Tag Archives: Bible

Amazing grace for Valley Boy Pastor

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My two sons performing in the drama.

God’s goodness and unmerited favor is not only for salvation. I’ve been seeing it in the formation of the startup church in Van Nuys, California. The San Fernando Valley Lighthouse Church is running on eight cylinders.

We recently did a drama to bless another, well-established church in Palmdale, about an hour away from L.A.

The church continues to meet at Lake Balboa, when it’s not too cold or rainy. Attendance doubled in December.

I am floored that God would bless me. It’s His amazing grace, usually applied to salvation, but applicable to any and every area of our lives.

What you need in life is God’s favor, which you can’t earn. Jesus earned it for you. The best thing we can do is be grateful.

Grandma Krav Maga beat up bad guy. New version of Good Samaritan

baton-rouge-cop-saved-by-good-samaritanA Baton Rouge grandmother is being called a Good Samaritan after she plunged into the middle of a life-or-death struggle between a cop and bad guy, saving the officer’s life.

Vickie Williams-Tillman, 56, didn’t think twice when she pounced on the back of a hulking Thomas Bennett after a routine drug arrest escalated suddenly into a dangerous fight for control of the officer’s weapon.

“I could see in his eyes he needed help,” said Williams-Tillman, who stopped her car, called 911, and lunged into the fray on Feb. 19. “You don’t have time to think about it. I did what God needed me to do.”

vickie-williams-tillmanThe grandmother pulled on Bennett’s arm as cop and suspect wrangled for the officer’s gun. All three fell to the ground.

Quickly, a backup unit pulled up and another officer stun-gunned the suspect, who was arrested on charges of battery on a police officer, resisting an officer with violence, possession of cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Baton Rouge Mayor President Sharon Weston Broome lauded the lady for fearlessly joining the brawl.

“Vickie Williams-Tillman epitomizes the true Good Samaritan,” the mayor said, as reported in The Blaze. She reached out and offered a courageous and unconditional response to the officer. Ms. Williams-Tillman is a hero and demonstrates the true meaning of loving God and loving your neighbor.”

Cpl. Billy Aime was handcuffing the suspect after spotting incriminating evidence when Bennett suddenly resisted arrest. The cop struggled without success to subdue the suspect. Read the rest of the article.

Kevin Hart Christian?

kevin-hartKevin Hart’s mother was going to help him with rent to kick-start his comedy career, but when the due date passed he called his mom, and all she could say was: “Have you been reading your Bible?”

A week later it was the same thing: “When you read your bible, then we’ll talk about your rent.”

Annoyed at his “over-religious” mom but desperate about an eviction note on his door, Kevin grudgingly sat down and opened the Good Book.

eniko-parrish-8-141“I go home and say, ‘Man let me open this Bible up,’” Hart explained to Oprah Winfrey. “Open the Bible up, six rent checks fell out. She put all my rent checks in the Bible.”

Score one for mom and the Lord!

Hart, the self-spoofing star of Real Husbands of Hollywood, doesn’t need Mom’s rent money anymore. He’s enjoyed a steady stream of movie roles starting with Paper Soldiers (2002), Scary Movie 3 the next year, Soul Plane (2004), In the Mix (2005) and Little Fockers (2010). He ranked as the highest paid comedian by Forbes, valued at $87.5 million.

In his latest gig, a quixotic Hart fails hilariously in his constant attempts to climb Hollywood’s social ladder.

And while he’s not overly vocal about his Christianity, Hart is believed to hold the values of his mother, even if he pokes fun at her zeal in comedy routines.

kevin-hart-heaven-and-hendrix“His whole family was dedicated to Christianity, and Hart uses his family’s faith as a frequent topic in his stand-up. He doesn’t make fun of Christianity itself, but he does make fun of how people can be hypocritical with religion (like his drug addict Jesus-loving cousin),” according to Hollowverse.

On that same day when the checks tumbled out of his Bible, Jesus tumbled out too.

Hart was born in Philadelphia in 1979 to a cocaine-addicted father who was in jail more than he was in Hart’s life.

As a teen growing up in a harsh reality, Hart resorted to humor as a coping mechanism. His love for slapstick eventually won several amateur comedy competitions on the East Coast until landed recurring role on the TV series Undeclared. Jump to the rest of the story.

Jesus for the San Fernando Valley

jesus-for-the-san-fernando-valleyI have been in a flurry of reporting and editing student reporters. I enjoy this. But I haven’t updated y’all on the progress of my start-up church. We have revival, despite myself. The church has doubled with the addition of another family, with lots of kids. They are kind people and have a heart for evangelism.

Do you want to evangelize the world? Go to Super King supermarkets in Los Angeles. It caters to immigrants with all kinds of exotic foods. We evangelized Arabs, Persians, Armenians, Greeks, Latins, Jews, Egyptians all in one night of evangelism recently.

img_4853It’s been too cold to meet at Lake Balboa, so we have been meeting in my apartment. Fortunately, it’s an old one, which means it’s spacious. The newer apartments are really small. We cram 20 people into that front room. Keep praying because it’s working!

Flyleaf’s Lacey Sturm found Christ when suicidal

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Prophetic word from pastor and parishioner brought suicidal rocker to Christ

Co-founder and former lead vocalist of the rock band Flyleaf, Lacey Sturm, was contemplating suicide when she had an encounter with God that saved her life.

“When I was ten-years-old, my cousin, who was about three at the time, was beaten to death by his stepfather,” Sturm said. “My mother always talked to me about God, but at the time I just remember thinking I couldn’t reconcile how God could allow something like that to happen. I decided that if God was big and good, why wouldn’t he protect my cousin who was so tiny and so awesome?”

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The girl from Arlington, Texas, couldn’t countenance evil in the world. “I never wanted to have kids,” she said. “It would just be bringing another person into the world to suffer.”

She cried herself to sleep every night, became an atheist and turned to drugs and alcohol. She dabbled with pornography and even got a girlfriend.

“I couldn’t get away from my own depression. So I started to study a lot of other religions. There was a lot of nice ideas but there wasn’t any tangible healing.

lacey“I remember thinking, I’m tired of feeling the pain. I’m tired of going to bed that way. I’m tired of being a burden. I’m just tired of not knowing why I’m alive. I remember the night I was laying in bed, and I knew I was going to commit suicide the next day. I knew I was not going to live past tomorrow.”

But on the fateful day when she came home from school, Grandma was there — an unusual occurrence.

“She looked at me and said, ‘There’s something wrong with you. You’re going to go to church.'”

“There’s no way I’m going to go to church,” she said defiantly.

Her grandmother raised her voice and the two began to argue vehemently. Finally Sturm relented and went to church, but planned to follow through with her suicide afterwards.

She slumped down in a back-row pew, hating everyone and everything around her.  “The pastor started speaking, and I hated him more than anyone.”

The pastor spoke: “There’s a suicidal spirit in the room. So of course all the hair on the back of my neck stood up. And I thought, ‘Well, this is really weird.'”

She got up to go out, but was intercepted by white-haired man who gently and kindly addressed her: “The Lord wants me to speak to you. He wants you to know that even though you’ve never known an earthly father, God will be a better Father to you than any earthly father could ever be. God knows the pain in your heart. He’s seen you cry yourself to sleep at nights.”

Sturm was stunned and touched. How could he know about the deep things of her heart?

“The idea was so overwhelming to me,” she said. “He’s like, ‘Do you want me to pray for you so that Jesus can take the pain out of your heart?’ He put his hand on my shoulder and started to pray. It was as if the God of the universe showed up right in front of me. The first thing I noticed was that He was holy and good. The second thing I noticed is that I was not holy and not good. But at the same time, I felt Him inviting me to an embrace of grace and love unconditional. God was saying, ‘I love you. I know you’re tired of the way you’re living. I will make you new if you will let me.’

“My heart just said, ‘Yes. I need that. I want that,'” Sturm remembers. “I woke up the next day I felt such a peace and a joy that I’d never felt before. Jesus saved my life. The almost overwhelming thing to think is that Jesus became sin, and it was my sin. It was thing that I’ve done that held Him on the cross. He hung naked on a cross bleeding in a shameful way so that I would never have to be ashamed for the things that I’ve done.” Read the rest of the article written by my Lighthouse Christian Academy student here.

Roof access

img_4316As apartment manager, I can get on the roof — no one else.

Maintenance duties oblige me to inspect. As a result, I’ve delighted by some of the most glorious views of sunsets and skies. I’ve witnessed beauty that can be observed at street level, at the level of the tenants.

You have access to the roof as a Christian. You have access into the things of God, a higher life, a life of beauty. The direction of the Christian is upward.

Enjoy.

A bag of cheetos defeated our soccer team

soccer-los-angeles-high-schoolLighthouse’s potentially playoff-deciding loss to Newbury can be blamed on a bag of flaming hot cheetos.

That’s all one player ate all day before the game.

The Saints matchup on Feb. 7 promised to be high stakes challenge. Newbury Park was last year’s league champs that LCA managed to upset this season 2-1 with energy and sheer force of will in the first matchup. The Gators would be seeking revenge for the “humiliation.”

So how did the Saints prepare?

Some players didn’t eat enough, and so they ran out of gas in the second half, allowing a 3-3 tie turn into a 3-5 loss. One player showed up with football cleats, a disqualifying violation.

The mind-boggling frustration behind Santa Monica’s Christian school soccer loss is actually a teaching moment. Lighthouse Christian Academy drills not just cognitive skills (how to ace college entrance exams or learn calculus). With a view to successful life, LCA teaches non-cognitive skills: how to show up on time every day, how to be responsible.

In other words, LCA gets the knuckleheadedness out.

“In the first half I did good,” the cheeto-eater said. “But in the second half, my stomach started to hurt.”

The pros on a wide pitch run 5 miles in a 90 minute game. Of course, high schoolers in 80 minutes of play on smaller fields don’t manage quite as much. But still, you burn a lot of calories. Even if you haven’t taken the requisite health class, intuitively you know to eat carb rich food (not fatty, greasy or sugary) before the game.

One bag of cheetos simply is not filling up the fuel tank.

In some ways, LCA’s rematch against Newbury was everything it promised to be, a back-and-forth thriller between similarly skilled teams battling for second place and the coveted playoff berth.

The Saints were first to score at 15 minutes. Erhan Meric sent a through ball to the left corner that junior Abraham Morales sprinted to. He juked a defender to get in the box, and as the keeper came out for the onoe-on-one, Abraham chipped wide of him to the far post.

Newbury fought back to net two goals.

In the second half, Abraham threw in a ball looking for a Saints player, but a Newbury defender, instead of clearing it, headered it in to the goal. The game was tied 2-2.

Newbury again scored making it 3-2.

Then Hosea was blind-sided by a double body check from opposing sides causing him to spin in the air just inside the box. Taking the penalty kick, Erhan sent the goalie left and shot right.

The game was tied 3-3.

That’s when LCA started running out of gas. Read the rest of the story.

Now landing goals, not punches

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His shots went high and wide.

Junior Abraham Morales, who showed plenty of speed and skill, couldn’t put the ball into the net to save his life.

Then in the second half of the season, things suddenly came into focus for old blurry-shooter. He nailed a shot against Westmark from the left flank.

And on Tuesday, in the highest tension game of the 2017 season, when his team needed him most, Abraham proved in top form. He sunk two torpedoes to unnerve the reigning league champs, Newbury Park, in a game that ultimately Lighthouse Christian Academy lost 3-5.

“As a little kid I would just pass the ball around with my family members. I was a pretty short kid. I used to tell them, ‘One day I’ll make it big in soccer,’” Abraham said.

He’s big in our eyes, now one of the top scorers for the season and officially listed in the Lighthouse ledger of soccer history.

Because of soccer, Abraham transferred to Lighthouse. His middle school teammates jeered and bullied him for his flubs on the soccer field, a habitual provocation that drove him to yelling and even fist fights. The nastiness continued into his freshman year of high school in the public school system in South Central Los Angeles, where he lives.

“I told my mom, ‘Can I go to another school because I don’t feel right here?” Mrs. Morales found Lighthouse online.

Even though he was raised in a Christian home, Abraham thought he wouldn’t fit in at a Christian high school.

“I thought it was going to be super strict and all that,” he admitted. “I knew there was going to be some sort of dress code. I didn’t want to wear a uniform.” Read the rest of the story.

God’s gangster: former yakuza is now pastor

yakuzaAs a teenager, he was lured into a Japanese crime syndicate known as yakuza, and after surviving several violent episodes and prison experiences, God began to get his attention.

“I admired the yakuza for what was visible only on the surface,” Tatsuya Shindo told CNN. “They have lots of money, spend their money lavishly, and play glamorously. The bad guys looked so cool in my eyes. I was a child. I didn’t think too deeply.”

Many of the estimated 50,000 yakuza fall into a life of crime because they come from broken families. The yakuza cultivate a sense of family, of belonging and of loyalty.

But if there were issues that seduced him to the mob life, the harsh realities began to pummel him.

“People were killed in power struggles,” he recounted. “People’s legs were shot. A guy who was doing drugs with me died of intoxication. Suicides happened. Sudden deaths. I’ve seen many deaths,” said Shindo, 45. “I saw my henchmen get stabbed to death.”

He got addicted to crystal meth. He crashed his boss’s car while driving under the influence. As a result, his pinkie finger was cut off with a chisel, which is a form of penance in the syndicate. For a first offense, the wrongdoer must cut off the tip of his left little finger and give the severed portion to his boss.

160222022016-japan-life-after-yakuza-ripley-pkg-00001721-exlarge-169Shindo’s body is covered by tattoos, which make him an outcast in Japan. Many yakuza have full-body tattoos, which are still “hand-poked”, with homemade tools using needles made of bamboo or steel. The painful process can take years to finish.

Crime members cover their tattoos in public, but when they play cards with each other they often remove their shirts to show off their creative designs.

Beginning at age 22, Shindo was arrested seven times and imprisoned three times, according to CNN.

He saw his mob boss killed and friends die of overdoses. After his third prison sentence, he began to question the “lavish life of the yakuza” he once imagined. He finally decided it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

During his final 10-year prison sentence, Shindo began reading a Bible in solitary confinement.Read the rest of the article written by a Chinese student at our Santa Monica school.

Exquisite soccer: selflessness

erhanThere are piano movers and piano players on the soccer field.

There are beefy guys who marshal girth at speed to jostle opponents off the ball and keep possession. And there are slight figures who ghost around and with exquisite touches on the ball to perform the magic that gets posted on YouTube.

Erhan Meric was performing a symphony of soccer delight in yesterday’s 7-1 victory over Westmark School in Encino. The Lighthouse Christian Academy Saints are now 5-1 in league play.

Erhan, who learned the music of soccer in Turkey before moving to America and enrolling in our Santa Monica Christian school, knows as much as an orchestra director. He’ll streak past defenders dribbling as if the ball were attached to his feet. He changes up pace suddenly. He doesn’t shy away from the one-on-one, in which he’ll thread the ball through the eye of the needle. He can strike from distance with power and precision.

He’s a bonafide virtuoso.

Against Westmark, Erhand notched two early goals to put LCA on towards a comfortable win.

And then after making two goals, Erhan did something extraordinary. He stopped scoring.

Other high school players would have capitalized on a weak opponent to set a personal record. Not Erhan. He desisted.

Instead, he dedicated his skill to setting up his lesser-skilled teammates for goals.

“I’ve scored a lot of goals,” the soft-spoken junior said. “I wanted my friends to score.”

An Erhan strike, not against Westmark.

And they flubbed. They tripped. They shot wide or high. It was a great opportunity for them to learn in a real life game.

There’s a word for a star who wants others to shine. It’s a word that can’t be used much in the world of sports.

Here it is: selfless.

Sports is thronged by bluster and brag, by trashtalk and mindgame. It is dominated by a deafening drivel of ME. And when the megalomania hits the field, the opponent becomes more than just the other team. It becomes the teammate who’s competing. Yup, when teammates compete among themselves to see who’s the best, usually the other team wins.

Soccer, like basketball, is only beautiful when there is passing. When one player jukes four players and single-handedly taps the ball into the net, that is gloating and unsportsmanlike. While a Messi or Neymar individual performance is sensational, high schoolers go selfish and try to be the all-star, almost never do they make the final goal. Their selfishness undoes whatever prior work they put in to building up to the finale. The last touch of a scintillating run must be a pass because you pull too many defenders to you.

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LCA relinquish romantic role of underdog in win against Pilgrim School

alex-cervantes-santa-monica-christian-school-soccerLighthouse returned to its winning ways Tuesday with a 4-0 shutout of Pilgrim School.

There is something romantic, something poetic about slugging it out in a losing battle — if you don’t succumb to cynicism. Parents cheer on their players, who bravely mount a futile fight. Coaches teach the sport to beginners. You are playing competitive league, learning about teamwork, effort and excellence. It’s a game, so even if you lose, it’s better than doing homework. The odds are just overwhelmingly against you.

It is a poetry that Lighthouse Christian Academy, with historically low enrollments, knows well — on the football field, on the volleyball court and on the soccer field.

But on Tuesday, the romance of being the underdog didn’t belong Lighthouse. It belonged to Pilgrim, which staged an epic fight and skirmished rousingly but ultimately buckled before bigger guns.

The Saints saw themselves, for once, in the dominant role.

With the fleet-footed Turkish star, junior Erhan Meric, and with the big basketball star sophomore Justin Berry in goal swatting down shots like flies, with soccer machine junior Alex Cervantes and with danger-creating freshman Hosea Ashcraft serving up through-balls likes pancakes, LCA’s 2017 iteration is actually a menacing squad.

The Santa Monica Christian school’s team was powerful enough to compete against last year’s league champions, Newbury Park. On Jan. 19, they Saints shocked the big kids on the block, upending their hegemony with a quite unexpected 2-1 from tireless toiling, vision and belief.

Then with the rush of the mouse that roared, the Saints played against Einstein Academy Friday and saw their dynamism, their teamwork and their unbeaten record evaporate. It’s not far from the truth to say that Einstein crushed the overconfident Saints.

Tuesday was a chance to turnaround. To finish the article, click here.

High-flying (and prideful) LCA soccer loses to Einstein Academy in a reminder they will need to work to compensate for their lack of technical and tactical ability

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With three consecutive wins, Lighthouse soccer was flying high — perhaps too high — when Einstein Academy knocked them down back into the Earth’s atmosphere with a stinging 0-6 loss on Jan. 27.

The players for the Lighthouse Christian Academy were ebullient as they entered their fourth league game undefeated. They were joking. They were confident cocky. They weren’t listening to coach. They weren’t concentrating.

After cooly beating last year’s high school soccer champs 2-1, what could possibly stand in their way?

Albert Einstein Academy for Arts, Letters and Sciences of Valencia had read the game record on MaxPreps and prepared for a formidable foe. “We thought we were going to have to give everything we had to beat you,” admitted the Einstein coach.

Instead, Einstein’s 10 club players and other assorted players faced a disorganized Saints team that hemorrhaged goals with a succession of mistakes. In the first half, Lighthouse held a deep defensive line on two free kicks, allowing Einstein players with powerful kicks to get within goal range with long airborn passes. The 50-50 ball needed only to be turned into the net.

Lighthouse managed the improbable win against Newbury, the reigning league champs, by working some slick passing. But on Friday, Saints players were selfish, attempting impossible penetration through a thicket of players with individual dribbling. At best, they would get past three and get caught by the fourth while an open teammate called for the ball.

Other mistakes were made by the Christian school in Santa Monica.

After a winning run that Coach Junior Cervantes qualified as “miraculous,” it was a crushing loss but not an undeserved loss. The pre-game glut of confidence was inappropriate.

As the Bible says, pride comes before a fall.

With only one club and one former club player… Finish reading the article.

How hyperactivity turned to a Lighthouse Christian Academy soccer win

santa-monica-soccer-private-high-schoolOften, Brandon Montes overflows fidgety energy in the classroom. He’s drumming on the desk, snapping fingers, sneering at classmates across the room, clowning around. Believe it or not, through it all he’s paying attention too.

On Jan. 19, 2017, of an extraordinary week of soccer, Brandon was paying attention and put his gush of energy to good use. At left defense he was alert to a ball opponents were clearing on a corner kick. It was headered wide, out of the danger zone. It was coasting safely towards the line.

But solid defensive tactic fell apart because of Brandon’s energy boost and attentiveness. The sophomore ran up and smashed a low shot through a muddle of players that apparently blocked the goalkeeper’s view of action. By the time he jumped, it was too late. The ball went into the net.

“Whenever I see a ball that close to the goal, my main idea is to shoot it,” Brandon said. “I saw the ball was going over. I ran up on it. I heard Junior say ‘chip it in the middle,’ but I wasn’t taking into account what he said because my first instinct was to shoot it.”

Brandon’s effort was richly rewarding. His first goal of the season (and that from a defensive position!) was the winner. The Lighthouse Christian Academy beat the Newbury Park Gators 2-1. Brandon’s goal capped off an equalizer from freshman Levi Photenhauer in the second half to give the Saints the unexpected victory.

“I tried to do what I was learning in practice: keep my head over the ball, to kick a ball with power low and on the ground instead of having it blast into outer space,” Brandon said.

Brandon has played some untiring and intelligent soccer this season. He fights for ever ball and doesn’t concede anything. He runs hard and fast.

“Whenever I see a ball coming towards me, I have to get it,” Brandon said. “If a ball gets passed me, I get extremely angry. I attack it by any means necessary.”

It was Brandon’s long switch from defensive position that set up Levi’s goal.

On Tuesday in a game against Westmark that our private high school also won, it was Brandon at center mid that sunk a billiards shot into the path of Marcus Scribner to notch up one assist.

“I look for whoever is open and try to make the pass,” he said. LCA won 7-2 on Tuesday.

On Wednesday in school, students fell into braggadocio, boasting about their heroics and jeering teammates who remained so far goalless. Brandon searched for the words to defend his play, which had sparkled more than that of some of the goal-scorers. He decided to not answer their boasts. He had played well. His actions spoke for him. He would answer them in Thursday’s match. Finish reading the article.

Her dad was killed evangelizing N. Korea. Now she wants to go there.

kung-yu-sungHer father was, in all likelihood, executed for evangelizing in North Korea, and yet Kung Yu Sung wants to go to that closed communist nation to be a missionary herself.

“God has placed in my heart a great love for North Korea,” the 18-year-old said in a YouTube video. “My father was used there for God’s kingdom. I want to bring the love of Jesus to North Korea.”

Today, Yu Sung is in high school in South Korea, where she was granted asylum. Her father had been a high-ranking government official until he fell out of favor with the totalitarian dictator and had to flee to China with his wife and then-six-year-old daughter.

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North Korea is among the most closed nations of the world.

It was in China that he accepted Christ at a Bible study he attended with relatives, Yu Sung said. He was growing in the Lord and the love of God’s work when he was reported to Chinese authorities and arrested for being in China illegally. Then he was deported to North Korea, an ally of China, where he served a prison sentence of three years for leaving his native land illegally.

Meanwhile, Yu Sung’s mother died of leukemia while pregnant with what was to be her second child, and little Yu Sung was left alone in the world. She was adopted by a pastor’s family in China.

“They showed me great love and care,” she said. “Through them, God protected me.”

After her father finished his prison sentence in North Korea, he fled to China. “The time in jail only made my father’s faith stronger,” she said.

After a time of continued study in the Bible, he decided to return to North Korea as a missionary. He was fully aware of the risks, but he wanted “to share Christ’s message of life among the hopeless of his homeland.” He chose not to go to South Korea where he could have enjoyed religious freedom and lived more comfortably.

Instead, he went to North Korea to share the love of God in a dangerous land,” Yu Sung recounted.

“It breaks my heart to tell you that in 2006 he was discovered by the North Korean government and he was again imprisoned,” she said. “I have heard no words from my father ever since. In all probability he has been shot to death in public on charges of treason and espionage.” To read the rest of the story, click here.

Hip Hop artist Andy Mineo won’t be pigeon-holed

andymineoAt 12, Syracuse native Andy Mineo accepted Jesus at a Bible camp and experienced a love in his heart for people he previously hated. But without male role models and a Christian support network, he drifted away from God in high school and joined a secular rap group known as Fat Camp.

In his freshman year at City College of New York, Mineo met Grammy-award-winning music producer Alex Medina in a music class. Medina introduced him to hip hop artists who were Christians, and the idea that he could combine his talent for lyrics with love for God excited him.

andy-mineoMineo renewed his relationship with Jesus, got involved with Intervarsity campus ministries, and gave up secular recording.

“I remember walking in one Saturday to the rehearsals they would have and seeing a whole bunch of people my age, urban, inner city, loved hip-hop, loved the arts, and loved Jesus,” Mineo said. “And I thought, ‘This is unreal!’”

Mineo released his first mixtape, Sin is Wack, in 2009. He drew a lot of attention when he sang hook vocals on “Background” for Lecrae’s Rehab album. In 2011, he signed for Christian label Reach Records and joined the Christian hip hop collective 116 Clique (as in Rom. 1:16), famous for being “unashamed of the Gospel.”

He released Heroes for Sale in 2013 and in 2015 Uncomfortable, which cracked Billboard’s top 10.

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“With a mix of thought-provoking lyrics combined with encouragement and a range of beats, Uncomfortable is an ambitious and bold entry into Christian rap and hip hop that convicts, inspires, and encourages,” noted Chris Major of The Christian Beat.

Aside from his musical creativity, the pull of Mineo’s music is his “reflective lyricism, that connects with his fans through shared struggles, self-discovery and raw emotion,” according to Narratively. His sincerity about his own struggles with temptation comes out clearly in his rap “Tug of War.”

“It’s essentially me just sharing my life, sharing my failures, my struggles, my successes, my joy that I have in God,” Mineo told BillyGraham.org. “I hope what I can do through the music I’m making now is point people to this hope that I found.”

Mineo doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed as a “Christian rapper” because he’ll lose appeal among the secular audiences he’s trying to win to Christ.

“Excellence is the best marketing tool, and I know my music is excellent,” Mineo said. “So if people listen to it and just objectively they can enjoy it and say, ‘Wow, I like this. This is good,’ then they’ll have the opportunity to soak in the content and say, ‘Oh, he has a different perspective.’” Finish the story, which was written by my student at the Lighthouse Christian Academy.

‘Make sure he fails at everything that is not of You,’ Grandma prayed over Chance the Rapper

chance-the-rapper-jesusBy his own account, Chance the Rapper had turned into a Xan-zombie when his grandmother marched him in and prayed a prayer that left him wondering if it was a blessing or a curse.

Chance’s popularity was spiking as a young hip hop artist, but grandma was not impressed.

She looked at him intently and said, “I don’t like what’s going on. I can see it in your eyes. I don’t like this. We’re gonna pray,” she declared.

“And she prayed for me all the time,” he told GQ magazine. “Like, very positive things. But this time, she said, ‘Lord, I pray that all things that are not like You, You take away from Chance. Make sure that he fails at everything that is not like You. Take it away. Turn it into dust.’”

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With

The prodigal son was thunderstruck. “I’m thinking, like, damn, I don’t even know if God likes rap! You know what I’m saying? Is she praying that I fail at everything I’m trying to do?”

But as he mulled over the prayer, and after he learned his in-utero daughter was diagnosed with atrial flutters, Chance decided to accept the prayer as a blessing and start to make his way back to God.

The baby’s health concerns caused him to “pray a whole lot, you know, and need a lot of angels and just see s— in a very, like, direct way. And…you know, God bless everything, it worked out well.”

God answered his prayers and daughter Kinsley Bennett was born without health complications in 2015.

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With the baby girl who helped him seek God.

The following May, Chance the Rapper dropped his third mixtape, Coloring Book, which streamed 57.3 million times in its first week exclusively over Apple Music. Featuring Kanye West and an array of non-Christian rappers, the album also includes some overtly Christian musings along with candid acknowledgement of sins like lust, addiction and pride.

In “Blessings,” he unashamedly sings, “I’m going to praise Him, praise Him ‘til I’m gone, good God!” and “When the praises go up, the blessings come down.”

Chancelor Johnathan Bennet was born and bred on Chicago’s rough streets. His father, Ken Williams-Bennet, is currently the deputy chief of staff to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and once worked for then-Senator Barack Obama.

When Chance got suspended for 10 days in 2011 for possessing marijuana in high school, he recorded his first full-length project, a mixtape titled 10 Days. After its broader public release, he won critical acclaim and made connections with artists and producers.

In 2013, his album Acid Rap was listed on many 50 best albums of 2013 lists, including 26th for Rolling Stone, 12th on Pitchfork’s list, and ranked 4th by Complex. It was also listed as one of NPR Music’s 50 Favorite Albums Of 2013, according to Wikipedia.

Then he moved to Los Angeles and began to spiral out of control. “I was just f—ing tweaking. I was a Xan-zombie, f—ing not doing anything productive and just going through relationship after relationship after relationship.”

He went back to stay with his grandmother in Chicago and get right with the Lord. In February 2016, he tweeted, “Today’s the last day of my old life, last day smoking cigs. Headed to church for help. All things are possible thru Christ who strengthens me.”

With its jazzy brass influences, men’s choir and Kirk Franklin-gospel overtones, his third mixtape, Coloring Book, sounds as vibrant and joyful as its lyrics. It’s a secular recording from a Christian man who’s unafraid to be sincere about his struggles, reflecting his growth as an artist and a follower of Jesus Christ. Finish the article.

Mute the past

samuel-pisarSamuel Pisar became a Harvard-educated lawyer and statesman out of the horrendous beginnings of a Nazi concentration camp. He eluded death sentences twice while watching hundreds of fellow Jews die in gas chambers. He escaped on a death march. A hardened and cruel boy, Samuel survived post-war Poland selling cigarettes and stolen coffee grounds. A French aunt from rescued him from the streets, and he began a new and completely different life.

In doing so, he provides a model for Christians trying to slam the door on the past: “I had to wipe out the first 17 years of my life,” he said. “I muted the past” and “turned to the future with a vengeance.”

When God made us a “new creation” and “born again,” it was to “wipe out” how ever many years were previously lived in sin.

 

How to recover from a breakup, Rachel Ashley explains

rachel-ashleyIt seemed like an ideal relationship to Rachel Ashley because her boyfriend attended church, but after 2-and-a-half rocky years, he dumped her. “He told me he didn’t love me anymore.”

The Filipina American Youtuber with 5.5 million views confesses she lashed out at God for the heart-rending breakup.

“It totally broke me and I ended up blaming God,” she said in a video. “I got really angry, and I started questioning Him, like, ‘Why would you bring someone into my life if you knew I would get so attached to him? Why would you let this hurt happen to me?’ I started pushing myself even farther away from God.”

She was in the 11th grade and processing the tumultuous shattering of her heart was no easy matter. But as she reflected about the experience, she realized the guy didn’t draw her closer to God, even though he professed Christianity. In fact, for some time going to church for her was only about going to see him.

She started hanging out with the wrong crowd and maintained a facade.

“I would just to go to church to be there, because my family was there,” she said. “It wasn’t necessarily for me. It wasn’t helping me in anything. I didn’t want anything to do with it at that moment. I was just too stuck in my sorrows to even be myself.”

But after three months of moping, she received something of an epiphany.

“All of a sudden I got like this revelation,” she said. “Wait wait wait a minute. I think God did this for a reason. Maybe He knew that if my boyfriend and I stayed together down the road we would be in some kind of crazy situation. God just sent a peace over me.”

Then God gave inner promptings to her spirit: “The reason I took that guy out of your life is because… Read the rest of the article.

Somebody has to die

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I was shocked and pleased when Disney killed Hans Solo. I would’ve thought they lacked the guts to kill off such a beloved hero. But it made the plot 100 times more credible and compelling.

Now in Rogue One, Disney (spoiler alert) decimated all the good guys. They all had to sacrifice their lives to get the plans out of the Death Star to expose its structural weakness that could be exploited to destroy it. This is the backstory to the first Star Wars film.

landscape-1470743574-rogue-one-a-star-wars-story-donnie-yen-600x400Such willingness to script stars out of the franchise reflects reality and distances Disney from its sanitized fable fodder (and everyone lived happily ever after). Without sacrifice, nothing of good is accomplished.

Jesus sacrificed Himself. I’m sure He really didn’t want to go to the cross, but He did — and thank God for it. I would never find salvation under the impossible Old Testament system of animal sacrifice for every sin. Yup, me, hell-bound.

rogue-one-crew-posterSo this sacrifice stuff is inspirational, if not tidy. It might your tyke cry. But it teaches a valuable lesson. When I went down to Guatemala, I endured innumerable dangers and hardships — all to get the gospel to a needy people. Today’s Christians are too self-focused, too self-serving, too self-pleasing. Oh, they’ll throw a prayer and an offering (out of their excess cash) at world missions. But most of the time, they’re looking to minimalize personal discomfort.

In Rogue One, a lot of the characters excused themselves from the battle. They wimped out. That’s why the heroes called themselves “rogues.” They went against the council’s command to retreat in fear.

Princess Leia worth $50 million

carrie-fisherYou are worth more.

$50 million is the sum Disney could collect on the insurance policy they took out on their Star Wars hero. It’s a handy profit on the heart attack. Disney will cast about for a look-alike, and it shouldn’t be too much of problem.

Did she realize that she was worth more than that? God took out a policy on her life — on my life, on your life — that cost the life of His Only Son on the cross. That’s way more than what Disney fetched for Princess Leia.

Don’t marvel over the money machinations of the mega corporations. Marvel over value in God.

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Merry Christmas from Van Nuys

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I was surprised. These church members, instead of taking time off because of Christmas, came out to service. Christmas is a big family time. But the Van Nuys ch

urch members didn’t miss service.

Who would ever have thought that I could fit 25 seats into our apartment? A space efficiency engineer couldn’t have done better. It worked like a jigsaw puzzle.

All these people have been the best Christmas gift to me. One family had been praying for a Christian Fellowship Ministries church to open in the San Fernando Valley for years. Most of the members of our startup church play an instrument or two. Virtually all of them come to serve, not to be served.

This was the blessing of 2016 for me. I’m looking forward to what God will do in 2017.

God brought this blessing after six lean years of almost no ministry in my parent church. I thank God that the lean years are over and now I can function on all 8 pistons.

When Jesus gives, it is the best gift.

Homeless pill popper delivered by Jesus

marijuana-to-jesusFor six months, Yvette Castillo was homeless, popping pills and drinking alcohol. She was pregnant and found refuge in abandoned house with crack addicts where she was raped.

“I was trusting the drugs instead of trusted God to make me happy,” Yvette said in a YouTube testimony. “I thought it was an easier solution, but it wasn’t.”

Yvette now lives in Houston with her husband and kids and goes to church. She’s come a long way from the beginning of her downfall at three-years-old, when she was first molested.

yvette-castilloRaised by an alcoholic father and a mother who also disappointed her, Yvette became a troubled teen. With hate raging within from deep hurts, she actually invoked the powers of darkness one day while alone in her bedroom.

“I said, ‘Give me the power to hurt everyone, to stop people from messing with me.’” she said. “I didn’t know that I was making a pact with the devil. I knew who I was talking to, but I didn’t know how serious it was.”

She fought everyone at school who looked at her funny and disrespected her teachers. She was cutting and using drugs. Not youth camp, not juvenile hall, not counselors could help her change course.

She gave birth to a child at 14 years old.

“Not even my child stopped me from doing bad things,” she said. “It was a force that had taken over me, and nobody could stop me.”

Kicked out of school and her house, Yvette fell into the clutches of an abusive boyfriend.

“He hit me. He mistreated me. And I felt like I deserved every bit of it.”

In the midst of her ordeal, she had two abortions.

Leaving that boyfriend is how she became homeless. Pregnant and alone, she tried to mask the inner pain with pills and alcohol, which she paid for by stealing.

“I no longer had a heart,” she said. “I couldn’t love my kids. I couldn’t love myself. I was so drained.”

Her next boyfriend got saved and pulled her into church. She was on fire and serving God for a time, but then… Read the rest of the story.

Gutter cleaning

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It rarely ever rains in LA, but when it did, I discovered all kinds of flaws in the gutters of the apartment complex I manage. My handyman and I realized they hadn’t been cleaned in approximately 36 jillion years. The dirt was caked into the gutter and blocking drainoff.

Today I got my hands and knees and crawled around the roof. I scraped and vacuumed with the shop vac. Not all of it was dry since there was a low point not draining that was mud. It was a dirty job, and I’m a klutz, so that’s how I splashed water and mud all over me and the stairwell. Now I have more work to clean up the stairwell.

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I don’t mind being on the edge of the roof right next to a 60-foot drop. I lost my fear of heights when I rock-climbed as a college student. Specifically, it was rapelling that defeated the fear of heights (you have to lean out backwards over the abyss with only a harness).

Gutters help direct runoff water to where you want it hit the ground. But if they get clogged with leaves and buildup dirt, they sprout leaks and become defective. You need to clean your gutters from time to time just like you need to clean your heart. Keep runoff flowing.

In your heart, forgiveness needs to flow. If it doesn’t, the hurt builds up and makes you into a mean and nasty person. Jesus said we should be like kids. Yeah, kids forgive and forget easily.

I’m dreaming of an enchilada Christmas

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With apologies to traditionalists, but I so would swap enchiladas for turkey or ham for Christmas. Hot sauce for gravy and ponche for sparkling apple cider. No offense intended but those are my taste buds.

Christmas is about family first, food second, so I really don’t mind breaking the routine. We had family last night, our new church family, and it makes tears want to come to my eyes to think that I am so lucky to be surrounded by people who appreciate each other.

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Jesus changes lives and puts the lonely in family. The church should be a place of acceptance, not rejection. Christ’s coming, which we celebrate on Dec. 25, was because God wanted to accept us, so we need to accept others.

The growth in my church in Van Nuys continues to astound me. I wasn’t looking for growth or numbers. I was just looking for people to love. In return, I got a big group of happy people who love Jesus.

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Leslie and her sister, Stacey

And I got enchiladas.

After worship and word, after potluck, we exchanged gifts. I gave Leslie an 80s-style blouse, and I got my favorite coffee. Even though I grew up in the 80s, I had no idea what that meant. So I got my daughter, who grew up in 2000s (in Guatemala, mind you), got the blouse for her. I hope she likes it.

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Gleeful me, the Valley Boy Pastor.

If you’re not part of a local church family, you’re missing out. Even if you have the best turkey.

So much for organic growth

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The Valley Boy Pastor at Lake Balboa in Van Nuys.

Starting my second church was very different from my first church: I left thinking maybe, just maybe, God would help me. If not, I didn’t care. I was going to serve Him. I was going to NOT stress and NOT strive and NOT try to force the Hand of God. I was just going to enjoy His presence and let Him bring growth organically.

It has been anything but organic. Suddenly, disciples are popping up all over the place. It has been sudden. Today, members showed themselves to be true troopers, braving chilly breezes in the park to still attend, despite the risk of getting sick.

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We call ourselves The Church on the Lake, a knockoff of “Church on the Way.” We removed ourselves a distance from Balboa Lake because the wet breezes were chilly.

I’m awestruck by what God has done. We had a new record in attendance, and the weather pretty much gave everybody every reason to miss service.

By organic, I mean that the church would grow or not grow very much, naturally, easy, slowly. Instead, I got a whole start-up church of members from Day 1 because that church was closing. Then another family who has been praying for the San Fernando Valley for years came. Yesterday, we outreached at the Panorama City Mall, something they dreamed of doing with their church for years.

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Alex and Martha, our excellent worship crew.

So what did I do to deserve these multiply blessings? Nothing. I can agree with those who enumerate the long list of my faults.

I just believed and waited on God.

I don’t believe I’m terribly talented. I don’t have such a great charisma. I’m not one of those larger-than-life leaders who attracted followers by oodles with their superman abilities. I’m just a simple guy who got bored sitting around doing nothing in the Mother Church and ask for playing time to get on the field. My pastor sent me out in June. I adopted the nickname the #ValleyBoyPastor as a way to promote the church. And here I am, relishing life, enjoying God.

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Pursue beauty

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I have found beauty in the salvation of just one soul. It is a beautiful thing to see a life, lost in self-destruction, change to a smile and happiness. This is why I pastor.

I have found beauty in seeing students, who never thought they were good enough for college, realize they have what it takes to make it. They clamber out of the slimy pit of poverty.

I have found beauty in restored relationships, in rediscovering love between spouse, between sons and fathers.

I have seen beauty in God’s creation. My life is not lived for money. I do not have much. My life is lived for the smile in my heart that comes when I see God’s hand in all around me.

Photo credit: My friends, missionaries, in Ecuador.

Is there Christian anime?

vash-kenshin-and-spiritual-transformationAfter losing his house, his church and nearby family, Joseph Wentz fell into a prolonged depression and started watching anime, the Japanese cartoons for adults.

The Christians who surrounded him at college helped him pull out of the funk, and he brought his passion for anime with him.

“Anime inevitably touches on Christian themes from time to time,” said Wentz, executive editor of Beneath the Tangles website which sifts through anime searching for hints of the gospel. “There are plenty of extremely popular anime with Christian themes.”

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Joseph Wentz

Across the genre, anime doesn’t purport to teach a Biblical message, and there is plenty of violent and sexual content. But many of the cartoons, like a Shakespearean play, treat gripping themes dealing with the human psyche that echo the Bible. For the Christians at the Beneath the Tangles, and the similar web-based Christian Anime Alliance, anime is not a stumbling block but an inspiration.

“Christians can receive much from anime, spiritually, emotionally and culturally,” said Michael Morejon, of GamingAndGod.com. “Since I see the world with a biblical lens and ask the Holy Spirit to guide my life, even anime can have significance for me and other believers. When we watch, there will be many scenes, characters or plots that reflect something God can use for our good.”

haibane-renmeiHaibane Renmei, for example, suggests messianic themes when characters must rely on an external savior and acknowledge their own weaknesses in order to escape from the clutches of some grave sin. And Puella Magi Madoka Magica explores spiritual, moral and familial themes, Wentz said.

Christian attempts to present the gospel through anime flopped in the 1980s and 90s, Wentz said, because they oriented their cartoons for kids and because flimsy story lines favored more lessons over riveting art. They lacked the poignancy of  anime pathos and got panned as amatuerish, Wentz said.

“The Flying House, Superbook, and In the Beginning: The Bible Stories are hardly considered by modern fans at all,” Wentz said. “Fans can easily see that they are pushing a message more than they are trying to provide entertaining content.”

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Michael Morejon

ichaelIn similar effort, Christians produced the Manga Bible that got largely got ignored by the Japanese. “I live in Japan, and I’ve only seen it in two places — both were churches. I’ve never seen a Japanese person reading one,” Wentz said. “As evangelistic tools, I’ve never heard of them having success.”

Why hasn’t Christianity made greater inroads into anime? Simply put, the best anime is produced in Japan, a nation where 1% of the population is Christian, and none of the great producers are Christians. (In America, anime voice-over artist Vic Mignogna does respectable anime work and is vocal about his faith.)

Nor do the frequent use of crosses by anime characters, or the occasional Catholic priest, signify anything more than just the incorporating of of esoterica – much like the West dons the yin-yang and Eastern mysticism just to be cool and different, according to “Radical Dreamer” on the Christian Anime Alliance.

While anime dominates the young adult segment in Japan, in America it tends to draws “the ostracized, the lonely, people who have found meaning and community less through the in-person interactions that dominate most of society and more through friends online,” Wentz said. Read the rest of the article: Is there Christian anime?

God in Gotham: Finally revival comes

statue-of-liberty-new-york-cityNew York City – never considered the spiritual heartbeat of America — is now experiencing revival, especially among millennials flocking to upbeat services with vibrant faith communities.

“A lot of people told us, ‘this is the graveyard of churches. Don’t go there. All the hipsters won’t want to come to church.’ We felt that’s the best place to be, where no one wants to go to church,” said Josh Kelsey, senior pastor of C3 Brooklyn Church.

In 1989, less than 1% of city residents attended church, according to CBN. But now about 5% goes to church, and there are hundreds of churches, big and small, scattered throughout the city.

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The C3 Church in Brooklyn

“New York has reached the tipping point,” CBN concluded. If current trends continue, it could become a majority Christian city by the year 2026, according to CBN.

It turns out that Batman is not going to save Gotham City. Jesus is.

The formula for success has been to revive the unchanging elements like prayer and Bible study while changing the liturgy and relational dynamics to fit the multi-cultural, educated population of the city, pastors say.

“Church for me was a place where I always felt I had to be perfect,” said one church-goer. “C3 allows me to embrace my imperfections and know that God still loves me regardless. So it’s changed my perspective because I know I can still be a human and still beloved by God, which is not an idea I had before.”

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Pastor Josh Kelsey

A 2013 Barna survey found 32% of residents of the Big Apple considered themselves born-again, up from 20% in the 1990s, Religion News Service reported

“New York City is not known as a particularly religious place,” the RNS article stated. “But it is more spiritually active today than even 2001 in the wake of 9/11.”

The Presbyterians and the Dutch Reformed Churches were strong in New York City in the early 1800s but began to misfire as the city grew and changed its ethnic makeup, according to Pastor Tim Keller, a prominent minister in NYC.

When Catholic immigrants flooded Lower Manhattan in the 1880s, churches found themselves with fewer and fewer members. Restaurants, stores and theaters burgeoned, supplanting churches as a social gathering place. Many churches moved out of the ethnic downtown, and others built houses of worships in a fruitless effort to attract congregations, Keller said.

With numbers dwindling, churches grasped for fixes. Charles Briggs of Union Theological Seminary tried modernizing the message, teaching that much of scripture contains error. This gave rise to liberal Chrstianity, and instead of attracting followers with a more “intellectually reasonable” message, it finished off local churches, Keller said. Read the rest of the article.

Savior’s Creed

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Christ came to overthrow the control of the devil. He came to die. Death was necessary to obtain the ever elusive forgiveness necessary to save mankind. The original script was written by God and can be found in the Bible. It is doubtful that Jesus’ birth was actually on Dec. 25, but since we don’t know and since tradition has held it for centuries, it is just as good as a day as any to remember His coming. Merry Christmas.

Finding Jesus in Iran is no simple matter

One man recounts how he turned from bad boy to Jesus follower and then emigrated to Europe

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Not the subject of this article. This man, a convert from Islam who emigrated from Iran, now serves Jesus in England. Pic. The Guardian

By Zach Catalano

He was the bad boy of his family. His parents worried that he might become a drug addict or get arrested. They never expected him to become Christian.

In Iran, accepting Jesus Christ can get you killed. But the now-27-year-old immigrant to Europe (interviewed by the World Watch Monitor) didn’t worry much about the risks when unexplainably he suddenly felt urges to learn about Christianity.

“My parents weren’t happy about my new faith, but they also didn’t give me a lot of trouble,” he said. “It was because of the people who discipled me that I eventually chose to leave the country. If the authorities would have found me, it would have led to those who discipled me, and they would have been in big trouble.”

Ironically, it was an undercover cop friend who investigated churches that told the youth where to find Christians who would, at great personal peril, break the law and explain to him, a Muslim, the tenets of Jesus.

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An article in the Daily Beast used this photo and discussed the long lines for Christian baptism in Germany by Muslims.

“My friend’s job was to track all underground activities, including ‘underground’ Christianity and illegal evangelism,” he said. “I knew that my friend could get into a lot of trouble for helping me to contact someone who could tell me more about Christianity, so I decided to bring up the issue playfully so he wouldn’t notice I was actually being serious. My plan worked. My friend gave me the address of a church that he knew was open to Muslims.”

Christianity is the fastest growing religion in Iran with an average annual rate of 5.2%, according to Wikipedia. But conversion is prohibited the Shia version of Shariah law.

At the time 18 years old, the young man lived a life of pursuing diversions.

“My father was always busy finding ways to earn more and more money,” he said. “He always followed Islam, except when it had to do with money; money was more important than religion. Like my dad, I also loved money. Money gives you friends, respect and fun. I just wanted to have fun growing up. Every night I spent time with my friends, going from place to place in the city.”

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He tried to follow Islam and be a good Muslim.

“But it was hard. Sometimes I would try to say my prayers regularly, but I soon forgot about them or skipped them to sleep in or have fun with friends.” he said. “As a Muslim, I often had the feeling that I was failing on so many sides. Then I thought, ‘I’m lacking in so many ways. I will not go to heaven anyway. What is the point?’”

That’s when bizarre thoughts surfaced in his mind: “Go find out about Christianity.”

He had always regarded Christians as “weird people.” Christianity had a long history in Iran dating back to the Day of Pentecost when Jews from Persia heard Peter declare the wonders of God. Despite its antiquity, it has always been a minority religion.

The Iranian Revolution of 1976 tried to quash Christianity. Consequently, the youth gambled with persecution for himself and his family by pursuing a quest for truth.

But when he mustered his courage to inquire, he had difficulties finding a Christian willing to talk to Muslim because doing so was punishable under the vice grip of Shariah Law. He approached a few Christians outside church, and one after another was too skittish.

iran-map-largeStill, the impulse toward truth only grew in his mind. That’s when he remembered the friend with the job investigating churches.

“I was so excited! I’d learned that Sunday was the day of the Christians, so the next Sunday I went to the address my friend gave me.,” he said. “When I got closer I saw that there was a worship service going on. At the time I knew nothing about Christianity, so I didn’t know exactly what they were doing. I didn’t know how long it would take. But I just decided to wait outside until someone came out.”

He queried the first man who came out. Like so many others, he was unwilling to answer any questions. Next week, he returned and finally a Christian emerged and invited him in.

“This is something you just don’t do as a Muslim in Iran, so my first thought was:,‘No, no, no!’” he said. “But at the same time I knew this was the moment. So I took a deep breath and said, ‘Yes.’ The man opened the door for me. The feeling I had when I entered the church was something I’ve never felt before. It felt so peaceful.”

He didn’t understand much of the sermon, but afterwards a man invited him home. He opened up with lots of questions.

“The answers were strange, but in a good way,:” he said. “It was, for instance, the way he talked about Heaven. ‘A place in God’s absolute presence,’ he [called it]. ‘A place in which your spirit is at peace totally with your Creator.’”

The man’s description of Heaven contrasted sharply with the Islamic version of paradise, where you spend your time fulfilling your sensual desires with different women.

“His words about heaven made complete sense to me,”

Another contrast was the concept of God.

“God isn’t a far-away Person but Someone who created the earth and put us as humans in the center,” he said. “God made us in his image. He even gave us a piece of his very own Spirit. I compared him to Allah, who was far away and got angry about the little things. But with the Christian God I was welcome the way I was. He created me with my weaknesses; He even used my weaknesses to be more like Him. This was a big difference from Allah, who would punish me for any small thing. No, God was my Father, someone who knew me as a person.”

“Still, my Muslim background was too strong to just let go. It took a lot of struggling. I told God: ‘If you really care, please show me the way.’

As he attended church, some of his friends realized he was drifting from his moorings in Islam, so out of concern they recommended he consult with a man specially trained to unconfuse Muslims who have been indoctrinated by Christianity, he said.

“The funny thing is he helped me understand Christianity better,” he said. “I call him a a ‘mini-Ayatollah,.’ With everything this religious leader said about Islam, I found an alternative in the Bible that was much better.”

Gradually, he came to embrace Christianity. “It was like the curtains that had been hanging in front of the truth for a long time had been opened for me,” he said. “What I saw was beautiful.”

As certain friends discovered he was becoming Christian, so did his family. After all, he brought home the DVD movie of the life of Jesus and watched it at home with his younger brother.

“I had always been a bad boy and I started behaving differently,” he said. “They’d expected me to go on drugs, or get in trouble with the police. They didn’t expect me to become a Christian. My parents weren’t happy about my new faith, but they also didn’t give me a lot of trouble.”

But with the new faith came the danger of persecution. So at age 18, the man decided that only by emigrating to Europe could he save his family and his disciplers from governmental crackdown. For nearly a decade, he hasn’t seen his parents.

“It’s a big sacrifice,” he said. “Despite everything, I am undoubtedly happy and thankful.”

Zach Catalano is a sophomore at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica.

K-Pop awash with Christians

siwon-who-am-i-casting-crownsAs Kyuhyun Cho lingered between death and life in a coma, his dad argued with the surgeon about saving his son’s vocal chord while the doctor focused on the young man’s lungs punctured by a car accident. He thought about his son’s singing career.

“Are you crazy?” the doctor retorted. “Your child is about to die, and you’re talking about singing? There is no other way to operate.”

Given a 20% chance of survival, Kyuhyun bounced back from the 2007 van accident that left fellow band members with glass shards embedded in their backs.

The Korean pop sensation is back to singing and glorifying God. His father, a successful businessman, who originally opposed a singing career for his son,  embraced his son’s dream after the accident.

“I am thankful to God for giving me a second chance to live,” Kyuhyun said. “I hope to spread the glory of God through singing, and with this target in mind, I work hard to continue living. And to God who knows everything about me, I hope to be able to keep receiving his endless love.”

super-junior-jesusKyuhyun belongs to the 13-member boy band, Super Junior, the best-selling K-pop artist for the last four years. They won 13 music awards from the Mnet Asian Musica Awards and 16 from the Golden Disk Awards. In 2012, they were nominated “Best Asian Act” in the MTV Europe Music Awards.

Nine members of the band are Christian and aren’t shy about spreading their faith in concerts and interviews.

Fellow band member Choi Siwon told CNN: “In the future, I would like to become a missionary. I’d like to go to countries where I have received much love as a musician and personally return all of that love.”

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Kyuhyun in a Bible study

Siwon, who wasn’t in the car accident with Kyuhyun, frequently tweets Bible verses and prayers. During a 2010 “Super Show 2” concert, Siwon sang “Who am I“ by the Christian group Casting Crowns. About half of Super Junior’s repertoire is in English.

Siwon cited Jerusalem as his favorite place to visit, Jesus as his hero and the Bible as his lucky charm, “a must-have item when traveling overseas.”

Korean Pop, or simply K-pop, broke out in South Korea in 1992 with choreography, fashion, modern music and transnational values. In a land awash with Christianity, it’s not surprising that Christians fill the ranks of singing stars.

“It is not hard to look within the realms of K-pop and find artists that wear their religion proudly on their sleeves,” writes “Warda” on SeoulBeats.

When four band members were returning from a radio interview, a tire blowout caused the van to flip and roll in 2007. Kyuhyun flew from the car and was found lying unconscious on the pavement. Read to the end of the article.

Metamorphosis by Kafka

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When I heard the end of Metamorphosis on audio books, I was sure I was missing a CD. The ending left me hanging. Did the man never get turned back into a man? Did his family rightly move on and past him, forgetting him, burning the bridges?

I got the book. And the ending was the ending.

It disturbed me. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. The brother’s metamorphosis — never explained — into a bug brought about a positive transformation in his father, mother and sister. He died, and it brought them back to life. Just like the metamorphosis of a bug. The worm must die for the butterfly to come alive.

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Only when her brother dies can the sister start her own grown-up life.

The novela, filled with angst of rejection, ultimately explores the need of sacrifice for others to succeed. It is not a Christian parable, but there are elements of Christian narrative in it. Christ had to die to bring out the best in all of us.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was right

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Love will prevail.

He escaped the clutches of a witch and a pact with Satan

img_3430Enticed by the allurements of wealth, Daniel Urrutia, 26, was one minute away from making a pact with the devil.

It was close to midnight, four years ago, and a witch promised Daniel that Satan would show up and give him everything he desired.

“She was a witch. I felt it, not only through her words but also energy-wise,” Daniel said. “I felt like there was a lot of little pins pressing on my chest. It was hard to breathe.”

Overcome, Daniel broke down and fell to his knees just moments before the wicked conjuring materialized. “I knew you wouldn’t go through with it,” said the disgusted witch, slamming the door behind him. “Don’t ever come back.”

Today Daniel has been a rededicated Christian for six months. His testimony gives insight into the murky world of Satanism that few Americans are familiar with or dare even to think extends beyond scams and unbridled superstition.

Daniel stumbled into the lair thanks to a tenant at his uncle’s house in Mission Hills, a suburb in the San Fernando Valley. Jose paid a couple hundred bucks to sleep on the couch and often left a Book of the Dark Arts lying around for anyone to peruse.

Daniel, who was trying to befriend Jose, picked it up one day and returned it to its rightful owner. In a friendly way, he tried to warn Jose about the dangers of dabbling in Satanism. He even invited him to church that night.

But Daniel apparently got the church schedule confused because when they got there, it was locked. On the walk back, Jose said he had to use the bathroom. He asked a “random lady” on the street if she knew of a bathroom, and she invited them both in.

While Jose was in the bathroom, the lady asked casually, “So what is it that you want in life? Fame, fortune, power?”

“Money would be nice,” Daniel responded, casually. Read the rest of the Christian news article.

How to transition from public school to Christian private school

fullsizerender20Attending Lighthouse Christian Academy has opened my heart and my mind.

At my old school, I felt I had to be on guard and protect my emotions and feelings. At LCA, a small Santa Monica Christian school, I feel like I can be myself. I’m learning and growing everyday to be a better person and better student.

My old school, East Clinton, Ohio, was a public school and not very motivating or inspiring. I wanted to move to California because my aunt lives here, and I love it here. My aunt was searching Christian schools online, and LCA popped up on an internet search. She contacted me and told me it was a private school and it required uniforms. I was not looking forward to it at all because I absolutely hated the idea of uniforms.

I came in to do my interview with my principal, Mr. Mefford. He asked me questions about God; I know about Him, but I didn’t really go to church in Ohio. I felt like I didn’t think I could really fit in.

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I love LCA so far. The teachers and kids are so inspiring and always positive. The teachers really care about you and your grades. They want you to do your best and succeed. At East Clinton, I felt like I couldn’t really talk or be myself without getting made fun of. At LCA, you can be yourself and no one judges you.

LCA doesn’t dwell on people’s past. They move forward and focus on the present and help you become a better person.

Bullying was really high at East Clinton. It was a much bigger school — bullying, fighting and lots of drama, but the school didn’t handle it the same. At LCA, if there is an issue, it gets resolved very quickly.

East Clinton didn’t really give the kids much freedom and didn’t trust us to do the right thing. LCA trusts the kids and gives them choices to pick between right and wrong, and it teaches us self-control.

LCA is a college-prep school and the schedule is like a college schedule. The schedule here is very different compared to East Clinton where we had four classes per day plus two electives. That meant math, history, science, English and usually study hall and gym. Read the rest of the article.

Repaint your life

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During his retirement, my dad took up repainting. He’s no Michelangelo, but he has fun.

One cool thing about painting is if you get it wrong, it’s no problem; you just paint over. You can literally cover your prior mistakes with a fresh coat. You can start anew as many times as you want. Keep correcting until you get it right.

God is painter. And he covers over our mistakes (sins) with a fresh layer. He cleans up our blotches and smirches. He’s making our ugly flailings into beautiful art.

The face of misery (Spanish verb conjugation test)

img_3291Learning the rules of conjugating verbs is hard enough — let alone all the exceptions of irregulars. It’s like juggling balls — keeping them all in the air — to be able to remember and apply them all immediately as needed.

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Real tears?

My Spanish 2 students just completed the imperfect tense, which is the perfect time to sum up and see if they remember the other conjugations: present, preterit and command forms.

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The highest grade was a 69%, from my son, a native-born Guatemalan. (We were missionaries.) Not a passing grade at Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica, where only a C is considered passing.

img_3290Conjugations belong to the branch of linguistics known as morphology, how words are formed. The dizzying array of conjugations in Spanish (there are 302 variations for each verb) frustrates native English speakers since the changes on the verb in English are few and simple. The poor student asks: Why?

Despite marketing (by Pimsleur and others) alleging that reciting and rewriting lists is useless, I still assert that the old style of learning is the best way to mastery. After all, it worked for me. I didn’t just “catch” Spanish by immersing myself in Mexico; I studied before and during my time of immersion at the University of Guadalajara (sí soy chivo, soy tapatío).

What do you think about conjugations? Can you post a more miserable, conjugation-learning face in the comments?

Normal/ not normal in LA

20161029_1947551I drove home with the makeup on. Didn’t draw the slightest stare. This is LA.

What is unusual in LA is that the get-up (devilishly handsome, if I may say so) was used for a church outreach called a zombie chase. If both your flag football-flags got pulled, you were out, escorted to the pen (i.e. Hell), where only the showing up of Jesus set you free.

I played the devil, stalking, looming, swirling my Draculesque cape with menacing panache. I guarded Hell. Two of my disciples were zombies and chased the kids who dared to play in the Lincoln Heights Recreation Center where Pastor John Jurenec holds church service. Behind the Halloween fun was a lesson.

At the end of the day, 50 kids said the sinner’s prayer.

Then I drove home and walked into the apartment complex I manage. The tenant who spotted me didn’t look twice. Such a costume and makeup is everyday normal in Los Angeles.

img_3230What’s not normal is outreaching for the gospel with it.

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More than see

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Both the priest and the Levite could see the man wallowing in his own blood. But they were too important or too busy to be bothered. No doubt, they were doing work for the Holy One. So they didn’t have time to do the work the Holy One dropped in front of them.

The good guys were bad and the bad guy was good. Along came a halfbreed Samaritan. No respectable Jew would associate with the Samaritans, whose blood was contaminated irremediably with gentile DNA. They weren’t children of God, the chosen people.

But the Samaritan did what God wanted. He administered first aid and brought the wounded man to the Inn, where he paid for his care during recovery.

Jesus asks: Who loved him like God does?

It is not enough to see the need around the world. To complain about godlessness, paganism and hedonism does nothing. You must act, showing the love of Jesus in real – not imaginary – ways.

Rest in Jesus

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Martha is the typical American. She’s busy doing. She doesn’t have time to sit and listen to idle chatter, even if it is Jesus who is speaking.

On the other hand, her sister Mary completely neglects the cooking to instead hear the pearls of wisdom that Jesus constantly spills from His lips.

This angers Martha. Overwhelmed with the double load of work, she resorts to Jesus. Surely, the all-knowing teacher would be kind enough to easy Mary out of her flagrant laziness and into the kitchen to help.

Jesus responds with words eternal that crept into the Canon: Martha, you are busy with many things. Mary has chosen the better portion, and it will not be taken away from her.

Don’t be too busy – even with ministry – that you exclude time just enjoying being with Jesus.

Because somebody just needs a hug today

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… and an affirmation that you are special, unique and loved. You are worth so much, but those negative thoughts persuade you you’re worthless, and all you feel is pain. You want a release.

Jesus heals and loves the broken heart.

How to resurrect a volleyball program | Lighthouse Christian Academy excited

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Well, that didn’t take long.

Supposedly the reconstruction of the Saints volleyball team would be an arduous haul through a string of disheartening losses. But the resurgent Saints won their first set against a league team Tuesday against Pacific Lutheran 15-11 on the sand of Manhattan Beach.

“What an exciting game!” said Coach Delores Hively. “They won the first set, we killed it on the second set and the third set was close, but they won. We need to focus a bit more on our serves now and I think we might have a chance at winning next game.”

santa-monica-girls-volleyball-private-schoolLighthouse players smashed their serves. They dove for balls. They screamed communication. Hively, who had timidly offered to be assistant coach, has whipped the mostly inexperienced group into a tangible team, with a credibility to re-enter league play next year. For now, Lighthouse Christian Academy is playing only scrimmages.

“We didn’t expect to win,” admitted Lyric Edwards, a freshman. “But everybody played their best game, and we won.”

Indeed, nobody was expecting a win. A prior article bemoaned the lack of club players for LCA’s league re-entry bid. It turns out, however, that there were not one but TWO club volleyball players lurking in the Lighthouse Christian high school — and one of them played Tuesday.

You could say the Saints stung the Stingrays from Torrance.

Morale soared as players dug deep to hit every ball. Read the rest of the article.

Having fun teaching

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I’m posing with my colleague Kathy Payton.

Why not enjoy teaching? Once a year, the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica holds Spirit Week, every day a new costume theme. Actually, I have all the creativity of a spore, so I usually opt out and wear my normal clothes.

I enjoy bringing motivated kids to the aha! moment. I teach English (literature, syntax and writing) and Spanish. I’m a believer in making things accessible, of focusing on the simplest understanding first and then taking complications that broaden understanding.

Literature is not just art. It is also psychology and helps students empathize with their fellow human, as well as learn not to make the mistakes of engaging protagonists.

Down with the grammarians! They have made it too difficult for too long! We need simple explanations for students. Students can learn syntax!

When it comes to writing, I believe thinking comes first, structure second. I challenge students to take controversial opinions and defend it with passion. You get a low grade with me in you’re Captain Obvious.

Well, then Spanish. I love to explain the why-the-heck of all idiosyncrasies of morphology and grammar. Languages are fascinating, funny and bizarre.

And we do all this in a Christian environment. What could be more fun?

 

What man cannot do

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My wife, in the glamours sunglasses, with a visitor at church this morning at the Lighthouse Church of Van Nuys.

God is doing what I cannot humanly do.

He is bringing in people who have dropped out of church for years over hurts.

It makes me want to cry. A lady (not pictured) came with her daughters today. It has been ??? years since she left her previous church, upset over poor treatment. Today, somehow, she mustered the courage to return.

The Lighthouse Church of Van Nuys is meeting at 10:30 a.m. on Lake Balboa, San Fernando Valley’s treated water lake that flows in the Los Angeles River. It is scenic and smells very nice (considering it started as flush water). I’m called the Valley Boy Pastor.

When I started the church in April, I was determined the let God build it. (When I started the church in Guatemala, I think in my mind, I was going to do — and let God help a bit too. It took me many years to figure out that I really didn’t have any abilities to do things myself. So now I am a tired 50-year-old. I don’t have the same energy. I work three jobs. I don’t have the time. What do I have? I have faith to let God do what I cannot.)

God is shattering our expectations, doing things that no one saw coming. Like this mother. She had been out of church for so many years. Today she came to church.

Praise the Lord!

3 jobs, 2 happy, 1 tired guy

img_2306Finally, I’m pastoring again. The doors opened — after six years off — through an apartment managing job in Van Nuys. As a gimmick, I called myself the #ValleyBoyPastor, and God brought souls in immediately (cosa rara). So I’m happy.

I’m still teaching at the Lighthouse Christian Academy. That’s always a thrill because I’m constantly either bringing people to Christ or reinforcing the faith of youth at a critical juncture in their lives. I appreciate everybody’s prayers and attribute to y’all the blessings God has poured out starting in June. I definitely need to pace myself to not run ragged. I just need to remember that God is in charge and He never expects me to do more than what is possible. After all, it was God who prioritized rest right into the Ten Commandments.

The tiniest guy on the football field just became the target (Yes, that’s my son)

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He’s been called Mighty Mouse, a bulldog, a pinball and a Rubik’s Cube (he’s about as tall as he’s wide). Teachers and students have mistaken him for a sixth grader.

Lighthouse Christian Academy‘s freshman center, Hosea Ashcraft, became its predominant running back Friday against Cornerstone Christian of Wildomar. He had 20 carries for about 70 yards and one touchdown in the 12-58 loss to the Crusaders.

LCA’s fearsome football program has been reduced to this: its core is four freshman, its quarterback is a scrawny sophomore, its lone senior is an artist who really doesn’t want to play but goes to games just to help the guys field an 8-man football team with nine players.

Successive lean enrollments in recent years have shrunk the quarry from which they cut their tough stuff. So they resorted to the 5’1″ pre-pubescent fresh meat, Hosea.

img_1958“Defensively, we were terrible,” said Coach Zach Scribner. “We’re not doing what we told the kids to do in terms of making their reads. Everybody’s looking around trying to figure out where the ball is instead of making the read and reacting off the read.”

Indeed, the Crusaders overran LCA’s defense like Fort Apache. By the second quarter, they had racked up 38 points. They may have even stepped off the gas pedal in anticipation of an easy shutout when the Santa Monica Saints surprised them.

LCA players made some key blocks — something coaches are working intensely to improve with the team of football neophytes. The Saints drove upfield, and Hosea crashed through to the end zone to give the electrons on the visitor’s side of the scoreboard some work.

“Hosea keeps his feet running. He has a low center of balance,” observed Lighthouse Pastor Josh Scribner, himself an accomplished football player. Read the rest of the article about Santa Monica Christian school football.

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Heir to $1M

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I FEEL like my “rich uncle” just inherited me $1 million because a pastor just gave me some of the awesomest disciples on the planet. I’m not sure what leasing problems Pastor Matt Sinkhorn had that twisted his arm into closing in the City of San Fernando. Since he was moving to Lancaster (farther north) and I was opening in the Lighthouse Church Van Nuys (pretty close) with the Christian Fellowship Ministries, he gave me his high-class church members.

I was expecting to preach to my family for a year or two while we outreached and waiting for souls to come in. Then all of sudden, I get a phone call and I learn of the windfall.

So Pastor Matt gave me a huge jump start on church planting — yeah, like five years of work. How can I not stop praising Jesus? And how can I not thank Pastor Matt?

Actually people are much more valuable than money, so the $1M figure comes up short. I won the lottery. I got a grandslam in the world series. I scored a bicycle kick in a championship game.

The Santa Monica LCA had a ‘sick’ football game

img_0154After throwing up all week, Justin Berry was expected to throw down.

He decked his pads, suited up and caught one of LCA’s two touchdown passes Saturday.

“There was no way I was not going to play,” the sophomore said. The tall basketball player used those basketball hands to grab over the head of a corner back and scampered into the End Zone.

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Feeling under the weather, Justin Berry still played.

Blame 95 degree heat. The Lighthouse Christian Academy looked bewildered and disjointed as they fell 14-75 to Bloomington Christian School, whose team numbers as much as half of LCA’s entire student population.

“We weren’t ready for the heat,” said Coach Zach Scribner. “That caused tons of mental mistakes. We’re going to do lots of conditioning, lots of blocking and lots of tackling this coming week.”

img_0159Saturday’s game featured the debut of rugby player, senior Daniel Jones, who offers some bullishness to our mostly freshman team. Daniel was a forced to be reckoned with and made some tackles and runs, but lack of experience also saw him block on the back to annul Levi Photenhauer‘s touchdown.

Other than his TD and some nifty catches, Justin was laggy due to his sickness.

“I played sick — in both senses of the word,” he quipped. Read the rest of the Christian school football Santa Monica article.

Don’t forget the pigs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are transforming the world

IMG_1647Small can have a BIG impact.

We are a Santa Monica Christian school of 50, laughable for the world.

But all you need is one person to strike fire. One person can start a worldwide revolution (Karl Marx). One person can set a world record and draw the attention of the planet (Usain Bolt). One person can inspire thousands to serve God (John Wesley).

To all my colleagues around the nation, fellow Christian educators: Don’t just do your job. Do it with vision. Don’t let the ridicule of the world affect your heart. What you’re doing is incredibly important.

We started classes yesterday at the Lighthouse Christian Academy. We are conquering the world.

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