Tag Archives: God

Finding Jesus in Iran is no simple matter

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

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

By Zach Catalano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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He tried to follow Islam and be a good Muslim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another contrast was the concept of God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

K-Pop awash with Christians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kyuhyun in a Bible study

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was right

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Love will prevail.

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

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

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

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

The 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.

The face of misery (Spanish verb conjugation test)

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

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Real tears?

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

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

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

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

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

Normal/ not normal in LA

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

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

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

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

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

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

Save

More than see

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

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

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

Jesus asks: Who loved him like God does?

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

Rest in Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

Because somebody just needs a hug today

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

Jesus heals and loves the broken heart.

How to resurrect a volleyball program | Lighthouse Christian Academy excited

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Well, that didn’t take long.

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

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

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

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

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

You could say the Saints stung the Stingrays from Torrance.

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

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.

Blessed to visit Guatemala again

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This is how we did Photoshop before there was Photoshop.

Supposedly we were going to visit this waterfall on the way to Coban to do a medical clinic with our church, but it was too far and we didn’t have enough time. Maybe a fake photo will suffice?

img_2669It had been 18 years since I visited the lush rainforest city of Coban. I was a relatively new missionary at the time with a 2-year-old. I was watching Rebekah assiduously while she played in the park. But after following her bent over for some time, I straightened up to give my back a rest. It was at that moment she bolted in front of the trajectory of a metal swing with a kid on it. The iron swing smacked her forehead. Rebekah is still marked today by that hit, but thank God nothing worse happened.

img_2571We attended 2,100 people in four and a half days. I translated and helped logistics. Since I had been in Coban so many years aga, our church-planting mission, the Christian Fellowship Ministry, had started a church there, so we are praying that souls will be added to Pastor Jorge Cucul’s church. The Nazarene Bible Institute opened its doors to us to stage the clinic.

img_2751For the first time, I got to see a coffee plantation. Since I’m a fanatic, this was very interesting. They had a discussion about what varieties taste the best but are vulnerable to plagues. And I did zip line there.

img_2423I finished off preaching today in the City of Guatemala, in the church I started so many years ago. As always, I will miss you, Guatemala.

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.

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?

 

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.

Save your marriage. Drink coffee.

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A lot of guys, myself included, don’t converse as much with our wives as they would like.

Four shots of espresso works for me. It loosens up my tongue. I get excited about whatever subject. I remember things about my day that previously I had forgotten.

I want to the thank the Great God Who Made Coffee. (Honestly, I don’t know why that’s not included in the list of God’s names in the books of theology. If were writing those books, I would include it!).

There are a few things that guys and girls want different out of marriage, that come unnatural. Guys want respect from their wives, who know us better. Girls want conversation, and we have the lexicon of a tree stump. The challenge of marriage is to do the unnatural thing and GIVE to your partner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Heir to $1M

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

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

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

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

The Santa Monica LCA had a ‘sick’ football game

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

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

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

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Feeling under the weather, Justin Berry still played.

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

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

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

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

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

Lecrae escaped gangs and drugs through Jesus

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Lecrae backstage at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015. (Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

As little Lecrae sat on his uncles’ laps, guns and alcohol were passed around. He never met his father, so he followed his uncles into gangs, drugs, sex and hip-hop.

But after he turned his life over to Jesus, Lecrae Devaughn Moore became one on the biggest Christian hip hop rap artists worldwide.

“I grew up wrestling with significance,” Lecrae said in a video. “I didn’t feel like I was gonna get it from being this manicured, good all-around person. My uncles were young and wrapped up in the streets, gangs and drugs and just promiscuous. I idolized that life and wanted to be just like my uncle. I chased power, pleasure, possessions – just something satisfying.”

lecrae-concert-768x512.jpgAs a little tyke in southern Houston, Lecrae listened to his uncles’ braggadocio, a steady stream of tales of shootings, stabbings and partying. This, he surmised, must be the essence of manhood. He decided his family members were heroes worthy of emulation.

His grandmother took him to church, but he quickly inferred that church services were for old people.

His mother, a single mom who had to work and couldn’t watch him, urged him to read the Bible. He defied her good wishes.

“I remember ripping the pages out of the Bible and throwing them on the floor, saying, ‘I don’t want this Bible,’” he recalled.

Still, Lecrae kept the Bible in his car as a good-luck charm. When a cop arrested him for trespassing, the police officer happened to see the Bible on the passenger’s seat and decided to let Lecrae out of the cuffs.

“I’m going to let you go,” the cop told him. “And I hope you discover the meaning of the words in that Bible.”

At the University of North Texas, a friend invited him to a Christian conference. In all honesty, he went for the girls and the good times, but he was taken aback by the Christian hip-hop and testimonies of ex-gangsters. He wound up giving his life to Christ.

“Someone got up and told me the story of Jesus on Golgotha, Him carrying the cross, Him bearing all of my sin on His back, and I thought, ‘Wow. Somebody thinks I’m significant enough to die for me.’”

Finally, he had found the Father figure missing in his life.

“God just loved me unconditionally even when I felt like I didn’t deserve to be loved,” Lecrae said. “I feel very fortunate to have a huge family that is beyond race, creed, culture – and have a Father who shepherds us all.”

But Lecrae didn’t immediately walk in God’s grace very well. He was living a double life of partying and church – and he knew he needed to cut out the sin.

He cried out to God, “Get me out of this anyway. You need to. Just don’t kill me.”

When he failed to negotiate a turn, his car went over an embankment and rolled several times. The car was totaled, with mangled metal and glass shards sprayed everywhere. Even his glasses got “molded” into the car frame. But Lecrae walked away unscathed. Read the rest of the story.

Don’t forget the pigs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coffee is critical

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m just saying coffee is critical.

We are transforming the world

IMG_1647Small can have a BIG impact.

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

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

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

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

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When you don’t get what you deserve,

DSC_1527-0thank God because that is Hell.

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

The wages of sin is death.

These verses from Romans show humanity’s desperate need for forgiveness from God. Fortunately, He is more than will to lavish us with mercy. All we need to do is ask.

The spirit of entitlement, our zeitgeist, says we deserve more. We’re getting cheated out of a whole of good stuff. By the 1%. By our family. By God.

But what are we truly entitled to? Hell.

Because of our rebellion, our sin.

What we get instead? Heaven. If only we ask for it, want it.

Life is unfair!

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#ValleyBoyPastor and his undeserved congregation meeting at Anthony Beilenson Park at Lake Balboa in the San Fernando Valley.

Because there are far better pastors than myself, who have worked far more, and are way more consecrated to God. And they didn’t get the blessing I did. I was gifted a fully developed (albeit beginning) congregation. I started in June. After one week, I had serious disciples.

I swear: it’s not my fault. Nothing to my credit. I did nothing to deserve His blessing!

Probably any pastor from my church-planting denomination, the Christian Fellowship Ministries, would love to waltz into the blessing of people with virtual no work. Why do I get the blessing? The only answer I can deduce: Life is unfair.

But this time, I’m praising Jesus for the unfairness.

The expansion of the Gospel in the San Fernando Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And give the glory to God.

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

The extraordinary summer of ’16 for the #ValleyBoyPastor

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The church on Lake Balboa in the San Fernando Valley

By every measure, this summer has been huge! Not only did I move and start a church, but we got a church — attending members, like out of thin air. When God smiles on a man, it changes everything.

Some of you may know I’ve been moping along for six years since my missionary stint in Guatemala was over. Like the India Maria, I was neither from here nor there. I tried to help out in my parent church but couldn’t do much. I longed to launch out again.

Suddenly, the doors opened. They needed an apartment manager in Van Nuys, now known as the Promised Land. I would start a Bible study and patiently work for organic (read: slow) growth. I was in no hurry. I would let God do it in His time without becoming agitated.

Then the week after I was re-ordained at the Tucson Door Church (Christian Fellowship Ministries), I got a call. A nearby church was closing, and would I mind if its members came to my Bible study?

After I got up off the floor, I said, no, I wouldn’t mind.

Since then things have been going much faster than I could ever imagine. They wanted to start Sunday services. I am applying for a school auditorium, but that’s not fast enough. So we opened in the Anthony Beilenson Park at Lake Balboa Sunday at 10:00 a.m.

Now school is gearing up, and I look back over the extraordinary revival and blessings in ’16. Wow and hallelujah.

 

After Africa, they chose a medical career

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Cathy Kayne at her graduation, with her family.

After helping on two medical missions in Africa, Cathy Kayne decided to become a registered nurse – and that she did at 56 years of age.

The Culver City resident is part of a lesser touted statistic for Lighthouse Medical Missions: the number of volunteers who make medicine a profession.

To date, there are at least three doctors and half a dozen nurses who got their first taste of dispensing medicines in the hinterlands of West Africa where the word “acute” defines medical needs almost as much as “chronic.”

Kayne went to Sierra Leone in the spring of 2005 and to Burundi in the summer of 2008 to help in a logistics capacity

“It brought me a lot of joy to be out in the field and involved in helping people in a medical capacity,” Kayne said. “It caused an old childhood dream to resurface. I had wanted to be a nurse but didn’t get the chance to pursue it. When I went to Africa, I realized this is what I’m supposed to be doing.” Read the rest of the article.

Unexpected growth for #ValleyBoyPastor

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Most of the time God doesn’t do things as fast as you expect. Occasionally, He doesn’t do things as slow as you expect.

When I took the step of faith to return to church-planting, I braced for the long haul under the moniker #ValleyBoyPastor. The plan was: After a year or two of holding a Bible study, move to a park building for Sunday morning service. Slow and organic.

IMG_6688Instead, God went BOOM!

How about immediate revival? He dropped four key disciples down out of the sky. These disciples have been pushing me to start our own services (and not go to Santa Monica Lighthouse services). I couldn’t get a building quick enough, so we hit the Anthony Beilenson Park.

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Lake Balboa/ Anthony Beilenson Park provided a glorious backdrop for the first Lighthouse Church Van Nuys service.

It was lovely August day under the spreading tree at Balboa Lake in the San Fernando Valley. The acoustic guitar pumped up lilting chords, and we had a Holy Spirit, unplugged service — the first for the Van Nuys Lighthouse Church. It felt good to preach again, like a player who’s long been sidelined (six years!) to get back out on the playing field.

It seems that what I’ve most experienced is hardship in pastoring. God turned the paradigm on it’s head and brought revival. Only He knows what He’s doing. I can only praise Him.

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Conquering fears

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

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

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

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

I’ll be your Lyft driver

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Rebekah, at left.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of the story..

Too sunny? Make tea

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Find the bright side to your problems.

The biggest argument against us moving to Van Nuys was the sun and heat. So I went to the dollar store and got this jug. Every day, I harness the sun to fight the sun. I make sun tea, chill it and enjoy it. The Valley Boy Pastor’s church with the Christian Fellowship Ministries is coming along lickety split.

Embrace the city/marriage/job/ministry God has called you to. Find the upside. Use the bad things for good.

I love sun tea. What do you love about your ugly situation?

When you can’t resist temptation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was the cookie worth it? Yes.

Is a healthy body worth it? Yes.

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

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

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

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

Apparently, I’m 94 years old

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The older you get, the quicker the years fly by. But this time, after my 48th birthday last year, the passing was dizzyingly fast.

I’ve always said, on the basis of Gen. 6:3, that I would live to 120 years. (I don’t know why Christians cite more frequently Psm 90:10 which promises a mere 80 years). As far-fetched as they may sound, it now appears realistically possible, thought it’s not what I had in mind.

Seriously though, I believe Christians should take care not only of their souls. Good nutrition, sleep and exercise mean we will be useful for the Lord’s service for a longer time. Our bodies are temple of the Holy Spirit, so we shouldn’t abuse them.

Some wise-crack: I’m not getting chubbier. I’m just extending the tabernacle of the Holy Spirit. Very funny but not very Biblical. Others grow mystical citing God’s sovereignty over the years of their life. In other words, no matter how many sodas and brownies I ingest, I can’t shorten my life, because God has set a definite time period for my life. This is recklessness and irresponsibility. God’s plan should work seamlessly with our participation, not contrariwise. Sadly, I’ve seen several great servants pass prematurely to their eternal reward, their years of useful labor cut short by poor health choices.

Because this is not about me

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Martha and Alex’s softball team, the Aftershock, won by a one point in the last inning.

This is about others. I’m the Valley Boy Pastor, but the church is about the members, and helping them to get into right relationship about God. They are Christ-followers, and He is the center of attention. My talents or lack thereof are immaterial. I dedicate myself to God’s people, not them to me.

So why do I show up at member’s softball game? Because this is about them. They are important (not me). They are the center of attention.

2 Cor. 10:8 says that pastors are supposed to “build up,” not tear down, their congregants. So I strive to show them how special they are to Christ. And in 1 Chron 14:2, David understands that God raised him up for the good of the people, not for the good of David.

Pastor, get off your pride trip. You are just a facilitator to help men get to God. You are tool the toolbox of the Master Fixer, Jesus. When does the tool brag about the fix the Master does. God is moving in the Lighthouse Church in Van Nuys, part of the Christian Fellowship Ministries.

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.

Ripped and flipped

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

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

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

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

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

The coffee was GOOD!

good coffee

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

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

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)?

You should’ve started a long time ago

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We put things off because of fear.

My disciple in Guatemala put off starting a Bible study because he worried about getting asked a tough question. Maybe he worried no one would come.

Now, two people are coming. And there haven’t been any tough questions at this Christian Fellowship Ministry Bible study.

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At the end of the day, the results are God’s responsibility. So why do we worry? It’s His kingdom, His interest, His will. Just do it — do your part and let God do His.

That is why the Bible exhorts us to be bold and not fear. It also tells us that the battle belongs to the Lord.

That’s two people brought to Jesus because one many obeyed. What would have happened if he wouldn’t have started?

I owe this man a kazillion dollars

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Not the baby boy, the big guy.

Meet Pastor Matt Sinkhorn. Apparently, I inherited his church members as he moved on to start another church in the Christian Fellowship Ministries.

This is an incredible blessing. I had been hunkering down for the long haul of evangelism, prayer and loneliness to build the church in Van Nuys from scratch. Then I got a call. Pastor Matt had lost his lease. His pastor wanted to move him. His disciples needed a new home.

Presto! Instant church for the Valley Boy Pastor!

And they are good disciples. They invited people to service every time.

I’m in a dream. What did I do to deserve a shortcut on 5 years+ of work?

God is good. Thank you, Matt. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, my friend and blog reader, for your prayers.

I text Pastor Matt my thanks and told him about the kazillion dollars. He said that if it was so, he could loan me $10.