wound up given him 300 pesos.

messi cup of clubsSo he signed for FC Barcelona, which has since seen its investment amply paid back. Messi has won four consecutive Ballon d’Or, three Champion Leagues and six Spanish League titles.

He just won the World Cup of Clubs against an Argentine club, River Plate. When he scored the first goal, he raised his hand to apologize out of respect for his motherland. Still, ultra fans insulted and spat on him at the airport. But had River Plate been willing to invest in Messi, the world’s best player (my opinion) might have played for them.

I have seen this in the church and it makes my stomach churn. Don’t despise anybody God brings in. Everyone has talents and destiny. Appreciate everybody; they’re there for a reason. They have talents you don’t. Without their contributions, your church will be deficient.

Shaming as revenge

joseph, husband to mary

Joseph the jilted decided to NOT humiliate Mary after she obviously cheated — she was pregnant, and he knew it wasn’t him.

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily — Matt 1:9.

BEFORE an angel had told him to go ahead and marry Mary, EVEN BEFORE a miraculous vision assured him this was an act of God and not his fiance fooling around, BEFORE ANY OF THESE ASSURANCES Joseph, BEING A JUST MAN, opted to not shame her.

The revenge people do through social media these days makes me cringe. Nothing good comes of it.

My life in parallel in the Christmas Carol

Christmas Future

She plays one of the family girls in the play. I’m a Matrix-like creep.

In the sixth grade, I played Bob Cratchet, and it proved prophetic for my life, because I have never gotten rich and always worked like a dog.

Not at age 48, I’m Christmas Future in the Palisades Theatre (Pacific Palisades, CA). I warn that greed will lead to eternal torments. This has been part of my life as a preacher.

Is it possible that a life can be summed up in a simple play? How did Charles Dickens cast my personality?

The Bible says there is nothing inherently evil with money. It is the love of money that rusts the human heart. As a missionary in poor Guatemala, I saw that not only the opulent love money. The poor can easily do this too.

Love God more than money.

Those who figure that this life on Planet Earth is all there is…. well, we’re all going to find out sooner or later.

Happy winter solstice in Santa Monica

winter solstice in santa monica

In effort to oust nativity scenes from the bluffs, the atheists posted this display. They caged their sign because supposedly Christians were going to vandalize it.

The atheist nuts here in Santa Monica actually think that they can supplant Christmas with the shortest day of the year, which ancient ignorants imbued with superstitious meaning.

Now this sounds like it could really upstage both Santa Claus and Jesus with an abundance of warm fuzzies, doesn’t it?

Christmas is about love. If you can downgrade love to a simple scientific question of neuro-chemical synapses (as some scientists are trying to do), then you might also be able to deconstruct Christmas. Love is at the center of Christmas — whether it is the family meal, gift-giving or decorations.

The foundation of Christmas is Christ. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to save it. You won’t be eclipsing love any time soon — nor will make Christmas drop off the calendar.

You’re saying your pregnant and you haven’t had sex?

mary.jpg

Yeah, right.

What about Joseph’s faith? He had to have A LOT of faith to marry Mary, to believe that she hadn’t fooled around and been unfaithful. When Mary got pregnant, he knew that he was not the father. One tends to assume the worst, the obvious, faced with such circumstances.

Even with the angel telling him, Joseph would doubt. Was the vision a nightmare, a hallucination? What would his friends think?

Joseph needed tons of faith too.

People tend to look at the Christmas story as an aw!-moment. But there was real angst. It wasn’t easy to bring the Savior to the world. Not for Joseph.

If you’re going through a crisis during Christmas, Joseph did. Be encouraged and keep faith.

Note: Apologies to the actress whose picture I use. No slander against her. I searched for “Mary,” and this image came up.

Sprinkles of delight

sprinkle cakeQuite unexpectedly I fell in love with sprinkles on the Christmas cake this year. There’s something delightful about the crunch on the soft white frosting.

I usually run AWAY FROM treats. I run TO the gym. But it’s Christmas, a time of celebration of Jesus’ birth. So I’m letting myself go a little bit and enjoying things I usually avoid.

The problem with America’s obesity is the problem with America’s morals. We want too much too often. We can never say no. We cannot stay with what is good for us. God made sex for marriage, for example. And we want sprinkles on everything and all year round.

Here’s the message America needs: we need to enjoy God-given pleasures within God-given limits.

He taught me to return shopping carts

my friend channingAfter 35 years of not seeing my old friend, Channing and I got together. He found me on the internet. He’s face has changed, but his have-fun life philosophy remains the same. My face is the same and so is my faith.

Channing taught me to do a good deed every day. That lesson has stayed with me all these years.

We were two 12-year-olds heading off to Thrifty’s for ice-cream or candy. It was about a mile walk. Channing grabbed a straggler shopping car to push it home.

“Come on, Channing, leave it,” I said. “It’s gonna slow us down. It’s not your problem.”

His simple reply stuck with me all these years.

Sure, why not. I have time and energy. I can do a good deed. There is reward inherent in doing things not for a reward.

Now everybody leaves their shopping cars right where they parked their cars (here in Los Angeles). It used to be that people returned them to the corral for the supermarket guy to take in to the store, but people are more self-centered than decades ago. I always try to grab one or two and roll it up to the front of the store. I can do this. It doesn’t require much time or effort. Do a good deed just because.

After years of doing this thankless good deed, someone finally thanked me.

I have Channing to thank for the lesson.

Be home for Christmas

presentsThe best presents… is your presence.

Don’t think you can buy your children happiness, hardworking absentee father/mother. You may be “too busy” and think to compensate with a splurge of cash. Nothing replaces your presence.

God splurged on buying us the ultimate Christmas gift: His only Son. And He is only a prayer away to being in our hearts and gifting us His presence.

God gave us family. It is a reward, an institution, a blessing and a happiness. Sometimes it goes dysfunctional, but you don’t throw out the institution because of failure. You fix it.

Original image from Google search.

For Christmas, give forgiveness

forgiveness

The greatest gift you can receive comes from the Father in Heaven: It is forgiveness. The greatest gift you can give on Earth is forgiveness.

You may not be able to wrap it up in red paper with a bow. It doesn’t go under the Christmas tree. It goes into the heart.

Forgiveness restores love. When things “don’t work out,” people think that “moving on” is the solution. They find “true love.” Only too late do they realize they trade one set of problems for another; no one is free from baggage. Instead of dumping love, give forgiveness a try. As much as our society has “advanced beyond the antiquated norms of the Bible,” we still have need of eternal wisdom.

Give communication

communication

Look people in the eye. Speak from your heart. Let gentleness govern your tongue. Do more than just synchronize agendas. Provide meaningful communication. Say the words you fear most: I love you. I appreciate you. Thank you. Forgive me.

Give more than gifts this Christmas. Give words that value.

The more you give, the more you have

388cad74c2839a0b1f500d82be9451a3Most resources, at being squandered, wind up diminished.

Not so with love, joy and encouragement. With these, the more you give them, the more you have them.

As a matter of fact, the best riches are not the ones guarded in a bank but ones that are freely given out of the heart.

This Christmas season, with your gift giving, give the gifts that the more you lavish them upon others’ hearts, the more they grow in your own heart.

Note: Picture from Pinterest.

Banned from baking, she bounced back to a hot business

sweet laurel bakesDepression loomed for Laurel Gallucci when her doctor forbade three years ago her favorite indulgence, cakes, because she contracted a rare autoimmune disorder.

Instead of succumbing to sadness, the Lighthouse graduate sought healthy alternatives and parlayed her delectable discoveries into a Venice-based business, Sweet Laurel Bakes, that is the latest rage in the paleo diet fad.

“I was on a personal quest to find health,” the 29-year-old said. “I wanted to bake things that I and other people could enjoy that would have positive and healthy outcomes.”

The second of seven children, Laurel was part of the Czer clan that joined the Lighthouse Church from Pastor Rob Scribner’s popular conservative Republican bid for congress. Though Scribner ultimately was not elected, he attracted to the church a contingent of people who liked his sharp thinking on politics and the role of God in American history.

yumLaurel’s mom, Kari Czer, became the cornerstone of the only Christian kindergarten in Santa Monica. Lighthouse Church School‘s kindergarten boasts reading proficiency before Christmas.

Her dad is the quiet and steadfast Dr. Lawrence Czer, a cardiologist who leads the heart transplant program at  Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He’s an internationally-respected pioneer in stem cell research for heart disease is a regular on the Lighthouse Medical Missions to Africa.

Laurel enrolled in the Lighthouse Church School as a sweet smiling tyke who excelled at pretty much everything she did. She graduated from Lighthouse Christian Academy in 1984 and then from UCLA with a degree in history and then got a masters in education from Pepperdine University.

SweetLaurel-11When she was 26, Laurel married Nick Gallucci, an engineer who recently joined Lighthouse Church. As she was a passionate baker, they fell in love over banana bread.

Then for reasons unknown, she started experiencing problems that led to her diagnosis of autoimmune disorder. The doctor blacklisted all of Laurel’s favorite foods.

Instead of going glum, she bounced back with a quest to find palatable replacements to her baking savories.

She tinkered with the paleo diet, which theorizes that humans should eat like hunter-gatherers, avoiding processed, refined and sugary foods. They also do cross-fit training to replace fat with muscle.

“I don’t like to say that I’m paleo,” she said. “A paleo diet means you eat a lot of meat, do cross fit, have big muscles and that’s not really who I am. I like to say that I eat grain free, refined sugar free, and dairy free.”

In her quest for tantalizing treats that unfrown her doctor’s face, Laurel discovered a niche in L.A.’s ever-evolving health crazes. She’s been featured on popular blogs and healthy-eating articles. In the online magazine Chalkboard, she was called a “kitchen goddess and a real life mermaid” for her exquisite cuisine and her slender figure. Read the rest of the article: cooking class.

Look up

sky poolThe latest rage is no longer glass bridges and glass platforms extended out from skyscrapers or canyon edges over the hair-raising expanse. The latest rage is sky pools. But only the wealthiest can enjoy them.

I think it’s as much to show off as the thrill of swimming in the air: not just feeling like Superman but flaunting Super Riches.

It’s pretty cool to look up and admire the architectural beauty in the sky.

Look up to the architectural beauty of Heaven. If earthly opulence is out of your reach, heavenly riches are within it. The pricelessness of Heaven is incalculable price free to you and me because Christ paid with his life.

Even psychopaths and creeps

IMG_8654

Don’t be scared. It’s just me submitted to a trial run on stage makeup.

After longing to be in our church’s plays for years, I got cast in one role — and I nailed it! Now I am included in every production. Yippee!

What was the role I nailed? Barabbas, the psychopath. I guess that comes naturally to me (LOL!), and I thought would be typecast.

Now our church, the Lighthouse in Santa Monica, is producing a revamp of the Scrooge. My role is a surprise, but I’m something like the federal agent from The Matrix. I’m a creepy guy.

This is a lot of fun, but it’s also unnerving that I should so easily fall into roles of evil people. I guess we are all saved — those of us who choose to receive Jesus — by grace and not by works. Even psychopaths and creeps can get forgiveness.

Who is Scrooge?

325

Ralph Bowen with his wife, Brenda, when they were missionaries in Africa.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more unscrooge-like Scrooge.

Ralph Bowen was a missionary in Africa for 20 years of poverty, self sacrifice and uncommon generosity.

The script “The Re-Turn of the Scrooge” – being produced at the Pierson Playhouse Sunday through Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. – calls for something like Donald Trump in the central role. Even if he conjures every drop of acting juice, he is wrangling against every antithetical, altruistic cell in his body.

Even his response to a reporter’s question shows self-effacing unmiserliness.

“I’ve been a Scrooge person all my life. Just ask my wife and kids,” Bowen said. “We’ve all had some greedy moments.”

His actions contradict his account. Starting in 1992, Bowen was a missionary in Sierra Leone when it was rated the second poorest nation in the world by the U.N. He also pastored in The Gambia (1996-2002) and Senegal (until 2012). He and his wife, Brenda, adopted three African orphans.

Since his stint facing down malaria and rebel forces, Bowen has returned to the States, where he confronts the lesser adventures of trying to make a living as a handyman, a popular preacher at the Lighthouse Church and as a gifted actor. This article originally was published on the Santa Monica Patch here.

The Land of Milk and Honey

ice-creamIf you mix milk with honey (and freeze it), you get ice cream.

What the in the Old Testament is promised to God’s people (to possess the Land of Milk and Honey) is in the New Testament promised as “abundant life.” Jesus says: I have come that you may have life — life abundantly. (John 10:10).

The idea is that serving Jesus not asceticism. It is joy. When Jesus was born, “peace” and “great joy” was promised to Earth. Salvation would be lavished upon humanity with blessings, both here and in Heaven.

I love ice cream. It is a good symbol for the Christian life. I hope you can learn to enjoy a relationship with Jesus Christ (not empty rigorous religion with rules and hopelessness).

The reason we give gifts at Christmas

christmas-christmas-tree-colorful-gifts-ornaments-Favim.com-248327

Jesus was God’s gift to mankind. When we give each other gifts, we celebrate that Jesus was a gift and that salvation (forgiveness of sins) is a free gift to any who would receive.

I suspect there are many people giving and receiving gifts, celebrating Christmas, without knowing anything more than it is a family tradition. Little do they realize they are honoring Christ and proclaiming salvation.

Priceless

christmas-crossSalvation is priceless because you and I don’t have to pay.

Salvation is priceless because no payment could ever be enough.

Christ is the most exquisite gift you could receive a Christmastime.

Harming children

7e77618403045b167b4ec3fb88d10cc8The worst crime is the one done against children because they are defenseless. They are born to innocence and play. They believe in the good nature of everyone and cannot understand evil. To deprive them of love, warmth and goodness, to destroy their innocence is the worst of evils.

Pip has been wronged. Miss Havisham set him up to fall in love with Estella, and she did this only to delight in seeing him be heart-broken. This evil design she perpetrated since his childhood in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.

At the end of her life, she begs forgiveness. Her usually air of superiority gets dashed. She abandons all noblewoman’s dignity and shockingly falls to her knees to cry in repentance. Her money, her family, her nobility mean nothing. The only thing now is to be granted forgiveness. She feels the full horror of what she did too late. Pip does not withhold the forgiveness for a second.

We have all be wronged as children. Born with sin in our nature for Adam’s fault, we all wake up eventually to the attractions of temptation and become sinners. Jesus has come to restore the innocence, the beauty, the joy of life.

It matters what map you use

I live in LA, where we describe time-to-get-there in two categories: with traffic or without traffic. This amuses my friend who has never seen “without traffic” since moving here from Chicago.

A good smart phone map app can help you scoot around traffic. But I’ve discovered that not all map apps are equal. To be blunt, Apple’s map comes up short. Sometimes it sends you to the wrong place. It doesn’t detect construction. It doesn’t list new roads built. It can be woefully frustrating.

frustration apple mapsIf you want to get to where you’re going without any hassles, use Google maps, which is far superior.

It matters what map you use in life too. Contrary to the incessant barrage from the left-leaning intelligentsia, not all maps are equal. If you want to get to Heaven, have a happy marriage, raise well-adjusted kids, use the Bible. Not all all moral yardsticks do the job.

Bible mapOh they may work for easy jobs, but for a sticky situation, only the Bible will deliver the goods. I apologize to Apple for having to expose its flaws. But remember that time you made me an hour late after an 18-hour trip? Yeah, I was not happy with your shortcomings.

Forgiveness is sweet

revenge is sweetNo longer does her riches matter. At the end of her life, Miss Havisham has lost the adopted daughter she treasured. In Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations, Miss Havisham steeled Estella against the inconstant love of men. She only wished to spare Estella from her own heartbreak; she had been jilted on her wedding day. But in trying to protect Estella against the dangers of love, she made her incapable of love.

She also made her an instrument of revenge upon all men.

A tease, Estella was drilled on how to break hearts. She would wreak her Miss Havisham’s vengeance.

Stunned when Estella turns against her, Miss Havisham moans alone on her vast estate in the wee hours of morning. Nothing is left, nothing matters.

So she tries to do good. To Pip whom she trapped with Estella’s beauty, she now asks for forgiveness. No longer the haughty rich woman, she falls to her knees and begs desperately to have played with Pip’s emotions such that he was tortured by unrequited love for almost 20 years. He willingly and readily forgives her.

The dramatic scene from the book highlights a hugely underrated satisfaction in life, that of being forgiven.

As you move along in life, you accrue wrongs to yourself. You offend and sin against people dear to you. You become burdened with guilt and regret. The antidote is not more sin, drugs, alcohol or therapy. It is forgiveness.

First and foremost, mankind has need of forgiveness from God. Second from his fellow man. Third, he has need to forgive others. This is true bliss.

Revenge is not sweet; it is bitter. Forgiveness is sweet.

One soul worth more than 15 million views

IMG_7379My friend, Dr. Bob, is now officially famous, with 15 million views of his video “The Hold” and appearances on Good Morning America and Dr. Oz. But I don’t think his heart will change. He’s a vibrant Christian.

As an SEO, I helped promote his video so that it caught the attention of some influencer, who reposted it and it caught the attention of massive online media. He’s being called the “Baby Whisperer” for his intuitive way to calm fussy tykes.

I don’t think I want to be famous myself. I’ve found a greater joy, the happiness of saving souls. I work at a Christian high school in Santa Monica. The smiling faces you in the photo are some of the people who have exited the misery of bullying at school and entered the joy of Jesus.

One soul is worth more than 15 million views.

For Christmas, I want your forgiveness

havisham estella

The altercation between Estella and her adopted mother.

The fact that I’m 48 doesn’t make me any smarter or wiser than my high school students. It makes me more experienced, particularly in the area of mistakes. I’ve committed more errors than these kids by simple abundance of years.

Of all my sins and guilt, the thing I regret the most are the sins (errors) I committed against my children. I offended my parents rather nonchalantly. I offended my brother and my spouse. But what hurts the most is the conscience of wrongs done against my kids.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Can my children forgive me?

Miss Havisham moans as she wanders aimlessly around her estate in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. She has lost her only love, the love of her adopted daughter, whom she sought to protect against jilting love by making her incapable of love. Call it karma, but the girl who cannot love turned the lack of love against her adopted mother.

So she moans. Her life is now meaningless. Can we forgive ourselves for the wrongs done against our children? Can they forgive us? The cycle of victim-victimizer can only be broken by forgiveness.

On the video of Christians condemning the Koran only to find out the passage read was Bible

michael ashcraft

Just me.

Almost always, the end of the book concludes the story. There is character and theme development that only makes complete sense when you get to the final chapter.

This is acutely important with the Bible: Jesus is the conclusion of the matter. He is the “new covenant” prophesied by Jeremiah. With Him, significant portions of the Old Testament hit their expiration. Hence, Christians no longer offer animal sacrifice nor observe dietary prohibitions.

And they don’t massacre. In fact, Christ told his followers to turn their cheek when struck, to pray for their enemies, to not resist their enemies. Inaugurating the new covenant, Christ’s followers suffered endless persecution at the hands of the Romans. They were mauled by animals in stadiums and held worship services in the catacombs. If Christ was a revolutionary, his was not an uprising with arms.

It seems a lot of observers are giddy with the trick video making the rounds in which Christians are first told their being read a passage from the Koran. They condemn “oppressive” religion. Then the trickster shows his hand: Sorry, the passage was from the Old Testament. I guess they think this is proof that all religions are equally evil.

I’m not surprised that a lot of Christians don’t know their Bible well enough to recognize the cited passages. They don’t have to. We are saved by faith, not by holding a degree in Bible knowledge. If these Christian sound outraged by the passage, it is because it resonates with the horrors of the news perpetrated by Islamic extremists.

It doesn’t resonate with the practices of Christianity. We get people out of alcoholism all around the world. We build hospitals, care for the untouchables, staff schools for inner city kids. We don’t wage wars; Ephesians specifically proclaims: We don’t have struggle against flesh and blood. The crusaders were motivated by money, always the true cause of war. If they did have some vestige of Christianity, it wasn’t authentic to the Master who sent his disciples out two by two to preach, heal and free people from demonic oppression.

The trouble with this video is it’s complete lack of sincerity. I’m sure its producers are not so ignorant of the simple truth the end of just about any book is the dramatic conclusion. It would be completely senseless to cut off the end of Hamlet, Farewell to Arms or Moby Dick. The story would be meaningless. So why are they filming Christians who know the end but mess up middle details? Surely, the videos producers cannot be so stupid.

I’m afraid it’s just another shameless attempt to shame Christians, to degrade our faith, to try to make all religions equal. If you want to expose the evil of a religion, don’t ask the guy on the street. Ask the experts. And don’t pull pranks on unsuspecting people that you wouldn’t want pulled on you.

Dr. Viral

Dr Bob skateboardSupposedly, doctors halt viruses, but local pediatrician Robert Hamilton just went viral.

His charming video on how to get a 1-month-old to stop crying hit 14.5 million views in little more than a week. It got picked up by Inside Edition, Mashable and True Feed. From there, the Huffington Post featured it. It moved to Buzzfeed and USA Today and was topping Reddit. Now, Dr. Bob — as locals affectionately call him — will talk on the Dr. Oz Show.

Dr. Bob, originally from Eureka, has struck gold.

Widely known and loved in Santa Monica, Dr. Bob has attended for 30 years to children of celebrities and soccer stars. He’s administered injections, checked newborns and calmed jittery parents.

“This is where God has put my wife and me and where we were meant to labor,” Dr. Bob said. “We have seen good times and challenging times. We have seen triumphs and heartbreaks.”

Dr. Bob has also led medical missions for over 20 years to Africa, Kyrgyzstan and Central America. Lighthouse Medical Missions have brought doctors and free medicine to some of the remotest parts of the planet on about 25 separate occasions through the decades.

Early on, Dr. Bob was especially impacted by what he saw in Sierra Leone, once the world’s second poorest country according to United Nations rankings. In post civil war time, there was appalling need unmatched by the nation’s scarcity of doctors and medical infrastructure.

“I am haunted by the image of a woman beating on our car’s window as we departed our compound en route to the airport,” said the owner of Pacific Ocean Pediatrics. “The mother was pointing to her son with a huge abscess on his leg. I thought, We need to get this kid antibiotics. But we were late and we couldn’t stop.”

He broke down in tears. Did the child live? He felt compelled to return to Africa.

Africa1

Dr. Robert Hamilton in Africa on medical mission for Lighthouse Medical Missions.

To help where need is great bestows its own rewards. It has added to an already enriched life. He is happily married to Leslie Hamilton. They both have six kids and six grandchildren.

His daughter Noel also studied to be a pediatrician and now works alongside her dad in his business on Santa Monica Blvd across from St. John’s Health Center.

Lighthouse Medical Missions (LMM) has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for its medical missions. They take all their own medicine and equipment. They have built four schools/ churches in Sierra Leone – in Lungi, in Lunsar, in Jui, and in Kenema. Two full-scale water projects have been funded.

Dr. Bob, a born-again Christian since age 13, attends the vibrant and historic Lighthouse Church, from which he borrowed the name for his medical mission. LMM is open to just about anyone going and donating, even if they don’t share the Christian values of Dr. Bob.

Dr. Bob studied his undergraduate at U.C. Davis, where at age 20 he also married his childhood sweetheart. Then it was off to UCLA Medical School.

Regarding his fund-raising, Dr. Bob clarifies that money has flowed. “I’m pretty ambitious. But I’m NOT that ambitious about Africa. God has brought the money in. I’m not breaking people’s knuckles to give to Africa. It’s amazing what God has done.”

His latest venture – into the online world – started as a rather unambitious attempt to help parents calm fussy babies. He recruited talented film-makers from the Lighthouse Church and posted it on Sunday. Several church members shared it on their social media.

Dr. Bob – whose wildest dream was for 10,000 views – was disappointed with only 80 the day after posting.

But somebody of influence spotted it and re-posted it. It exploded like a nuclear bomb: by Tuesday it had 570,000 views. The next morning, 1.5 million. At last check last night, it hit 8.7 million.

“This is just phenomenal,” said a surprised Dr. Bob.

Meanwhile in his clinic, he’s prescribing to stop viruses.

*Picture: Rarely does Dr. Bob skateboard outside his office. Note: Since I wrote this article for the Santa Monica Patch, I am including it here on my blog. I hope you enjoy.

Fresh Off the Boat actor at Lighthouse Christian Academy

jahdyn faithBy Petrina Gratton, LCA sophomore

As an actor, Jahdyn Brown faces a lot of hate, so she didn’t want to encounter any kind of bullying at school.

That’s why Jahdyn – whose stage name is Jahdyn Faith — enrolled at Lighthouse Christian Academy, where she said “it makes me feel at home.” She chose Faith as a stage name since it’s her middle name.

Jahdyn is a freshman at LCA, whose independent study program (ISP) gives her the flexibility to pursue acting. Currently, she’s a recurring extra on the Fox ABC program Fresh Off The Boat (now on Season 2.) It’s a comedy about an Asian family moving into a white community. Fox ABC means it’s filmed in the actual Fox lot but shown on the ABC network.

JahdynJahdyn was born into a Christian family and baptized as a baby, too. But she made the decision herself to give her life to Christ when she was nine years old.

She started acting seriously at age eight. She had followed her mother’s footsteps in modeling but decided she like acting better.

When she auditions for roles, she competes against 100 other girls. But the real hate hit her online with snide, anonymous comments uploaded on message boards: “How can you be an actress when you have acne?” “You’re not even on TV all the time.” “You’ll never make it.”

“Stuff like that IS hard to hear, but if this is something you want to do and connect with and makes you happy, then you have to do it,” she said. “Of course it hurts, but a lot of times, they’re insecure themselves. So, put people around you that are going to build you up and tell you can do it.”

Jahdyn has a very busy schedule that consists of scene studying, commercial classes, voice lessons, recording in the studio and script-writing classes on a weekly basis. This is why she needed a flexible schedule for her studies. Read the rest of the article.

Editor’s Note: Petrina wrote this article as a journalism assignment in my class at Lighthouse Christian Academy, a private Christian high school in Santa Monica.

Anonymous ministers

anonymousWhen I was head pastor, I romanticized being an anonymous servant. I even prayed to be one.

Then I became pretty much an anonymous member of the church. No more high-flying ministry. Honestly, I didn’t like it too much.

God had to remind that I had prayed to become anonymous. If you’re not on the kudos list here on Earth, don’t despair. Just praise Jesus because you’ll be getting your reward in Heaven.

Why my son got injured

IMG_8402When Robert said he wanted to play football for the Lighthouse Christian Academy, a small Christian high school in Santa Monica, I responded no, no, no. NO WAY, JOSE!

But the school didn’t have enough players, and he really wanted to play. So I told him to work out hard, build up his muscles and terrifyingly signed the papers for him to play.

Eventually, I caught on to something much more important than sports. Football was a draw. It pulled people into our school and church — and hence also to Christ. Since it was evangelism, I could no longer front reservations because we give our all for Christ.

Actually, his first injury, over two years ago, came from soccer. His recovery was long. He got back into sports and was a key member of LCA’s football team. As a senior, he injured his other ACL. As I write this, the surgeon just told me that the operation went well.

Playing high school sports create lasting memories. But something more important is at work at our school. Students are being brought to salvation and discipleship (they learn discipline, effort, team work, responsibility and other biblical characteristics).

How can you say no to your kid participating in Christian school sports — whatever the sport?

She went to impact Guatemala, but Guatemala impacted him

Lighthouse Christian Academy impacts the world

Cindy Gutierrez with Dr. Bob Hamilton in Guatemala on medical mission.

By Cindy Gutierrez, LCA senior

As Maria, an 8-year-old girl, walked through doors of the clinic, I couldn’t help but notice the sadness in her eyes.

Maria approached the pediatric station where we asked her what was wrong. Her aunt was there to explain that Maria had not been eating much for months and wasn’t sleeping at night.

IMG_8385

Cindy Gutierrez holds a baby as Dr. Bob Hamilton examines a patient. This is Lighthouse Medical Missions in Guatemala.

Maria’s aunt informed us that she had been physically abused and neglected by her mother because of her skin color. Maria’s mom despised the fact that Maria was of darker skin tone while sisters had fairer skin.

She was called “ugly” and “not good enough” by her own mother for years until finally the mom just walked out and left her with her aunt.

cute Guatemalan kid | medical missionI could see how heart-broken she was. When I told her she was beautiful she started crying because for so long she was told she was ugly by someone who is suppose to love her and accept her.

Going on a Lighthouse Medical Mission to Guatemala was my first time traveling without my parents. As a high school student, I was so scared to go at first and was questioning even going. I made about a million excuses on why I shouldn’t go, but then God gave me a trillion reasons why I should. So I got time off from the Lighthouse Christian Academy, a Christian high school in Santa Monica, to give of myself.

I had been praying to God to give me a sign. I didn’t have the money at the time to cover all the expenses of the trip, but in less than two weeks my friends and family covered all the expenses.

When I first arrived to Guatemala, I felt a little homesick. I missed my parents so much already (I know, I’m such a big baby) but it wasn’t long till I felt at home. The church welcomed us all and treated us like family.

It was heartwarming and touching to see how giving everyone was despite them not having much to give. Read the rest of the article.

The saint with the wicked kick

holly holmHolly Holm, whose lightning left kick shocked the world when it felled the UFC’s undefeated Ronda Rousey, is a Christian who recently got married, sews, cooks and brings her Bible to Starbucks.

After surmounting 20-1 odds to outfight the aggressive Rousey, the Albuquerque native, known in the ring as “The Preacher’s Daughter,” is now the reigning bantam weight champion in mixed martial arts.

the deadly kick“At first they wanted to call her Holly Hottie or Holly Hollywood or something like that. She said, ‘I don’t want to be known for that part of it,’” her dad Roger Holm told KOAT channel 7 news in New Mexico. “I said, ‘Well, you’re a preacher’s daughter.’ And she said, ‘That’s it! Call me the preacher’s daughter.’”

Holm, now 34, was raised in the church. She accompanied her dad on hospital visits, participated in potlucks and baby-sat countless times for church members.

holly dad preacher

Holly Holm’s dad, Roger Holm

“I went to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night,” she told the Albuquerque Journal. “We grew up living in a house owned by the church. I always had to be on time for services and held out with the nursery. I couldn’t be a selfish kid.”

Holm loves thrift shopping, quilting, baking from scratch, watching “Family Feud,” caring for her two cats and getting her waist-length blond hair highlighted and fingernails and toenails manicured and pedicured.

“But I must prefer, if I have the time, to go to church,” she said. “I feel really not focused and detached if I don’t go to church. I feel like I feel better about myself and life and my relationship with God if I go. I feel more connected. I try to go every Sunday morning. If I can’t, I get a little irritated with myself because I’m like, ‘Really Holly? God sacrifices and has you in mind all day, every day.’ How can I not want to give back one day, one hour even?” Read the rest of the story.

Crazy easy way to calm a fussy baby


Dr. Bob Hamilton shows in the video a simple hold that calms the crying infant right down. The video shows babies who just got shots. They immediately settle down.

Dr. Bob always helped me when I was on the mission field. He saw my kids for free when we came to Bible conference in Santa Monica. His Pacific Ocean Pediatrics attends to a lot of people, including the kids of the stars.

He stages clinics twice a year in Africa and elsewhere. His Lighthouse Medical Missions has done some 20 such free clinics in 20 years.

This technique for calming babies is so easy!