Tag Archives: Faith

Mute the past

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

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

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

 

How to recover from a breakup, Rachel Ashley explains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India: Grandmother beaten to death for son’s conversion to Christianity

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An Indian grandmother was stripped and killed in December in apparent retaliation for her son converting to Christianity.

Samari Kasabi, 55, was brutalized and burned in the village of Dokawaay in Chhattisgarh after an angry mob showed up looking for her adult son and his family.

Police detained the village chief but released him with no charge after two days, the UK’s Daily Express reported.

Attacks against Christians in the largely Hindu nation of India have been on the rise since 2013 as the nationalist Hindu party in power seems to turn a blind eye from such incidents, the Express said. A similar attack by religious extremists occurred against a Protestant church in Madhya Pradesh. Church-goers were pelted with stones after the service while police did nothing, eyewitnesses reported.

Fearing for their lives and safety, many Christians have turned their back on their faith to avoid persecution.

When rampaging villagers could not find Sukura, 35, and his family, they turned on the Christian grandmother. Sukura reported the murder of his mom to police, and apparently some arrests have been made, it was reported.

Workers from the Christian charity group Open Doors went on motorcycles over dirt roads to meet Sukura in the remote village, to pray with him and to encourage him.

“Since the day I came to faith no Christian leader from any place has visited us,” Sukura told them. “This is the first time someone has come and prayed for us. Thank you so

There are an estimated 63 million Christians in India, but 80 percent of the country’s 1.3 billion identify as Hindu. In the nationalistic furor stirring the nation, five states have outlawed converting to Christianity, and other states appear poised to follow suit. Read the rest of the disturbing article.

Bone regeneration in lab is breakthrough for Israeli scientist

shai-meretzkiIsraeli scientists successfully inject bone grafts created from fat tissue

A bone graft is usually invasive, costly and risky, but now an Israeli biotech firm has invented a lab-grown bone injection that could make the procedure cheaper and more successful.

Bonus Bio Group announced in December that bone tissue cultivated in their labs was successfully injected into the jaws of 11 patients in preliminary studies. Further studies are being launched as $14 million has been raised for the start-up, Jewish News Service reported.

“For the first time worldwide, reconstruction of deficient or damaged bone tissue is achievable by growing viable human bone graft in a laboratory, and transplanting it back to the patient in a minimally invasive surgery via injection,” said Bonus Biogroup CEO Shai Meretzki.

bonus-biogroupBonus BioGroup harvested tissue from patients’ fat cells, cultivated it in the laboratory and re-injected the semi-liquid bone graft back into the jaws of the patients. The substance successfully hardened and merged with existing bone to repair damage during the early stage of clinical trials, Bonus Biogroup reported.

If further studies are similarly successful, the procedure could replace existing methods to repair bone damage. One method harvests the patient’s pelvic crest and is painful and expensive. Another method uses synthetic substances or cells from bone banks, which risk a rejection from the patient’s body.

“I was looking for a way to do it cheaper and easier for the patient and the medical system,” Meretzki said. “We are growing bone through small samples of fat tissue and isolating the different kinds of cells that we need to create the bone.”

Finish reading the article, which was written by one of my students at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica.

The first woman to successfully mount a presidential bid is also a Christian

3a34bed800000578-3933784-donald_trump_and_his_campaign_manager_kellyanne_conwayWhen Donald Trump gets sworn in Jan. 20, he owes a debt of gratitude to Kellyanne Conway, the first woman to run a presidential campaign, who helped turnaround a double-digit polling deficit. She also happens to be a Christian.

“It was all down to her,” Trump said. “Kellyanne has been a trusted adviser and strategist who played a crucial role in my victory.”

Conway was raised in a divorced household in Atco, New Jersey. Her deadbeat dad left when she was three and never supported her or her mother with alimony. Instead, her mother, grandmother and two sisters helped raised Kellyanne with a strong work ethic, plenty of faith and an abundance of food prepared by a mom and grandmother with Italian roots.

“They doted on me with everything that is important — love, attention, prayerfulness, patriotism, the value of being more of a giver rather than a taker,” Conway told the Washington Examiner. “Faith plays a minute by minute part of my life,” she said. “It is constant.”

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She grew up picking blueberries during eight summers on a nearby farm. She picked so fast that at age 20 she even won the World Champion Blueberry Packing competition. “The faster you went, the more money you’d make,” she said. “Everything I learned about life and business started on that farm.”

Not only were her hands fast. Her brain also ran on 16 pistons. She was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society out of college and completed her law degree with honors in 1992 from the George Washington University.

Her quick intelligence earned her an invitation to join a law firm, but she politely declined. She had worked for Reagan political pollster Richard Wirthlin and had gotten hooked on the science of survey and market data. After working for pollster Frank Luntz, she launched her own polling company at age 28 in 1995.

As an entrepreneur, Conway successfully landed major clients like American Express, Hasbro, Major League Baseball ABC News and Vaseline. With conservative values, she worked for politicians Congressman Newt Gingrich and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who served in the House of Representatives then.

In 2001, she married George Conway, a conservative New York lawyer who helped spearhead the impeachment campaign against then-President Bill Clinton. The couple had four kids and met Donald Trump after they purchased a condo in a Trump complex. She sat on the board and chatted politics with the real estate mogul between mundane decisions about property.

Trump’s campaign was slumping in August of 2016. The pugnacious political disruptor found himself 10 polling points behind Hillary Clinton after he verbally attacked the family of a Muslim American hero who had died saving fellow American soldiers in Iraq. The dad of Humayun Khan lambasted Trump’s immigration stance at the Democratic convention, and Trump couldn’t let the matter alone. His second campaign manager was being thrown out, and supporters were moaning about the pointlessness of working for a candidate who would shoot himself in the foot.

That’s when Conway had a private meeting with Trump and asked him why he looked miserable.

“You are running against the most joyless person in presidential political history (Hillary Clinton),” she told the candidate, according to the Washington Examiner, “and you don’t look like you are having fun anymore.”

Right then and there, Trump hired her. Continuing reading.

Just days before daddy-daughter dance, her dad died

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Ten-year-old Kirby Minnick’s divorced dad was coming to visit her in America in only four days – but he never made it. Kirby found out after school her dad succumbed to a heart attack in London.

“I remember thinking, ‘I’m never going to see him again. He’s never going to walk me down the aisle. He’s never going to be there for my wedding,’” Kirby said in a YouTube video. “I ran upstairs and locked the door. I remember feeling so much pain and agony. I remember asking God, ‘Why? How could You do this to me? You’re a monster, God. Why do You hate me? What did I do wrong? This isn’t fair.’ I hated God.”

The bitterness of his untimely passing was compounded by flyers at school just days afterward inviting all girls to attend the daddy-daughter dance. As she looked at the flyer on her school desk, she burst into tears. Her friends asked her what was wrong.

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“My dad just died four days ago,” she cried.

“Eventually, I became like, ‘Ok God, let’s just forget this happened, like whatever, and move on,’” she said. “I began building up walls. I was so mad at God. My depression came back. I was so hopeless. I wouldn’t let people into my life. Eventually I kind of shoved everything into a corner in my mind.”

She fixated on suicide every night. But during the school day in Dallas, Texas, she pretended everything was okay.

“Whenever I went to school I was like the happiest kid,” Kirby said. “I was pretending to be that way. It was a mask that everything was okay and nothing was wrong. I let no one know.”

She traipsed in and out of therapy, blocking entire months and years of her childhood. At first the counseling was to help her overcome her parent’s divorce. Then it was for her dad’s death.

In eighth grade, a classmate began bullying her with passive aggressive behavior, eliciting in her a flood of insecurities.

“I thought I wasn’t pretty enough, I wasn’t smart enough, nobody loved me. I wanted to kill myself,” Kirby said. “I had this journal, and I would write in it every night, ‘I wish I could kill myself. I just want to die.’ Suicidal thoughts took over my life.”

But every time she resolved to carry out her plan, a voice in her head held her back: Just one more day, the voice intoned.

At a Christian summer camp before high school, she was going through the motions, singing the songs she sang every year at the camp. Her mom had heard about the camp and sent her hoping it would help.

“I was like singing, ‘Lord Jesus, blah blah blah,’” she said. Suddenly, God really showed up. Click here to read the rest of the story.

Somebody has to die

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

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

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

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

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

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

Princess Leia worth $50 million

carrie-fisherYou are worth more.

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

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

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

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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.

 

Why New Year’s is a Christian holiday

new-years-christianThe Christmas-haters substitute “happy HOLIDAYS” for the Christ-bearing word. It doesn’t seem like they realize HOLY-days is still derived from Christianity and still points believers and non-believers ultimately to Jesus.

New Year’s is part of the HOLY-days. It is a time to make resolutions, to change, to emend wrongs and commit to rights. Change — and getting a new start through forgiveness — is the distilled essence of Christianity. Celebrate New Year’s discovering the “new you” that’s find only in Jesus.

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.

Break free from the prison of your mind

img_3939Inside of every one of us, there’s a child who’s been wounded. He puts up a mask of confidence. Or he tries to deaden the pain through partying. Or he pursues money. But when he dies, the money stays behind.

And his souls moves on.

God made the human heart. He is the only one who can heal and fill the human heart. Christmas is about God’s gift to humanity. Jesus died to restore relationship between man and God. You can lay hold of that blessing if you will just break free.

Break free from doubt, from prejudices, from intellectualism that denies God. Break from influences, for bad advice, from pressure to conform.

Break out of a world that is only material. Break into a world that is also spiritual.

As C.S. Lewis said, we don’t have a soul, we are a soul.

God designed you to spend eternity in loving relationship with Him. Don’t reject Him.

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.

The smiles are real now

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Behind the popularity, the beauty, and bubbly personality, Alison Henry harbored self-hatred and misery that led to broodings about suicide.

Today, the 23-year-old YouTube make-up artist with a following of 880,542 has found inner joy.

“I cannot even tell you how unhappy I was, and the bad thing was I couldn’t even tell you why,” Alison said in a recent video.

alison-henry-christianBorn in Atlanta, Alison was raised in a Christian family, lived in a beautiful house, and had the right pieces in place to become successful. But during high school, her torments began as insecurities rose in her heart. She locked herself in her bedroom for hours and spilled expletive-laden bitterness into a personal journal.

“In high school people would look at me and think I was normal, I was happy, there is nothing wrong with my life,” she said. “I put a smile on every single day. There was nothing wrong that people could look at me and tell that I was hurting. But I was hurting SO bad. I was messed up. I hated myself.”

She questioned her existence, felt like her life lacked direction and wondered if anybody cared.

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“I would really wish I was dead. I did really mean that. It was my little secret.”

Alarmed by their daughter’s downturn, her parents sent her to a professional counselor who prescribed anti-depressants. The medicine didn’t work, she said. “I’m unfixable,” she glowered.

Trying to anesthetize the hurt, Alison turned to boyfriends, weekend parties and alcohol and drugs.

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“It was a coping mechanism, but it never fixed things,” she said. “When you wake up, you’re as sad as ever.”

During her junior year, her best friend started attending a church youth group. That’s when the tug-of-war began: Alison would beg her friend to go to the parties, and her friend would beg her to go to youth group.

“For months I would say, ‘No, I don’t belong there. I’m not a church girl.’ I thought they were all like people who wore turtle necks and sang kumbaya around their guitar.”

alison-henryEventually, Alison caved in. Seeing hundreds of high schoolers lifting hands and singing to something invisible made her feel “weirded out.”

But “I didn’t understand it, and I couldn’t stand the thought of me not understanding something,” she said.

However, she decided to go back. During her third visit to church, God met her.

“I knew in my heart that the pastor was talking about me,” Alison said. Read the rest.

Professors from Harvard and MIT talk about their faith

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A group of high-powered MIT and Harvard professors were featured recently at a forum to debunk the notion that there is a conflict between science and faith.

Rosalind Picard and Ian Hutchinson are professors at Massachusetts Institute of Technology while Tyler VanderWeele and Nancy E. Hill are professors at Harvard University – and all four are firm believers in God and see no conflict between faith and science.

“People who think they can’t deal with faith are really just deceiving themselves,” said Picard, the founder of the branch of computing known as affective computing. “All people in science are accepting something on faith. The question is what are evidence for that, and do you accept the kinds of evidence that is not scientific?”

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Ian Hutchinson of MIT

Recently featured on the Veritas Forum, the academes are debunking the notion that all scientists are atheists and that science opposes faith.

“The famous scientists of history, many of them were in fact Christian believers,” said Hutchinson, who is developing magnetic “bottles” for nuclear fusion. “If you think about James Clerk Maxwell or Michael Faraday or (Arthur) Eddington or (Robert) Boyle or Newton and so on and so forth, these were people who were not atheists. They were deeply believing Christians. It’s a fallacy, it’s a myth that science and religious understanding of the world have always been at war.”

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Tyler VanderWeele of Harvard

Picard began as “proud atheist” who, in middle school, boasted to her mom that she would debate evolution and “whop those stupid creationists. I thought religion was something for people who were non-thinking or it was a crutch.”

Her neighbors in Atlanta invited her to church, and she faked stomach aches to get off the hook for six weeks, until finally they suggested she just read the Bible.

“Then I remembered it was the best-selling book,” Picard said. “I started reading the Bible, and I didn’t want to tell anybody. But I started to change. It started to change me. I thought it would be full of fantastical crazy stuff. I started reading Proverbs and it immediately hit me that with all my intellectual arrogance, I had a lot to learn.”

But it wasn’t until her undergraduate studies in electrical engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. She got her PhD from MIT in 1991 and joined the faculty seven years later, winning a full professorship in 2005. She is the founder and director of MIT’s Affective Computing Research Group.

Her research team is developing wearable technology that can detect stress in people who are poor at expressing their emotions, such as patients of autism.

Ian Hutchinson also grew up without God on his radar. When he studied as an undergraduate at Cambridge University, however, “I had some good friends whose lives seemed to be attractive and whose Christian faith seemed important to them and seemed coherent,” he said.

He agreed to attend some lectures by Michael Green and essentially heard the gospel for the first time in his life.

“After a period of consideration, I realized that I kind of did believe,” Hutchinson said. “Christianity made sense to me. It made intellectual sense to me. In order for me to be true to what I thought was reality, I needed to take a step of commitment to faith and become a follower of Jesus.”

As he learned about the natural world in universities, he learned about Christ in church, and there never appeared to be any conflict between the two, he said.

Today, Hutchinson is a professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT and researches nuclear fusion as a cheap and powerful alternative to produce electricity. He has written 160 journal articles and was the chairman of the Division of Plasma Physics group of the American Physical Society in 2008. He has written about the limits of science and the power of faith in a book titled “Monopolizing Knowledge: A Scientist Refutes Religion-Denying, Reason-Destroying Scientism.”

“Science has not disproved religion. That idea is wrong,” he said. “People believe or disbelieve in religion for much more complicated reasons than just their intellectual ideas.”

Tyler VanderWeele, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, rocked the secular world when he published in May of 2016 a study that showed churchgoers live longer than people who eschew the pew.

“For the most part, I see the relationship between science and the Christian faith as not one of antagonism but one of mutual contribution,” VanderWeele said. “Science has given us tremendous insight into our world and how it works. It’s made clear the incredible order that’s manifest in Creation. It’s given us a better understanding of God’s work in the world.” To read the rest of the article, click here.

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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.

I’m dreaming of an enchilada Christmas

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

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

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

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

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Leslie and her sister, Stacey

And I got enchiladas.

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

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Gleeful me, the Valley Boy Pastor.

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

So much for organic growth

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The Valley Boy Pastor at Lake Balboa in Van Nuys.

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

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

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

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

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

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Alex and Martha, our excellent worship crew.

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

I just believed and waited on God.

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

Continue reading

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.

True joy at Christmas

9b248ee363e2c2a1c727272ec55a14e2As a tyke at the local Methodist church, I muffed my lines in the Christmas play. The question posed was: What’s better — giving or getting?

At the time, I really felt that “getting” was what Christmas was all about. I loved getting toys, not sweaters. But I messed up and piped up: “Giving.”

The adult in the play, under her breath, scolded me for getting it backwards and then continued with the play.

Since then I have matured and discovered that maybe my mistake was prophetic. I have discovered that the true joy of Christmas is being able to give.

The irony is that someone has go gleeful with the gift, so somebody has to enjoy getting. Kids make easy targets for this.

Santa was on to something after all. This is why Jesus, the ultimate Christmas gift came. The Father wanted to see His children squeal with joy upon receiving salvation.

Evicted!

colegio-cristiano-guatemalaA criminal pornographer hacked and hijacked my Guatemala CHRISTIAN school website for the Guatemalan ministry. He posted pictures of “girls next door waiting for you” and links to other sites where you can indulge all kinds of sin with pay-per-view (they do this to not pay their own hosting). The nightmare came at the worst possible time, right when moms are looking at new schools in Guatemala.

And evicting him was not easy. We deleted files, changed passwords and regenerated the original content. He came back. Thinking we were battling and invisible Trojan, we nuked the site and regenerated it.


He came back.

It was maddening. Thank God my friend (let’s just call him Yoda) discovered the posting number settings, which no one ever looks at or changes, were altered allowing the public to post on the site. Ugh! That was a sinister trick.

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After two months, I can confirm we are back to promoting God after a painful period of promoting Satan. Yes, I missed the best window of opportunity. But I have my clean bill-of-health from Google, and we’re back in business!

Please pray for new students in my old school in Guatemala. What a relief to have evicted the evil.

Pursue beauty

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: My friends, missionaries, in Ecuador.

Is there Christian anime?

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

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

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

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Joseph Wentz

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

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

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

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

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

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Michael Morejon

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

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

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

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

God in Gotham: Finally revival comes

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

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

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

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The C3 Church in Brooklyn

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

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

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

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

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Pastor Josh Kelsey

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Savior’s Creed

saviors-creed

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

K-Pop awash with Christians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kyuhyun in a Bible study

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was right

love-will-prevail

Love will prevail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to transition from public school to Christian private school

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Falling leaves

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You must shed the leaves to get the new ones next Spring.

Repaint your life

repaint-your-life

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

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

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

The rent is great

img_3366We’re meeting in a park next to a lake (of reclaimed water) called Lake Balboa. I feel like Jesus preaching next to the lake. We are called Lighthouse Church, but I have taken to calling us Church on the Lake, a spinoff of the nearby mega Church on the Way.

The colors are beautiful. We get visitors from all the passers-by. The shade is good, as is the weather in Los Angeles. If you get bored of my sermon, you can enjoy the view. So why do some church members want a “building?”

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The rent is cheaper here (we pay $O, though others paid with blood the price of freedom in America). We just grab an available picnic table in the shade, set up some chairs, play an acoustic guitar, use the music stand for a pulpit, pass the toilet paper basket for offering and — presto! — free church.

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People can sit discreetly at he benches a ways back and hear the sermon.

It was my goal, on being sent out to “pioneer” a new work, to charge nothing to the parent church, which was burdened heavily with the Guatemalan ministry. I wanted to show that with faith and prayer it was possible for other pastors to plant churches at no cost to the mother church. Today we had 16 people.

Eventually, we will outgrow the park and need a building. Until then, I’m enjoying the view and the ride. It’s a blast for me, the #ValleyBoyPastor.

Delegate

revival

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.

Save

How to resurrect a volleyball program | Lighthouse Christian Academy excited

christian-school-volleyball-manhattan-beach

Well, that didn’t take long.

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

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

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

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

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

You could say the Saints stung the Stingrays from Torrance.

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

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.

Redemptive narrative for medical mission

fullsizerender17Dr. Bill Wright wasn’t impressed by the numbers.

After setting a one-day record for patients seen, Lighthouse Medical Missions almost equaled it on Thursday with 720 in Coban, Guatemala. At a celebratory dinner, the state hospital director thanked the team for helping offset the crushing load of 100,000 patients yearly they see.

But the only number that mattered to Dr. Wright was the number one. One life changed.

At a time when all volunteers were in a flurry to alleviate daily sicknesses, post top numbers and take care of line that stretched down the block outside the Bible institute where the clinic was staged, the team leader waxed eloquent about slowing down, taking time to pray with each patient and fixing lifelong ailments.

That’s because Dr. Wright was not always the shining light of altruism that he is today. There was a time when he was a heavy drinker, who punctuated his successful family practice with liquor and drug use.

“I was at a point where I really didn’t care about my life. I’d go to work and I’d go home and I’d drink or use drugs or whatever,” Dr. Wright said. “I had hoped that the different things I’d done would satisfy my life, they would satisfy this thing inside. But nothing ever worked.”

The change came, he said, through a conversion to Christianity 35 years ago.

“Jesus lifted this burden off of my heart,” he said. “That’s when I got saved. God came into my life and really changed me.” Read the rest about our Christian medical mission.

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

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Lighthouse Medical Missions in Guatemala

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

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

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

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

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

Organizers expected low patient numbers.

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

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

A skateboard fall causes trouble for medical mission in Guatemala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having fun teaching

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I’m posing with my colleague Kathy Payton.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Because people are precious

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

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

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

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

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

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

People are precious.

3 jobs, 2 happy, 1 tired guy

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

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

The lie of love

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

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

Rubbish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Even though they lose, they are the golden generation

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This was the class that reduced teachers to tears.

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

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

What brought about the transformation?

img_0329In a word: Zach Scribner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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25 years later, I’m still teaching at Lighthouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.