Tag Archives: Bible

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

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

Down the drain

IMG_0808As apartment manager, I have the duty of cleaning out apartments when tenants leave. This is not as bad as it may sound because sometimes you get some cool stuff. For example, I got a great set of kitchen knives and some tools.

But the liquor went down the drain. So did the funny green leaves.

Sorry, I’m a teetotaler. Even if I did like alcohol, I wouldn’t drink it. It’s a matter of not being a stumbling block to a weak brother. What if someone in my church is a recovering alcoholic and sees me, the Valley Boy Pastor, sipping a glass? If he falls on account of me, I’m hurting him. I’m not walking in love.

Luckily, I have no desire to try liquor. My dad didn’t drink. I never went to parties when I was younger. I believe I get joy from God, not chemicals.

For all I know, that was a lot of money I poured out. But to me, it is of no monetary value. Maybe the devil valued it as a snare to pull people into sin.

Prayer works

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This is my list of people to pray to return to Jesus.Obviously,  I blurred it. But you can see that names crossed out. Those are the ones who have come back to Christ already. Those are answered prayers.

I encourage you to use lists in prayer so that you can see progress. You can see its effectiveness. This will encouraged you to keep praying and to pray more.

I feel such love (you reap what you sow)

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I’m a sucker for love. Namely, I like to feel loved, and I give myself whole-heartedly to others. I don’t belong to the insulting clique, where men call each other “fool” and are constantly trying to one-up the joking derision. I guess I’m not man enough for them.

I’m leaving Guatemala right now, and I’m asking myself why I feel so full. God moved. There were salvations. But I’m even happier about just being with all those kids in the school, with my friends — the co-workers in the Lord — who helped found the church and school and keep them going. They don’t work for money. They work for something else. Smiling playing kids are everyone. Smiling adults too.

I can’t resist it. It’s like Heaven on Earth.

Wherever I go in God, this is the type of Christianity I’m trying to establish. You can fly on your superiority trip. I’m going to do my best to embody the love that is the image of Christ.

I founded the Door Christian Church 22 years ago and the Liceo Bilingüe La Puerta a year later. Now, God has sent me to Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley to establish a church. Love will prevail.

Save

God hasn’t given up on you

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

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

Ouch!

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

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

Planning and praying

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

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

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

Prayer works better than planning.

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

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

Listening to God in Guatemala


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

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

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

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Maria Cristina accepted Jesus as Lord on Sunday

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

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

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

Recovery

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

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

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

Recovery is for humans.

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

When discouraged, keep doing right things

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The bane of most is to succumb to discouragement, to compromise your values, to lower your sights, to throw out your dreams in search of pleasure instead of goals.

Keep believing in higher goals, even when others don’t believe in you, when others ridicule your dreams and scoff at your possibilities. Keep doing right things in the midst of overwhelming discouragement.

This is the trademark of Joseph, who, sold into slavery, kept serving his God with enthusiasm, who, next incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit, continued in the straight and narrow. When his day came, he became vice president of Egypt and saved the very people who nearly killed him.

This is the trademark of Daniel, who was ripped from his homeland and taken captive to a foreign land. With no discernible future, he steadfastly served God and wound up distinguishing himself from all those who settled for less.

This is the trademark of David, who, shunned by his own brothers and fathers, believed it important to practice his aim and took on bears in lions in defense of lambs. He thought one day his skills would be useful for taking down giants. And God gave him big things.

Let this be our trademark.

Our school takes kids to Africa, this is Ruby’s experience on the medical mission

IMG_0968By Ruby Swanson, LCA sophomore

While other students were vacationing and relaxing over Spring Break, I was working — in Africa on a medical mission. I consider myself blessed to participate.

As a sophomore at the Lighthouse Christian Academy, I jumped at the chance to join the associated Lighthouse Medical Missions in Tanzania on March 25 to April 3. My dad did his best to repress all the usual parental fears of malaria, terrorism and the like to let me go. From the Christian school in Santa Monica, I traveled 36 hours to Africa.

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We stayed in the the Ryan’s Bay Hotel overlooking the glorious Lake Victoria. Every day we held clinic in which doctors and nurses attended to hundreds of patients. Each night, we attended church services.

On the first day of clinic, I assisted Doctor Bob Hamilton, founder of the Lighthouse Medical Mission, at the pediatric station. So many sick children came in it was heartbreaking. It was also really inspiring because even though they were sick because they were giggling, playful, happy kids.

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The second day I worked with Katelyn Myer in the pharmacy. She had all the supplies super organized and was on top of everything. However, the serious medicine hadn’t arrived because terror threats in Brussels tied up the meds shipping out from there. All we had was Advil and stuff like that.

It was really hard to have to tell someone who had walked miles and waited hours that we didn’t have the medicine they needed so desperately. The meds came later in the week, so people who had been given prescriptions came back to fill them.

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The people lined up for free medical attention in Mwanza, Tanzania.

I spent the next few days assisting at the nurse station and those were my favorite days of clinic. My main job was to hold down kids who were getting shots, getting blood tests or getting abscesses drained. It was really cool seeing all of the nurses at work and inspired me to maybe pursue a career in that field.

When the nurses didn’t have anything for me to do, they gave me some free time to play with some of the kids visiting the clinic. One time I brought out the bubble machine and I was immediately surrounded by a bunch of laughing, jumping, awestruck children. It didn’t occur to me until later that they had never seen bubbles before.

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The last day I assisted Doctor and Mrs. Czer at their station treating people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, anemia and etc. Everyday at clinic was rewarding, even though you were hot and tired by the end it was all worth it to have been able to care for these people.

The last day was cut short so that team members could do their own thing before attending a dinner at the pastor’s house. Liz Peterson, fellow LCA student Sasha Photenhauer and I went on a hike with the guys while all of the other girls went shopping.

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I’m glad I chose the hike because I got to experience Africa’s beautiful scenery and even take a selfie with a Zebra! Each moment of the trip was spectacular; but the ones spent at the clinic are by far the most special to me.

By going to Africa I realized just how incredibly blessed I am to live here in America. I realized just how little material things really mean and how much I take for granted. Africa taught me to appreciate everything I have and to think less selfishly.

I experienced God in ways I never had before and I am so happy that He sent me on this trip. I encourage everyone to go on a medical mission if they are given the chance to because it something that completely changes the way you view the world, others and yourself.

Not only that, but you are able to serve God by serving people, and the Bible says that people are treasure. I can honestly say that going on this trip changed my life for the better.

This article, written by one of my students, originally appeared here.

No friends allowed

Enders game

Ender in the movie

Every time, Ender makes a friend, he gets cut off by the military leaders, who think that his intensive training precludes his need for such triviality. He must learn to depend on no one but himself to get out of every situation, Graeff reasons.

So when he is surrounded by bullies who could seriously injure himself, the teachers don’t rescue him. He’s left to his own wits.

The teachers praise him in front of the other trainees knowing this will create envy and jealousy.

When he makes a friend in a platoon, they switch him.

There are many elements of madness in Ender’s Game that seem to lift from Catch 22.

The kicker is that this heartless abuse works. At the end, Ender saves Earth from the attack of the buggers with his brilliant command of the international fleet.

They talked of stoning David. Amalekites had attacked his camp while he and his men were out. They had burned it, pillaged it and made off with everybody’s wife and children. David’s men were embittered.

Then David did something extraordinary. The Bible says he encouraged himself in the Lord. No one was there for him. He dug deep and found the resource to turn the defeat into a victory. He pursued the attackers and recovered everything and everyone unharmed.

Maybe God let’s his servants go through times of utter loneliness to bring out the best in them.

Utter loneliness

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There are times when we feel completely abandoned by the people we love and trust. They turn their backs on us. They have expectations for us that we don’t meet or don’t even know.

I’ve often wondered why there have been so many times of loneliness in my life. Why? The longing of my heart is to have friends and be a team member.

Maybe I have a hint of an answer: Loneliness has driven me to my Lord. Is He lonely for me as I am for friends?

Also: The hurt in my heart makes me sensitive to others’ hurts. I can minister better to them as a result. I’m all-accepting, extremely anti-clique, because I have never belonged to a clique.

I think Jesus was too. He was excluded from the power circle of the Jewish leaders, so he consorted with the needy hearts of the outcasts of society.

Maybe God is permitting pain to sharpen your usefulness.

Happiness is fruit

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t be intimidated

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

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

Well, maybe not running.

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

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

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

Eating is such a waste of time

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Avocado fries at Rustic Kitchen from West Los Angeles.

Yeah, I can find so many better things to do with my time. And they keep giving you rules: what’s healthy, what you shouldn’t eat. Why don’t they let me lead my life the way I want? They’re so judgemental, hateful, hypocritical. What’s the point? Why do they try to force you to eat?

Oops.

Sorry. Switch “eat” for “church” to understand my analogy.

Spiritual food is just as necessary, useful and delicious as physical food.

You are not alone

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

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

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

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

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

#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.”

‘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.

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

Son of Hamas

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.

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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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.’”

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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

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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

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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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These are my celebrities #ValleyBoyPastor

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

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

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

Let God’s light break in on your darkness

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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.

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?

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.)

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.

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.

 

But there are giants in the land #ValleyBoyPastor

IMG_0367(1)Anytime you want to do something GOOD, major opposition looms.

If, however, you want to do something BAD, the path forward is a glittery and easy speedway.

What scared the Israelites and sent them back into the desert for 40 years, what kept them from their destiny, were giants. These guys were 9-feet tall — and there was no NBA back then. The whining spies said they felt like cockroaches compared to them.

It can be intimidating to do ministry. But God can knock those giants down. The taller they are, the harder the fall, as David found.

I’ve moved to Van Nuys to open a Bible study and possibly parlay it into a church. I’ve found the giant already. I’ve learned you have to stare down giants.

Apartment managing fail #8 #ValleyBoyPastor

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If you hear screams late at night coming from my room, don’t call the cops. Everything is OK. I’m just having a nightmare about dishwashers.

101’s dishwasher was spraying water on the floor. It had been doing so — whenever the tenant infrequently used it — for eight months. The previous manager apparently couldn’t find the problem.

But replacing it was no slam dunk. The Home Depot guys returned because the voltage was 220. The electrician scolded me because the shut-off valve was corroded and sprayed him. The tenant feels like her apartment has turned into a museum as I, the handyman and an assortment of workers traipse through day after day.

Ugh.

I’m the Valley Boy Pastor, and I’m new at apartment managing. And I’m loving it. It offers me the chance to make friends and win souls on the basis of the rapport of being the manager. I guess you could say the job is a little bit “complex.” Sorry, can’t resist a pun regardless of the quality.

Thanks for your prayers for this church plant. So far, no one has come to the Thursday Bible study.

There was opposition going forward

the fat of the land

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

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

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

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

It’s a new day

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Start with a new hope. Bring a new faith in God. Begin with a positive outlook. Confess good over life, and not bad. Trust in God, for He loves you.

Gummy bears work as rocket fuel. What does that mean to your belly?


Eventually the myth busters got it right. They had to devise a conical nozzle, and they had to grind the gummy bears into fine powder. But the caloric quantity represented enough stored energy to lift the rocket off its pad and launch it into the air. That’s a lot of stored energy.

Gummy bears are not a healthy snack. They are a quick trip to chubby. And they look so cute and harmless.

If you only knew the stored energy in one of those cute little prayers. Prayer packs a wallop. Just because you don’t see (immediately) the answer from God doesn’t mean nothing is happening. Slowly, surely, you’re building something for God’s kingdom.

Lose yourself for the gospel

lose yourself for gospel

When it comes time to teaching my high school students what “paradox” means, I turn to the gospels because Jesus relished using them. How can you lose yourself and thus find yourself? It doesn’t make immediate sense, and the carnal mind will never comprehend.

God doesn’t work by contract. He doesn’t tell us what all the perks are. He expects us to live by faith. Your boss, on the other hand, is probably not going to give you a dime more than what’s in the contract. When you serve God, He simply asks you to lose yourself for the gospel.

Then He blesses you more than you can imagine. Of course, if you scoff at this and don’t try it out, you will never see the spiritual law activated when you give to God.

Valley Boy Pastor

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I never imagined I would return to the San Fernando Valley. My childhood memories there were mostly not pleasant. I went to college at UCLA, to church in Santa Monica and then to my mission in Guatemala. I only visited the Valley to see my dad.

Now, I’m apartment-managing in Van Nuys, with hopes to starting a church. The welcome in the complex has been heartening. There’s an Egyptian family that’s hooked me up with falafel. Mmmmmm.

The community belongs to the immigrants. Everybody has at least two jobs. These are hard-working, decent people, and it is my joy to share Christ with those who don’t know Him. I’ve been there for a week and half. Your prayers are appreciated for this project.

In our group of churches (Christian Fellowship Ministries), we call this sort of venture “pioneering.” It’s an apt description for a start-up church because you start with no resources other than your own hard work and prayer. You toil long hours to raise up an established church. I saw God do it once for me in Guatemala. This would be the second venture.

Pursuit of ‘happiness’ got you burned out?

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More.

If only you had more money, more vacation, more fun.

So you work hard in the unmeditated pursuit of happiness. But it’s got you burned out. If only you knew the way to peace.

The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace. — Isaiah 60:17.

Does it seem odd that the Bible, unceasingly maligned by the world, should possess the secret to unceasing peace? And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.– Isaiah 32:17.

What brings peace? Righteousness. And they told you that the pleasure was fun and brought happiness. Well, yes. God made pleasure, but sinful pleasures bring torment to the soul and rob us of peace. There is no happiness outside of God.

Meet Camila, born to parents who couldn’t have kids

IMG_9784Prayer brought her into the world, and from the looks of it she is now learning how to pray.

Her parents, Gunter and Yara, were among the best disciples in the church. Medically speaking, they couldn’t have kids. Evangelist after evangelist prayed for them. Then my friend, Isaias Campos, came to preach for me. Ironically, he himself couldn’t have natural children. But God told him he would pray for somebody to have kids. That did the trick.

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My son, Hosea, among the kids of the Door Christian Church in Guatemala City.

I left Guatemala six years ago under duress. I am currently visiting, and I’m blown away by the revival I’m seeing. It’s been packed, and people are hungry for God.