Tag Archives: Jesus

The expansion of the Gospel in the San Fernando Valley

San Fernando Valley map

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?

Losing is winning in marriage

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Give in to your spouse a thousand times. That’s they way you win — by losing.

Marriage rewards an overflow of joy to those who manage to figure out its elusive secrets. The road to happiness is selflessness. It’s ironic: you get what you want (not everything) by giving up what you want.

Of course, newlyweds have all kinds of expectations. Maturity comes when we let go of those expectations. No one is good enough. If you divorce this one because of problems, the next will have a different set of problems. And maybe you would be courageous enough to recognize the principal problem is you.

And me.

I’m the principal problem in my marriage. If I work on changing me, on being more loving for my wife, she’ll be happier. And when she gets happier, she just automatically works on making me happier.

The picture is of Jenny and Josh, graduates and former students of mine from the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica. There are all kinds of reasons why they shouldn’t get married (money, youth, etc.) But I applaud their go-for-it attitude. If you are determined to make it work, it probably will.

 

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!

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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.

Down the drain

IMG_0808As apartment manager, I have the duty of cleaning out apartments when tenants leave. This is not as bad as it may sound because sometimes you get some cool stuff. For example, I got a great set of kitchen knives and some tools.

But the liquor went down the drain. So did the funny green leaves.

Sorry, I’m a teetotaler. Even if I did like alcohol, I wouldn’t drink it. It’s a matter of not being a stumbling block to a weak brother. What if someone in my church is a recovering alcoholic and sees me, the Valley Boy Pastor, sipping a glass? If he falls on account of me, I’m hurting him. I’m not walking in love.

Luckily, I have no desire to try liquor. My dad didn’t drink. I never went to parties when I was younger. I believe I get joy from God, not chemicals.

For all I know, that was a lot of money I poured out. But to me, it is of no monetary value. Maybe the devil valued it as a snare to pull people into sin.

Prayer works

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This is my list of people to pray to return to Jesus.Obviously,  I blurred it. But you can see that names crossed out. Those are the ones who have come back to Christ already. Those are answered prayers.

I encourage you to use lists in prayer so that you can see progress. You can see its effectiveness. This will encouraged you to keep praying and to pray more.

I feel such love (you reap what you sow)

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I’m a sucker for love. Namely, I like to feel loved, and I give myself whole-heartedly to others. I don’t belong to the insulting clique, where men call each other “fool” and are constantly trying to one-up the joking derision. I guess I’m not man enough for them.

I’m leaving Guatemala right now, and I’m asking myself why I feel so full. God moved. There were salvations. But I’m even happier about just being with all those kids in the school, with my friends — the co-workers in the Lord — who helped found the church and school and keep them going. They don’t work for money. They work for something else. Smiling playing kids are everyone. Smiling adults too.

I can’t resist it. It’s like Heaven on Earth.

Wherever I go in God, this is the type of Christianity I’m trying to establish. You can fly on your superiority trip. I’m going to do my best to embody the love that is the image of Christ.

I founded the Door Christian Church 22 years ago and the Liceo Bilingüe La Puerta a year later. Now, God has sent me to Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley to establish a church. Love will prevail.

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God hasn’t given up on you

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

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

Ouch!

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

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

Planning and praying

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Carlos se quejó de que había un pelo en su pan. Yo le dije que diera gracias a Dios que no hubiera un pedo un su pan.

I jumped at the chance to get my study group to help my church form a business plan. We worked hours analyzing strengths and weaknesses, projections and budgets, vision and philosophy. The resulting 20-page report had us planting a new church every two years. It was a glowing success and got us an A at the Central American Theological Seminary in Guatemala. Our plans were splendidly conceived and brilliantly explained.There was only one problem.

You can’t plan revival because revival comes from God.

Prayer works better than planning.

Don’t get me wrong. I fully believe in planning. I agree with the adage: he who fails to plan, plans to fail. BUT, the church is God’s. We can only submit to His will. We cannot force Him to bless our plans.

There is no way I could have planned this guy’s salvation (pictured). It comes as a confirmation of the strategies God has given us in Guatemala: the school and outreach. I can only praise Him for His work — and welcome Carlos heartily to salvation.

Pouncing on the plunder

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Saul lost his ministry and revival the moment he pounced on the plunder. God wanted a sacrifice similar to when the Israelites conquered Jericho; they were not to touch any of the riches. King Saul should have remembered Achan, who sneaking away silver and a Babylonia tunic, was judged by God.

But no. After decimated the Amalekites, the Israelites swarmed on the riches, a normal practice in ancient warfare that God ordered them to abstain from this one time. But the people and Saul couldn’t suppress their greed.

God had warned Saul that he was losing credibility, but even so he paid no heed. It was here, when Saul and others pounced on the plunder, that God sent Samuel to anoint David as the next king.

Let the church be warned: when we love money more that souls, revival is over. God gives us money to reach souls, but when we grab it for our pleasures, God retires from that church. I don’t care if you’re a big church. Bigness doesn’t mean Godness.

Listening to God in Guatemala


We hear human voices — both good and bad — too much. Our fans and our critics occupy our thoughts too much. We can wrongly believe our own publicity or the devil’s condemnation. The hard thing to do is to hear God.

I want to learn to screen out all the negativity. I want to be careful to not let my head swell with human praise. All this is a distraction. When we block it out and we listen to God, He moves.

We went out on an outreach like many before. I have screamed my voice hoarse street-preaching. I have done dramas on the plaza. I have hurt my feet walking door to door. The best outreach, however, is not human effort. It is when God moves.

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Maria Cristina accepted Jesus as Lord on Sunday

On Saturday, we simply passed out fliers on the Sixth Avenue. And God brought in a lady who accepted Jesus Christi as her personal Savior and Lord.That’s what we need in the Door Christian Church, part of the Christian Fellowship Ministries church planting movement.

Wow! There’s nothing better in life. You can have the nice car and hotel stays. You can have the movies and the malls. I want Jesus.

Elijah said he was continually in the presence of the Lord. After 35 years as a Christian, I haven’t learned to stay in God’s presence. I want to learn it still.

Recovery

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My 88-year-old dad finally got back to painting. He fell and broke his hip in April and hasn’t felt like he could concentrate on his creative efforts. He has a fantastic rehab coach and a 24-hour caregiver. He has good doctors and a couple of good sons. His taste buds finally reactivated, so he’s getting back to his ideal weight.

Last but not least, he’s started painting — and with it hope is reborn in his heart.

Except for the smallest of children, we’re all in some sort of recovery. Sin — life — tends to damage. Recovery is not just for the alcoholic. It’s for marriage that you want to last. It’s for forgiveness you’re struggling to work out. It’s for the person at the gym. It’s for slip-ups and backslidings.

Recovery is for humans.

Pride would have you believe you don’t need any recovery, that you’re completely successful with every area of your life under control. You know why I’m a Christian? Because I’m more honest and real than that. I fully acknowledge my need for a Savior and my need for his ongoing recovery process ministered continually by His Word and His Spirit. Recovery is a good thing, so I embrace it whole-heartedly.

When discouraged, keep doing right things

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The bane of most is to succumb to discouragement, to compromise your values, to lower your sights, to throw out your dreams in search of pleasure instead of goals.

Keep believing in higher goals, even when others don’t believe in you, when others ridicule your dreams and scoff at your possibilities. Keep doing right things in the midst of overwhelming discouragement.

This is the trademark of Joseph, who, sold into slavery, kept serving his God with enthusiasm, who, next incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit, continued in the straight and narrow. When his day came, he became vice president of Egypt and saved the very people who nearly killed him.

This is the trademark of Daniel, who was ripped from his homeland and taken captive to a foreign land. With no discernible future, he steadfastly served God and wound up distinguishing himself from all those who settled for less.

This is the trademark of David, who, shunned by his own brothers and fathers, believed it important to practice his aim and took on bears in lions in defense of lambs. He thought one day his skills would be useful for taking down giants. And God gave him big things.

Let this be our trademark.

#ValleyBoyPastor: If you just try, anything is possible

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Mind blown. I just barely moved to Van Nuys. I just barely started a Bible study in the apartment. I haven’t yet gotten a place for Sunday service. And God has brought in full-on disciples. Not just curious people trying the service like the water-wary timidly dipping a toe in the pool to see if it’s too cold. I don’t even know what to name the church. It’s associated with the Christian Fellowship Ministries.

The four top-notch leaders are thanks to my friend and outstanding pastor, Matt Sinkhorn, who worked with them for five years until San Fernando closed his church for zoning rules and he lost his lease. His pastor opted to send him to Lancaster, so four core leaders in his church were looking for a new stomping ground. At the same time, I was announced for nearby Van Nuys.

We are finishing a half-week of revival services in Santa Monica, and the girls have gone every night. These are not wimpy Christians. After service, we went out for ice cream, which you know is just (frozen) milk and honey, so we’re moving into the Land Flowing with Milk and Honey.

I can only praise Jesus and thank YOU for your prayers on this endeavor.

And maybe I should say a word to all my friends who are working long and hard with little fruit. That’s what I was hunkering down for. God sees the labor of love.

I’m glad my wife believed in me. She thought I actually heard from God. There were many doubters. But if you just try, anything is possible.

Our school takes kids to Africa, this is Ruby’s experience on the medical mission

IMG_0968By Ruby Swanson, LCA sophomore

While other students were vacationing and relaxing over Spring Break, I was working — in Africa on a medical mission. I consider myself blessed to participate.

As a sophomore at the Lighthouse Christian Academy, I jumped at the chance to join the associated Lighthouse Medical Missions in Tanzania on March 25 to April 3. My dad did his best to repress all the usual parental fears of malaria, terrorism and the like to let me go. From the Christian school in Santa Monica, I traveled 36 hours to Africa.

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We stayed in the the Ryan’s Bay Hotel overlooking the glorious Lake Victoria. Every day we held clinic in which doctors and nurses attended to hundreds of patients. Each night, we attended church services.

On the first day of clinic, I assisted Doctor Bob Hamilton, founder of the Lighthouse Medical Mission, at the pediatric station. So many sick children came in it was heartbreaking. It was also really inspiring because even though they were sick because they were giggling, playful, happy kids.

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The second day I worked with Katelyn Myer in the pharmacy. She had all the supplies super organized and was on top of everything. However, the serious medicine hadn’t arrived because terror threats in Brussels tied up the meds shipping out from there. All we had was Advil and stuff like that.

It was really hard to have to tell someone who had walked miles and waited hours that we didn’t have the medicine they needed so desperately. The meds came later in the week, so people who had been given prescriptions came back to fill them.

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The people lined up for free medical attention in Mwanza, Tanzania.

I spent the next few days assisting at the nurse station and those were my favorite days of clinic. My main job was to hold down kids who were getting shots, getting blood tests or getting abscesses drained. It was really cool seeing all of the nurses at work and inspired me to maybe pursue a career in that field.

When the nurses didn’t have anything for me to do, they gave me some free time to play with some of the kids visiting the clinic. One time I brought out the bubble machine and I was immediately surrounded by a bunch of laughing, jumping, awestruck children. It didn’t occur to me until later that they had never seen bubbles before.

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The last day I assisted Doctor and Mrs. Czer at their station treating people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, anemia and etc. Everyday at clinic was rewarding, even though you were hot and tired by the end it was all worth it to have been able to care for these people.

The last day was cut short so that team members could do their own thing before attending a dinner at the pastor’s house. Liz Peterson, fellow LCA student Sasha Photenhauer and I went on a hike with the guys while all of the other girls went shopping.

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I’m glad I chose the hike because I got to experience Africa’s beautiful scenery and even take a selfie with a Zebra! Each moment of the trip was spectacular; but the ones spent at the clinic are by far the most special to me.

By going to Africa I realized just how incredibly blessed I am to live here in America. I realized just how little material things really mean and how much I take for granted. Africa taught me to appreciate everything I have and to think less selfishly.

I experienced God in ways I never had before and I am so happy that He sent me on this trip. I encourage everyone to go on a medical mission if they are given the chance to because it something that completely changes the way you view the world, others and yourself.

Not only that, but you are able to serve God by serving people, and the Bible says that people are treasure. I can honestly say that going on this trip changed my life for the better.

This article, written by one of my students, originally appeared here.

No friends allowed

Enders game

Ender in the movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Utter loneliness

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe God is permitting pain to sharpen your usefulness.

Happiness is fruit

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I spend oodles of hours — thankless hours — doing SEO for my school. I believed in this school. It’s a Christian school in Santa Monica, but leaders didn’t really have a publicity strategy. I guess they just “left it to God in prayer” but did little else. There were more than one who rolled his eyes when I told them what I was doing. Some said nothing would come of my efforts; it was impossible. I worked for two years. It was a lot of work, but it fit our budget of $0.00. Ha!

That’s ok. Joy comes with the fruit. Ruby had been bullied at her prior school, so the Christian environment was going to help her heal and provided her love. Others signed up. Actually, last year was supposed to be the year we were going to have to close the school. Church leaders were going to sell the property.

But I believed in the old vision for the Lighthouse Christian Academy, the vision to save souls and disciple kids — my kids too! — through the school. So God did a miracle. The school grew 50% — an unheard of rebound. (I’m making a manual available if you similarly have a Christian school off the radar that you need students for to not close.)

Now, I’m starting a church in Van Nuys. It’s pretty gimmicky, but I’m calling myself the Valley Boy Pastor. I’ve had one family from my apartment complex come and a foursome of young adult ladies sign up. Just today, Brittany asked if I could go outreaching with them Saturday (I’ll be in Guatemala).

Whoa! Usually it’s the pastor who tries to get the church members to go to outreach, not the other way around. God is doing great things, and the joy comes in the fruit. I pray for my all blogging friends to enter into a season of great fruitfulness.

#BeLikeJesus

This is my message. This is my life. Come join us, as imperfect as we are.

Don’t be intimidated

IMG_0336If those two hulking young body builders would have cut in on my station at the gym, I would have gone to another machine and waited for it to get free. But now my new 70+ year old friend. Even though he was alternating between two exercises and the guys had no idea that the guy was also using the bars, he got up from his sit ups and told them to buzz off.

Well, not those words. But politely and unafraid, he sent them running.

Well, maybe not running.

But… I couldn’t believe. One old guy scared off two young muscle-bound punks. Wow.

Don’t be scared to cast out demons (no comparison between the courteous gym rats and Hell slime). Even though they look big and scary, they must go in the name of Jesus.

Once in Guatemala, some church members wanted to call me in to take on some demons who were manifesting. I scolded them because I’m not the “big guns.” Jesus is. And we all have the same access to and authority in Jesus. We have spiritual authority in Jesus’ name.

#ValleyBoyPastor answers the call

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Van Nuys

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

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

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

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

Don’t follow the money. Follow the call.

Transparency

Christian transparencyOne of things they hate the most about us Christians is we pretend to be better than we are. God hates that too; just look at when David condemned a rich man for stealing his poor neighbor’s sheep when David had slept with Bathsheba and killed Uriah.

Really, we’re no different than people in the world: they like on their resumes, we in our testimonies.

There are forces that push us to insincerity. One is that we cannot deny the Word even while we are not living it. The world says: I don’t criticize your sin; you don’t criticize mine. Even if Christians are in sin, they can’t verbally embrace it. To do so would be to renounce Christ. It’s better to be a failed Christian than not a Christian.

Another force is the pressure of ministry. A standard of conduct is required for any job. When we hedge that, it’s too easy to cover up. This is a universal tendency. “Hypocrite” is a quick and easy way to bash Christians. But in the Greek, a hypocrite is an actor. I live near Hollywood, and when a person calls himself an actor, it’s a compliment. Everybody on the planet is a poser. Not even Socrates was so sincere.

But having explained why Christians are insincere, I want to state that a push for sincerity will attract people. Ultimately, we are saved by grace, not by works. We are just as messed up as people in the world. We experience temptation and fall. We get back up, ask for forgiveness and try to serve Jesus again. A sinner has no one to turn to. We turn to Christ from the holes we fall in.

If you make an effort to be sincere, people will relate you. If all you do is brag about how good you are, you’re turning people off to you and the gospel. Not even Jesus bragged about how good He was, and He was sinless. To the contrary, he cracked down on the Pharisees pretended to be good in front of society but wanted to kill Jesus — now that’s what I call “hypocrisy.”

To win, you must surrender

Appomattox Marks 150th Anniversary Of Surrender Of Lee's Army In Civil War

People resist the Bible because they can’t get the paradoxes. They feel like God is going to rip them off, that He’s a tyrant, a killjoy, a cruel taskmaster whose greatest delight is to snoop for mistakes and send lightning bolts — or pestilence, famine and bad luck.

If you don’t have a mind prepared to understand paradoxes, you’ll have a tough time. You’ll be snapping at God about “catches” and raw deals.

One of the great paradoxes is that we are in warfare. But the irony is that the way to WIN is to LOSE. When we surrender to God, we obtain victory on other fronts. When we fight against God, we lose on other fronts.

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‘Sheriff of Skid Row’ ministers while he arrests

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For 20 years, he’s patrolled the most dangerous, smelliest, grungiest disease-saturated section of Los Angeles, a one-square-mile on the edge of downtown called Skid Row where 2,000 sleep on the streets each night.

And Deon Joseph loves it because he gets to share Jesus. He’s never used his gun and has made more friends than arrests. He’s started mentoring and self-defense programs and even become a sort of spokesman to city officials about the need to address mental health issues.

“We need to be lights in dark places,” Joseph told Liberty University students. “If ever the world needed us to be a light, it’s right now.”

It’s only a 15-minute jaunt from the hipster-dominated financial district of downtown. But for some, the journey to Skid Row is a life of bad decisions that lead to the last way station before death.

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“When I was 5 years old, I wanted to be a famous R&B singer,” Joseph said. “I did not realize my steps were ordered by God to be on Skid Row. I never thought I would be dealing with crack addicts, drug dealers, loan sharks, pimps and prostitutes.”

Joseph was born to Christian parents who, through the years, welcomed 41 foster kids into their household. His dad got saved when he mugged a preacher. He married his mom, dug ditches, collected cans, fed the homeless and started a construction business to give work to people like him, who had grown up in the Jim Crow South.

When Joseph finished his LAPD training phase, he volunteered for Central Division, not realizing it would lead him into the heart of darkness.

Skid Row is now being called the “homeless capital of America.” It’s the product of anti-police policies and NIMBYs (the acronym Not In My BackYard is for homeowners who wish to corral all the trouble-makers into one bad area of LA), Joseph said.

“I came from Venice where you have beautiful women, lattes and fine eateries,” Joseph remembered of his first day in Central. “And when I worked in Skid Row, it was as if I tripped and fell into Dante’s Inferno or Mad Max’s Thunderdome.

saving our inner cities“There were rows and rows of people destroying themselves with crack and heroin, beer, having sex on the sidewalk, defecating on the sidewalk with a porta potty right next to them because the gangsters wouldn’t let them use the toilet,” he said. “The smell was a combination of blood, feet and fish. It grabbed you by the nose hairs and shook you.”

Despite the dehumanizing exploitation and the desensitizing constant crime, Joseph fell in love with the beat.

“Why am I in this place that could easily be compared to hades, and I’m comfortable?” he asked his mom. “My mom said, ‘Son, if ever you feel comfortable in chaos, it’s probably where God called you to be.’ On Skid Row I realized I was home.”

It was never easy though. On his first two months, he worked the front desk where he saw firsthand the mayhem.

“Every five minutes somebody was coming in with their arm broken backwards at 45 degrees, lacerated cheeks, swollen eyes,” he said. “One guy came in and his intestines were hanging out. And they didn’t want a police report because they were that scared of their attacker. All they wanted was an ambulance to whiz them away to the hospital.”

He formed friendships with mentally ill people – only to see them die tragically months later.

One such was “Hurricane Linda,” who knocked over desks at the station, ripped out phones and spat on officers. Joseph was nervous the day she came in like the Tazmanian Devil. Spotting him, she directed a laser gaze on him that made him even more nervous. Read the rest of the story.

Saved from Islam, abuse, demons and the hitman

maz a 2Her own dad paid a hitman to behead her.

Maz looked for the right words to tell her dad, a staunch Muslim, that she had converted to Christ.

“It was so hard to forgive (my dad),” Maz said in her YouTube video testimony. “It was so heart-breaking to know that your own dad would do something like that.”

For much of Islam’s existence, the death penalty was the preferred punishment for “apostates,” and some hardliners still adhere to that iron-handed brand of justice.

Maz grew up in the UK under a strict and even abusive form of Islam until she ran away. Her sister, then a minor, was placed in foster care by the Department of Community Services, and for a time was under Maz’s care.

But the abuse is not what drove her to Christ. It was the demons.

“I’d be waking up in the middle of the night, and I’d feel like there was someone there choking me. I couldn’t breathe, she said. “Or I’d feel like someone there was stabbing me with a knife. I’d feel the pain – all sorts of paranormal activities that you can think of: doors slamming at night, I’d hear someone breathing next to me. It was absolutely terrifying.”

After she could stand it no longer, she sought help from people of every walk of life – but none could help her. She even called a sheikh. But then she spoke to a Christian friend, who brought a man practiced in spiritual warfare.

“As soon as he commanded every evil spirit to leave in the name of Jesus Christ, you could feel peace. You could feel the power of the name of Jesus Christ,” Maz said. “Something moved me from the inside. It was so powerful. His name is incredibly powerful and everything would just run. We knew there was something there (to Jesus), something very special.”

Confronted with the undeniable power of Jesus’ name, she began to attend Bible study to learn more about Jesus, but for her Islam-inculcated mind the gospel didn’t make much sense – especially the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

“How could God die?” she asked. “It was like a foreign language for me. I didn’t understand what it was all about.”

Whenever the demons returned, she would rebuke them in Jesus name and find tranquility. But one day she came home to find her sister in complete terror, and it took hours to convince her to explain. The demons had threatened that if the Christian man ever returned, they would exact revenge on Maz and her sister. Read the rest of the story.

How did we get so much junk?

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Not my move-out dumpster.

It took a couple of weeks to complete our move from Santa Monica to Van Nuys. I let the ladies handle most of the decisions of what to throw out because if left to me, everything goes. I become a vicious minimalist.

But when our deadline came and went, it was time for me to take over and throw out a dumpster full of stuff that — in theory — we might use possibly once in our lifetime given the right conditions. When it comes to junk, I’m not very sentimental. (Why are we saving the wedding dress?)

The Great Purge of the Ashcraft household raised a question: How did we get so much junk?

When we got of the plane fleeing a life as missionaries in Guatemala, we had nothing. Just clothes. The church let us stay in the parsonage. People donated furniture and stuff so we could begin to eke out a life here in the lap of luxury. It’s been six years. Apparently the accumulation and consumerism has progressed unchecked all this time. I am a guilty party: I read, for example, that a water filter made for better coffee. I could never taste the difference.

All this stuff really doesn’t improve our quality of life. It doesn’t contribute to our essential happiness. Why did I buy into the lie that another thang is going to make me happy? How did incessant consumerism possess my heart? We can’t take it with us when we die.

Entice them

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

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

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

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

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

Admiring stars

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Don’t tell my son, but I threw out his collections book for the just-ended America Cup soccer tournament. The house is pell-mell with my recent Valley Boy Pastor move to Van Nuys, and I need less stuff to put away. He hadn’t purchased any of the stickers, which are expensive, and it’s not as fun after it’s over than when it’s about to begin.

Soccer star collections are fun because you can reminisce about past exploits and wonder who will overcome. People collect memorabilia about movie stars, famous war heroes and Anime characters.

There’s one star collection I will never throw out: It’s the Bible. The other collections are temporal. People debate who is the greatest soccer player of all time (Maradona or Pele) and speculate if anyone will ever do better. Most get forgotten. Time tends to do that.

Not the stars in the Bible. They continue to shine brightly as an example to us today, not only for their superheroic acts but also for the failings. By reading the Bible, we can deduce some mistakes to NOT make, we can emulate some good qualities.

After all, what is life really about? I think the soccer is only an entertainment.

You are not able

David - you are able

So said Saul to David, just before the shepherd boy cut off Goliath’s head in single combat.

Boy, nobody believed in David. Not his brother. Not his king. I guess Saul figure there would be nothing lost if David lost: You are not able. — 1 Sam.17:35

And then David went out and, with a stone and sling, showed he was able.

Of course, God was behind the miracle. The story of how David sunk a stone in the giant’s forehead is actually the first laser-guided projectile. Yeah, God was the laser guidance system.

And the giant fell down. And David ran to him, took his own sword and cut his head off.

The Philistines, who no doubt were thinking David wasn’t able, panicked and ran.

The next time someone tells you you’re not able, laugh and go out and do it in the power of God.

From Palestinian terrorist to Israeli informant to bonafide Christian

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His quest for truth pit him at odds with his family, founding members of Hamas.

As a Palestian boy, Mosab Hassan Yousef hurled stones at Israeli tanks and ran from bullets on the West Bank. But misgivings about the intifada arose when he saw Hamas leaders torture fellow Palestinians in an Israeli jail.

“Those people I was hoping would bring justice, happiness to earth by creating a global Islamic state were torturing their own people. They were suspicious that someone was giving information to the Israeli interrogators,” Yousef said in a YouTube video.

“They were torturing their own people without mercy, much worse than the Israelis. One question arose, why do I hate Israel for torturing me and why don’t I hate Hamas for torturing their own people? What my enemy was doing made more sense than what my family and closest friends were doing.”

intifadiDuring his jail sentence, Yousef, then 18, signed up to work as a double agent. He did so thinking he would infiltrate and exact revenge on Shin Bet, the Israeli version of the FBI. But as he witnessed more and more Hamas’ brutality, that plan got scuttled and he collaborated with Israeli intelligence to foil Palestinian plots. He worked to stop senseless deaths on both sides.

He agreed to betray his countrymen on the condition that the Israelis not assassinate but only imprison. He even betrayed his father, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a founder member of Hamas.

“I was the person that put my father in prison. I was working against his organization to destroy the idea of violence.” Yousef said. “If he’s outside, he was going to be assassinated. The safest place for him was in a prison.”

From 1997 to 2007, Yousef halted assassination attempts against Israeli leaders and put high-ranking Hamas leaders behind bars.

Israeli planes bomb GazaAfter a cab driver invited him to a Bible study, he was confronted with Jesus’ injunction to love your enemy. “That made perfect sense,” he said. From his birth, he had been drilled to regard the Israelis as his enemies.

Leaders of the Bible study gave him an Arabic-English Bible. At first they didn’t know his terrorist connections. As he searched and questioned, he eventually accepted Jesus as his Savior, and in 2005 he was secretly baptized in Tel Aviv.

“The religion of my people is a fake religion. It’s a lie. The god of Islam is a liar,” Yousef said. “I hope that I am not offending anybody. This is kind of dangerous to say, but I have studied Islam. My family started the Islamic Revolution in the Middle East. That was our business. This is still my family’s business. After almost 20 years in Islam, I tell you that Islam is going nowhere. My family, my people are suffering the most because of this false teaching.”

On the eve of the release of his autobiography Son of Hamas: A Gripping Account of Terror, Betrayal, Political Intrigue, and Unthinkable Choices, his father disowned him in 2010.

“I am hopeful that one day we will talk,” Yousef said. “What’s between me and my people, what’s between me and my father, is the god of Islam. This wall. If I can destroy this wall, I will do it with the power of love and the power of my God. I have been paying a very high price because they consider me politically incorrect.” Read the rest of the dangerous life of Mosab Yousef.

Run, don’t walk

run dont walkShimei was bad — or so I always thought.

He cursed King David in a moment of weakness. From his own house, David faced rebellion. As his son Absalom worked a coup d’etat, David fled. Shimei pelted him with stones and insults at that time. Shimei was a relative to the former king.

So when the coup collapsed and David returned to assume the throne, Shimei was the first to hustle to ask forgiveness. And he was granted it. (2 Sam. 19:16-23)

Shimei is a picture of grace. We shouldn’t resist coming to God. We shouldn’t be lackadaisical or half-hearted. We are dead dogs with no hope. Run, don’t walk. Get God’s grace quick. Don’t fight it. Don’t retrench. Let’s humble ourselves quickly and repent.

Availing ourselves to the love of God now is the only logical human response. I’d always seen Shimei as bad because of other parts of his story. But this time through the Bible, I got stuck on this one good part.

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All you need… #ValleyBoyPastor musings

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You don’t need a fancy building. As a matter of fact, a fancy building can be the ruin of a church. Where does the New Testament say Christians focused on buildings? In the first century, they met in homes, next to river and then in catacombs.

All you need is the Spirit and the Word. These two activate all the elements that comprise “church.” They — not American luxuries — bring revival. Revival is not getting a fancy building. Revival is the Spirit moving on the hearts of many men.

I got a building once, in Guatemala (so I’m not speaking from a poverty mentality of resentment and envy; I’m speaking from experience). I believe the building has its upsides. But now that I am starting a church in Van Nuys with the Christian Fellowship Ministries, I want to stay as far away from that headache as possible. I want to follow the Acts example. I want the Spirit of God, not a storefront church.

I know a church in Africa that has met under a tree for eight years. It is a church, people congregate, disciples are being raised up, the word is preached with power, transformation is being done, and they have no building. After the building comes the improvements. We end with the Sistine Chapel, gaudy gold and Michelangelo, void of Spirit. Money that should have been spent on getting souls saved is diverted to personal comforts.

Tortured for converting from Islam, Egyptian lawyer had Daniel experience

Reverend-Majed-El-Shafie-Like the lions in Daniel’s den, the ferocious attack dogs meant to torture Majed El Shafie in his Egyptian jail cell refused to do anything to him. They sat placidly, and one even licked his forehead – to the rage of the guards.

“These dogs are trained to listen to their masters,” El Shafie told Sid Roth. “But there is no higher Master than the Lord Jesus Christ.”

majed el shafie torturedHow did El Shafie, a remarkable law student, wind up on the wrong side of law? First, he converted to Christianity from Islam, a big no-no in Egypt, which defines itself as officially Muslim. Then he founded a pro-Christian legal aid organization with thousands of members. But the last straw was he wrote a book expounding his ideas.

On August 15, 1998, the government came after him. “At 1:30 in the morning, I heard a knock at my door.” El Shafie said. “Five officers came and broke the door. They took me to the police station behind the Parliament. They told me, ‘We know who you are. We know about your book. One thing we don’t know is who is rest of your group.”

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The feared Abu Zaabal torture prison in Cairo

Since El Shafie refused to name his associates, the police resorted to torture. They escorted him to Abu Zaabel prison in Cairo, known in the Middle East as “Hell on Earth,” where he endured seven days before nearly dying, El Shafie said. He recovered slowly in a hospital.

El Shafie was born into an influential family in Cairo of lawyers and Supreme Court justices. But he learned of the injustices of Egyptian law in his first year at law school, when there were up to 7,000 prisoners languishing in Egyptians jails whose only crime was being a Christian.

“From my knowledge, if there is persecution, it means the enemy is trying to hide something.”

His friend very discreetly dodged the question and instead offered him a different book, one “that answers every question he could have.” In the pages of the Bible he discovered a justice, love and forgiveness he had never known before.

Providentially, he first opened the Scripture to John 8, the story of the woman caught in adultery. “Judge her according to the law of Moses!” the Pharisees cried out to Jesus.

“Whoever of you is without sin, cast the first stone,” Jesus replied.

“The only one who could cast the first stone was the Lord Jesus because He was the only one who had no sin,” he observed. “But He didn’t. He told the lady, ‘Go and sin no more. I forgive you.’ This was my first time to see true forgiveness.” Read the rest of the story.

After he saw Satan in Hell, he quit being a witch

libertad de santeriaAs a high priest of Santeria, John Ramirez knew he was destined to join the five main demons of Santeria in Hell. But he didn’t care. While he lived, he was respected and feared as powerful witch in his South Bronx neighborhood.

Born in a family steeped in witchcraft, John was consecrated at an early age under demonic threat at a tarot card reading. If his parents did not dedicate him to Santeria, they were warned he would be blinded. Dutifully, his mother placed him a bath of herbs and performed the required chants.

Afterward, “my whole personality — what I stood for, what I was — was no longer there,” John said. “I felt like someone put a black blanket right over me. I wasn’t answering only to my mom and my dad, I was answering to the demons.”

spell-santeria-moneyHe trained under the tutelage of high-ranking devil worshipers. He skulked into funerals to “capture” the dead body’s spirit and use it to kill others by the same death. He scrambled to collect the blood of drug dealers killed on the street to perform Satanic rites.

“People knew that I was force to be reckoned with,” he said. “I liked that power. I was talked down to as a young boy. Now I had the power and the authority to do whatever I wanted.”

When John was 13, his father died in a bar brawl. Since dad was physically and emotionally abusive, John saw his death not as a tragedy but as a relief to his mom.

“As a young kid, I called out to God to help my mother” when dad was beating her, he said. “And no one showed up. But the devil showed up because he killed my dad. I believe the devil said, ‘No one loves you, but I love you. Your father can’t provide for you, but I’m you’re provider. I’ll give you anything you want. Just ask.'”

Santeria is a Caribbean form of witchcraft with roots in Africa. It involves drinking alcohol, dressing in white, performing rituals with red candles and human blood. John took his practices outside his apartment and, for reasons he couldn’t explain, targeted especially Christians.

“At the clubs, I’d go around looking for Christians. At the club, I knew, you were in the devil’s playground. So I knew that if I could get to you and you had a beer or two already in your system, I would say, ‘I have something to tell you today.’ You would say, ‘What do you have to tell me?’ You opened the door; you gave me gateway.” Read the rest of the dramatic testimony here.

My student, Anthony Gutierrez, at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica wrote this article.

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Christian Fellowship Ministries – Tucson Door Christian Center

The Prevailing Church – Final Cut – Re-Arranged from Retell Stories on Vimeo.

I got energized and excited about my Christian faith in CFM Bible conferences, headed by Pastor Wayman Mitchell in Prescott. Through those conferences, God re-activated the call to pastor in my life. For 16 years, my wife and I “pioneered” a church and school in Guatemala. Now we are scrambling a start-up church in Van Nuys. Here’s the inspiring conference video  from the Tucson Door Christian Center led by Pastor Harold Warner. This video was produced by Nate Scribner.

Dwight Howard flies high with Jesus in NBA

dwight howard jump

When Dwight Howard was 15 years old, he had national coaches admiring his basketball skills, friends galore following him around and lots of girls throwing him kisses.

Then he broke his leg, and the coaches, the friends, and the girls all disappeared as if by the rapture.

“God said, ‘Dwight I had to humble you,’” he said in a YouTube video. “After that I told God, ‘I will never ever be cocky again. I will always be humble because I never want this to happen to me again.’”

dwight howard at baptism

Dwight has proven the naysayers wrong who figured he would never make the NBA after that accident. An eight-time NBA All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight led the Orlando Magic to three division titles and one conference title. At 30 years old, he just finished his 12th season as center for the Houston Rockets.

Through it all, he has consistently talked Jesus. In a recent video, he wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the words: “Y’all need Jesus.” When he was drafted straight out of high school (the #1 pick!), he declared he would use his fame in basketball to “raise the name of God within the league and throughout the world.”

As a kid, his parents always took him to church in Atlanta, Georgia. When he was 12, he had his first real encounter with God. He was at home asking God what his purpose was in life. Then he heard an audible voice saying, “Dwight.”

There was nobody else at home at the moment, so Dwight was more than a little frightened. He heard his name again: “Dwight.”

Half afraid and half marveling, he went into the bathroom. There, God told him his purpose: to glorify Him in the NBA.

Yet he doubted the supernatural encounter. Find out what he did. Read the rest of the story.