#ValleyBoyPastor answers the call

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Van Nuys

There were reasons to NOT come to Van Nuys and start a church. It was far from Santa Monica. It was hot. The commute was bad. The list went on.

The first thing I noticed when I drove here to take up residence in my apartment were the palm trees. For some reason, I immediately associated them with the Promised Land. God was sending me to a Land Flowing with Milk and Honey. I would start a new church. His call and blessing would supersede all the negatives.

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Palm trees line Sherman Way in Van Nuys where I’m starting a Bible study.

And so it has been. No one back in Santa Monica can believe that after only a few weeks, we already have one or more quality disciples. I can’t believe it either. We just believed God, and He is going to build His church.

Don’t follow the money. Follow the call.

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.

We All Need A Lift — Practical Practice Management

“I am more and more convinced that our happiness or our unhappiness depends far more on the way we meet the events of life than on the nature of those events themselves.” ~ Wilhelm von Humboldt Today, if you can, lift someone’s spirit, you will become a better human being. We all can use a lift […]

via We All Need A Lift — Practical Practice Management

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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.

Entice them

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This is the Valley Boy Pastor’s best strategy to pry his kids away from Santa Monica.

When God called me to Van Nuys (in the HOT San Fernando Valley), I was gung-ho. My kids? Not so much so.

It turns out, they kind of like the sea-breezy cool, upscale Santa Monica. For six years, we’ve called the city of my church, the Lighthouse, home. Now I’m re-activating in my calling but the barrio isn’t quite as nice — at least in terms of ritz. It’s been hard to convince Rebekah and Robert to come along. They keep trying to find ways to stay on Boardwalk and Park Place.

So these are my big guns. Eventually, I’m figuring, my kids will get hungry. And what better way to pluck them away with premium hamburgers?

I may be trying to win the hearts of men for Jesus, but first I need to win the hearts of my kids. Fire up the grill.

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.

From Palestinian terrorist to Israeli informant to bonafide Christian

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His quest for truth pit him at odds with his family, founding members of Hamas.

As a Palestian boy, Mosab Hassan Yousef hurled stones at Israeli tanks and ran from bullets on the West Bank. But misgivings about the intifada arose when he saw Hamas leaders torture fellow Palestinians in an Israeli jail.

“Those people I was hoping would bring justice, happiness to earth by creating a global Islamic state were torturing their own people. They were suspicious that someone was giving information to the Israeli interrogators,” Yousef said in a YouTube video.

“They were torturing their own people without mercy, much worse than the Israelis. One question arose, why do I hate Israel for torturing me and why don’t I hate Hamas for torturing their own people? What my enemy was doing made more sense than what my family and closest friends were doing.”

intifadiDuring his jail sentence, Yousef, then 18, signed up to work as a double agent. He did so thinking he would infiltrate and exact revenge on Shin Bet, the Israeli version of the FBI. But as he witnessed more and more Hamas’ brutality, that plan got scuttled and he collaborated with Israeli intelligence to foil Palestinian plots. He worked to stop senseless deaths on both sides.

He agreed to betray his countrymen on the condition that the Israelis not assassinate but only imprison. He even betrayed his father, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a founder member of Hamas.

“I was the person that put my father in prison. I was working against his organization to destroy the idea of violence.” Yousef said. “If he’s outside, he was going to be assassinated. The safest place for him was in a prison.”

From 1997 to 2007, Yousef halted assassination attempts against Israeli leaders and put high-ranking Hamas leaders behind bars.

Israeli planes bomb GazaAfter a cab driver invited him to a Bible study, he was confronted with Jesus’ injunction to love your enemy. “That made perfect sense,” he said. From his birth, he had been drilled to regard the Israelis as his enemies.

Leaders of the Bible study gave him an Arabic-English Bible. At first they didn’t know his terrorist connections. As he searched and questioned, he eventually accepted Jesus as his Savior, and in 2005 he was secretly baptized in Tel Aviv.

“The religion of my people is a fake religion. It’s a lie. The god of Islam is a liar,” Yousef said. “I hope that I am not offending anybody. This is kind of dangerous to say, but I have studied Islam. My family started the Islamic Revolution in the Middle East. That was our business. This is still my family’s business. After almost 20 years in Islam, I tell you that Islam is going nowhere. My family, my people are suffering the most because of this false teaching.”

On the eve of the release of his autobiography Son of Hamas: A Gripping Account of Terror, Betrayal, Political Intrigue, and Unthinkable Choices, his father disowned him in 2010.

“I am hopeful that one day we will talk,” Yousef said. “What’s between me and my people, what’s between me and my father, is the god of Islam. This wall. If I can destroy this wall, I will do it with the power of love and the power of my God. I have been paying a very high price because they consider me politically incorrect.” Read the rest of the dangerous life of Mosab Yousef.

Run, don’t walk

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

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

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

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

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

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All you need… #ValleyBoyPastor musings

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

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

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

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

Tortured for converting from Islam, Egyptian lawyer had Daniel experience

Reverend-Majed-El-Shafie-Like the lions in Daniel’s den, the ferocious attack dogs meant to torture Majed El Shafie in his Egyptian jail cell refused to do anything to him. They sat placidly, and one even licked his forehead – to the rage of the guards.

“These dogs are trained to listen to their masters,” El Shafie told Sid Roth. “But there is no higher Master than the Lord Jesus Christ.”

majed el shafie torturedHow did El Shafie, a remarkable law student, wind up on the wrong side of law? First, he converted to Christianity from Islam, a big no-no in Egypt, which defines itself as officially Muslim. Then he founded a pro-Christian legal aid organization with thousands of members. But the last straw was he wrote a book expounding his ideas.

On August 15, 1998, the government came after him. “At 1:30 in the morning, I heard a knock at my door.” El Shafie said. “Five officers came and broke the door. They took me to the police station behind the Parliament. They told me, ‘We know who you are. We know about your book. One thing we don’t know is who is rest of your group.”

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The feared Abu Zaabal torture prison in Cairo

Since El Shafie refused to name his associates, the police resorted to torture. They escorted him to Abu Zaabel prison in Cairo, known in the Middle East as “Hell on Earth,” where he endured seven days before nearly dying, El Shafie said. He recovered slowly in a hospital.

El Shafie was born into an influential family in Cairo of lawyers and Supreme Court justices. But he learned of the injustices of Egyptian law in his first year at law school, when there were up to 7,000 prisoners languishing in Egyptians jails whose only crime was being a Christian.

“From my knowledge, if there is persecution, it means the enemy is trying to hide something.”

His friend very discreetly dodged the question and instead offered him a different book, one “that answers every question he could have.” In the pages of the Bible he discovered a justice, love and forgiveness he had never known before.

Providentially, he first opened the Scripture to John 8, the story of the woman caught in adultery. “Judge her according to the law of Moses!” the Pharisees cried out to Jesus.

“Whoever of you is without sin, cast the first stone,” Jesus replied.

“The only one who could cast the first stone was the Lord Jesus because He was the only one who had no sin,” he observed. “But He didn’t. He told the lady, ‘Go and sin no more. I forgive you.’ This was my first time to see true forgiveness.” Read the rest of the story.

After he saw Satan in Hell, he quit being a witch

libertad de santeriaAs a high priest of Santeria, John Ramirez knew he was destined to join the five main demons of Santeria in Hell. But he didn’t care. While he lived, he was respected and feared as powerful witch in his South Bronx neighborhood.

Born in a family steeped in witchcraft, John was consecrated at an early age under demonic threat at a tarot card reading. If his parents did not dedicate him to Santeria, they were warned he would be blinded. Dutifully, his mother placed him a bath of herbs and performed the required chants.

Afterward, “my whole personality — what I stood for, what I was — was no longer there,” John said. “I felt like someone put a black blanket right over me. I wasn’t answering only to my mom and my dad, I was answering to the demons.”

spell-santeria-moneyHe trained under the tutelage of high-ranking devil worshipers. He skulked into funerals to “capture” the dead body’s spirit and use it to kill others by the same death. He scrambled to collect the blood of drug dealers killed on the street to perform Satanic rites.

“People knew that I was force to be reckoned with,” he said. “I liked that power. I was talked down to as a young boy. Now I had the power and the authority to do whatever I wanted.”

When John was 13, his father died in a bar brawl. Since dad was physically and emotionally abusive, John saw his death not as a tragedy but as a relief to his mom.

“As a young kid, I called out to God to help my mother” when dad was beating her, he said. “And no one showed up. But the devil showed up because he killed my dad. I believe the devil said, ‘No one loves you, but I love you. Your father can’t provide for you, but I’m you’re provider. I’ll give you anything you want. Just ask.'”

Santeria is a Caribbean form of witchcraft with roots in Africa. It involves drinking alcohol, dressing in white, performing rituals with red candles and human blood. John took his practices outside his apartment and, for reasons he couldn’t explain, targeted especially Christians.

“At the clubs, I’d go around looking for Christians. At the club, I knew, you were in the devil’s playground. So I knew that if I could get to you and you had a beer or two already in your system, I would say, ‘I have something to tell you today.’ You would say, ‘What do you have to tell me?’ You opened the door; you gave me gateway.” Read the rest of the dramatic testimony here.

My student, Anthony Gutierrez, at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica wrote this article.

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Dominique Moceanu got gold — and then a sister

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rocky, Rambo and Ross got redeemed

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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

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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.

preaching born of a broken heart

preaching

Preaching should be born of a broken heart, not a prideful one.

(Thanks to my friend Jack Garrot, pastor/missionary in Japan for umpteen zillion years)

No congratulations for the CalTrans worker

With my good friend and associate John Mira

With my good friend and associate John Mira

When I took to the stage Friday in front of a conference crowd in the thousands, I felt very different from the first time 21 years ago. Last time, I felt like a celebrity. This time, being announced to open a church in Van Nuys, I felt like a CalTrans worker.

One of the sermons that resonated was about pioneer pastors digging for treasure, the souls of men. The preacher talked about how a shovel was the essential gear. Having raised up a church in Guatemala during 16 years, I understood what he was talking about. I was hunkering down for the hard labor again.

So the multiple congratulations from well-wishers has given me a sense of mirth. Do people congratulation highway workers for digging ditches under the blistering sun? Maybe they should give.

If you want to pastor, don’t look for congratulations. Look for work, lots and lots of work.

Mr Toad’s Wild Ride 2

van nuys christian church

When we left for Guatemala in October 1994, we didn’t have kids.

I’m Mr. Toad. The first time, I whirled my wife, Dianna, off to Guatemala for a crazy adventure of lurches and swerves called being a missionary for almost 16 years. There were thrills and discomforts. It was definitely not a luxury and leisurely tooling through the park.

Gear up for Ride #2. We just got re-ordained for another mission, this time in Van Nuys, which I kind of already started with a Bible study. I’m calling myself the Valley Boy Pastor, a gimmick to remind myself to not take myself so seriously. The 6-year break between gigs was boring. Rest made me restless.

Dianna has supported me 100% through poverty and privation. There was abundant danger and betrayals. At the same time, we saw emotionally-rewarding turnarounds as gang-bangers, alcoholics, fornicators and others straightened up in Jesus.

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Re-ordination last night at the Tucson Door Christian Center Bible conference0. The church belongs to the Christian Fellowship Ministries.

Are you ready, Dianna, for another adventure, careening recklessly through whatever may come in the unpaid, unappreciated job of pastoring pioneering a new church?

Even as I became a youth, I always found Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland to be charming and delightful. If you haven’t gone on the 1955-original ride at the theme park, a car turns abruptly through apparent crashes and narrow escapes. By today’s standards, the special effects are quaint at best. For some reason, I loved it as a kid. For some reason, I lived it as an adult.

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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.

These pork chops are ministry for the #ValleyBoyPastor

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Good thing Venezuela and Mexico tied 1-1 because my friend, from Mexico, is married to a lady from Venezuela. Peace reigned that night over their house, and nobody had to sleep on the couch.

Ramon saw me in the open area of the apartment complex I manage and called me over. I thought “a moment” meant there was another problem to fix. It turned out it was the chance to watch the America Cup and eat pork ribs afterwards.

I unwisely started making observations about soccer quality. But since her family — all Venezuelan — jumped all over me for praising any Mexican player, I feared for my life and decided it was better to be quiet.

For most of the game, Venezuela — never before a soccer powerhouse — was winning from a stunning bicycle kick off  header across the goal. My Venezuelan friends were cooing and clucking happily because Mexico has had a very good tournament was unbeaten for 21 games. But then with a mere 15 minutes to the final whistle, Corona single-handedly dribbled past five defenders to slot left.

Ramon erupted. I ventured a non-commital comment that the game was going to get good now, and the two teams battled to a draw.

Then the pork chops.

This is ministry. Don’t stress about getting people to church. Get yourself to people.

They asked me to pray for the food. It’s a small step, but in this guarded generation given to opposing the gospel, it was not insignificant.

When I was first a pastor, I felt uncomfortable with people giving to me or to the church. Now I understand better: any gift represents an investment. When people invest in you or your church, they are more committed (or closer to commitment) than you might imagine.

So yes, eating their sumptious pork chops is ministry.

What possibly could go wrong? Misadventures of the #ValleyBoyPastor

IMG_0551Bed, Bath & Beyond has a complimentary gift wrap station — which is fantastic because I didn’t have to go buy wrapping paper for my friend’s wedding gift! They have scissors, tape, ribbon, everything you need except my own skill to execute it.

I’m afraid to admit that I miscalculated the first time I cut the paper. Then I accidentally gave it an unsightly rip. I re-did the folds several times, tried to trim when they flaps didn’t fit. It was anything but tightly wrapped. I fumbled the bow. DIY? LOL! I can’t do any of those “easy” Pinterest projects! I’m the king of klutz.

Here’s the kicker: Once upon a time, I was a gift wrap worker — at a posh French gift shop on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Where did everything I learned go?

Sometimes life is like gift-wrapping. It doesn’t come out as nicely as you wish. You miscalculate and miss-cut.

I hope Darwin enjoys his toaster and doesn’t pay too much attention to the hapless wrap. Hopefully, his eyes will be so full of love for his new wife that he won’t notice my disaster.

Things on the outside maybe a mess. God is watching the inside.

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Suffering for Jesus: the ongoing misadventures of the #ValleyBoyPastor

IMG_0548Some friends have warned me about how hard apartment managing is, and I am starting to see why.

I mean, I had already eaten a hamburger and chips for dinner when my neighbors, the guys who come to my Bible study, invited me over for Mexican food. Of course, I couldn’t refuse their hospitality, and Mexican food is my absolute favorite. So there was nothing left for me to do but soldier through and inflict suffering on my poor little stomach.

There was a good side to all this deliciousness, and that was I got exposure to people who may come to Christ in my ministry — which of course is an opportunity to die for. Again, it was through no effort or genius on my part. God is bringing the revival — and the Mexican food.

But if this “suffering for Jesus” continues much longer, I could get chubby.

Come together in the crunch

teenagemutantheaderThe Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are splintering at a critical time. They disagree on what to do with a serum that turns humans into monsters and, Donatello believes, monsters — like them — into humans. The prospect tantalizes Michelangelo and Raphael, who long for a chance to have normal interaction with humans and not face the antipathy their cold-blooded bodies elicit. But Leonardo, thinking in terms only of effective crime-fighting, doesn’t even take them into account when deciding against such a transformation. They fracture.

Meanwhile, the bad guys are joining forces.

tmnt.0.0But one of the delights of the movie is they overcome their differences, work to understand each other and appreciate each others’ differences, and they join forces. At the same time, the bad guys split up. You know who wins.

I hope the church can join together at the critical moment.

Mexico 2, Bible study 0 #ValleyBoyPastor

482125772.0Ah, the ups and downs of staring a work for God. I was wondering where the people were yesterday at my home Bible study. The one family that started suddenly disappeared. I just prayed for the full hour for everybody in the complex.

Afterward, I saw my neighbors and discovered the problem: Mexico was playing Jamaica in the American Cup. No wonder they didn’t come!

In my younger, more insecure days of pastoring, I would’ve prepared a message on not making an idol out of anything. This time, I took the Bible study snacks over to their place and watched the second half.

Actually, the same thing happened to the school in Guatemala. About one-third the school would miss on certain days, and I never could figure out what was happening. This was before I started to get into soccer.

Later, I took up soccer as a stress-buster. The disciples were passionate for Barcelona, so I got hooked on the team. They taught me about the history, the personalities, the techniques. I grew passionate about it.

So then we would show the Champions League finals at the school. Why not? It’s better they miss just two hours of class rather than the whole day.

… then too, I learned that sometimes, some of God’s biggest business is not transacted during the church service. I saw how one brother finally committed to marry his common-law wife at potluck. Seven sermons didn’t do what shmoozing and food did.

As Christians, we are about people, not programs. Our job is to get people in to Heaven, not into church. Church just happens to be the easiest way to feed the word to as many people all at once. But church time is no more sacred than any time. And God is not limited to service time to act.

By all means, bring the people to church. And if you can’t, bring God to them outside the church. This is what the Valley Boy Pastor is doing in Van Nuys.

Handfuls on purpose: God’s blessing on finances

God FinancesFinances are a dreary necessity that underpin the true joy of saving souls. I don’t believe that God’s main purpose is to bless His people. Yes, we are children of the King, but the Child of King didn’t have a home, much less a bank account.

Having disavowed the prosperity gospel heretics, I would wish to proceed with a balanced exposition on finances. I was struck by this reading Ruth: Let fall also some of the handfuls on purpose for her, and leave them, that she may glen them. (Ruth 2:16).

Boaz is a picture of Christ because he redeems her from deplorable poverty. Gleaning was a back-breaking job: 12 hours under the blistering sun only to pick up enough grains for one meal. Boaz makes the decision to improve her lot significantly.

We can, therefore, ask God in prayer to drop “handfuls on purpose” for our ministries.

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.

The Christian must have patience

God works by stages

David wasn’t instantly made king. He had to flee from Saul for years and raise an army in a cave in the desert.

Joseph wasn’t named instantly the vice president of Egypt. He had to work first as a slave, then in the jail.

Abraham didn’t instantly get his baby boy. He had to wait around 25 years and in doing so panicked and came up with his own plan, having a child with Hagar — and that brought him great headaches.

It’s hard to wait on God, but waiting is part of God’s plan. He is patient with us. Why shouldn’t we be patient with Him?

Normally, you won’t understand what the Heaven God is currently doing in your life. Only after the fact do things make sense. This is a great truth that requires wisdom: God works in stages.

Serious about studies, willing to efface ourselves

At the Lighthouse Christian Academy, we want to make kids feel comfortable. Gone are the days when teachers could simply command respect by the virtue of their position. Today teachers need to be friends of their students.

The change is not all bad, despite woe-sayers. Teachers were always primordially about others. Respect was just a traditional element that worked for decades (centuries) but doesn’t need to be present under our current zeitgeist. Kids take first place.

We teachers are facilitators of learning. What’s important is not that kids respect their teachers but that kids learn, progress, achieve their goals. In this new change of environment, teachers do well to make themselves relateable. Hence, the self-effacing humor.

It is my experience that kids respect you if you work at understanding and loving them. If they see you make an effort to reach out to them, they’ll appreciate that. So such a video is no loss of teaching credibility. It’s a boon.

Erosion in the church


erosion in the church

There are two kinds of erosion: breaking and smoothing. The first happens when water flows into cracks and then freezes. It makes jagged edges and rough surfaces. The second when water or wind slowly wears down and rounds.

When people disappoint you in church, it’s wearing. It can erode your spirit. But what is left is up to you. Does it become beautiful, as if molded by God, or does it show the painful barb of breakage?

Let us, as Joseph, see the hand of God ultimately in the pain other “Christians” inflict.

Modern massacre

Viewers have called this video “surprising,” “gross,” “informative,” “accurate,” and “inhuman.” Can you bear to watch it? And this goes on regularly in the United States of America. Why do we fight for everybody’s right except for babies’? Why does “inconvenience” trump babies’ right to life?

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.

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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.

The new frontier

Other townsAs a newbie, Peter doesn’t understand why Jesus doesn’t stay in the spotlight. After all, the Lord has successfully gathered a great crowd after healing sick and freeing people from demons. Then, right when He’s won Galilee Idol, He sneaks off to pray alone.

Peter, who fancies himself Jesus’ campaign manager, comes and tells him, “Everybody’s looking for You.” (Mark 1:37)

Jesus just mystifies him: “Let’s go to other towns so that I may preach there also because that is what I was sent for.” Why wouldn’t he capitalize on the crescendo?

Peter didn’t understand, as many Christians today, that the highest priority is not popularity or prosperity. It’s extending the message of salvation to others and to still others.

Once upon a time, Americans looked for new frontiers. Some still do, scientists, for example. But Christians? Are we basking in the glory of perfect services with quality music and preaching while the huddling masses in other towns languish with no hope?

I’m taking on a new frontier. I’ve moved out of luxury and into poverty, from Santa Monica to Van Nuys. There’s a method to the madness: God has called me to save souls elsewhere. After a month, there’s already one family in the Thursday night Bible study — thanks to y’all’s prayers. (Sorry, I can’t resist “y’all” even though I’m not from the South. English needs a plural second person pronoun.)

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.

Fast your past

fast your past

Fasting is to go without food — usually — for a prolonged period of time. It’s a way to devote yourself to God for a time of prayer. There may be an intensifying of prayer.

Maybe it would be good to fast your past. Let go of the failures and don’t believe you have to continue in them. Fast your successes; don’t rest on your laurels. Don’t hang on to your hurts. Let it go.

God is definitely about moving forward. Many people are crippled by the past. They’ve lost their vibrancy, their joy, their zest for life. Don’t be one of them.

Don’t be frightened by ‘repentance’

repentance

Myriads fear “repentance.” Their eyes are on what they have to leave behind. This is a huge error. Repentance is more turning to God than turning away from sin.

You are wrong to think you have to leave sin to come to God. First come to God, and He will help you to leave sin. In fact, without His help, you are helpless to ever escape the chains of bondage.

Repentance is as easy as falling in love.  I don’t know to many cases where labored hard to fall in love. When I fell in love, it wasn’t a question of trying to find time for Dianna. I automatically neglected other things because I just wanted to be with her. So too with God.

As you get to know Him, you won’t have to strain to leave the things that seem so important to you now.

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.

Concentration level: sensei

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What you focus on most is where you will succeed. A lot of my friends have turned to money from ministry. Ministry is now only an accessory added to the outfit. I can’t blame them. Everybody is obsessed with money over here in Santa Monica. Even I tried to join the lemmings. But the strange thing is that no matter how hard I tried, I didn’t make any money. Maybe that was a good thing because it has brought me back to realizing what God has for me as most important: ministry.

I was remembering the other day: My wife fell in love with me for my passion for ministry. Why did  I even bother to try my hand at business? First things first: concentrate on expanding God’s kingdom.

A hearty thank you to all my blog friends who prayed for my Bible study. An entire family came yesterday! Praise the Lord! The #ValleyBoyPastor is gonna try to keep his concentration on priorities.

Um yeah, I don’t really concentrate that much on pizza.

Well, that was easy #ValleyBoyPastor gets first people in his Bible study

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After three Bible studies with 0 in attendance, 5 people came today. I was blessed to host my neighbors, a family. It was wonderful to help them find Mark. I hope they soon find Jesus.

This venture into Van Nuys is taking me out of luxurious Santa Monica. My family likes the beachside city with cool breezes in the summer, but my eyes are caulking with glaze after I sit in church and hear sermon after sermon. God has called me to be on the playing field, not in the bleachers. So when my pastor spoke to me about the possibility of apartment-managing in Van Nuys, I considered it in prayer and meditation for about a nano second and begged and pleaded on my knees volunteered for the job.

I suppose the previous manager did me a huge favor. She was, um, a tad grumpy. So by contrast, I come off as a saint. Maybe I’m in the honeymoon stage of the job, but I can see palpably the distinct advantage of starting a church by apartment managing. Instead of trying to build relationship with people who have their guard up, the position gives me instant rapport: I’m not after something. I have a job to do — serve them. If I serve them the way Jesus would want me to, they might be happy. In turn, this has the potential to predispose them to an openness of coming to a Bible study.

The Bible study message: repentance, it’s not as bad as it seems.

I want to thank all of you for prayer. Your prayers are working miracles in the hearts of men.