Tag Archives: Christianity

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.

Simple faith

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My son and I pose with the pastor and his wife.

When their daughter was admitted to med school, the got on their knees and thanks God. It was the fourth and final round of exams in Guatemala for the public university (affordable). They’ve had so many things work against them, and yet the plug on for Jesus and reach blessings.

I’m their pastor, but at times I learn from them. I yearn for a simple faith, uncluttered by the prosperity gospel, unmoored by cliques and church politics.

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Accepted to med school, she poses with her sister.

It is my experience that Christians in the Third World nations have a much more unadulterated faith simply because they don’t have hardly anything else. Their hope is placed on God alone because outside of God, they have virtually no hope. I have seen the poor praise God with sheer joy that makes you wonder how can they do that when they are suffering hunger and they have no future.

Make a stab at redemption

IMG_9804One problem of “falling out” of the moral code of the church is that you feel you don’t belong to the cadre of brethren. Churches do great wrong in continually passing judgement on its fallen members because they get discouraged and think they can never return (2 Cor. 2:6-11). The devil plays in their minds: Once a failure, always a failure. The church should make the path back to salvation easy — as easy as the original path to salvation.

Without going into details, this is what Fanny did. She formalized her marriage yesterday. She had been a goody-goody as a student in our school and church. But when she left the safe harbor of the school and the church, she found the wide, wide world was full of temptations. Discouragement coupled with temptation can be overpowering.

IMG_9809She wasn’t attending church not because anyone kicked her out. It was the devil that was condemning her (Rom. 8:1). By showing her love, we shed light on the way back. Forgiveness is for sinners, not saints — and we are all sinners.

I’m so proud of her and happy for her. And you who read this, please say a pray for her.

If you have fallen out of the moral code of your church, make a stab at redemption. You might be surprised how easy it is to climb back into fellowship and blessing.

Far from my wife on her bday

IMG_9800There wasn’t a good time to come to Guatemala. First we determined Hosea would come with me, so we had to renew his passport. Then we looked for cheap tickets. The result? We are missing Dianna’s birthday?

We celebrated it early. Di likes Chinese, Rebekah Japanese, I Mexican, Rob red meat and Hosea Idk. So we opted for middle ground: Italian. That’s how we celebrate at the Ashcraft house.

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Italian food was the compromise.

I am currently in Guatemala, preaching the gospel. There are sacrifices for serving God. But these sacrifices are better than the sacrifices in the world: parents who sacrifice their kids for money, for example.

Still, I’m missing her.

If it tastes bitter, spit it out, don’t swallow.

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We must master the art of moving on. Humans hurt each other because of selfishness and self-promotion. Don’t let yourself be pushed down by others forever. They may push you down, but it is up to you to pick yourself up.

Fun, fellowship and discipleship at a Christian school in Guatemala

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Hosea with Teacher Banner.

Whenever Pastor Michael Ashcraft visits Guatemala, he wants to play soccer with the private school, and this time he won with Teacher Banner Ajcip’s team 10-8 over Teacher Mario Ajcip’s.

The sporting event included the visit of Pastor Mike’s son, Hosea, who was born in Guatemala and studied at the private school until third grade. Hosea, who had an innate skill for goals as a kid, hit the inside of the net three times. Father and son played together on the team of Teacher Banner.

Liceo Bilingue La Puerta zona 1 ciudad guatemalaPastor Mike realized two assists before moving to the defense to stop the attack of superstar opponent, Carlos Marroquin, a 9th grader. With 200 pounds weight and 6’3″ height, Pastor Mike presented a formidable defense. Nevertheless, the youth broke his ankles various times. Even so, Pastor Mike limited his goals and contributed to the victory.

While the guys played soccer, the girls preferred basketball and indoor soccer adjacent to the soccer field.

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After two hours of straight playing, most of the boys got tired and left. These are the survivors.

“I can learn a lot from Guatemala,” said Hosea. “I want to return to the United States much better than everybody because I played here in Guatemala.”

The field trip and sports event is important because it allows the students to make friends and inter-relate. Everything the Door Bilingual School does is focused on an integral formation of youth: mind, body, emotions and spirit. The Guatemalan Christian school has maintained this focus in Guatemala City since its beginnings when Pastor Mike started with only three students in the Colon neighborhood.

Now, the Door Bilingual School is located on 6th Avenue 2-34 Zone 1 in front of the San Sebastian Park in the City of Guatemala. The original story appeared in Spanish here.

Would you recognize him?


Nobody pays any attention to this bum, despite having pretty good soccer skills — at least not until he pulls off his beard, mustache and wig. Then, everybody wants to pay attention to Cristiano Ronaldo, star for Portugal.

Would you recognize Jesus if He passed you on the street? When you treat kindly one of the least of my brethren, you treat Me kindly. — Jesus said.

Resurrection faked?

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If you say the resurrection was fabricated, then you must prove:

  1. The disciples had a motive. Usually people make elaborate lies for fame or money — or to cover wrong-doing. But the disciples got persecution and poverty. They lived on the run.
  2. The disciples were incredibly clever to devise the story. The Bible record states the contrary: They (the Jewish leaders) perceived Peter and John were unlearned and ignorant men — Acts. 4:13. Outside of the Bible, Josephus mentions Paul and his academic background. The omission of mention of the disciples is telling. They were fishermen.

If you say the resurrection was fabricated, you are confronted with the fact that the disciples all died for the lie. This would be very strange. You must look at these facts:

  • The Roman Empire (not all died at Roman hands) always gave people the chance to recant and walk free. But the disciples refused to walk free — because they had seen the resurrected Lord and knew they would be resurrected too!
  • Each of the disciples was martyred alone. There was no one there to cheer them on and encourage them to persist in the “lie.”
  • Paul turned from a persecutor of the church to its greatest promoter. Why? Because he personally saw the risen Savior.
  • Christianity prospered despite persecution of death, loss of belongings, imprisonments and beatings. Christians held meetings in unpleasant places (catacombs) and persisted in believing despite huge risk. They did this because either they had seen the resurrected Lord or knew someone who had.

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If you say the disciples suffered a collective psychosis, you are confronted the story of Thomas, who wasn’t present when Jesus first appeared to the disciples. So he doubted vigorously. He seemed to want to show himself rational and reasonable; he distances himself from the other disciples. Maybe he regards them as naive or under the influence of extreme emotions. Thomas says, “Unless I put my thumb in his nail wound and my hand into his side wound, I won’t believe.” The next time Jesus showed up, Thomas was there, and he said: “My God and my Lord.”

Actually, the resurrection is the hardest miracle to dismiss in the Bible. It is also one of the biggest reasons to believe in the Bible. The cold, hard evidence inclines in favor of the resurrection being real.

God’s tattoo

God TattooThe trouble with tattoos is you can’t erase them (easily). Most people spend the rest of the lives entrenching themselves in the defense of the tattoo they got when younger. It’s easier than to own up to an error.

Did you know God’s got a tattoo? Yeah, I didn’t believe it either. But check this out:

Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands. — Isaiah 49:16

This means you are God’s permanent possessions, His love. He’s not going back on you.

A friend of mine got married. I don’t know if they got wedding rings, but I see he got his wife’s name tattooed on his arm. This is a younger generation. I love Dianna, but I don’t think I’ll get a tattoo.

But God is so over the top in love with us that He has our name “engraved” — read, “tattooed” — on his palms, right where He’ll see it constantly (although if you want to get technical, this is an anthropomorphism, but the principal is there).

The War of Words is on!

FullSizeRender(2)I called her “Munchkin Punchkin.” She called me a “Monkey Pumpkin.” I guess that’s what she thought I said.

I was preaching revival services in Bakersfield for a pastor. I played soccer with the kids between services. And I was teasing the pastor’s kids.

I should follow the presidential’s example. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are exuding such civility and dignified debate.

Kidding aside, I would like to address the real War of Words. Every time we get someone to say the sinner’s prayer, we are stealing a soul from Satan — and that is war. So we should wage a war of words; we should use our words to pray, to evangelize and to lead people to Christ.

This War of Words is on and should be on. Always.

Barabbas wasn’t a bad guy

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Chilling with my bud, Jesus.

No, Barabbas didn’t have snot dripping from his nose. For two years now, I’ve played Barabbas in the Easter play, and the directors tell me to act like a psychopath. Apparently, this comes naturally to me. Yeah, Miko the Psycho.

But I can’t find this reading in my Bible. Barabbas was an insurrectionist (one Gospel calls him a murderer, but the other explains the context more precisely)  in the scattered uprising against he hated Roman Empire. As such, he would have been something of local hero, much like George Washington or Thomas Jefferson.

So when the multitudes chose Barabbas over Jesus, it wasn’t an irrational act. Both were wildly popular with the people, so Pilate shrugged.

Barabbas was, however, a polar opposite of Jesus — not the demon-possessed against the Spirit-possessed. Rather, the earthly Savior vs. the heavenly Messiah.

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Barabbas is always taking on the Roman Empire. Do you like the realistic background? It’s the Lighthouse Church School. We used a classroom as a dressing room.

At the end of the day, Barabbas’ utopia was only going to be on earth. It was only going to be temporal. After the Romans, another empire would come and smash Palestine. Such was inevitable because Palestine was a crossroads connecting three continents, a bridge where the newest conquerors had to pass.

So Barabbas was more like Obama, trying to bring a better world. This is a good thing. I’m not deriding it. But some people are so busying focusing on making this life wonderful that they forget there’s another, eternal life to work for.

Lighthouse Medical Missions is off to Tanzania at a time of terror strikes

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Dal Basile and the meds she packs for shipment in the plane. She is joined by actress Katelyn Myer, who is going on the trip.

Once they almost drowned from tipping canoes trying to reach the medical clinic in the deep inland. Another time, Ebola broke out a scant couple hundred miles away from operations. Then, rockets were launched on the capital just a day before the team left on another trip.

Now, Lighthouse Medical Missions is traveling to Tanzania at a time of terrorist activities in airports – their medicines were being shipped out of Brussels and will now arrive two days late.

“We’re all ready to do our clinic and then bam! terrorism hits Brussels, and right away we know we’re in trouble because our medicines ship out of Brussels,” said Dal Basile, medicine coordinator for the team. “That’s two days without medications. So I’m scrambling around trying to see what I can send with the doctors.”

Dr. Bob Hamilton’s Santa Monica-based charity outreach to Africa has for 20 years braved some hair-raising misadventures to provide free attention and medicines to people who otherwise rarely – if ever – get a chance to see a doctor.

Twenty-six fly out today and are scheduled to arrive Sunday in Mwanza, the capital. Dr. Hamilton is a beloved pediatrician in Santa Monica. His video on how to calm a crying infant went viral four months ago because of the apparent ease of the little-known technique of folding the baby’s arms and rocking his bottom. The internet dubbed him “the Baby Whisperer.”

It seems their standard operating procedure is navigating chaos and brainstorming plan B’s based on developing risks. They’re real Indiana Jones, not in search of archaeological treasure, but the treasures of the human heart inside suffering human bodies.

“You can’t compare God-loving people to Indiana Jones. These are people who care about people they don’t even know,” Basile said. “These Americans are taking time off from work, their vacation time, to go and work. They work to pay for their time. They’re making a big sacrifice. They work their butts off. It’s hardcore.” Read the rest of the article.

Did Spaniards cheat the Taíno of Cuba trading brass for gold?

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A Taíno museum village in Cuba today.

Value is arbitrary.

Each person assigns the value he wants to whatever item. Of course, there is an international value assigned to gold and brass, and so you could argue the Spaniards took advantage of the naivete of the Taínos. But since brass was the scarce and beautiful metal for the Taínos, they were willing to trade gold for it.

Today, some people value brandname clothes. Others value attending their favorite band’s concert. Others treasure their pets and deprive them of no extravagance. And dumping boatloads of money on it is well worth it.

Some people value their family. Some people value cheating. Some people value faith in God.

Are you trading brass for gold?

The wilderness shall become like Eden


I give waters in the wilderness. — Isaiah 43:20

He will comfort all her waste places, and He will make her wilderness like Eden. — Isaiah 51:3

The hard ground, the drought, the chronic problem — God will change it all. Where there is no hope, He will miraculously bring revival and blessing.

Death Valley is not miss-named. But unusually large amounts of rain this year have produced a “Super Bloom.” It seems to be the kind of thing God does in  a spiritually way. It opens your eyes to what God can do: the impossible turnaround.

Enjoy the ride — even the tough parts

puppy dogI was wondering why life is so difficult (finances, health, other issues), and then I was re-reading Genesis 3. And I said, Oh! That’s why life is a pain in the neck.”

As part of the curse of choosing sin, God cursed the ground and foretold that man would toil with hard labor for all the days of his life. So, that’s why there so much difficulties.

This gave me peace because I realized I was in the norm. This helps me to relax and enjoy life, even with troubles. Reading the Bible brings great wisdom and consolation.

My dad is not afraid to die

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Me at the hospital.

He fell and broke his hip yesterday. He’s 88.

I was thunderstruck by his declaration today when I came to the hospital. He’s never been a gung-ho Christian. He didn’t even go to church. But he confessed to be a Christian. He said he was envious of Mom, who died quickly, suddenly of a massive heart attack. He said he was ready to go — even, he wanted to go.

Of course, I argued that such feelings were foolishness. We — my brother and I and our wives and families — don’t want him to go. But he sees no point of lingering with the body breaking down. He says he never imagined living for so long.

A year ago, he was hospitalized, and it was a wake-up call for me to neglect my professional duties some to dedicate more time to him. I started visiting once a week. I’ve learned things I never knew: about his time in the Army in Korea post WW2, his studies at Berkeley, his previous girlfriends. He’s tipped me off to great stories about Christian golfers and tennis players that I’ve parlayed into articles for God Reports. The man I didn’t have much of a relationship with since I was a youth and he didn’t talk to me began to figure centrally in my life.

When my mom died 10 years ago, I had an incredible peace, not just because she was a Christian but because I felt I had learned so many lessons from her that I was putting into practice in my life. From Mom, I learned to love and serve God above everything. She was a chaplain in the Sylmar juvenile hall, and I was a missionary in Guatemala.

For the first time ever, my dad seems to have gotten excited about the service I render to the Lord. I was telling him (before his fall) about a student in my class that came to our high school from the public system, where he was a trouble-maker, a fighter and who knows what else. Now, he’s reading the literature and making intelligent contributions to the class. My secret educational tool is to believe in the kids. Maybe no one ever believed in him before. Now he is responding.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen it register on Dad’s face that this work, though miserably remunerated, is gloriously valuable. Could it be that facing eternity, the man who hammered financial stability is finally understanding true value?

No doubt, my dad will recover from this second hospitalization. He won’t like the transition for physical therapy at the nursing home. But he’ll probably get home.

But he won’t be with us forever. Will I have learned from him everything I needed to?

 

Ingrid Bergman got saved playing the role of a missionary

Bergman-movie-posterIngrid Bergman, the Academy Award-winning actress famous for her role in the film Casablanca, got saved after playing the role of a missionary to China, and the irony is the missionary didn’t want Bergman in the part because of the star’s well-publicized adulterous relationship with an Italian director.

When Bergman was named to play the part of missionary Gladys Aylward in the 1958 movie The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, Aylward expressed her disapproval, and she prayed with Madam Chiang Kai-Shek who, after praying, told her God would “take care of it.”

Aylward assumed “take care of it” meant the infamous actress would be replaced. Instead, it apparently meant that Bergman’s own heart would be transformed by finding peace and joy in Christ.

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness was based on the life of sacrifice and fruitful ministry of Aylward, an English girl who was originally rejected from the Chinese Inland Mission at age 26 because her lack of schooling made it unlikely she would be able to learn Chinese.

gladys-aylward-1With no official sponsorship, Aylward made her way to China on her own. She worked as a maid so she could buy a ticket for the Tran-Siberian Railway. She got her ticket in 1930 and traveled to Yangchen to work with 73-year-old missionary Jeannie Lawson doing household chores.

Soon after her arrival, her patron died, and she took over the Inn of the Eight Happinesses (Hollywood changed its name for the movie). She lived in China at a time the nation was facing great upheaval, and many people suffered dire poverty.

When she happened upon a mother who offered to sell her own sickly, infant daughter for only nine pence, Aylward was moved to tears, paid the money and adopted her. She named her adopted daughter “Beautiful Grace” and nursed her back to health.

This adoption was the beginning of her orphanage ministry that swelled to 100 children.

Aylward was contracted by local authorities as an inspector to enforce the new national law banning foot-binding, an age-old custom of deliberating thwarting normal growth because tiny feet on females were thought to be attractive.

Because of her relationship with authorities, Aylward was called upon to quell an uprising in a local prison. The warden, calling her to account for her boast that God was capable of doing anything, sent her in as prisoners were rioting and even killing prisoners in protest of the squalid conditions. She walked straight up to the ringleader, who brandished a butcher’s knife, and commanded he hand over the knife.

Then she told the prisoners to form into ranks and explain why they were rioting. Her report and subsequent negotiation with the warden on behalf of the prisoners led to reforms and more adequate living conditions.

Though the Chinese were distrustful of foreigners, Aylward won them over with her continuous good works, and they called her “Ai-weh-deh,” a Chinese approximation of her name that also means “Virtuous One” in the native dialect.

In 1938, her city was attacked by the Japanese. Rather than face certain massacre, she embarked on a march with her 100 orphans to Chinese nationalist territory. In 12 days they marched 300 miles, sometimes sleeping on the mountainside under the open air.

The column of children had to run to escape Japanese bullets and avoid checkpoints. They were only able to cross the Yellow River by the miraculous appearance of a boat (all vessels had been seized by the Japanese) that offered to ferry them. Continue reading.

The genius of pioneering

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The band is called California Aftermath, and the guy on the drums is my son.

In our group of churches, all new church plants are called pioneers. And there’s genius in it. For one, the onus on the pastor to get new people saved in tremendous. Usually, these are net gains for the kingdom of God and not church transfers.

Secondly, it forces the pioneer pastor to go out to the harvest field. There’s no time to talk about it. You have to do it.

Christians should spend less time in the safety of the church and more time outside sharing the good news with those who do not know it.

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Pastor Jacob Salas at left. Jenna, at right, did all the driving.

This past weekend, my son and I went to Bakersfield, CA, to knock on doors and invite people. He performed in the concert in the park in the evening. Then we drove two hours home, exhausted by happy. Through the efforts of various area churches converging on Bakersfield, 20 people said the sinner’s prayer.

I know of no more satisfying work, no greater joy, than to wrest souls from Satan. I believe that fighting political battles is valuable, but less valuable than simply getting people saved.

Be careful about the road ahead

crashThose who fail to plan, plan to fail.

So says a generation of financial planners. As Americans, we are proud that we can forge our own destiny.

But are we planning for eternity.

Don’t let them destroy your dream

dreamsPeople are nasty. You have a dream, and they want to destroy it. You must guard your heart against evil people. Don’t let them assassinate your vision, your self belief. Hold on to your dream and pursue. Believe in yourself and in God. He will make a way.

Original image from Pinterest.

Iranian-backed militia seize Christians’ property in Iraq

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The homes, belongings and finances of Iraqi Christians are being seized by Muslim militia backed by Iran, Christian members of the Iraqi Parliament said.

The military units, directed by Iranian advisers, are supposedly combating ISIS in a loose coalition with President Barak Obama, who has been quiet about their illegal targeting of Christians to appropriate residences, businesses and cultural sites on the basis of Koranic texts that authorize grabbing property of non-Muslims under certain circumstances.

“Their claim is that the property of a non-Christian is halal, meaning it can be seized,” said Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sacco to the Arab daily Al Hayat.

RTR41ZBU.jpgWhen they lose their properties, the Iraqi Christians are forced to flee and resettle elsewhere. There are Assyrian, Chaldean and Syrian minorities being affected by the seizures in Baghdad and Erbil, the Foreign Desk reported. Militia have forced entry into homes and businesses in upscale parts of Baghdad using falsified documents.

“We are begging, once again, appealing to the conscience of government officials and authorities from Sunni and Shiite states in order to do something meaningful to safeguard the life and dignity and property of all Iraqis, because they are human,” Sacco said.

Tom Harb, co-chairman of the Middle East Christian Committee, said Middle East Christian NGOs have long been reporting that the Iranian-backed militias are conducting their raids in regions outside of the domain of ISIS and are displacing Christians.

Dr. Walid Phares, an adviser to the U.S. Congress, told The Foreign Desk that the Obama administration has partnered with the Iranian regime and indirectly helped these militia to attack Christians.

Until the ISIS forced them to abandon their homes, Iraq’s minority Christians boasted being one of the oldest Christian communities in the world with communities in Baghdad, Basra, Erbil and Kirkuk. The Assyrians lived in towns and regions around the Nineveh Plains in the north until ISIS displaced them. Read the rest of the story.

Gold on and off the field, Kaka belongs to God

real-madrid-v-ajax-kaka-_2870368After Kaka impossibly threaded the ball through three Manchester United defenders and slotted for goal in the 2007 Champions League semi-final, he ripped off his jersey to show the world his T-shirt emblazoned: “I belong to Jesus.”

When his team, AC Milan, claimed the title — second in prestige to the World Cup, it was anti-climatic compared to Kaka’s sensational solo performance in the semi-final. He was just too quick and precise, always a nano-second ahead of defenders. In fact, when a stalwart defender came crashing in to shut down the attack with physicality, he wound up smashing his own teammate instead.

It was his most glorious moment in world-class soccer — and yet it was completely devoid of glory.

article-0-0071E53F000004B0-697_634x429That’s because for the Brazilian crack, glory is a thing belonging to God. Currently he plays for Orland City SC in the U.S.’s Major League Soccer. When his ball-kicking days are over, he plans to study theology and become a pastor. That’s when the real glory will start.

Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite became good at soccer because he was skinny and had to work harder than everybody else to excel. In 2001, he was catapulted to international fame when he scored two goals to win the Brazilian championship for his native Sao Paolo FC, which had never won a championship.

His little brother in childhood couldn’t properly pronounce his name and simply settled on “Kaka.” Graciously for the rest of us (who similarly can’t pronounce his name), the moniker stuck.

God and goals always went together for Kaka. Born into a devout Christian family, he experienced Christ in a profound way when he was baptized at age 12.

“Something supernatural happened to me. I cannot explain it, but after that experience I grew closer to God and began to know Him in a more in-depth way,” Kaka said. “My life changed and was never the same again.”

He won the respect of his teammates and fans by being a young man of integrity while witnessing boldly for Christ. He was involved in a Bible study and Athletes for Christ. Unlike many other stars who waver in the spotlight, Kaka has always held strong convictions. He married his childhood sweetheart, Caroline Celico, in 2005. Both had maintained their virginity until their wedding.

From Brazil, Kaka moved to Italy in 2003 to play for AC Milan for a transfer fee of €8.5 million. Within a month, he was a starter for the team. Read the rest of the story.

Editor’s Note: This story was written by my high school student, Adrian Brizuela, at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica. Of course, I edited and helped polish it. I’m proud of him. I hope he realizes that he is not only good at soccer.

Art out of food

food artJessie Bearden plays with her food.

I was always taught not to play with my food. Maybe that’s why I never became the artist I aspired to be as a child.

Actually I was discouraged from being an artist because I was told you can’t make any money at it.

food-art-1But I rebelled and became a wordsmith, an artist with words.

food art 2God tells us to be like Him; He created. As much a I admire art around the world, none compares to the daily painting God spreads on his canvass of a sunset. None equals the beauty of a flower. Consider the lilies of the field…even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these — Matt. 6:28-29.

I’m going to be a fan of Jessie Bearden, who create surprising portraits out of food. And I’m going to keep writing.

jessie bearden

Jessie Bearden

But I can’t wait to get to Heaven to see the wonders of God’s art there. I admire His beauty everywhere here on Earth.

I bet the artists continue doing their art in Heaven.

More than just a winning streak at Santa Monica Christian school

Saints soccer santa monicaThe significance of this article is for Christians. Previously, the high school I work at (Lighthouse Christian Academy) formed its soccer teams haphazardly, as an afterthought among too many things to do. The new winning streak represents years of effort to actually build the program. This will attract students to our school and, consequently, to Christ.

With back-to-back victories, the Lighthouse Christian Academy soccer team has found its feet to rewrite recent history of missing playoffs.

Without normal forward Will Clancy, the Saints subbed Abraham Morales into the striker position, and the new LCA student rewarded coach’s confidence with two goals, to bring the 4-2 victory over Westmark School in Encino yesterday.

“I never pictured myself making a goal, let alone two,” the sophomore said coyly. “But after I made the first one I was determined to make the second.”

Morales was deadly on the left, scoring his brace within the first 20 minutes.

Lighthouse Christian AcademyWestmark scored next with some brilliant passing between two Lions stars. With the ball at the goal line on the left, one player found unmarked in the box his counterpart, who didn’t bungle the shot. It was 2-1.

In the second half, Turk Erhan Meric, a fleet-footed sophomore, ran up the right on a through ball from midfielder Colby Thomas to get behind the Lion’s defense and shoot powerfully home.

Again Westmark sent the ball to a player in the area, and he punctured the net. It was 3-2.

With the minutes ticking away, Lighthouse kept pressing to bury the match. Senior Shane Berry launched a throw-in into the area on the narrow field, and a Lions defender trying to clear the ball also controlled it with his hand.

Erhan Meric, a magician with the ball.

On the resulting penalty, Senior Adrian Brizuela, a powerhouse in the Saints midfield, blasted the ball past the goalie to remove the match from reach of the Lions. It finished at 4-2.

Coach Jack Mefford, who is also Lighthouse’s principal, credited the Saints’ progress with the time players have worked together. With a number of new students coming from schools other than its feeder middle school (Lighthouse Church School), the teammates needed to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

“They are working together. Especially this game, we just began to gel,” Mefford said. “They’re starting to know each other play with each other better. We’re growing in confidence.”

Tuesday’s victory came on the heels of a win Monday, improving LCA’s record to 4-1-3. The Saints are beginning to feel the excitement of possibly getting a playoff birth for the first time anyone can remember.

Abraham Morales was deadly in front of goal.

Abraham Morales was deadly in front of goal.

On Monday, Lighthouse beat 2-1 Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts and Sciences from Santa Clarita for the second time. The Penmar Park game put on exhibition the Saint’s powerful defensive line, which has speed, technique and physicality.

Senior Tex Hagoski, at stopper, made crucial saves and passes despite playing with an injured foot. Since his preferred sport is football, he brings a fearlessness and muscle that will intimidate some forwards. Don’t underestimate his speed.

At sweeper, Abraham Kennedy has been a potent defender. Big and strong with a lifetime of soccer experience, Kennedy, a sophomore, doesn’t win balls by hand-crafting them. By mass production, he foils opponents’ attacks.

On Friday in the away game against Einstein, Kennedy led the charge to overturn a 0-2 deficit with a stunning rocket from 40 yards. After seeing the shocker, the Saints seemed moved to believe they could beat their opponents and rallied to finish 3-2.

There’s no surprise the sophomore Alex Cervantes, given his soccer pedigree, holds the left back position impeccably. What surprises is how well senior Shane Berry contains on the right. He’s not really a soccer player. His game is basketball. But his quickness and the similarities between basketball and soccer have helped him adapt.

LCA goals were produced by Brizuela and Meric, locked in a friendly competition to see who scores more by season’s end. They are tied at six goals each. Einstein got a late consolation when refs awarded a penalty kick for a foul in the box.

Also last week, the Saints came from behind to tie Newbury Park Adventist Academy.

With the newfound momentum, the Saints face Concordia in Sylmar Friday, their penultimate season game.

*Photo: Adrian Brizuela goes for goal against Westmark yesterday. Credit: Jamie Roman, who is a sophomore at the Lighthouse Christian Academy. Jamie wrote this article for the Santa Monica Patch here, and I edited it. I always re-post my students’ articles on my blog since I’m heavily involved in the final product.

Ha ha ha! Orange marmalade has ‘wires’

Orange-marmalade1The pungent and sweet taste of orange marmalade is one I missed as a missionary in Guatemala. So when we got back to the U.S. a few years ago after 16 years abroad, I got it, and I shared it with my youngest son. To put it mildly, Hosea didn’t like it.

“Dad! It tastes like it has wires!” He was somewhere between aghast and livid. He believed it was his duty to inform me what I didn’t know. The rind gratings — um — were grating to his palate.

Of course, I cracked up. For his ingenuousness, thinking I didn’t know it had rind gratings. For his descriptiveness.

This is how I feel when newbie leaders want to give me a lecture on spirituality. When does the senior ever let the freshman tell him how to play varsity football? You have to take things with humor or it can be a discouraging thing coming back into your mother church. And you gotta enjoy the orange marmalade despite what people say.

Getting stronger mentally, Lighthouse soccer comes from behind to tie

Abraham-kennedy-1024x840
From the looks of LCA’s come-from-behind 2-2 tie against Newbury Park Adventist Academy Tuesday, the Saints are getting the mental toughness needed to step up their competitiveness.

“We had a good attitude when we went down 1-0,” said Captain Adrian Brizuela. “I was really surprised we kept our composure.”

Coach Jack Mefford started Brizuela in goal because he’s as brilliant as he is fearless between the posts. Preferring Brizuela over freshman Justin Berry was a strategic decision to lock down the final approach to goal.

Jelove mira Lighthouse Christian academy santa monica soccerBut in classic give-and-take, it also hobbled the Saints’ ability to advance forward with possession. Brizuela is an irreplaceable motor in the midfield, in tandem with new sophomore Erhan Meric, a crack from Turkey.

At half time, the Saints were losing 0-1 from a free kick when the Saints bungled a wall set-up.

In the second half, Newbury again struck on a corner kick when Lighthouse midfielders failed to get back to mark up. The shot sailed over the goalie’s head and was chested into the net on the far post. Newbury was winning 0-2, and they cackled as they sniffed blood.

The last time the Lighthouse Christian Academy faced Newbury in December, the Santa Monica Christian high school conceded four goals in the second half to lose a half-time advantage of 2-0. The meltdown resulted, in part, from emotional weakness.

LCA Saints soccer santa monica
Soccer is, after all, a psychological game as much as any other sport. Since it’s a low-scoring game, even one goal is enough to sink a knife in the heart of players. They slow down, they stop fighting, they stop pushing for goal. They pray for the final whistle to come, and they scurry off the field with their tails between their legs. But Lighthouse mustered a resilience not seen before.

Coach switched Brizuela into the midfield and the balance of the game shifted. Newbury couldn’t find an answer to the reconfigured 11 men on the field. And Berry owned the Lighthouse goal, applying the quick reflex he inherited from growing up in a basketball family.

With 25 minutes to time, Newbury defenders fouled Lighthouse striker, Will Clancy, in the area, and Brizuela didn’t fail on the penalty kick making it 1-2.

Within five minutes, Brizuela again performed his magic. On a throw-in from the left, Brizuela chested the ball expertly, spun and fired with no bounce into the top left corner. Newbury players were shocked.

Lacking the tough and speedy Tex Hagoski (out due to sickness) to hold the defensive line, sophomores Abraham Kennedy and Alex Cervantez worked overtime to stymie the Newbury attack. And the tie score remained.

In Southern California’s Omega League, Lightouse is now 1-1-3.

“Our defense really helped us,” Brizuela said. “Abraham and Alex really stepped up to the plate.”

Editor’s note: This article was original published here. Jamie Roman wrote it, and I edited it.

Ted Dekker, best selling author who grew up among cannibals

TTCulture-blog427

Ted Dekker

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Cam Newton, feared QB, temptation-beset Christian

cam-newton-runWhen Carolina Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton walked away unscathed from a horrible accident that rolled his truck in December 2014, he gave praise, honor and glory to God.

“Somebody had His good hands on me,” Newton told reporters. “One plus one always equals two. I’m looking at this truck. I’m looking at this accident, and I’m like dude, one plus one ain’t equaling two, because I’m looking at this truck, and I’m like, somebody is supposed to be dead. Me being a religious person, God is good. I’m lucky to be standing in front of you today.”

Newton, arguably the NFL’s greatest player of 2015-16 and a Super Bowl contender, is on top of the world. Passing for 400 yards in his debut game in 2012, he bested Peyton Manning’s passing record of 280 yards in Manning’s first regular season game. This year, the Panthers are 15-1. His dual threat capabilities crushed the Arizona Cardinals 49-15 in the NFC finals.

42f07f33873582048e0f6a706700f644_tx600But while his professional trajectory seemed to sail through the air on heaven’s wings, things in his personal life have not always gone so well. He was hounded by an NCAA investigation for receiving payment to enroll at college, and he was accused of stealing a laptop at Auburn University. As a pro, he met and began to live with ex-stripper Kia Proctor.

Newton had grown up with God. His father, Cecil Newton, is a bishop overseeing five Pentecostal churches in Georgia.

But perhaps the intoxicating power of riding on top of the world caused him to momentarily forget the humility and fear of God necessary for a true relationship with the Creator. Then the accident left him shaken, reminding him about his need for God.

6358658538411262881957152712_CamNewtonSmilesOn that fateful day, he was negotiating a confusing intersection in Charlotte when another car slammed into the rear side of his black pickup truck and sent it rolling. He clambered out the back cabin window, and paramedics took him to the hospital where doctors treated him for minor fractures in his lower back.

He only missed one game as a result of the accident.

“I am a prime example of how God can turn something that was bad into something that good,” Newton said after the crash.

At 6’5” and 245 pounds of muscle, Newton is currently the most feared quarterback in the National Football League. Most QBs either specialize in throwing or running, but Newton excels in both, which is why the Panthers made the NFC’s best defense, the Cardinals, look like their fine-feathered namesakes — birds.

When they face the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7, they will again be facing a team with a stalwart defense – not to mention legendary Quarterback Peyton Manning.

Newton will be up to his old antics. He performs a celebratory dance for every touchdown — ostentation that football purists frown upon. He also runs the touchdown football over to the fans and hands it to a little kid — a gesture that is hard for anyone to frown upon. His broad, ubiquitous smile shows he enjoys the game.

Newton hopes his gridiron prowess will do for the Panthers, who have never won a Super Bowl, what it did for the University of Auburn. At Auburn, he became the third player in major college football history to both rush and pass for 20 or more touchdowns in a single season. His outstanding performance earned him the Heisman Trophy, and he led Auburn to their second national championship in 2011.

Read the full article here. It was written by my son, Robert, with a little help from his dad.

Not once but kidnapped twice by jihadists

beatriceMuslim extremists allegedly kidnapped Beatrice Stockly, a missionary from Switzerland in Mali, for the second time in the last four years.

Stockly was snatched from her home near Timbuktu Jan. 8 by armed men in pickup trucks. Though no group has claimed responsibility, it is believed that the perpetrators are one of the militant Islamic groups that operate in the region.

In April 2012, Stockly was kidnapped from her home in Abaradjou, a district of Timbuktu frequented by armed jihadists. Neighboring Burkino Faso negotiated her release after 10 days. She returned to Switzerland for a while but ultimately felt called by God to return to Mali, despite the dangers.

“It’s Timbuktu or nothing,” she said to family, according to a report by the World Watch Monitor (WWM).

Stockly first moved to Timbuktu in 2000 when she worked for a Swiss church. More recently she has worked alone, unaffiliated with any church. WWM reported she led an austere life, selling flowers and handing out Christian literature. She focused mostly on women and children, talking to them and sharing about Jesus.

Christians have suffered persecution in the region from Islamists. In the last three months, two separate attacks have been staged against Christians. A brutal assault on a Christian radio station just before Christmas left 25 dead. A month earlier, 22 people were killed at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako.

In 2012, extremists effectively banned the practice of any religion other than Islam. They desecrated and looted churches. Many Christians fled the region, but Stockly remained undaunted.

Now she has been kidnapped again.

“We are shocked to see what happened,” Dr. Mohamed-Ibrahim Yattara, President of the Baptist Church in Mali, told WWM, speaking about the spiraling violence and uncertainty. “We are trying to find out what happened, but for now we don’t have any explanation.”

In effort to bring security and peace to the region, the Mali government signed a peace treaty with the main Jihadist group, the Tuareg, in June 2015. But the accord appears to have been fruitless, WWM reported, noting that security forces and UN peacekeepers have been targeted.

Stockly’s abduction is believed to be the first against a foreigner since the kidnapping and killing of two French journalists, Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, in the northeastern town of Kidal in November 2013, WWM reported.

This article, originally published in God Reports here, was written by my journalism student, Anthony Gutierrez, at the Lighthouse Christian Academy.

A Florida missionary among 30 killed in Burkina Faso terror attack

mike ridderingA Florida man who went to Burkina Faso as a missionary to dig wells and care for orphans was killed with 29 others on Jan. 15 when heavily armed terrorists from an Al-Qaeda affiliate attacked two hotels and a cafe.

Mike Riddering, 45, described as an amazing father and pillar of faith, found himself ambushed at the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou where he was to rendezvous with a group of short-term missionaries on their way to an orphanage 70 miles from the capital.

splendid hotel

The Splendid Hotel charred by car bomb explosions

“Heaven has gained a warrior!” wrote his wife Amy Boyle-Riddering on Facebook. “I know God has a purpose in all things but sometimes it is a complete mystery to me. My best friend, partner in crime and love of my life. The best husband ever. An amazing father to his children and a papa to everyone. My heart is so heavy and I am having trouble believing he is gone. Mike was an example in the way he lived and loved. God be glorified! Mike Riddering I will love you always! You left quite a legacy here. I can only imagine the adventures you are having now.”

A boat-builder from Hollywood, Florida, Riddering felt called to move to the deserts of Africa along with his wife, with whom he had four children: Haley, 23; Delaney, 19; Biba, 15 and Moise, 4.

french forces also attacked the attackers

French forces participated in the counter attack.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb sent the young attackers to kill and take hostage as many tourists and foreign aid workers as possible, in “revenge against France and the disbelieving West… the enemies of the religion,” a statement issued by the local Al-Qaeda branch said.

Some of the attackers infiltrated the luxury hotel at night while others wearing turbans arrived later in four-wheel drive vehicles. They exploded car bombs outside the hotel and stormed the site killing and taking hostages. Burkina Faso forces helped by French soldiers counter-attacked the next day in order to free the hostages and killed four extremists after an intense gunfight.

Mike’s brother Jeff told 7News, “He really felt that he’d heard the Lord say, ‘Go dig wells in Africa.’ He said, ‘Well, Lord, I might not be good enough to do anything else, but I can dig wells.’ When he got there, not only did he dig wells; he did everything else. Besides the orphanage, he adopted two children and started a women’s crisis center.”

The short-term missionaries scheduled to meet Mike were not at the hotel at the time of the attack and were spirited away to Niger to return to the United States.

“I’ve never met anybody who didn’t like Mike Riddering,” said Pastor Brian Burkholder of the Hollywood Community Church. “We’ve lost a hero. Mike lost his life doing the work of Jesus, doing what he thought God had called him to do. We will greatly miss him.”

Editor’s note: This article, published originally on God Reports here, was written by my journalism student, Anthony Gutierrez, at the Lighthouse Christian Academy.

Look who’s #2 at Lighthouse Christian Academy soccer!

willWill Clancy, an LCA junior, had never in his life touched a soccer ball before high school. Today he’s the second highest goal scorer for the Lighthouse Saints with the season almost half over, an unlikely hero for our Santa Monica private school.

“I definitely feel intimidated by more experienced players and how they do all those weird foot maneuvers,” Will said. “But I did score more goals on them, and I definitely hold it against them a lot from time to the time.”

Being serious is not Will’s forté. Nor is soccer, for that matter. Nevertheless, he’s scored three goals in four games, one behind midfielder sophomore Erhan Meric, the Turkish phenom on the Lighthouse Christian Academy squad. He’s one goal ahead of soccer superstar Adrian Brizuela. He’s sandwiched between soccer magicians, and six games remain.

Will watching“Usually before the game, I get butterflies because it’s just natural,” he said. “I do get nervous before games. Scoring a goal myself is always exciting because – I don’t know – it’s scoring a goal. I’m just one goal behind Erhan.”

Will loves the family-feel and the hype of being on the team. It gives him, as well as the team, so much joy playing on the field and scoring goals.

“Usually, if someone scores a goal, it’ll boost the morale of everybody on the team and everyone gets more confident in the play,” he said. “When I’m in the game, I’m not really that nervous. I’m more just kind of tired and exhausted.”

Will started soccer his freshman year, immediately after playing on LCA’s 8-man football team.

will goes for goal“Freshman year was easiest for me physically-wise because I just got out of my first season playing football, so I was in a kinda ok shape from football,” he said. “So it wasn’t that bad.”

But he didn’t score many goals – just one all season. During his sophomore year, he found the net twice. With so many matches ahead, he doesn’t plan to stay at only three goals this season.

The Saints are currently 1-2-1 in Southern California’s Omega League. Three years ago LCA belonged to the highly competitive Coastal League. Between those two, Lighthouse belonged to no league and free-lanced games.

Lighthouse has only 50 students, so they don’t hold traditional tryouts. Anyone who joins is basically on the team, as long as they’re academically eligible. Well, if the truth can be told, coaches beg students to play. Yeah, if you want a chance to play, go to Lighthouse.

You’ll discover the after-game elation that motivates Will.

“After a game, I usually kind of feel — even when we tie– I feel accomplished,” Will said. “I get a good feeling inside because of the camaraderie you get with the other players and the satisfaction of doing something and the feel, I guess, is always nice.”

Will also enjoys the after-game traditional sharing of In-n-Out burgers. “The food does not hurt, too,” he quipped. “I love getting food after the games.”

Soccer was not his ambition; he wanted to form a tennis team at Lighthouse – a dream that has yet to materialize. “I like sports just in general and, although I really did push for a tennis team and still am pushing, I just thought it’d be a fun experience to try and so I did.”

“Scoring goals makes me feel nice though, it makes me feel like, ‘Hey I’m doing something to be part of the team!,” he stated. “So I don’t need those fancy foot maneuvers!”

Editor’s Note: This article was written by my journalism student at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica and originally was printed here. I’m proud of Petrina Gratton’s accomplishment in journalism class, and I like soccer. Will likes to brag. He’s a funny guy.

Can’t keep Jack in the box

jack and nicoleneJack Mefford, principal of Lighthouse Christian Academy, doesn’t only teach. He preaches, administrates, swims, plays water polo, coaches soccer, makes movies, raises four kids and…

Maybe it would be shorter to list the things he cannot do. Did I say he double-minored and played trumpet in UCLA marching band?

IMG_9010The debonair summa cum laude graduate has a long resume typical of Ivy League graduates who command top pay at top jobs. So what is he doing leading LCA with its (less than) ordinary pay scale?

“Money doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “When I was a youth and didn’t know God and prayed to see if he was real, the first thing I asked Him was for love and the second was a purpose in life. He has given me both – my purpose is here serving the kids.”

lighthouse christian academy“Meff” – as LCA kids call him – accepts anyone who has made a mistake in life and wants a second chance. He believes everyone is entitled to one.

Raised in a farm town called Dinuba near Fresno, California, Mefford learned from his air force dad to work hard, be disciplined, value family and to achieve. He didn’t learn about God until he reached early adulthood.

The early trappings of success didn’t satisfy. “I had everything the world had to offer, and I felt something missing. I was doing everything they told me to do. I was following the script, and it was not enough,” he said. “I felt there had to be something more, something eternal.”

He began attending a church and later got linked up with Pastor George Neos at UCLA. Neos was pioneering a church at UCLA on campus. Mefford received a flyer and decided to attend only because his car broke down.

He was quickly impressed with Pastor George Neos’s over-the-top earnestness and how Christianity affected his life.

The on-campus church migrated to Yale Street, Santa Monica, and Jack came along with his sweetheart, Nicolene. They married and when they graduated, they didn’t go where their careers would lead – they stayed where their God had led.

Instead of scooping up a lucrative job, Jack immediately began teaching in the Lighthouse Church School (which is LCA’s older brother, having kindergarten to middle school). He would also join his pastor on mission trips to Guatemala.

When Pastor George accepted a new assignment as the Hesperia pastor, Jack took over administration of the LCA.

Sadly, Mefford struggled with an inner sadness that he shared with not many; his wife couldn’t have children. His dream of having a large family was floundering from early marriage. Nicolene suffered four consecutive miscarriages until, after a lot of praying, God finally granted a miracle.

He has now been blessed with four kids. Mefford’s first daughter, Emma is six years old, his second, Jackson is four, Ethan is two and Weston is 11 months. He claims all children are miracles and is thankful to God everyday for his offspring.

Man of many abilities, Jack Mefford has done many wonderful things for Lighthouse.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published here. It was written by Petrina Gratton, my journalism student at the Lighthouse Christian Academy.

Don’t pass over to the dark side of the force

star warsSometimes I tune out the movie-maker’s message and get my own. Such was the case of Star Wars. I’m a middle-aged pastor, who’s between churches right now. I’ve gone through some tough experiences, disillusions, etc. I can see how it would be easy to grow bitter, to rack up the negatives experiences and to snipe. So God spoke to me about the danger of passing over to the dark side of the force, as the movie says. It would be easy. I could be very effective. BUT, I would be in darkness.

This post goes out to all the aging pastors who have lost of the sense of romance when you’re young and starting ministry. Maybe you’ve been removed from ministry, suffered financial hardships, gone through unfair circumstances. Don’t pass over to the dark side. Renew yourself in the Lord, rejuvenate, refresh. Let waters flow into the desert and make it a lush garden again.

This Iraqi kid loves Messi

messi bag jerseyToo poor to buy the real thing, this Iraqi boy turned a plastic bag into the jersey of his favorite soccer player, Leo Messi from FC Barcelona. How do you show your love for God?

Thanks to the internet, Messi saw it and is going to send him a real jersey. This will probably thrill him for 110 years.

The Bible says that Jesus was so impressed by the Roman centurion’s faith that He granted the miracle. Lesson: You can impress God (though we should distinguish: you can’t “earn” his favor — ok, it’s confusing, but the two truths work together in tension much like a guitar string is tightened across two frets). How do you show your love for God?

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern need to live

rosencrantz-and-guildenstern-are-dead-In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are unwittingly betraying their childhood friend, Hamlet, and playing into the hands of the usurper Claudius, who by killing Hamlet’s father and marrying Hamlet’s mother seized the throne of Denmark. Hamlet appeals to them to remain loyal to him, but since they’re sycophants, they fawn over the king and don’t perceive his treachery.

So Hamlet kills them summarily.

They were — unknowingly — escorting Hamlet to his death in England. Hamlet opens the letter sealing his fate while his friends sleep on the boat from Denmark. Needless to say, Hamlet doesn’t appreciate them being his conduit to death (the letter orders England, a vassal state in the play, to execute Hamlet). So Hamlet rewrites and reseals the letter changing the object of execution to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet himself changes ship and boards a pirates’ vessel and heads back to Denmark while his comrades continue onward to their death in England.

Was Hamlet wrong to kill his buddies? Shakespeare leaves his audience with the sense that they got what they deserved.

But where Shakespeare leaves his audience happy with their death, Tom Stoppard in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead picks up their cause. Because they acted unknowingly, they deserved life.

Of course Stoppard is describing his existential cosmovision, a bleak view that life is meaningless, death inevitable and destiny cruel. I don’t share his vacuum view of leadership, but I heartily applaud his taking up the cause of the anonymous, the defenseless, the voiceless.

Every life is valuable. None should be disposed of because of convenience. One person cannot assign importance — or lack thereof — to another human being. God has instilled incalculable value to every human being.

A lot of confusion

path forwardThe trials, the “reversals,” the difficulties all make sense when we look back over our lives to see how God has blessed and used us. In the middle of the tempest, you’re tempted to throw up your hands in despair.

But Christianity is not a backwards-looking religion. We are to pray for a better future, invest time in relationships and Bible study, work hard — all to see more of God in our lives. While we strive for better things ahead, we keep faith and remember the promise of Psalm 23:6: Surely your goodness and love will FOLLOW me all the days of my life. I may not understand today what God is doing, but eventually I will.

Keep praying

keep prayingIt’s been more than a decade that Eddy visited us in Guatemala. Since then, my wife, kids and I were forced to return to the States and have been serving in the local church. His sister and mom remained faithful; Eddy was off doing something else.

Who popped up recently?

Yeah, it’s another motivation to keep praying for those people even when years are grinding on, even when you don’t see any tangible hope. The Spirit moves in invisible realms.

God reminded me why

coaching soccerIt had been a frustrating day — criticisms of my efforts to get people saved and discipled. (It seems like the church is full of people who don’t save or disciple others, but they are experts to let others know what they’re doing wrong.)

As I prayed, God reminded me that I’m not working for the critics. I’m working for the kids.

I teach at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica and I coach for the middle school soccer team. We took some bruising losses this week, but I love the kids, and they seem to appreciate me. We have fun — all in Jesus’ name.

These are the powerful Saints! We have won only one game. But their enthusiasm, their joy, their love of Jesus, their positive energy makes them powerful in my book (quite a few players missed practice this day)!

The power of a whistle

IMG_8992We won because I had the whistle. Coach Mefford and I split reffing duties while playing, but he doesn’t like to carry a whistle. We were winning 5-4, and the other team kept pressing for the equalizer. I was really tired at central defender. It was 12:15, and I had told parents we would be done a noon. Some parents were craning their necks at us as if to say, When are you guys going to be done?

But mostly I wanted to win. So I tweeted the long, plaintive toot that marks the end of the game. That’s how I made sure when we won.

That was the day I learned the power of the whistle. It is authority. It is a way to guarantee your calls are obeyed. Nobody can argue against a whistle.

Such a small thing, but 21 players obeyed and walked to the parking lot to clap out mud from their cleats.

Do you realize the authority you have as a Christian? Humanity lost authority in the Garden of Eden. Then Jesus came to get it back. Incredibly, He gave it back to us. But many Christians don’t use prayer or faith. They let the devil bully them around. There is the whistle, promises in the Bible, hanging around their necks. All you need to do is pinch it, pucker and puff.

Hey, to pray, you don’t have to bow head or knee. You don’t have to fold your hands. You don’t have to shout or break a sweat. You can pray in your head. And God will respond — always. Maybe He doesn’t act WHEN or HOW we want, but He responds in our benefit — invariably.

I always keep a whistle and a prayer handy.

How do I pray? Just do it.

My high school improves its soccer record

Santa Monica soccer

Lighthouse Christian Academy capped an extraordinary week of soccer with a 2-2 tie against Ribet Academy yesterday.

The Saints’ erstwhile haphazard program is taking shape and coordinating better.

“They played hard and were more organized than ever,” said Junior Cervantes, who stepped in to coach for Jack Mefford.

With enrollment at 50, the small Christian school flounders around the bottom of the table. With just one or two club players and the rest of the team coaxed into playing after football season, it’s difficult to drill a championship team.

But with three games this week, the Saints tied Westmark in Encino on Monday, beat Concordia 3-0 on Tuesday and drew against the Frogs Thursday.

At such a busy time, the loss of head coach Mefford, out for emergency family issues, was inopportune in terms of soccer. But Cervantes, an LCA graduate and former club star, filled in without missing a beat.

Senior Adrian Brizuela was up to his old tricks and created danger throughout the game. He gives the impression of being a lackadaisical player to defenders until suddenly a solid opportunity materializes and he instantly pulls out his knife and begins slitting to goal.

Read the rest of the article.

The lonely

loneliness

My son plays Javier foosball

Inviting the lonely over is my joy. For Thanksgiving and Christmas, we hosted people from the church who had no where to go. My heart goes out to the hurting. All throughout junior high and high school, I was lonely.

Now it is richly rewarding to ease others’ pain. Human beings need contact, friendship, acceptance, affirmation. This is the way the church works and builds.

When rejection takes the place of acceptance, the church becomes dysfunctional. Jesus dined with the hated and the outcasts — with prostitutes and tax-collectors. He touched the untouchables — the lepers. He condemned the Pharisees, who condemned everybody but themselves. We should take a note from the Bible and not become like the Pharisees.

At Christmas they gave me a mini-foosball. (To me!? A 48-year-old man, they gave a toy??) And you know what? It’s pretty fun. Who’s up for a match? Come on over. You are welcome here.

Prayer brings down Heaven

prayerPrayer transports you to other worlds, and it brings other worlds to you. It takes you to God’s throne and brings down God’s power to Earth.

The progress of the gospel in Japan

a-japanWith less than 1% of the nation Christian, Japan has been called the “missionaries’ graveyard.” In Africa missionaries died from exotic diseases, but in Japan Christian workers often face burn-out and leave with very few conversions after major commitments of time and money.

And yet, one missionary has hopes that recent events bode well for revival.

“The Japanese are not antagonistic toward the gospel at all,” said Gary Case, pastor of the Potter’s House Church in Tokyo. “If anything, they seem mildly avoidant and politely skittish.”

jack garrot baptism

Jack Garrott baptizes a believer

For months, Case met with Mr. N., an atheist retiree who attended his church to learn about being a better person. The two studied the Bible together over coffee, discussing God, Jesus and salvation until Mr. N. finally accepted Jesus as his personal Savior and Lord.

Japan is one the most secularized nations in the world, according to a World Values Survey. Because loyalty is one of their core values, Japanese see leaving their traditional Buddhism and Shintoism as a family betrayal. The average church has only 30 members. A brief revival after World War II netted significant converts, but many of those are graying, and some of the churches left behind are dwindling.

The Japanese wear crosses as a fashion statement but have no idea what the cross signifies. They celebrate Christmas with Santa Claus and gift giving but ignore completely the story of Christ’s birth.

Jack Garrot's churchAmid the bad news, many see cause of hope. Japanese Christian leaders point to the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear plant meltdown of 2011 as a time that began to soften the self-reliant Japanese character and open the Japanese to the need for the gospel.

“There’s a sense of hopelessness for the future. You can see it in their faces,” said Stephen Matsumura, pastor of the Mizuba Community Church, in a Billy Graham Evangelistic Crusade video. “There’s a high suicide rate here in Japan – issues of loneliness and isolation – which is a huge indicator of a bigger need.”

If natural disaster brought greater openness, so too is gospel music. The 1992 movie Sister Act starring Whoopi Goldberg popularized the musical genre. Since then, there have been workshops and gospel choirs formed, attracting non-Christians. In 2011, CBN reported that some 50 churches had formed gospel choirs.

“It opened the church to the community,” said Pastor Masahiro Okita. “And it’s a very unique ministry because the target of the outreach are the choir members themselves.”

In the 15th Century, Portuguese traders brought priests, based in the port of Nagasaki. These Catholic Christians won converts but eventually were expelled by the ruling class who reverted to isolationism. Many converts became “hidden Christians” and worship Christ in their hearts while at the Buddhist temples. They passed their faith on to their children, a UCAnews video on YouTube reveals.

Japan Tsunami Relief and Rebuild

Some 40,000 Christians who failed to hide their faith were boiled to death in many of the nation’s scalding thermal mudpots, the video says.

Jack Garrott’s dad was part of the missionary movement in 1930s and 40s, landing in Fukuoka, Japan. In 1981, he returned to Japan as a missionary himself in Omura, Nagasaki.

“I am told that the number of committed Christians is growing, but that appears to be in metropolitan centers, where people are perhaps more loosened from their traditional roots,” Garrott said. “There are growing, vibrant churches in major metropolitan areas like Tokyo and Osaka, but they are virtually nonexistent in the ‘boonies,’ which could be described as the ‘soul’ of Japan.”

Editor’s Note: This article, originally published in God Reports, is special to me because two of the men interviewed, Gary Case and Jack Garrott, are friends. I follow Jack’s blog. Please pray for their churches and for revival in Japan.