Tag Archives: church

Product of rape wins beauty pageant

rebecca_kiessling_810_500_75_s_c1When Valerie Gatto’s uncommon beauty allowed her to win the Miss Pennsylvania pageant in 2014, it was impossible to imagine she was a product of rape.

Her mom was only 19 and planning on law school when she was attacked at knifepoint, raped and nearly killed.

The assailant wanted to prevent his victim from going to the cops by silencing her permanently, but an unusual flash of light scared him and he ran from the scene.

How does light emerge from the depths of darkness and despair?

“Mom always told me I was her light,” she told LifeSite News.

Valerie found out about her conception in the third grade when, when she wondered why she didn’t have a father like other kids and asked her mom.

Absorbing this difficult news, she never accepted an attitude of victimhood. Her mother, who had to abandon her plans for law school to take care of her baby, brought her to church and got Valerie involved in social outreach.

She was raised by her mother and grandparents in a stable, loving home.

“I knew God put me here for a purpose, and He’s the reason my mother and I were saved,” she told CBN. Mom “always would tell me I was her light. I am the light to illuminate the darkness for all to see, and I look at it from that moment of conception, there has been that light associated with darkness.”

Valerie got involved in clothing drives, giving gifts to children in hospital care, and Operation Dear Abby, which gives cards to U.S. military members stationed overseas, according to LifeSite.

“I live my life not thinking of it as something negative but looking at how to turn a negative into a positive,” Valerie told CBN Read the rest abortion in case of rape.

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John Givez leaves Christian Hip Hop, smokes pot

john givez marijuanaAfter singing for Christian Hip Hop for two years, talented musician John Givez stepped away from faith and returned to smoking pot, as seen in his music video “After Hours,” filmed in 2017.

When the rhythms & blues artist from Oceanside joined with Christian rappers Ruslan and Beleaf, it was heralded as a huge catch for Christian music.

But his turning away brought the CHH world great sadness, with many praying for the return of a prodigal.

Growing up, Givez attended church five times a week. His dad was a preacher and his mom worked in the choir. But his church and home were in the rough east side of town, and he was constantly harassed about joining a gang — either Pozole or East Side Crip — inside school and even coming out of church.

john givez backslideAdd to that the fact that his dad suffered emotional issues of PTSD as a veteran and schizophrenia, and you have the perfect storm for a trouble-prone youth who had an uneasy relationship with his father.

“The devil really tried to have his way with my family,” he remembers. “It took awhile for him to be diagnosed. That took a toll on me.” He stopped attending church during his teen years.

“I started getting into trouble with the law,” he says. “I caught a case for burglary, and I got caught with some Oxycontin. The burglary was a misdemeanor, but (the drug) took my case to the next level.”

john givezGivez faced a three-year prison term.

His dad bailed him out of county jail in 2014. The gesture of love and compassion from his father paved the way toward reconciliation.

“I remember sitting in the holding tank with these other fools, I remember God speaking to me. That was the first time I heard Him” in a long time, Gives said.

Look around you, God impressed on his heart.

“I look around, and all of us in there hated authority, and I didn’t know why,” he remembers. “That right there was a life-altering moment for me, in my own life, having to learn, just being hard headed, being smacked by the way things go.”

When he was bailed out, his dad urged him to get a job to show the judge he was changing.

At that time, a Christian rapper named “Beleaf” started dating John’s sister. He invited John, then 19, to church and offered him a job.

“That took me off the streets to where I didn’t have so much idle time, you know, to be bored and get into something stupid,” he says. “The Lord really started working on me. I was still smoking and drinking.”

Givez started reading his Bible, which was hard because he didn’t like to read. He wound up reading the Bible for eight hours.

“I gave my life to the Lord right there,” he remembers. “This was real. I would start in Revelations. (I realized) I’m going to Hell, for sure. Then I learned that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. From that moment I was like, ‘I don’t know how my homies are going to feel about this.’”

When he finally emerged from his room, his mom looked at him quizzically and remarked: “It looks like a weight has been lifted off of your shoulders.” Read the rest of: Is John Givez still Christian?

He sought Allah. He found Jesus.

hazem farraj with adelle nazHis father brought American-born Hazem Farraj back to Jerusalem to teach him the ways of Islam. But the then-12-year-old stunned his parents by adopting a different path, one that would lead to his family’s rejection.

Farraj committed himself to his father’s plan to rediscover his roots. But the more he prayed and practiced the rituals of Islam, the more his doubts grew.

“If you’re praying to Allah, and you don’t see no response from Allah, then you need to figure out who’s listening or who’s answering that prayer,” he says on a Road to Jesus video. “That’s what I had to do. Praying prayers to heaven it was like heaven was brass. They would fall back to me. I was searching.”

But in his quest to know Allah, he grew frustrated and angry. “It made me mad because here we came as a family halfway around the globe from America to the Middle East,” he says, “and the god I came to follow was not responding.”

It only made him angrier to meet upstairs neighbors in his building that were Christian. Why did they have joy and peace while Farraj had nothing? He describes the one and a half years quest for truth as “an identity crisis.”

hazem farraj“I was getting trained culturally as a Muslim, but the Islam I found shocked me,” he says. “Instead of running into the god of Islam, I found Jesus.”

The upstairs neighbors smiled a lot. They were nice. They showed love.

They projected the image of God in their faces, and it bothered Farraj. So one day he challenged the family’s father, who was legally blind. Why hadn’t Jesus, if He were real, healed him?

The man explained everything Jesus had done for him. They talked for four hours. Farraj was intrigued but not ready to relinquish the faith of his upbringing.

Some weeks later, the family invited him to McDonald’s — with a catch: first they were going to church. Would he come with them?

hazem farraj palestinian christian“I was observing all the happy Christians raising their hands and worshiping God, singing to someone they knew was real. To see these people happy and so alive in Jesus was a shocker,” he says.

But then the grave warnings against abandoning Islam reared their monstrous memory in his mind. He was attracted to the Light but fighting it every step of the way.

Farraj left the church and went down to the first floor, where he knelt to Mecca and prayed his Islamic prayers. It was no good.

“When you taste something so sweet and then you taste something so bitter, the bitter became so bitter. So that’s what happened in this prayer,” Farraj says. “I went from this amazing, glorious presentation of a God who loves His people and the people who loved their God to praying and hearing crickets.

“At that point I was so angry. I finished my prayers on my knees, and I said with tears rolling down my face, ‘Whoever you are, whether you are the god of the Koran, I’m needing you to do something because I’m being lost to this Jesus I sure as heck hope that you see this struggle because I’m losing this one, man. I’m trying to do your job and this is not working out. I’m trying to hold on to Islam by the skin of my teeth, wanting it to be real.”

After pledging his loyalty to Allah and asking for help, he considered the possibility of the legitimacy of the antithesis.

“But if you are Jesus who these people are happy believing, whatever the truth is, I’m going to find it.”

He returned to the service.

“I got up and went to sit back in my pew, and I wasn’t angry anymore and I was appreciating that these people were in a place in their relationship with God that I was desiring for so long.”

The next day, he climbed the stairs to talk with the blind father.

Farraj attempted to say, “I want to become a Christian,” but fear kept him from pronouncing the word “Christian.” For 40 minutes, he tried but could only pronounce the “c” sound. Finally the father told him he had to leave, and if he wanted to complete the sentence, he needed to do so immediately.

Farraj gathered all his strength, focused his energies and ripped the words out: “I want to become a Christian.”

Two days later at the appointed time, Farraj accepted Jesus into his heart and became born-again. It was a feeling like no other.

“I literally wanted to jump, scream, shout,” he says. “I didn’t want the Christians to think I was crazy. I literally had to tame my spirit. I was set free. My countenance changed completely. My life changed.” But his Dad was not happy. Find out what happened by finishing the read: Palestinian converted to Christianity.

Jesus helped addict kick meth, drive away gnarly hairy demons

img_7467After his father succumbed to cancer, David Silva Jr. was “eaten up with guilt” because he hadn’t been there for his dad through the chemotherapy and hospitalizations.

So he tried to commit suicide. When his girlfriend left, he tied a noose around his neck, fastened it to the bar in a closet, took a bunch of pills and let himself fall.

But his girlfriend came back in suddenly and rescued him, marking the beginning of David’s turnaround from meth abuser to Christ follower, now 31-years-old. Nearly half his life had been consumed by addiction.

“I never thought it would be so easy for me to quit. It had to have been God. I didn’t have no withdrawals or anything,” says David, who hasn’t been sober for a year yet. “I felt I was on fire for Jesus.”

the day the meth addict came homeDavid first got into trouble because of the kids he was hanging with in Pacoima where he grew up. They took drugs, so he eventually tried them in the 10th grade. Very quickly he transitioned from marijuana to crystal meth.

“I’ve always been upity up. So I liked meth because the feeling you get is you’re alert. It’s a stimulant, but eventually you start losing control of your own mind,” David says. “Because of the lack of sleep you start hallucinating, hearing things and seeing things. When you open your mind up to that much evil, you’re actually seeing things that are actually there.”

David did construction work with his dad, but since the two of them argued constantly on the job site, he eventually left home. He “screwed up” some really good employments because of his drug use.

“Me and my dad had a big blowout,” he says. “We always bumped heads. We had a really bad relationship on the job site. We always wanted to be in control. We had ups and downs. We had a love-hate relationship with me.”

He was sleeping in his truck but eventually found favor with a drug dealer to sleep on his couch. Fixing a car for a friend of his dealer, he met the girl who would become his girlfriend. He fell asleep on the patio at a barbecue at her house and just stayed there.

church camping tripHe would do handyman jobs and install security systems and cameras and home entertainment units. Sometimes, he would be at police officer’s houses installing systems — and he would be high while he was doing it.

By many accounts, methamphetamines are second only to opioids in popularity on the mean streets of America. The drug triggers a jolting release of dopamine, the happy hormone. Users go for days without sleeping or eating as the drug becomes their single focus in life. David stuffed toilet paper in his cheeks for his driver’s license photo so he wouldn’t look so gaunt.

“You can do $300 of meth and it won’t hit you because your body is so exhausted. They call it the burn out,” David says. “No matter what amount of meth you do, it won’t hit you.”

Towards the end, David starting hanging out in underground casinos, “getting involved in some really heavy things, with some really gnarly gang members who were notorious” in the criminal world, he says. “I was involved in all kinds of illegal activities.”

Meanwhile his mom and dad were praying for him. Even when he was high, he would remember God and even talk to other users about God.

meth addict freed by jesus“God had purpose for me,” he says. “Smoking with 20 guys I was still talking about God and get into debates about good and evil. I would wonder how I could debate about God while I was high. God never leaves us.”

David’s parents hadn’t heard from him in nine months when his dad was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Mom was afraid to tell her son the complete diagnosis for fear it might make him spin out of control with the drugs, but she sent word that dad was in the hospital through some friends.

David came home and made peace with his father. Eventually he found out he was dying of cancer, and he began to spin out of control.

“I lost it. I started using drugs really really badly, even worse than before,” he says. “I became reckless. I didn’t care.”

When his dad was in the hospital for the last time with liquids oozing out of his mouth and nose, David was there to help.

“I love you,” he told his father, who stared back with eyes of fear, unable to speak himself.

“It was too late,” David says. “It ate me up so bad. I was afraid he didn’t hear me when I told him I love you. We didn’t really make that peace. The guilt was so much. I wasn’t there for my dad like I should’ve been. I was too busy getting high. I got in a really dark place, and I lost sense of everything.”

Two days after his father (a born-again) Christian died, David was overcome with guilt and grief and tried to commit suicide but was interrupted by his girlfriend.

With no sense of closure or peace, David threw himself into rabid drug use with a fury. This time, not even his girlfriend knew where he was, in a tent underneath an overpass bridge. He dropped from 188 to 140 pounds when an acquaintance brought him a message.

“Finally one of my friends came looking for me and said, ‘Dude, your mom is really worried about you she wants you to come home,” he recalls.

He agreed to go with mom to church where he met a fellow former user, Eric, who encouraged him in God. Especially important was that Eric told David his father was proud of him. That made him feel good, but also guilty because he wasn’t living a life to be proud of. So he decided to give it a try.

And then came the radical change in his life: a church camping trip.

It’s funny how the church has advanced to streamed sermons, devotional apps and seeker-friendly sermons, but the old methodology for Christian camping is still one of the most powerful discipleship tools.

David went to the Sequoia National Forest. He had always loved camping, and he made himself useful helping set up tents and doing most of the cooking. He led hikes into the mountains and helped chop wood for the campfires. He fellowshipped with Eric and grew strong in the camaraderie.

But it was the last night that broke his heart and solidified his decision to serve Jesus. At a campfire his younger brother Elijah publicly thanked God for giving him back his older brother.

“I’m sorry for being a screw up all those years,” David responded through tears.

When Moses came down Mount Sinai, his face glowed from the glory of God. Something similar happened to David.

“After the camping trip, I felt I was on fire for Jesus,” he says. “Just having my family back. Just knowing that I was doing something that my dad wanted for me. Just knowing that I was doing something that would make him feel proud of me.”

He kicked meth.

He didn’t suffer the usual physical symptoms of withdrawal. But at night, he saw demons. This was strange to him because he’d never hallucinated while taking meth. It was when he quit meth that he saw the fiendish beings mocking him at night.

“I couldn’t sleep. I’d be afraid to fall asleep because I was afraid I would see more demons. They were imps,” David says. “It was like an out of body experience, like I was watching myself sleeping, and these gnarly hairy creatures, imps with lots of teeth, were moving around harassing my brother as if they were saying, ‘If we can’t have you, we’re going to take your brother.’” Read the rest of the story about meth addict freed by Jesus.

Spanish-speaking black rapper was spit on as a child

propaganda christian hip hopPropaganda always felt like he didn’t belong.

Born in south Los Angeles, the Christian hip hop sensation was raised in the West Covina area where Latinos were predominant and violence prevailed. He couldn’t join the gang because of his color.

“I was the one black kid, being teased because of my color, getting chased home, getting banged on when we’re walking home: ‘Where you from man?’” he says on an I am Second video. “I’d recognize (the) homie. And I’d say, ‘Paco, what are you talking about? I live two streets from you.’”

propagandaThen Propaganda, whose real name is Jason Petty, moved to the suburbs, where he felt like the poor kid among so many Caucasians.

“We were these weird black people that spoke Spanish,” he says. “They didn’t get us.”

His dad had been a Black Panther in the 60s, energized by fighting police brutality. Mom and Dad eventually got divorced.

Propaganda began attending church. Of all the kids, he felt God the most intensely.

propaganda family christian hip hop artist“I was getting convicted,” he says. “I felt like God had split the roof open and was talking to me directly.

Moved by the power of the Word and the Spirit, he was born again.

He was disappointed when his friends didn’t get it. “The guys at my age, I remember them not being affected at all. It tripped me out because I felt like nobody else felt like that. But in my mind, it went back to just the same way I grew up: I’ve been ‘the only’ my whole life. So if I’ve been ‘the only’ there, I’ll be ‘the only’ here.”

He never missed church, and mom forced him to take notes on the sermons. She wanted to make sure he was listening. People saw his sensitivity to God and predicted he’d be a pastor.

propaganda jason pettyBut he wondered about where he would fit in best — with the church boys, the college-bound students, or the tagging street thugs. What he really liked was not the typical man things; he liked art.

From the sixth grade until his junior year in high school, Propaganda examined his life and tried to figure it out.

“I always felt like I don’t belong,” he says. “Whether I was born the wrong color, in the wrong neighborhood, in the wrong decade, to the wrong parents. I was not an alpha male. I was an artist. I would draw all the time. I wrote poetry.”

Finally, his father tipped him off to Jeremiah 1:9 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” and to Psalm 139:14 “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” These verses helped Propaganda to accept himself as exceptional and different from everybody else, a unique gift from God to the world.

“It was there that I finally realized my value is not determined by some innate, particular quality that I have,” he says. “No, your value is because God was willing to pay the cost of his Son for you.” Read the rest of the story Propaganda hip hop

Steven Malcolm overcomes adversity to become hip hop sensation

steven malcolmHis father was a drug dealer, his mom an alcoholic, and his sister a stripper. So Steven Malcolm started life with a few strikes against him.

He grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and then Tampa, Florida. Malcolm’s dad got busted for dealing drugs and was deported to Jamaica. Mom, who struggled with drinking, moved back to Grand Rapids, Michigan, when he was in the fifth grade. His sister drifted into a life of easy money based on her looks.

“I raised myself. I call it the school of hard knocks,” he says in his video “Watch.”

steven malcolm cerealHis two main passions growing up were basketball and chasing girls. He memorized Snoop Dog lyrics and slid by with a 1.7 GPA in high school.

Malcolm wanted to play on the local community college’s basketball team, but the steady stream of partying interfered with his studies and he didn’t earn good enough grades to get on the court. In his first year at college, his mom moved away and he felt like an orphan, abandoned and adrift.

“Going into my freshman year of college, stuff just really hit the fan and life really smacked me across the face,” Steven says on his website. “My family was going through hard times and then I started having an identity crisis where I was looking at life and wondering ‘what am I here for?’ My grades were horrible that year, so I couldn’t play ball. My best friend and I fell out and my mom ended up moving, so I was really lost.”

steven malcolm watchThen a high school basketball buddy invited him to church. Steven had never ventured into a sanctuary of Christian worship, and the prospect put him off. But he felt so abandoned, and his friend said he would find The Edge Urban Fellowship relevant.

“I’d never stepped foot in a church before. Now I’m thinking I’m going to have to pick up my pants, it’s going to be boring and nobody’s going to speak my language, but then he told me it was a hip-hop church, and since I had nothing to do that night, I thought ‘okay, sure, why not?’” Steven says. “And it was like a breath of fresh air that just smacked me in the face.” Read the rest about Steven Malcolm Christian.

His parents moved him from Christian to public school

prescott potters houseChris Perez fell out of his Christian upbringing in Los Angeles when his parents moved him into the public schools.

Prior to age 13, he attended Christian school, but in the new environment in high school he started to hang out with the “muscle car guys.”

“I liked to hang around the muscle car guys, and they liked to do dope,” Chris says on a Vimeo video produced by his church. “So eventually I got into dope.”

what happens when you go from private christian school to public schoolSoon he was having run-ins with the law.

“When I get in trouble, I get in trouble,” he emphasizes. “I got two DUIs in two weeks.”

He started making drugs, running to get stuff for his friends.

“I know I was their guinea pig but I liked the lifestyle,” Chris remembers. “It was fast, it was different, it was something new every night and every day. Running from the cops and things.”

hope for drunksDue to his run-ins with the law, Chris got acquainted with several institutions — from rehabilitation centers to psychiatric wards. He started taking medication for depression and bipolar disorders.

Chris decided to apply within his company for a transfer to Arizona. His geographic location changed, but his heart remained the same. He was in the mines of Arizona — and he was getting into jail again.

“I was in a horrible relationship with alcohol and drugs.”

His struggles persisted for two years until he got fed up. “I was in a bondage and was stuck in this place.” Please keep reading click here: what is the difference between a Christian school and the public school?

He didn’t believe in love, until he saw his pastor’s marriage

Christianity ArgentinaAt all times, his home was filled with fighting.

“I was an angry person that destroyed everything in my life,” says Juan Pablo Cardo of Buenos Aires. “I never saw a pattern of people loving each other. My dad and my mom stayed together fighting a lot with each other. So I didn’t want to be at home.”

Juan Pablo found an outlet for his rage when he enrolled in a military academy at age 13.

Then he visited a church. For the first time in his life, he saw in the pastor, missionary Kim Pensinger, a model for Christian love. Kim and his wife, Josie, visibly demonstrated their love for one another. It seemed so foreign to him, so other-worldly, that he doubted what he was seeing.

Fellowship churches in Argentina“Their love is not real. This is a fake kind of thing. Maybe they kill each other at home,” he thought at the time.

But then he started to see that they really loved each other. And the people in church take care of each other. “I never saw that before. That started to break my thinking process. I wanted that.”

Juan Pablo quit his well-paid job to work at McDonald’s, just because he would have more opportunity to share the Gospel.

“I started witnessing to everybody. I met Silvina,” he says.. “She was my boss — and still today.” (Because they are now married.)

Silvina was smitten — not with Cupid’s arrows, but with the pulsating love of Christ she saw in young Juan Pablo. Read the rest of love and marriage in Argentina

When his dad died, it wasn’t funny

Tim Allen the BuilderFunny man Tim Allen had a very unfunny start to his life that made him doubt God’s existence. When he was 11, his father was killed by a drunk driver.

“I wanted answers that minute from God,” he said in 2012. “‘Do you think this is funny? Do you think this is necessary?’ And I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with my Creator ever since.”

He used drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism and then was arrested and convicted of felony possession of 650 grams of cocaine in 1978.

“Don’t ever sell drugs to policemen. They don’t like it, they tend to tell judges, people get you, and then you eat very bad food for a long time,” he wisecracked in an interview with ABC.

allen drug chargeAfter completing his two-year prison sentence, Allen was released and decided to get into comedy, which he says, “saved his life.” Shortly after that, he got a call from Jeffrey Katzenberg of the Walt Disney Studios saying they wanted him to become a part of the Disney family, which he found very ironic considering his felony.

He went on to star in various T.V. shows and films such as The Last Man Standing, The Santa Clause trilogy, Wild Dogs and the Toy Story trilogy (he was the voice of Buzz Lightyear). He was succeeding in the world, but he hadn’t dealt with his demons.

“For years, I just did not like this idea of God, church,” he said. “(I was) still a churchgoer, but constantly a cynic.”

As much as he wrestled with doubts, he couldn’t deny the incredible creation in which he lived. It begged for a logical conclusion.

tim allen lost his father and his faith“Whoever built me, this is too much, too weird that it happened by accident,” Allen said. “It didn’t happen by accident.”

Slowly, Allen began to open his heart to God as he saw His guiding hand throughout his struggles. He reached a point when he dedicated his life to Jesus Christ.

Sometimes Allen refers to God as “the Builder.”

“I always ask… ‘God what did you want me to do?’ But you got to be prepared for the answer,” he said.

Allen has received criticism due to his unflinching stand for faith.

In an episode from Allen’s sitcom Last Man Standing (in which he stars as Mike Baxter), Allen found an opportunity to incorporate Jesus Christ. Read the rest of the story about Tim Allen Christianity.

Prevailing strategies for evangelism turned on their head – Lynn Cory and the Neighborhood Initiative

Lynn-Cory-Neighborhood-InitiativeDespite leading a 500-student college group, Pastor Lynn Cory felt something was very wrong with his ministry at a San Fernando Valley mega church. It was too “churchy.”

So after 10 years of thriving ministry, he quit a paid ministerial position and worked for an advertising firm where he could rub elbows with the unsaved and share his faith.

Today, Lynn has an aversion for what other pastors crave: big crowds, fancy buildings and better programs. God has led him to a different approach, bringing individuals to Christ one at a time through “neighboring.”

Neighboring to save souls outreach

He offers some drastic advice: Throw your megaphone in the trash. Ditch the building programs; rid yourself of growth strategies from corporate America; stuff the showmanship of Hollywood. And, above all, dispose of the mantra that bigger size equates with success.

Go and be a neighbor, he advises. Make friends with the people next door. Bake them a pie or invite them to dinner. Shred your packed agenda and share the love of Christ slow-cooker style, by gaining their confidence through months and years.

Lynn calls this approach to evangelism “Neighborhood Initiative,” and has expounded the virtues to turning church paradigms upside down in two books, Neighborhood Initiative and the Love God and The Incarnational Church. This latter book coins the term from what Jesus did: being the face-to-face reference point bringing God to those who don’t know Him.

Lynn sees a movement forming, from Chico, California to Illinois. Even mega church pastors are signing up. They are moving away from the big splash, substituting the unglamorous grind of returning to what the Book of Acts calls “house to house” ministry.

Lynn’s argument is compelling. He cites data from George Barna that found 80% of church growth was membership transfer. Churches are not converting people; they are stealing from churches with fewer resources.

Plus, not every church has the resources to mount a Greg Laurie-style outreach. Because they can’t, many churches have excused themselves entirely. Anyone can visit his neighbor with a pie and show concern for his well-being.

“God moves at the speed of relationship,” one chapter says. Read the rest of Neighborhood Initiative.

Burning Man evangelism of a different kind

160907084704-burning-man-art-cars-5-super-43It’s not the tie-donning, Bible-toting crowd that heads to the Nevada Desert to evangelize at Burning Man, the art hipster festival that draws more than 50,000 for a blistering week on the dry alkaline lakebed.

No, it even draws Christian iconoclasts who flout church conformity. Styled on the born-again hippies of the Jesus Movement, these guys see beyond the largest pagan cult gathering in America. They see misguided souls thirsting for truth.

jesus-crossBurning Man, for the uninitiated, is religion for the religion-less. From Aug. 27 to Sept 4, “Burners” camp in Black Desert and revel in alcohol, drugs, biking, electronic dance music and unbridled hedonism. The bacchanal culminates when a gigantic wooden centerpiece – or temple – is burned in effigy on Saturday night.

The celebration has elements of religion: ritual, a code of conduct and a sense of community. But there is no clear focus on a deity.

phil wyman

Phil Wyman, aka Gandalf/Indiana Jones

This is where Phil Wyman comes in. A Christian pastor who reaches out with love and acceptance to the witches at the Halloween fest in his native Salem, Massachusetts, Wyman is long-haired preacher who’s been described as a cross between Gandalf and Indiana Jones.

Wyman, like other Burners, erects an interactive art display with a message that seeks to activate a quest for true spirituality. In 2011, his Pillars of the Saints honored Simeon Stylite, the ascetic pole-sitter who sought to connect with the Spirit through a radical disconnect with this world.

746984168Wyman’s messages are suggestive, not authoritative, which is why they resonate with the lost souls at Burning Man but they also raise eyebrows among straight-laced Christians who want a more orthodox message. Wyman employs the Socratic method and gets people thinking by asking questions.

“I wondered why Christianity had not typically embedded itself into these festivals, why we weren’t among the leaders of new cultural developments and wildly creative thought,” Wyman wrote in Christianity Today. “Certainly God is wildly creative—enough to find his way into human hearts in other cultures around the world.”

burning-manOne church from Ohio became famous for passing out waters, which is pretty handy in the scorching heat and dust of the desert. It was a way of showing the love of Christ in a practical way.

There have been Christians who dress like Jesus and carry the cross.

Burning Man is a ripe harvest field for out-of-the-box evangelism. Read the rest: Christians at Burning Man.

Christianity exploding in Iran despite efforts of government to stamp it out

Christians-mark-2014-at-Sarkis-Church-in-Tehran-4-HRChaffing under repressive Islam, young Iranians are secretly turning to Christ in record numbers, and Iranian-born Shahrokh Afshar wanted to be part of the revival. So he filmed 13 programs for young people and offered them to SAT7, which broadcasts Christian programming into Iran via satellite.

“Iran is 25% 14 years or younger. Iran has the largest number of drug addicts per capita in the world. Alcoholism, prostitution. The economy sucks; it’s like 15% unemployment,” Afshar said. “Life is very very hard for the average young Iranian. There wasn’t much being done as far as programs are concerned to reach out to these kids.”

christians-in-underground-church-in-iranIran has the fastest-growing evangelical population in the world (estimated at 19.6% by Operation World in 2015), despite an atrocious human rights record against people who abandon Islam, according to Christian Today. In fact, the explosive growth has overloaded the religious police.

A network of underground home churches thrives, and at least six satellite stations broadcast Christian programs continually into Iran. Afshar personally knows of 400 house churches with 5000 members. The number of Muslim converts to Christianity was “a handful” before 1971. Now, it is perhaps 1 million.

Afshar’s program, “Clear Like Glass,” cost him $3,000 per episode. Each program includes a funny skit and a frank interview and discussion of taboos in Islam. What people usually hide, Afshar brings to light. He conducted research about his target audience and found they didn’t want just preaching.

Christians in Iran“Clear Like Glass” is being shown over and over again, at least twice a day, Shah said. He is preparing to film another 13 programs.

After the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, Afshar joined three Egyptian pastors and one American to drive from Turkey to Baghdad and find pastors whom they could help. The fact-finding mission was fruitful. He connected with pastors from Iran and even gave them training in Turkey.

“My contacts tell me that they walk into a party and tell people they are Christian, and boom, they have an instant audience. People want to hear more about Christ. It’s very very easy for them to share,” Afshar said. “Of course, it’s dangerous. They can end up in prison very easily. But people are read the rest of Revival in Iran.

A water roller coaster

no-bullies-christian-high-schoolMost people think of camping as something they would never want to experience: Sleeping on the dank ground, eating only unsavory camp food, days without showering and nothing to do. But going on a trip at Lighthouse Christian Academy will change that.

I came to the Lighthouse when I was in seventh grade. They also offer the rafting trip to the students who attend our gradeschool counterpart the Lighthouse Church School, but it wasn’t until my freshman year that I decided to go on the rafting trip. What shocked me was the lack of people that wanted to go. With the urging of Mrs. Lisa Clancy, I decided to go and had a great time.

rafting-tripNow during my sophomore year, the trip rolled around and no one seemed like they wanted to go. Granted some people had other engagements but the group of people that went was small.

Even though the group was small, it was a fun time. The drive to the campsite seemed short because you bonded with the people in the car — or slept. When we arrived at the campsite, all of us from the Santa Monica Christian school were all taken aback by the breathtaking nature around us.

The campsite that the school goes to every year was better than any campsite I had been to before. There was indoor plumbing, a pool, and a small shop if you wanted to buy snacks. This made the camping part of the trip so much easier.

The rafting part of the trip was both frightening and entertaining. We rafted one of the more harder rivers, and though some people had a better time than others, the scared feeling before you rafted is worth it. There is an adrenaline rush you feel when you’re riding a literal water roller coaster. Read the rest of the rafting trip story.

The cure, not the curse

the-curePeople today reject morality imposed by others. That’s fine.

If you don’t want to follow the Bible, that’s your choice. But you might want the heads up. There are consequences to sin. There is slavery and addiction. Your decisions lead you somewhere. If you flout the manual of the factory, then don’t get mad if things break.

We live a fallen world under a curse. To the extent we escape sin and live in God’s forgiveness, we live in God’s blessing.

Friends

funnyI can’t comprehend why we’re not all friends at church, but some people are more concerned about clambering up — what in their mind — the dogpile. They think they have to step on others.

Not me. I just want to enjoy friendship. And I wish everybody were a friend.

This side of eternity, friendship is the greatest thing. It is one of the loves (marital and family is another). Friendship occurs when you appreciate each other and share meaningful moments (they can be goofiness or enjoying watching a sport together or working together in a common cause).

The king of the dogpile is the ultimate loser for me. He thinks he’s got everybody’s respect. Maybe what he has is everybody’s fear. I’m afraid of him. Perfect love casts out all fear. I’m far from perfect yet.

Amazing grace for Valley Boy Pastor

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My two sons performing in the drama.

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

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

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

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

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

Marriage and carriage brought McConaughey back to God

mcconaughey-and-his-wife-alvesFatherhood brought Matthew McConaughey back to faith.

The Oscar-winning actor, a heart-throb in romantic movies, has been lauded for breaking Hollywood’s high divorce rate by staying married to his supermodel wife, Brazilian Camila Alves, who was raised Catholic.

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“As soon as we had children, I was like, ‘You know what? Church was important to my childhood, even if it was just for the ritual of giving an hour and a half on Sunday to yourself, to pray and to think about others, even if you’re tired or whatever,’” McConaughey said. “I noticed how much I missed it and needed it.”

He and his wife have three children: Levi, aged 6; Vida, aged 7; and Livingston, aged 4.

McConaughey was raised in Uvalde, Texas. His mother, Kay was a kindergarten teacher and a published author. His father, James, was a Green Bay Packers football player before becoming a Texas oilman.

Hmatthew-mcconaughey-inscribed-wedding-ringis childhood dream of being a pro football player along with his college plan of being a lawyer all got cast aside. He worked in a commercial and then performed minor roles until he was cast as the lead in the John Grishman-based movie A Time to Kill.

The breakthrough roll led to more, and McConaughey found himself soon in romantic roles in such movies The Wedding Planner and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.

In his rising success, the God of his childhood became all but forgotten.

Then, the man accustomed to making women swoon met and swooned over Camila Alves. When they met, he was hiding his identity under a huge hat and a bushy beard at the Hyde Club in Hollywood. As soon as he saw Camila, he was pierced by Cupid’s arrows.

“I said, ‘What is that?’” McConaughey recalled, as quoted in Ever After Guide. “I was like, ‘Woo-ha! Wow!’” Read the rest of the romance.

Kevin Durant finds stardom and Jesus in NBA

kevindurantibelieveKevin Durant, a two-time Olympics gold medalist in basketball and the 2014 NBA most valuable player, has learned to be more vocal about his Christian faith.

The 28-year-old, 6’11” superstar is now with fellow Christian Steph Curry on the Golden State Warriors, after leading his native Oklahoma City Thunder deep into the playoffs in 2010-13.

“The Bible both pumps me up and balances me to play my best,” Durant told Beyond the Ultimate. “But it also tells me more about the Lord and how I can live for Him and what all He has done for me.”

Oklahoma City Thunder v Dallas Mavericks - Game TwoDurant, one of the NBA’s most popular players, grew up in a Christian home, led by a single mom, but fell out of church attendance in middle and high school. He excelled at basketball and in 2006 he was widely regarded as one of the best prospects for college ball. His freshman game was so overpowering that he decided to enter the NBA draft immediately.

Picked by the then-Seattle SuperSonics, he produced prodigious performances and won the Rookie of the Year acknowledgement.

The team transferred to Oklahoma and renamed itself the Thunder the next year. It was while he played for the Thunder that Durant, mum about his faith, buddied up with teammate Kevin Ollie, who encouraged him to attend chapel services and to be unafraid to voice his faith.

kevin-durant-and-steph-curry“He got everybody going and wanting to learn more. I was just one of the guys who was trying to follow his lead,” Durant said on Beliefnet. “He was a big teacher in helping me do that and making me feel more comfortable in my faith around other people and being able to pray for other people and pray out loud and things like that; take those baby steps.”

While he lived in Oklahoma City, Durant felt drawn to the easy-going, earnest faith of New York City Hillsong Pastor Carl Lentz and adopted the pastor as his mentor. He was baptized by Lentz in 2013.

“I used to feel like if I did something wrong, I would go to hell,” he said. Now, “I believe God’s love for me, the sacrificial death of Jesus for my sins and His grace, not my good works, are what saves me.” Read the rest of the story.

This article was written by my student Jordan Sheppard in my journalism class at the Lighthouse Christian Academy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is snow in Los Angles (county mountains)!

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It was the blind-leading-the-blind as we drove up the Los Angeles mountains looking for snow. I guess I’m a Biblical pastor because I fulfilled Jesus’ warning against blind leaders.

Thankfully, we actually found more than just a few spots on the roadside. Cindy, our disciple from Guatemala, could see more than just a patch of white. She fell, got wet, got cold and got hit with snowballs. Snow does not exist in the subtropics of Guatemala.

img_4100Cindy had fun, and so did the Lighthouse Church from Van Nuys. We are only 6 months old as a church, and already a spirit of family is taking hold. I had proposed a boys-versus-girls snowball fight until I remembered Alex, our worship superstar, was also a superstar pitcher on mixed softball team. Then I suggested we “even out the teams” by putting Alex on the boys’ team.

That’s when my wife stepped in. She reminded me loudly in front of everybody that I was the pastor and should let others pick first. Man that burned so badly that I wasn’t cold anymore and even took my sweater off.

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“Lighthouse Van Nuys,” the scratched in the snow.

You could hear Brittany, screaming with glee, all down the slope — but that was not surprising. You can always hear Britt.

Dee made a snow angel. Four-year-old Kailee could not be torn from the snow. I suppose she will sleep well. We found a snowman that someone left, even with a carrot nose. Kailee and Dion decided to decimate the snowman. All I can says is that after they were done, Frosty was iced.

After coming down the mountain, we ate at In-N-Out hamburgers and fellowshipped.

 

Good, now I can wash my other sweatshirt

img_3978It’s been a loooooong time.

But I like my Barcelona soccer club sweatshirt so much that I really don’t wash it. I would miss it while it’s in the machines.

But for Christmas, these church members very attentively gave me a wonderful Christmas gift, a different Barca sweatshirt. Now I can finally wash the first one.

Hahaha. Christmas blessings.

Merry Christmas from Van Nuys

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

urch members didn’t miss service.

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

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

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

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

When Jesus gives, it is the best gift.

Homeless pill popper delivered by Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

She gave birth to a child at 14 years old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gutter cleaning

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

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

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

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

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

Lonely at Christmas?

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On the night before Christmas, he was kicked out of his house.

After years of “loose living and immorality,” Elliott Osowitt was driven out by a wife who had run out of patience. Downcast and despondent, he decided to go to a nearby motel and kill himself with a gun.

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Osowitt worked as a tour guide for “Heathen Tours,” a touring company that catered to tourists from England seeking sinful pleasures in America. It seems Osowitt indulged in too many of those allurements himself.

After Osowitt check into his room, he found a Gideon’s Bible next to his bed opened to John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

The power of God’s Word and the Spirit of the living God moved on his heart. Tearfully, he repented of his sins and asked Jesus to be his Lord and Savior.

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And that is how the Prince of Peace, whose birth the reformed Jew had never celebrated, came to Osowitt at Christmas in 1996.

He actually spent three days at the motel reading that Bible. He attended church with his wife, Polly, the following Sunday and quit working for the touring company. Osowitt began a new career with a Christian touring company instead.

On Christmas Eve, the Bible “caused me to stop. It caused me to cry. When I read it was Jesus, I had a hard time with it,” Osowitt told USA Today. “It literally began a process of healing that eventually led to the reconciliation… Read the rest of the story.

So much for organic growth

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The Valley Boy Pastor at Lake Balboa in Van Nuys.

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

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

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

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

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

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Alex and Martha, our excellent worship crew.

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

I just believed and waited on God.

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

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Boat missionaries along Mozambique coast see witch get saved

398df99e-2bf0-4320-ab51-7658916b4632-harrell-1By Justin Berry

Brian Harrell and his wife, Becky have persevered in their outreach to the 300,000 Makhuwa Nahara people in villages that dot the shores of Mozambique along the Indian Ocean.

These hamlets are so remote they are best reached by boat. Since 2004, the Harrells have steered their small wooden vessel through coastal waters to bring the Gospel to the small villages that fell to Arab traders and their Islamic faith 1,000 years ago.

Animism is also blended with Islam to produce a toxic spiritual brew. Because infant mortality is high, people resort to “spiritual protection” in the form of witchcraft.

adelina“Women fear for their children,” Becky said. “They perform ceremonial witchcraft to protect that life and to protect themselves from evil spirits during pregnancy.”

A certain witch in the village named Adelina “aided” her fellow villagers with divinations and spells in a grass-roof hut next to her home.

But amazingly, she also opened her home to a Bible study with the Harrells and listened intently. However, she didn’t convert and renounce the witchcraft under the preaching of the Southern Baptist missionaries — to the point that the Harrells despaired and almost quit.

78bff2a8-f1f7-4106-a3e6-dd005ccb1cba-harrell-5“We just couldn’t continue sharing the gospel right there next to this witch doctor hut,” Brian told Baptist Press. “What was the message that we were sending to the local community?” Adelina had been meeting with them for a year, with no sign of change.

But finally, one day before prayer… Read the rest of the story.

Old meets new

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Cindy with my wife at Lake Balboa.

Saved at 14 in my church in Guatemala, Cindy is an old disciple from my old church. She just came to the U.S. and saw my new church with the new disciples at Lake Balboa in the San Fernando Valley.

It was thrill for me to introduce her: the new guys meet one of the old guys. There is a blessing in persevering in the work of Jesus.

At one point, I thought I wouldn’t have the energy to start a new church. But then I got so miserably bored in my mother church that I couldn’t stand to be there any longer. I was frustrated because I wasn’t fulfilling my purpose in life. God opened the doors for me to start a new church in the place where I’d grown up. I called myself the #ValleyBoyPastor, not because I’m a boy, but, hey, I’ve still energy in me. It is a joy.

We are meeting at #LakeBalboa, which is actually “reclaimed water.” That means it’s the filtered, treated leftover of every flush in the San Fernando Valley. No it doesn’t stink. Yes, fish and ducks live in it without any problem. They don’t recommend you drink or bathe in or eat the fish you catch from it. But I think they’re being overly cautious. After all, what do astronauts drink if not filter and treated pee?

I feel like Jesus. He preached by the lake, and so do I. It’s a beautiful setting, and the weather is always glorious in Southern California. (We are in December and we held church in the park with no need for sweaters! Sorry for much of the rest of America. I don’t mean to gloat.) Technically, we’re the Lighthouse Church in Van Nuys, but I’ve taken to calling us the Church on the Lake, a spinoff of the famous mega Church on the Way.

Thank you for your prayers for my church.

Beyond cell phones

z4nmu09gzrlrlmcqzbotThey entertain us. We can tailor them to our every like and desire. They greet us when we wake up and send us off to bed. They keep us in contact. We can share with other people our triumphs and failures. They give us news, shows us directions, find us the best prices.

But there is more to life than this marvelous device that makes our life easier and not boring. If all you have is your phone, your emotionally bankrupt. Beyond the cell phone, there is a God who satisfies much greater needs.

Our Lord said that life didn’t consist of what we eat and drink. In our day, we’d have to add: Life does not consist of your cell phone.

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Not sure why we are obsessed with mega-church pastors. Not even Jesus did that.

No, Jesus prepared for revival after His departure. He sent out 12 with full power, then again 70. He was training and equipping followers for when He would no longer be with them.

I must confess I fell into the nobody-can-do-it-as-good-as-me trap once. God slapped me across the face for my selfish pride. I would do everything: teach, preach, sing, evangelize. Then He allowed my voice to get damaged. I had to relinquish singing.

Others could rise up and get ready for ministry. They could practice with live experience and do start-ups with confidence. Why had I been so blind?

A key to revival? Don’t be a ball hog.

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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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Saved from 9 suicide attempts, then from the desire to take her life

img_2728Nine times Shannon Palmer attempted to commit suicide.

“They were surprised that I lived,” she said. She searched Google to find the right dose to snuff her life while she slept.

A daddy’s girl despite his drug addiction, she was hit hard by her father’s abandonment when she was seven. Her mom slipped on a patch of ice in a parking garage in Colorado and injured her back. The resulting lifelong pain is what drove the single mother and two kids to church, hoping for a miracle.

“I was angry at God for a very long time,” Shannon said. “I was one of those ones who felt like I had to be re-saved over and over and over to be forgiven. God didn’t become real for me until three years ago.”

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Today, Shannon is vibrant, loving and full of life. It took God to make the change.

Mom worked three jobs until she met and married a “rescue dad,” who gave the kids their first Christmas. Her brother took his last name, Shannon did not, to the chagrin of the family. She wanted to keep a relationship with her biological father. Years later she finally took the last time, upsetting her biological dad.

“I still hoped to have the love of my father even though he was never there for me,” Shannon said.

She developed obsessive-compulsive disorder. Until she was diagnosed, she didn’t understand some of her behavior. “My family got so frustrated with me. They said they felt like they were walking on egg shells around me.”

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After 4-and-a-half days of work on a medical mission in Coban, Guatemala, Shannon and crew take a well deserved break to visit a coffee plantation.

In her freshman year of high school, she directed her obsessive-compulsive behavior into sports. She woke up at 5:30 a.m. to workout a couple hours before school. Once at school, she threw herself into swimming, volleyball, basketball, cross-country and wrestling – whatever sport was in season. When she came home, she turned on workout videos — even doing sit-ups in bed.

Then she became anorexic. “The feeling of hunger was an issue of control,” she said. “I felt like for the first time I could control something in my life. It was a high being able to say ‘no’ to the hunger pains when you were starving.”

At 17, Shannon tried to take her life the first time. She blamed herself for her mom’s pain. She felt pressured unfairly by a family that chafed at her psychological disorders. In one blowout with the family, she stuffed gobs of pills into her mouth and swallowed them in front of everybody. They rushed her to the nearest hospital. She was admitted to a padded room in a psychiatric hospital.

“That’s when they first put me on medications,” she said. The psychiatric drugs made her hungry and put her to sleep. She dropped out of sports and wallowed in depression. In a few years, her weight steadily rose to 270 pounds.

She moved to Juneau, Alaska, to get away from the family drama. She loved whales, which proved to be good therapy. She worked on a whale-watching boat and in a vetinarinary hospital. She tried to study, but anxiety attacks and mood swings disrupted the academic discipline.

She thrived in her jobs helping animals but felt compelled to move on every time she hit a stride. “The icky feelings would always come and make it feel wrong,” she said. “You feel like you have to change things to make it feel right.”

At Juneau she had a lot of psychiatric visits. She was admitted to the ICU after taking an entire bottle of extra strength Tylenol, and doctors thought she wouldn’t make it. When she woke up, the nurse told her she had liver failure. But God healed her.

“I prayed to Jesus, ‘Please take me. I want to be with you.’ I just wanted it to be over,” she said.

Next, Shannon moved to Bellingham, Washington, to pursue her veterinary passion at school. By now she was self-mutilating. She isolated herself from the world, sleeping 14 hours a day, and worked for a very supportive veterinary office. Eventually, she received her license as a technician, the RN of animals. Read the rest of the article.Read the rest of the article.

What man cannot do

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

God is doing what I cannot humanly do.

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

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

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

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

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

Praise the Lord!

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.

Heir to $1M

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

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

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

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

A sovereign work

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My son, Rob, manned the grill. His eyes are closed because of the smoke.

I have slogged through years of labor with not so much fruit in Guatemala, so when I start a new church with the Christian Fellowship Ministries in Van Nuys, I’m expecting an uphill battle.

But then God pours out His grace and blessing in unexpected ways on this Valley Boy Pastor.

IMG_1351When He moves and brings revival, we call it a “sovereign work.” That means the pastor didn’t work to manufacture the revival. It came 100% from God.

On Friday, we hosted a barbecue outreach in my apartment complex. We didn’t even pay for it. It was paid for by the apartments’ owner. I can’t stop admiring how God does everything.

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Members of the Lighthouse Church Van Nuys enjoy the tacos too!

Of course, my wife, my kids and members of the church did a lot of work to prepare the banquet. But what we did was minor compared to what God did. Now we are waiting to see who will come to the Bible study.

Forget about the booming voice. God speaks through burritos.

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The assistant pastor was making the case that God wanted him to eat two burritos. As a burrito lover, I can really sympathize. He was saying he never would have ordered two because of the appearance of gluttony. But he got the second little pillow because his kids wanted it for a homeless man outside, who mysteriously disappeared after being promised the prize.

I have heard from God over burritos myself. Specifically, I have fallen in love with the Corona burrito of Van Nuys. It’s now my favorite on top of Pollo Loco, Qdoba, Chipotle and any other respectable burrito.

When I proposed to my family moving to Van Nuys to start a church with the Christian Fellowship Ministries, there was an onslaught of reasons this would not be a convenient move.

Standing against the heat, distance, danger and whatever else everybody objected was this lone burrito which prevailed in reason.

Of course, I’m being extremely facetious (and the burrito is extremely delicious). But I’m always a bit skeptical about “hearing” God’s voice. I prefer finding open and closed doors. What I mean is that you pray, ask for direction and get an impression. If it doesn’t contradict the Word of God, don’t just wildly embrace it but pursue it cautiously. If God opens doors before you, then possibly/probably you’re in His will. If He closes doors in front of you, then you probably not.

If, for example, you’re singled and you think God has told you to marry Mr. Guapito, but he doesn’t agree, possibly it’s not God. Or if you think you should “outreach” to your worldly friends at a party and you keep falling into drunkenness, then probably you’re not hearing God.

So the burrito seems like a good omen (hahaha). I mean, what could be anti-Biblical about opening a church, saving souls, making disciples? The heat of Van Nuys (compared to breezy Santa Monica) is a real downer. Why not find something that compensates for the Valley Boy Pastor (me)?

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

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

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.

God hasn’t given up on you

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

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

Ouch!

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

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

Flamingos turn pink due to diet

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The image you project to the world as a Christian is a matter of your diet. If you feed constantly on negativity and denigration, you won’t project of confidence, joy and victory. You need to feed on the word, not the sewers of the world’ media.

Trivia: Flamingos are born with gray feathers but turn pink because they feast on brine shrimp and blue-green algae, which contain a dye that affects the color of the flamingo.

If you feast on the world’s news, you might turn yellow.

If you feast on Facebook, you might turn green with envy.

Heck, even your “brother” in Christ can constantly tear you down. Don’t let that happen!

But if you feast on prayer and God’s unadulterated Word, you’ll turn radiant like the sun. You’ll project the joy and confidence, the love and humility which naturally draws people to Christ.

Save

No friends allowed

Enders game

Ender in the movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Utter loneliness

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe God is permitting pain to sharpen your usefulness.

#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.

#ValleyBoyPastor answers the call

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Van Nuys

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

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

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

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

Don’t follow the money. Follow the call.

Entice them

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

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

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

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

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

preaching born of a broken heart

preaching

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

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

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.