Tag Archives: God

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.

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.

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.

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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Gutter cleaning

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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Boat missionaries along Mozambique coast see witch get saved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

To forgive is to taste God

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Forgiveness is a pain in the butt, from a human perspective. Actually, it is humanly unnatural. That’s how my buddy Matt found out the Bible wasn’t written by men, as atheists are wont to say. Because it reiterates the need to forgive your enemies.

But when you receive the forgiveness of God, they you can enter the earthly nirvana of forgiving others and discover the best revenge is to forgive, to release yourself from the inner torment of holding a grudge.

To forgive is a privilege that the sinner cannot enjoy. It is beauty that the sinner is incapable of feeling or perceiving. It is a better medicine than penicillin. It heals the heart. To forgive is to taste the flavor of God.

God so loved the world that He forgave us our sins.

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.

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

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.

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

57th Annual Grammy Awards

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.