Tag Archives: Christianity

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?

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.

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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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.

760 patients in one day at Guatemala clinic new record for LMM

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Lighthouse Medical Missions in Guatemala

Aided by an influx of local doctors, Lighthouse Medical Missions broke all previous records Wednesday seeing 760 patients in one day at its clinic in Coban, Guatemala.

“This is insane,” said LMM founder Dr Robert Hamilton.

Previous daily records hovered around 400 patients, said head nurse Alison Hagoski.

The new high is all the more astonishing considering that LMM’s founder is in Santa Monica nursing his shoulder after surgery. Dr. Bob rued the missed opportunity to help in the countryside city in the mountain jungles where the green-and-red-splashed national bird, the quetzal, hides.

In fact, the 19-member team includes only one doctor. There are four registered nurses, two vocational nurses, an ultrasound technician and an army medic. The rest are students interested in medicine, translators and enthusiastic volunteers.

Organizers expected low patient numbers.

The practice of contracting local doctors to assist with the load has a long tradition in LMM, which for 20 years has gone mostly to Africa. But the local doctors sometimes abandon the job at half day to attend their own practices. And they often don’t adjust to the streamlined system of using pre-filled prescription cards.

Something special and unusual happened this year as the local doctors flooded and melded well, despite the language barrier. Read the rest about the Guatemala medical mission.

A skateboard fall causes trouble for medical mission in Guatemala

medical-missions-guatemalaWhen his doctor prohibited Robert Hamilton from going to Guatemala, Lighthouse Medical Mission workers were perplexed: Could the clinic function without its founder?

Something of a crisis developed when Dr. Bob – a Santa Monica pediatrician who has led teams all around the world for more than 20 years – fell off a skateboard and injured his shoulder.  His surgeon wouldn’t let him brave the 5-hour curvy mountain road trip by bus to Coban.

At Day 2 of the clinic, how have his supporters survived without Papa?

“He is very missed,” said Alison Hagoski, RN, who whips through triage, the crowded line and the doctor’s curtain-divided “offices” keeping things whirring.

“We are just barely able to run the clinic without him,” she said. “Only because God is big have we done okay.”

On Tuesday, doctors doubled the previous day’s output, seeing more than 400 patients for medical, dental and reading glasses visits. The day’s statistics calmed worries that  LMM would fall short of its normal 1,500 – 2,000 patients.

Lighthouse Medical Missions is known for its twice-yearly trips to Africa. But recently Guatemala has become a target once a year because its cheaper and can attract young volunteers. Dr. Bob aims not only to touch people abroad but also to encourage Americant high schoolers to pursue a career in medicine. Two students from the Lighthouse Christian Academy and one from Pali High are on this trip.

Starbucks may feature Guatemalan java from the tourist mecca of Antigua, Guatemala. But coffee conniseurs know that the better brew comes from Coban, a rain-drenched city of 250,000 nestled in the lush green mountains north of Guatemala City.

It was here that Dr. Bob, an avid traveler, desired to aid the rural poor. Continue reading.

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?

 

Because people are precious

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I liked jewels. Their glint and luster always caught my eye.

At an invitation to a meal, Jesus gets his feet washed by a woman of ill repute. The inviting Pharisee scowls: If Jesus were a man of God, he would know what sort of woman this was touching him. The Pharisee saw a sinner, Jesus, a future saint.

We Christians need to have the eyes of Jesus, not condemning, but believing in “sinners.” Sometimes, the worst of sinners have become the best Christians. Take Paul for example. He started killing Christians and ending the most fervent evangelist of the gospel. It is our Christian duty to see the future of people more than their present, whether they be drunks, gang-bangers, Muslims or whatever. At least, let’s step down from the soap box of being shrill with all the “worldly people.”

So I bought quite a bunch of jewelry for my wife (before I was a missionary). Sixteen missionary years later and two bank consolidations later, the bank box of jewels is gone, unaccounted for, lost. Why did this happen?

Maybe part of the reason is God wants me to focus on the treasures of people instead of material treasures.

All the jewels in Guatemala — the people who got saved — are still serving Jesus! And now we are seeing new jewels in the church plant at the San Fernando Valley. They are people who are hurt. They are damaged goods. The devil has destroyed their lives. But Jesus sees them as treasure, and so must I.

People are precious.

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 lie of love

img_2246The biggest lie of love and marriage is that it doesn’t take work, it just blossoms, flowers and grows naturally without any effort. Such is true love.

If you have any issues to work out, if there are disappointments and misunderstandings, if someone suggests marriage counseling, then obviously you didn’t find your true #SoulMate and so you should call it quits (never mind the damage to children) and continue the quest for #TrueLove.

Rubbish.

Love takes work. Work at communication, work at hatcheting down your expectations, work at sacrifice. The myth of love is the fulfillment of selfishness. But the reality is that love must be selfless. Just like Jesus did.

For these reasons, the Lighthouse Church in Santa Monica, my church, holds marriage retreats twice yearly. We stay in a #PismoBeach hotel, saunter around quaint town, eat piping hot fried fish and listen to a few inspiring sermons of some brutally honest people who tells us the nuts and bolts of a successful marriage.

img_2255Dude, people get it when it comes to car maintenance. People get it when it comes to continuing education or career advancement. People get that investing time and money is necessary to keep things running smoothly. But when it comes to marriage, people don’t get it. Their false premise is the lie of the romantic music: if it’s true love, it shouldn’t take any work.

A man shared with one of the couples. He lasted eight years in marriage. “I just wasn’t willing to put in the work.”

Our church is very fortunate. I’m at 26 years, and mine is one of the newer marriages. In the new church Dianna and I are founding in Van Nuys, CA, there aren’t any married couples. But we want to lay a foundation for singles to know and understand how to succeed in marriage.

A hero will rise: the travails of sustaining sports programs at a small Christian school

fullsizerender12LCA’s volleyball program — which effectively died with the graduation of its last club player — is setting for a comeback with an energetic new coach.

When Kate Sommer graduated in 2012, she went on to smash records at Washington State University in Div. 1 volleyball. She took with her a winning run into semifinals that ended the Lighthouse Christian Academy‘s volleyball dynasty (they were CIF Southern Section champions in 2004-’05). She was the last club player to study at Lighthouse, a Los Angeles-area Christian school.

fullsizerender11Eventually, LCA dropped out of the league as its vaunted volleyball program disappeared off the face of the planet, though not out of the minds of school leaders who shook their heads with dismay. Would the program ever resurrect?

“Without club players, it’s impossible to achieve that competitive edge,” said Pam Sommer, LCA athletics.

Delores Hively knows none of this history — which is probably a good thing. She brings undampened enthusiasm, love for the girls and passion for the sport. The aunt of a new student, Delores offered to be assistant coach. LCA, a small school without the resources to pay, was without a coach and promptly promoted her to head coach.

Twelve girls signed up for the P.E. volleyball class and have been practicing at Cloverfield Park in the sand court. As they improved and got the hang of the sport, they hankered for a competitive game, so Delores set some up. Maybe they got more than they bargained for.

Valley Christian High School of Cerritos dispensed the gawky, mostly freshman team on Sept 22 with stinging scrimmage losses 25-3 and 25-5. The Saints were at a loss from the beginning: they hadn’t trained on hardwood floors and had never worn volleyball court gear. Also, they had no club players, the rallying force behind any competitive team. Read the rest of the article of this Los Angeles-area Christian school and its travails to sustain sports programs.

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Even though they lose, they are the golden generation

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This was the class that reduced teachers to tears.

But something happened in the intervening years to our current crop of freshmen. The former devil-may-care rascals stopped creating classroom chaos, stopped ditching homework assignments and stopped terrorizing teachers. They started speaking respectfully to adults, started improving their academics and started serving at church.

Never mind their latest defeat against Crossroads Christian of Corona 6-58 on Friday. As freshmen, they’re developing into a fearsome strike force of future Lighthouse football.

What brought about the transformation?

img_0329In a word: Zach Scribner.

Zach Scribner is not only football coach. He’s  also youth pastor and the Lighthouse Church School janitor. By some means, Zach inspired the bad boys of current 9th grade to shape up. If they didn’t behave with their moms at home, he would punish them by NOT letting them clean the church and school at 6:00 a.m.

“Zach and Justin (Kayne, co-coach) have really turned me and Garrett (Lahood) and some of other players around,” Levi said. “He’s helped us realize it’s cool to be good. They lead by example. When we were younger, they were the cool guys that we looked up. Seeing them set a good example made us want to follow.”

So just forget that Lighthouse Christian Academy continues to hemorrhage on defense. (“We got find a way to make stops,” moaned Coach Justin Kayne. “We gotta find a way to stop the big play on 3rd and 4th down. Otherwise, it’s just a blowout.”)

This Los Angeles crew of Christian school players will get to winning. It just may not be this year.

In fact, they already won –  when they got character squared away. Read more about the triumphs and losses of our football team.

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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25 years later, I’m still teaching at Lighthouse

lighthouse-christian-schools-then-and-nowI oppose being promoted, even though kids I taught are now colleagues.

Actually, I was principal and owner of a school in Guatemala. But I kept getting out of office work and into the classroom. That’s where the real action is. That’s where people are. That’s where souls are won to Christ. You can have the administration, if you want.

Kids still need love. Where in other schools there’s bullying, we offer a safe place of vibrant acceptance. Where in other schools there’s ONLY college prep, we offer also Heaven prep. Where in other schools there’s ONLY keys to college entrance exams, we offer keys to interpersonal skills and successful marriages and families. We are a family. Where in other schools, a teacher works for his salary, we work for little or no salary. We have a much higher motivation.

It is my lifelong joy to see kids turn from sin to God, choose the path of success, flout the headlong rush of the world towards false happiness and select the enduring joy and peace of wisdom in Jesus.

And when these kids see you 25 years later, they thank you because you helped them at a critical juncture in life, the life-deciding moments of the teenage years. This, I feel, is more gratifying than a fat paycheck.

I’m going to go even further — at risk of dipping into narcissism. When you see kids 20 years later, you see a little bit of you in them. Because you helped their formation. And hopefully that little bit of you is a good thing.

And then you know that you didn’t make a lot of money. You didn’t buy a house. You weren’t the most beautiful or famous or adored.

You made a difference in this world. And so you can continue making a difference until you get your reward in Heaven.

And that is the reason why, after 25 years, I’m still teaching in a small Christian school in Santa Monica that is making a difference one life at a time.

Picture: left 1992, grades 7-11; right Sept. 14, 2016, just the sophomore class, my world lit students.

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.

Coffee is critical

img_1773One urgent matter I brought up twice during our pre-semester meetings at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica was: Will there be coffee this year?

Last year, I lived next to the school and could easily go over to my home for another cup. Not this year. Now I live in Van Nuys, where I’m pioneering a church under the moniker Valley Boy Pastor.

The boss doesn’t drink coffee. Other teachers bring expensive cups of coffee.

Twice the boss tried to dodge my pressing issue with dismissive remarks: The pot used to be around here somewhere. The message: Don’t interrupt important proceedings discussing lofty plans with such banalities.

But no. This was urgent. This was that tasty and needed pick-me-up. I don’t want to become the grumpy, draggy, ugly version of myself when I’m coffee-deprived. The kids deserve my best.

Don’t get me wrong. All the strategic plans, policies and regulations are critical.

I’m just saying coffee is critical.

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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The expansion of the Gospel in the San Fernando Valley

San Fernando Valley map

A map of services and studies of the Lighthouse Church. The line shows how we have advanced in the central region.

We own the central region of the Valley. We have Bible studies and services running up its spinal cord. Now to expand laterally.

I don’t think Christianity was supposed to be an armchair faith. It was meant to be active. We need to get out and project light, not just meet and talk about doing it.

In an extraordinarily short period of time, God multiplied a simple Bible study in my home to three nexus points of evangelism: church services in Anthony Beilenson Park at Lake Balboa, a Bible study at Las Palmas Park of the City of San Fernando and my Van Nuys Bible study in my apartment.

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Our intensive Bible study last night took place in Las Palmas Park of the City of San Fernando

I am surprised by this. I have known both growth and vast expanses of “stagnation” in ministry in my 16 years in Guatemala. Explosive growth is unusual, beautiful, special. It cannot be manufactured, planned for, conjured up. It comes sovereignly from God.

The only thing you can do when God moves is try to not screw it up. Excuse the expression. But what I mean is that if you let it go to your head, or if you get distracted, then you lose the wave or revival. The best thing to do is to keep your head down and try to ride the wave as far and long as you can.

And give the glory to God.

The Valley Boy Pastor is quite astonished at what God is doing.

Conquering fears

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The mountain goat feels perfectly at home on the precipice. He knows not fear. The heights are his friend, his defense against predators. There’s no need to fear heights.

Abandon the lowlands, and dare to scale the heights. Don’t fear the plan and destiny God has for you. Leave behind your “security.” Since predators prowl there, it’s not so secure after all. Your securest future is in God’s plan for you, so don’t “play it safe.”

Recently, my family and I stepped out of the boat and accepted the challenge to plant a new church in Van Nuys. We purposely left the “safe harbor” of our parent church, where the worship is quality and workers abound so much that I didn’t really have to do anything.

Learn to tell your fears that they are lies. Phobias are very real, but not everybody has the same ones, which shows them to be irrational and, consequently, conquerable. Take it from the Valley Boy Pastor: Embrace the future God has for you.

I’ll be your Lyft driver

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Rebekah, at left.

Rebekah grew up and moved out. Despite the fact that I was well aware that this was coming, I’m still a bit surprised and saddened.

I was too busy too much of the time. And we didn’t have money for me to take her out. We were missionaries surviving on half a shoe-string budget.

When we moved recently to Van Nuys to start a new church, Rebekah said she wasn’t going with us. She got a roommate and stayed in Santa Monica. The Valley Boy Pastor had one less arrow in his quiver (allusion to the Bible).

I worked with a heavy dose of not-spoiling-your-kids theory. Because I wouldn’t give her a ride where she wanted to go, she walked alone at night.

Then all of sudden, I worried for her well-being. She scoffed at me. But I kept trying to drive her wherever she wanted to go and pick her up whenever she wanted. She was 18 and could do pretty much whatever she wanted.

The years have gone, and I’m left to rue missed opportunities.

Hey, Rebekah, if you need a ride, I’ll be your Lyft driver.

Class clown no more. Today Juan Guillermo is a famous poet.

juan guillermo leraEditor´s Note: Juan Guillermo was a class clown. This article, which traces his less-than-stellar start at my school in Guatemala, the Liceo Bilingüe La Puerta, to international poet. In truth, you shouldn’t underestimate your impact. To my many English-only readers, sorry that this one goes out in its original publishing language.

Hoy Juan Guillermo Lera, como poeta, es conocido internacionalmente, puesto que tuvo la oportunidad de viajar recientemente a México y leer, en diferentes escenarios, parte de su trabajo escrito.

¿Quién hubiera esperado que llegara tan lejos aquel chico que cursó quinto y sexto primaria del colegio cristiano el Liceo Bilingüe “La Puerta”?

“El Liceo, debo decir, me brindó, hasta ese momento, un aprendizaje bastante sólido del idioma español, cual no recibí en la escuela en mis años anteriores de primaria” – dijo. – “Ya había leído algunas obras en casa, sí, pero nunca en la escuela, nunca en grupo, nunca con la instrucción y el dinamismo de un profesor. Esto me marcó mucho.” – enfatizó con un dejo de entusiasmo.

Leyó Romeo y Julieta y Los de abajo (aquella novela de la revolución mexicana), entre otras obras literarias, dentro de las aulas  del Liceo.

Ahora el joven de 23 años de edad  es invitado para impartir talleres de lectura y redacción en el Instituto Tecnológico de la delegación Gustavo Madero de la Ciudad de México. No está de más mencionar que el centro ITGAM II es una de las sedes del famoso, y muy importante  centro de estudios técnicos universitarios el Instituto Tecnológico Nacional.

Con el apoyo de otros estudiantes y poetas jóvenes,  Guillermo también tomó parte activa en  talleres de poesía  en la prestigiosa Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Read the rest of the story..

Losing is winning in marriage

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Give in to your spouse a thousand times. That’s they way you win — by losing.

Marriage rewards an overflow of joy to those who manage to figure out its elusive secrets. The road to happiness is selflessness. It’s ironic: you get what you want (not everything) by giving up what you want.

Of course, newlyweds have all kinds of expectations. Maturity comes when we let go of those expectations. No one is good enough. If you divorce this one because of problems, the next will have a different set of problems. And maybe you would be courageous enough to recognize the principal problem is you.

And me.

I’m the principal problem in my marriage. If I work on changing me, on being more loving for my wife, she’ll be happier. And when she gets happier, she just automatically works on making me happier.

The picture is of Jenny and Josh, graduates and former students of mine from the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica. There are all kinds of reasons why they shouldn’t get married (money, youth, etc.) But I applaud their go-for-it attitude. If you are determined to make it work, it probably will.

 

When you can’t resist temptation

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I couldn’t resist Anita’s chocolate chip cookies.

I’m trying to build a muscular body. I’m going to the gym. I limit my sweets intake. But when it comes to Anita Guerechet’s cooking, all will power succumbs to taste bud power.

The human condition is weakness. Oscar Wilde famously said, “I can resist everything except temptation.”

Nobody is perfect, and if you lay claim to perfection, you’re in the camp of the Pharisees. The Bible says we are all sinners.

We all need forgiveness. This is the heart of the Gospel. We are saved NOT by what we do but by what Christ did on the cross to forgive us.

Now, it’s true that we have the obligation to strive to live for God as best we can, out of gratitude. But we don’t earn salvation by good works.

And don’t be calling me a hypocrite. I’m human, as are you.

So why resist temptation? For the greater joy of being in right relationship with Him. And when you fall (to cookies, or whatever), get back up and on the right path again.

Just because I broke down and ate three cookies doesn’t mean I’m going to let myself go and become obese. Get up, dust yourself off, make some good decisions. Maybe it’s not a good idea to have a constant supply of Anita’s cookies within reach, for example. (Fortunately for me, those cookies showed up at church for a sendoff service, and those types of services are very infrequent.)

Was the cookie worth it? Yes.

Is a healthy body worth it? Yes.

Is it worth it to strive to resist temptation? Yes.

Is it better to walk in right relationship with the Lord? Yes.

Do we have forgiveness for when we slip up? Yes.

Honestly, I can’t figure out why anyone in the world wouldn’t be a Christian.

Ripped and flipped

IMG_1318When I (somewhat facetiously) said I wanted to get ripped at the gym, Sister —- flipped. Four times she asked me if I was serious.

Yes, there is some vanity in my muscle building. But there is also good.

I go to the gym for about the same reasons I go to church: I am imperfect and I want to get better. I want to live healthy and have joy. I am willing to invest in the future.

My comments didn’t seem so unreasonable to me. If my dear Christian sister reacted wildly, many of my gym friends would do the same: You go to church, why???

It seems perfectly coherent to me. While my gym buddies are into their bodies (and not their souls), a lot of Christian brethren are into their souls (and not their bodies). Sadly among Christians, many equate fellowship with food. While they are spiritual rigorous, they are flabby and undisciplined with taking care of the temple of the Holy Spirit. And my gym buddies are foolish to worry only about their bods, which are temporal.

The coffee was GOOD!

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Not one but two of my kids now work at Starbucks, which is either my favorite or second favorite thing (with burritos) (excluding God and marriage, of course). When Rebekah makes me a coffee, she puts in extra shots of expresso. And that makes me say: PRAISE the LORD!

I personally don’t ascribe to the sad theological opinion that there’s no food or drink in Heaven. If you don’t want to eat or drink there, I’m sure God will make provision for you to do some eternal fasting. But the Biblical reasons are deductions, not outright statements, and the problem with deductions is that we can arrive at our conclusions by defective argumentation. Since I think Heaven is wonderful and food is wonderful, I see the two things merging in ways we cannot imagine.

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.

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.

#BeLikeJesus

This is my message. This is my life. Come join us, as imperfect as we are.

Don’t be intimidated

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

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

Well, maybe not running.

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

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

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

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.

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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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.

These pork chops are ministry for the #ValleyBoyPastor

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

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

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

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

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

Then the pork chops.

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

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

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

So yes, eating their sumptious pork chops is ministry.

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.)

Fast your past

fast your past

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

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

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

Don’t be frightened by ‘repentance’

repentance

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Tuna out of a can for #ValleyBoyPastor

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My sentiments definitely lie with the simplify-life crowd. But while my wife sees out the school year in Santa Monica with my kids, I’m starting our new gig apartment managing in Van Nuys with some Spartan furnishings. All I have are chairs for the Bible study, to which no one has attended yet.

So I’m eating tuna out of can because I don’t yet have a refrigerator. Please don’t think I’m suffering. I was missionary in Guatemala, and I beg to differ — I’m living luxury. I have a cot and a sleeping bag.

And I have a friend. Alex invited me over for dinner last night, but I had already eaten, so I didn’t know how I could fit it in. Luckily, I was able largely due to the fact that it was super delicious.

It’s good to have friends. You might have gobs of cash, but if you don’t have true friends, you’re slumping in poverty. Alex is a fellow Christian, and the handyman at my apartment. We’ve already watched soccer together!

I remember that I cried when I was in Guatemala alone with my wife for Christmas and Sister Lizette, without even really knowing us, invited us for dinner. I cried tears of joy because we were experiencing loneliness. So by significant measure, we already doing much better than our first church-planting venture — I already have a good friend.

Imperfect prayers. Perfect hearts.

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We probably shouldn’t use prayer manuals with pre-written jargon that we can mindlessly recite. Not even the Lord’s prayer should be considered a magical formula that works even though we pronounce it while the mind wanders elsewhere.

If anything, the Lord’s prayer — or other prayers that we may admire for their theology, their poetry and their balance — should be an inspiration or a teaching. It should not be considered a mathematical formula that if re-employed with exactitude will wrest from Heaven miracles. What matters is your sincerity. And maybe focus.

I don’t think I’ve ever prayed a “perfect” prayer. And I have prayed many prayers. My ever-tenacious sin always bleeds in.

God is merciful. He has answered more prayers than I deserve. He has seen through my vile carnality to some glimmer of anguish, some desperate plea for Him to do what I cannot do, and He has responded.

Don’t look for perfect prayers. Try to have a perfect heart.

Loneliness and suicide

marriageNew York Times says Julie Phillips, a professor of sociology at Rutgers who has studied suicide among middle-aged Americans, said social changes could be raising the risks. Marriage rates have declined, particularly among less educated Americans, while divorce rates have risen, leading to increased social isolation, she said. She calculated that in 2005, unmarried middle-aged men were 3.5 times more likely than married men to die from suicide, and their female counterparts were as much as 2.8 times more likely to kill themselves. The divorce rate has doubled for middle-aged and older adults since the 1990s, she said.

So much for “increasing acceptance of co-habitation.”

Marriage is still the best option, just like God said in his word. Please don’t hang yourself just because you flouted the Bible and then the results of your life turned out bad. The manufacturer’s manual is THE guide for optimal results.

I realize that marriage fails for many. I don’t mean to make light of what has turned painful for you. I don’t mean to sound snotty, but this causes me great sadness. Someone has to tell the world the truth. I’m aiming only at those who would downgrade marriage as an institution and a goal. The downgrade is destroying us, and the evidence is in.

The promise of multiplication

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Kids today from the school I started 20 years ago, the Liceo Bilingüe La Puerta in Guatemala.

You don’t need talent, money, beauty, charisma. You just need God.

A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation: I the Lord will hasten it in his time. — Isaiah 60:22.

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I created a stir on Facebook when I announced I was a grandpa. But I was only Joe’s spiritual dad.

While oodles don’t believe in you, God does believe in you. All you need to do is believe in God.

When I went to Guatemala 20 years ago, I was riding on euphoria. But I was filled with all kinds of uncertainty. Despite this, God brought multiplication to the little guy, me.

 

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Teachers and kids at the Liceo Bilingüe La Puerta. God has brought the multiplication.

Jesus multiplied breads and fish. In fact, God likes multiplication more than addition. Expect the impossible.

The High and Mighty dwells with the lowly of heart

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After going 16 chapters of pure encouragement (40-55), Isaiah retakes the issue of Israel’s sin: His watchmen are blind… they are greedy dogs… Come ye, say they, I will fetch wine. (verses 10-12). In the previous chapters, Isaiah has lifted his prophetic vision beyond the immediate future to a time of a return from exile. But now it seems he looks even further into the future, into the time when Jesus is born and the Jewish leadership is corrupt.

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Then comes what is arguably the greatest gem of the entire book: Thus says the High and Lofty One that inhabits eternity, whose name is holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and with him of contrite and humble spirit to revive him. — Isaiah 57:15. This verse is more than just a passing comment. It seems a crowning moment for a book that has been fascinated with up and down from Isaiah 6 onward (in which the prophet sees God high and lifted up in His heavenly temple). The paradox of dwelling on high and on low at the same time works the power of the sonnet’s concluding couplet.

All this is to say that humility is crucial in Christianity. You must be humble to even receive salvation, to believe in Jesus. And we must remain humble ever afterward. If we go prideful, we go without God. Stay humble, and He stays with us.

Free from trauma

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I believe I’m 98% free from the the fear that seized me when I was assaulted at gun point by four armed men in Guatemala. That was six years ago.

Six. Years.

All they got was a few thousand dollars — and my checkbook (which made me think they would come back for a kidnapping). No, they stole something else. They stole my confidence.

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With one of the students in the Door Bilingual School we founded with the church.

On every subsequent visit to Guatemala, I was weighted by irrational fear. I wouldn’t go anywhere without a member of the church as a “body guard.” (I had planted the church during 16 years, so people we’re quite willing to serve.) I stayed inside. I tried to keep a low profile. I didn’t even want them to make flyers announcing the revivals with my picture on them. In my mind, the same criminals would get a flyer and swoop in for more money.

The thing that strikes about this is how really insignificant was my “trauma.” I wasn’t raped or beaten as a child. I didn’t suffer the scathing burn of emotional abuse from a parent. No. I was simply robbed.

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Here’s the junior high and high school after Bible class.

And yet it has taken me six years and God’s help to recover.

So who I am to judge people who have suffered true trauma and spend the rest of their lives floundering? In fact, I have a friend who suffered all three — sexual, physical and emotional abuse. He still struggles to overcome.

If you would have told me to simply shake it off, get over it, I would have been deeply hurt by your insensitivity and cut you out of my friends list. How much more so a person who has really suffered.

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A sixth grader in the Door Bilingual School.

It is my observation that people who have never suffered are generally insensitive.

There’s a inscrutable irony in this: God helped me out, but as many sufferers ask: Why did God allow the suffering in the first place?

I have friends who became atheists because as children, they experience a loss of innocence that never should have been perpetrated on a child. My friend has worked his way back to God, and God is helping him.

I hope God can help you too, because He was the major factor helping me. So I recommend Him. Maybe you can work your way back to Him?

Atletico de Madrid believed in themselves

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Antoine Griezmann had the sparkle that Barca lacked.

There are reasons why the best team in the world lost the Champions League quarter finals today to an upstart. Barcelona played flat, with no one showing flair. Atletico were sharp, precise, technical and quick.

They were outmatched in skill, but they compensated with belief. Most teams are so intimidated by skills-rich Barca that their objective is to limit the humiliation. But Atletico brought a greater work ethic to the pitch. While Messi, Neymar, Suarez and Iniesta lacked their typical flair, Antoine Griezmann showed up with sparkle.

Don’t worry about what you lack. You can make up for it with self-belief.

Sometimes the hardest thing is to believe

believeWe pride ourselves on being rational beings, well adjusted to reality. We are scientifically minded, and therefore what is impossible get ruled out. Miracles are a moonshot best avoided.

But miracles prove God, and God is interested in proving Himself to humanity to show humanity His love. So he drops us in impossible quandaries and waits for us to turn to him.

If you can believe, all things are possible for him that believes. — Mark 9:23. Jesus spent more time developing faith, but we Christians spend more time developing personal perfection. Jesus sought faith while we seek programs. Jesus encouraged Peter to walk on water, and the church is busy building boats.

Maybe you’re in financial trouble — believe to tithe. Maybe you have an incurable disease or disorder — believe for healing. Perhaps you don’t dare take on a ministry — believe and do it. Perhaps a long time has passed without any sign of hope — keep believing.