Tag Archives: love

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 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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Flamingos turn pink due to diet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

‘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.

But I’m only worried about the toe nail clipper

IMG_0866There are boxes and piles around my apartment as I just completed my move to the San Fernando Valley to start a church. There 1,749 things that need to be sorted out and put away. But I’m not worried about any of them.

I’m worried about finding just one thing: the toe nail clipper. These are the misadventures of the Valley Boy Pastor.

The ridiculously mundane can crowd out Jesus. So easily I get stressed out or bummed out. Out of what? Out of the joy of daily relationship with Jesus.

There’s a lot to do and detractors prowling. It’s easy to forget Priority #1 among so many priorities. This is an appeal — to myself primarily — to keep focused on Jesus always as I plant a church in Van Nuys with the Christian Fellowship Ministries.

Why did American media largely ignore the story of forgiveness

forgivenessSomething extraordinary happened — just days after Dylann Roof killed nine African-American church-goers a year ago — and the MM almost completely ignored it. In court, mere days after the white supremacist snuffed the lives of their loved ones, family members forgave him in court statements. Most of the media saw fit to omit the quotes.

dylann“You took something very precious from me, but I forgive you,” said a victim’s  daughter as reported by the UK’s Guardian. “It hurts me. You hurt a lot of people, but may God forgive you.”

The New York Times included the quotes in the video segments but didn’t put them in print. Other media didn’t include them even on their video. Discussions of racism and gun control abounded, Christian love at its finest, got overlooked.

But while the MM — mainstream media — continually hit readers with the onslaught of post-Christian drivel, a quiet revolution of revival is shaking our country, off the radar because it doesn’t fit their concept of utopia. It is the revolution of the triumph of good over evil, of love over hate, of Christianity over Satan.

Suffering for Jesus: the ongoing misadventures of the #ValleyBoyPastor

IMG_0548Some friends have warned me about how hard apartment managing is, and I am starting to see why.

I mean, I had already eaten a hamburger and chips for dinner when my neighbors, the guys who come to my Bible study, invited me over for Mexican food. Of course, I couldn’t refuse their hospitality, and Mexican food is my absolute favorite. So there was nothing left for me to do but soldier through and inflict suffering on my poor little stomach.

There was a good side to all this deliciousness, and that was I got exposure to people who may come to Christ in my ministry — which of course is an opportunity to die for. Again, it was through no effort or genius on my part. God is bringing the revival — and the Mexican food.

But if this “suffering for Jesus” continues much longer, I could get chubby.

The Christian must have patience

God works by stages

David wasn’t instantly made king. He had to flee from Saul for years and raise an army in a cave in the desert.

Joseph wasn’t named instantly the vice president of Egypt. He had to work first as a slave, then in the jail.

Abraham didn’t instantly get his baby boy. He had to wait around 25 years and in doing so panicked and came up with his own plan, having a child with Hagar — and that brought him great headaches.

It’s hard to wait on God, but waiting is part of God’s plan. He is patient with us. Why shouldn’t we be patient with Him?

Normally, you won’t understand what the Heaven God is currently doing in your life. Only after the fact do things make sense. This is a great truth that requires wisdom: God works in stages.

Overlooking offenses

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Proverbs 19:11 praises you as a strong person if you are able to overlook an offense. Latin American hero Simón Bolivar said the greatest revenge was to forget the offense. In others, don’t validate it by giving it attention or credibility.

Of course this is very hard to do, and if you are able, you are an incredible human being. The rest of us are shooting as best we can for the goal.

Got any ideas?

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I can’t think of anything. What comes to your mind? I don’t know what to tell my students at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica.

Loneliness, a great fear

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In Ender’s Game, Col Graeff isolates the child military prodigy: He must never think others will come to help him. He must find within himself the resources to solve his problems and triumph. In the end, the traumatizing “training” pays high dividends. Ender brilliantly defeats the buggers, who twice threatened to wipe out humanity. But the dividends come at a high cost: Ender can have no friends.

I loathe loneliness. I long for friendship, love, acceptance. Why must I face rejection in the place I expect to find love? Does God want me to learn to depend only on Him?

God made us to be social creatures. We thrive on affirmation. Without it, we can spiral. Social interaction can either help us serve Jesus or — depending on our friends — pull us away from Jesus. This is my basic ministerial tenet: give friendship to people and show them the way to Christ. Truth is critically important, but most people are not Socratic. They’re looking for friends, not truth.

Jesus associated himself with the despised: the prostitute, the tax collector, the leper. He touched a leper. That was forbidden by the law. He broke the law of God to grace an affection-starved human being. In medical terms, he risked getting sick to show love.

The church should not have outcasts, pariahs or blacklists. If it does, it approximates more the religious order of the Pharisees than of the disciples.

It’s a new day

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Start with a new hope. Bring a new faith in God. Begin with a positive outlook. Confess good over life, and not bad. Trust in God, for He loves you.

Image isn’t everything

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People of this world focus on the exterior: makeup, facials, liposuction, fancy clothes, hot cars. Models are paid premium, and then not even they are good enough but have to be improved on Photoshop.

They say the heart is nothing. It’s inside. No one sees it. You can dirty up your heart with sin all you want — and don’t judge me for it. Look how beautiful I am on the outside.

But rust on the inside works it’s way out. Prince died of drug abuse. So much for all the adulation.

God tells us to not suppress the pricks of conscience that he has placed inside. You feel bad. You can’t sleep. You have a happy exterior, but inside you’re rotting.

You’ll only get peace from Jesus.

 

Valley Boy Pastor

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I never imagined I would return to the San Fernando Valley. My childhood memories there were mostly not pleasant. I went to college at UCLA, to church in Santa Monica and then to my mission in Guatemala. I only visited the Valley to see my dad.

Now, I’m apartment-managing in Van Nuys, with hopes to starting a church. The welcome in the complex has been heartening. There’s an Egyptian family that’s hooked me up with falafel. Mmmmmm.

The community belongs to the immigrants. Everybody has at least two jobs. These are hard-working, decent people, and it is my joy to share Christ with those who don’t know Him. I’ve been there for a week and half. Your prayers are appreciated for this project.

In our group of churches (Christian Fellowship Ministries), we call this sort of venture “pioneering.” It’s an apt description for a start-up church because you start with no resources other than your own hard work and prayer. You toil long hours to raise up an established church. I saw God do it once for me in Guatemala. This would be the second venture.

When I lose peace

IMG_9445I was in Guatemala. The call didn’t come through but the voice message did. They were discharging my dad from the skilled nursing facility because the insurance didn’t want to pay any more time there.

All I could do was worry. I couldn’t hardly sleep. When I finally did sleep, I was awakened a by a dramatic dream. A pastor friend of mine went to pray for my dad, and my dad got healed! I felt like it was a mild rebuke from God. I was letting worry, not faith, run my mind.

I’ve been back from Guatemala for almost a week now. And things are working out fine. Why did I lose the peace God promised? God will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is stayed on Him. — Isaiah 26:3.

If there is something that can be worried about, I do.

Make a stab at redemption

IMG_9804One problem of “falling out” of the moral code of the church is that you feel you don’t belong to the cadre of brethren. Churches do great wrong in continually passing judgement on its fallen members because they get discouraged and think they can never return (2 Cor. 2:6-11). The devil plays in their minds: Once a failure, always a failure. The church should make the path back to salvation easy — as easy as the original path to salvation.

Without going into details, this is what Fanny did. She formalized her marriage yesterday. She had been a goody-goody as a student in our school and church. But when she left the safe harbor of the school and the church, she found the wide, wide world was full of temptations. Discouragement coupled with temptation can be overpowering.

IMG_9809She wasn’t attending church not because anyone kicked her out. It was the devil that was condemning her (Rom. 8:1). By showing her love, we shed light on the way back. Forgiveness is for sinners, not saints — and we are all sinners.

I’m so proud of her and happy for her. And you who read this, please say a pray for her.

If you have fallen out of the moral code of your church, make a stab at redemption. You might be surprised how easy it is to climb back into fellowship and blessing.

If it tastes bitter, spit it out, don’t swallow.

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We must master the art of moving on. Humans hurt each other because of selfishness and self-promotion. Don’t let yourself be pushed down by others forever. They may push you down, but it is up to you to pick yourself up.

Comfort after an extended period of difficulties

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I got stuck at Isaiah 40 and following. The prophet shifts gears and focuses on the future when Israel is exiled and comes back to the promised land. They have punished for more than 70 years of captivity for idolatry and rebellion. The consequences of sin is enough to drive them to despair. They are ready to obey God now. And God speaks tenderly to them.

He offers them comfort.

In verse 4 God says barriers are going to be removed: Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low.

The nations, which have served as God’s instrument of discipline over Israel, are no longer to be feared. The nations are as a drop of a bucket, as the small dust of the balance. (verse 15).

The grande finale comes at the end of the chapter — verses that just about every Christian has memorized: He gives power to the faint, and to them that have no might, He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and grow weary. But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall rise up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not grow weary; they shall walk and not faint. (verses 29-31)

Part of the good news? The disappointing time may be God testing you like Job or may be the result of your own sin. But when you get to the end, He brings refreshing, so hang in there.

I was arrested, meditating on what I had stumbled upon.

Back to what God has for me

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Then I said, I won’t talk about God anymore. But His word was in my heart burning like a fire in my bones, and I couldn’t bear it. — Jeremiah 20:9

I don’t know how people get out of ministry and manage to forget it. They move on to making money. They compromise their morals. I got a good look at this sort of thing when I rested from being a pastor for six years. I left the mission field and haven’t started a new church. Hopefully I will soon. It has been a more or less miserable time.

Right now I’m ministering in my old haunts. I had been a missionary/pastor/founder of a Christian school for 16 years. I’m visiting once again. My three kids were born here, but only Hosea, my youngest, is with me, seeing his childhood buddies. It is a blessing to see everyone again. There is no greater life to live than to speak God’s word and help people come to Him.

Try for yourself

cookie pileGod is good.

Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man that trusts in Him. –Psalm 34:8

Resurrection faked?

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If you say the resurrection was fabricated, then you must prove:

  1. The disciples had a motive. Usually people make elaborate lies for fame or money — or to cover wrong-doing. But the disciples got persecution and poverty. They lived on the run.
  2. The disciples were incredibly clever to devise the story. The Bible record states the contrary: They (the Jewish leaders) perceived Peter and John were unlearned and ignorant men — Acts. 4:13. Outside of the Bible, Josephus mentions Paul and his academic background. The omission of mention of the disciples is telling. They were fishermen.

If you say the resurrection was fabricated, you are confronted with the fact that the disciples all died for the lie. This would be very strange. You must look at these facts:

  • The Roman Empire (not all died at Roman hands) always gave people the chance to recant and walk free. But the disciples refused to walk free — because they had seen the resurrected Lord and knew they would be resurrected too!
  • Each of the disciples was martyred alone. There was no one there to cheer them on and encourage them to persist in the “lie.”
  • Paul turned from a persecutor of the church to its greatest promoter. Why? Because he personally saw the risen Savior.
  • Christianity prospered despite persecution of death, loss of belongings, imprisonments and beatings. Christians held meetings in unpleasant places (catacombs) and persisted in believing despite huge risk. They did this because either they had seen the resurrected Lord or knew someone who had.

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If you say the disciples suffered a collective psychosis, you are confronted the story of Thomas, who wasn’t present when Jesus first appeared to the disciples. So he doubted vigorously. He seemed to want to show himself rational and reasonable; he distances himself from the other disciples. Maybe he regards them as naive or under the influence of extreme emotions. Thomas says, “Unless I put my thumb in his nail wound and my hand into his side wound, I won’t believe.” The next time Jesus showed up, Thomas was there, and he said: “My God and my Lord.”

Actually, the resurrection is the hardest miracle to dismiss in the Bible. It is also one of the biggest reasons to believe in the Bible. The cold, hard evidence inclines in favor of the resurrection being real.

Barabbas wasn’t a bad guy

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Chilling with my bud, Jesus.

No, Barabbas didn’t have snot dripping from his nose. For two years now, I’ve played Barabbas in the Easter play, and the directors tell me to act like a psychopath. Apparently, this comes naturally to me. Yeah, Miko the Psycho.

But I can’t find this reading in my Bible. Barabbas was an insurrectionist (one Gospel calls him a murderer, but the other explains the context more precisely)  in the scattered uprising against he hated Roman Empire. As such, he would have been something of local hero, much like George Washington or Thomas Jefferson.

So when the multitudes chose Barabbas over Jesus, it wasn’t an irrational act. Both were wildly popular with the people, so Pilate shrugged.

Barabbas was, however, a polar opposite of Jesus — not the demon-possessed against the Spirit-possessed. Rather, the earthly Savior vs. the heavenly Messiah.

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Barabbas is always taking on the Roman Empire. Do you like the realistic background? It’s the Lighthouse Church School. We used a classroom as a dressing room.

At the end of the day, Barabbas’ utopia was only going to be on earth. It was only going to be temporal. After the Romans, another empire would come and smash Palestine. Such was inevitable because Palestine was a crossroads connecting three continents, a bridge where the newest conquerors had to pass.

So Barabbas was more like Obama, trying to bring a better world. This is a good thing. I’m not deriding it. But some people are so busying focusing on making this life wonderful that they forget there’s another, eternal life to work for.

Enjoy the ride — even the tough parts

puppy dogI was wondering why life is so difficult (finances, health, other issues), and then I was re-reading Genesis 3. And I said, Oh! That’s why life is a pain in the neck.”

As part of the curse of choosing sin, God cursed the ground and foretold that man would toil with hard labor for all the days of his life. So, that’s why there so much difficulties.

This gave me peace because I realized I was in the norm. This helps me to relax and enjoy life, even with troubles. Reading the Bible brings great wisdom and consolation.

Ken Ham’s full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark

ark encounterA mind-blowing full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark is nearing completion in Williamstown, KY, displaying the remarkable grandiosity of the all-wood colossus.

While Noah and his family spent 100 years toiling on the ark, Ken Ham and his construction team — including dozens of Amish carpenters — will have taken five years by the time they are finished in July and it opens to the public.

“We want to reach millions more about the truth in the Gospel, the words of God,” said Ham, who is also the founder of the Creation Museum located 40 miles from the Ark. “I believe that the Ark of Noah is the greatest reminder we have for salvation.”

At 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet high, the replica is so big it actually shatters previous records — becoming the biggest all-timber structure in the world, according to Ham.

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To mount the massive construction, Ham employed several dozen Amish carpenters to apply their traditional carpentry skills to meet the Genesis specs. The interior of the ark will have three stories and 130 exhibits, including animal specimen and statues of Noah.

The Ark Encounter website hopes the project will dispel the aura of childhood fantasy that is associated with the Ark story. “We consider the fairy-tale ark that appears in the drawings, kids’ books and toys, looking like a bathtub with the giraffes’ heads sticking out and modern animals on board, to be dangerous. The biblical account of the Ark and the Flood is not a fun story about an old man and lots of cute animals. It’s about God judging an exceedingly wicked world while sparing a righteous man, his family, and representatives of the land animals from destruction.” Read the rest.

Editor’s Note: Chad Dou, my journalism student, wrote this for God Reports.

When good guys fight each other, something is very wrong

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I admit: I’m not schooled in the intricacies of superheroes fighting among themselves, but the core of my being finds this repulsive Good guys are not supposed to fight good guys

So too, when the church fights among themselves, it’s a tragedy.

Some Christians fight over ministry. Others let personality conflicts prevail. These are wrong-headed approaches to church. First, God describes the church as a physical body without redundancy. Every part of the body has its valuable function They eye cannot say to the nose that it is superior.

Secondly, you can always go out and CREATE new ministry. As long as there are unsaved souls on the planet, there cannot be a limited number of ministerial positions.

Thirdly, Christ told us the greatest among us should be the servant of all. Usually, there are ministries in the church that need workers. I myself have taken up the cleaning ministry.

Fourth, church members who believe they have the gift of criticism are more Pharisees that Christians. Stop finding fault with what your brother is doing, and do something yourself to build up the church or add members.

I’m sure someone somewhere can explain to me the plot of Superman fighting Batman and how this makes sense. But can anyone anywhere explain why Christians fight in the church?

Cross the bridge of Christianity

chengduChristianity is not prohibitions. It gets you where you want to go. To bliss and peace. To stability and security. To acceptance. To eternal life.

So cross the bridge.

#Hero

IMG_9350David Wainwright was the gentlest human being. He oozed the love of Christ.

He was a member of Lighthouse Church in Santa Monica long before me, so I always looked up to him. It was he who got me into coffee on a long, overnight drive to Prescott, Arizona, to pick up a van our church had purchased from the Potter’s House Church. He taught me how to outreach, how to care for people, how to clean the church. He showed me Jesus was first in everything.

David got set free from every addiction except cigarettes, which remained his nemesis for 10 years after getting saved. Then, he called on the children of the church to pray for him, and, finally, he was free. He never smoked again.

I went off to Guatemala to pastor a church. He stayed behind and worked in the J. Paul Getty Museum in the hills above Brentwood. Later he moved to Hesperia, CA, where he helped successive pastors lead the pioneer work there. Whenever I came back from Guatemala, I would seek him out to share a coffee. It was our particular fellowship.

Then six year agos, I came back from the mission field for good, and the coffees were more frequently. He was a big bear, a teddy bear, who would give you hugs that communicated the love of God.

The last time, he saw me first, came over and gave me a hug. I didn’t even see it coming. Who would have know that would be my last David Wainwright hug? He died Sunday. He graduated with high honors to Heaven.

The irony? He passed away while visiting people — up to the last breath of his life, he was living for others, encouraging others.

That’s what I call a hero. That’s what I want to be.

David, I won’t miss you because I have you inside of me. I will strive to be like you — gentle, humble, servant-hearted. It is no easy role model to follow, but I have imbibed of your spirit, and I know what I need to do.

How to score a signed Messi jersey if you live in Afghanistan

Aghan boy Messi jersey

Be exceptionally cute. And poor. Living in a dangerous part of the world. Murtaza Ahmadi’s brother took this picture of him and posted it on the internet. While death via the Taliban has hit most families around them, it still has not struck them directly, the brother says.

messi jersey

He was just a 5-year-old who loves soccer. The family, which subsists on farming, watches soccer as a distraction from the horrors that surround them. And Murtaza decided his favorite player was the Argentinian star who plays for Barcelona. So he wanted a jersey. He even cried.

But those jersey are too expensive for the poor (heck, they’re even too expensive for me). So his brother hooked him up with a plastic bag hand painted with colored sharpies. The kid was content. The kid was cute. His brother took the picture and posted it.

The internet went crazy, reposting and proliferating. People were asking: Who is this kid? Even Messi saw it and wanted to give the kid a real one. As a spokesman for Unicef, Messi through the charitable organization tracked him down and handed over the jersey (not personally).

Now my heart is warmed. I love Messi all the more for his kind gesture. I love this kid. The only bummer is that I still don’t have a Messi jersey myself.

Happy Valentine’s Day

valentine's day.jpgAs you enjoy the flavors made by God, feel His love this Valentine’s.

David Bowie became a Christian?

david bowieIn the months before he succumbed to cancer, David Bowie, the moré-smashing hedonist who resonated with a generation of young people, reconsidered the God he flouted most of his life as a rocker iconoclast.

As his life ebbed away quietly in the grips of end-stage liver cancer, there were signs the 69-year-old titan of rock and rebellion found peace with the Creator.

“He reassessed everything when he was terminally ill a year ago,” a family friend told the Sun UK. “He concluded there was something greater than all of us, and that may be some version of what others might call God. This was probably quite comforting. He certainly wasn’t scared of death.”

david bowie christianWhile he mostly abused drugs and lived like a libertine, Bowie searched through Buddhism, Satanism and Nietzsche’s existential philosophy for the balm to the raging angst in his soul. At one point he quipped that he had even tried to make a religion out of pottery and finally settled on singing as his faith of choice.

Still the London-born glam rock pioneer was searching. In an interview in 2003, he recognized he could never utterly reject faith. “I’m not quite an atheist,” he said. “I’m almost an atheist. (But) all the clichés are true. The years really do speed by. Life really is short as they tell you it is. And there really is a God.” Found out if it’s true: David Bowie Christian?

Keep praying

keep prayingIt’s been more than a decade that Eddy visited us in Guatemala. Since then, my wife, kids and I were forced to return to the States and have been serving in the local church. His sister and mom remained faithful; Eddy was off doing something else.

Who popped up recently?

Yeah, it’s another motivation to keep praying for those people even when years are grinding on, even when you don’t see any tangible hope. The Spirit moves in invisible realms.

God reminded me why

coaching soccerIt had been a frustrating day — criticisms of my efforts to get people saved and discipled. (It seems like the church is full of people who don’t save or disciple others, but they are experts to let others know what they’re doing wrong.)

As I prayed, God reminded me that I’m not working for the critics. I’m working for the kids.

I teach at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica and I coach for the middle school soccer team. We took some bruising losses this week, but I love the kids, and they seem to appreciate me. We have fun — all in Jesus’ name.

These are the powerful Saints! We have won only one game. But their enthusiasm, their joy, their love of Jesus, their positive energy makes them powerful in my book (quite a few players missed practice this day)!

It doesn’t matter where you are but where you’re going

pathChristianity is a journey towards better. We pray, hear sermons and do works, not to earn our salvation but to align ourselves with the blessings God wants to pour out on us. By pleasing God, we discover happiness.

I’ve been a Christian for 36 years. I’m still not perfect. Sometimes it gets discouraged when sin raises its horrible self in my heart. I find the flesh a persistent adversary.

What I have learned to start over 50 kabillion times, to get back on the path to right, to persist in trying and to keep doing good things.

Maybe you’re at a low point in life. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and set yourself once again (for the millionth time!) on the path towards God. Keep striving to be and stay in God.

The lonely

loneliness

My son plays Javier foosball

Inviting the lonely over is my joy. For Thanksgiving and Christmas, we hosted people from the church who had no where to go. My heart goes out to the hurting. All throughout junior high and high school, I was lonely.

Now it is richly rewarding to ease others’ pain. Human beings need contact, friendship, acceptance, affirmation. This is the way the church works and builds.

When rejection takes the place of acceptance, the church becomes dysfunctional. Jesus dined with the hated and the outcasts — with prostitutes and tax-collectors. He touched the untouchables — the lepers. He condemned the Pharisees, who condemned everybody but themselves. We should take a note from the Bible and not become like the Pharisees.

At Christmas they gave me a mini-foosball. (To me!? A 48-year-old man, they gave a toy??) And you know what? It’s pretty fun. Who’s up for a match? Come on over. You are welcome here.

Prayer is a journey from pain

tree tunnelIf we didn’t feel pain, I don’t suppose we would pray. Not until we hit anguish do we remember our limitations and God’s limitlessness. So prayer, then, is a journey from pain to pleasure, from bruises to blessings, from hits to happiness.

If pain is the starting point, however, the journey doesn’t have to be painful. After all, we leave pain behind.

We need to see prayer less like instant answers and more of a pathway. Some hikes are short and easy, others long, still others strenuous. I don’t know about you, but I like hikes of all sizes and shapes. In fact, I haven’t met a hike I didn’t like yet.

Regardless, it is the destination that makes you forget about the process of getting there. Once you reach happiness, all previous pain is pretty much forgotten. Part of knowing how do I pray is staying on the path towards happiness.

Prayer brings down Heaven

prayerPrayer transports you to other worlds, and it brings other worlds to you. It takes you to God’s throne and brings down God’s power to Earth.

My wife is stronger than yours

strong womanShe doesn’t like being called a “gym rat.” I keep telling her it is a compliment according to modern lexicography. She doesn’t know about the Urban Dictionary. I’m her biggest fan.

Dianna typifies the “Proverbs 31 woman,” a scriptural ideal. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. — Prov. 31:17 says. More important than her physical strength is her spiritual and emotional strength. For almost 16 years, she endured the hardships of being a missionary’s wife in Guatemala; to manage shortage and navigate delinquents was her daily bread.

She inspires me to be better, to serve God, to live sacrificially.

Oh, and she also got me into the gym. Yup, I used to be something of a wimp and a nerd. Because of her concern for need to exercise, I started playing soccer and lifting weights.

I have been very fortunate.

Don’t worry about the foundation

All foundations are equal, they say. Don’t worry about what the Bible says, they say. Morals are relative, they say.

Jesus says: Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock — Matt. 7:24 NLT.

In 2016, I’m still sticking with the Bible. I’m not joining the downgrade crowd, those who want to “move on” from the Bible to “better things.” Because when your life gets swallowed up by the uncertain foundation, it’s too late to change.

New Year comes regardless if you want it. New you, only if you want it

Michael-Bernhardt-1-810x508The New Year grinds forward. You may long for it or try to hold it off. You may think it augurs a new beginning, or you may be fretting for 36 things still to do in 2015. It’s forward progress is unstoppable.

But a new you doesn’t proceed forward in the same manner. A new you comes only if you change existing habits. If you set new goals — or maybe just goals, then you can pursue. A new you requires effort.

This is why I am a Christian. I want a better version of myself. I want to resolve not just once a year but daily for it and strive for it. Christianity is all about looking forward, embracing change. Christianity is about idealism and yet it is practical.

I encourage you to seek the new you — and, yes, I highly recommend you find it where I think it can only be found, in God.

Image: Michael Buehner on Pinterest.

Don’t ditch it

marriageMarriage is worth the work, the heartache, the pain.

We study thousands of hours for our careers. But we don’t want to spend any time preparing or repairing our marriage — and yet a good marriage is by far a better source of happiness than a career!

Some are so impatient they are floating alternative models: shacking up, equality marriages. The message is always the same: it’s just as good.

It is not.

One has the solid foundation of the Bible. The other has no foundation. It is a hastily-erected hut on dirt. It will stand and look pretty but won’t withstand an earthquake.

Love is worth it.

Many of my blogging friends have faced divorce. In order to succeed, marriage requires 100% of both — and yours collapsed because only you were giving 100%.

Remarry. Give happiness another shot. Give your 100% to another person.

The first “institution” was not the church. Nor was it government. God instituted marriage from the very creation.

Don’t ditch it.

Image from Pinterest.

She forgave would-be killer

immigration attorney los angelesWhen the gang-banger was on trial for nearly killing her brother, Cynthia Santiago wrote a letter to the court asking for leniency.

“We are Christians. We believe in forgiveness,” said Santiago, 31, now an immigration lawyer based in El Segundo. “We prayed for him (the shooter). We prayed God transform his life. I’m not the person to pass that kind of judgment on another human being.”

Santiago said her brother got involved in a race-based altercation at 20th St. and Delaware in Santa Monica in the early 2000s, and he was shot with a 22-caliber gun from close range. One bullet shattered his jaw and another pierced his heart and lung, she said.

He was rushed to St. John’s where he lay unconscious for nearly three weeks. When he woke up, he asked about his kids. After months of physical therapy, he returned to normal life.

Santiago’s extraordinary plea for clemency is part of the troubled past of a Santa Monica once beset by gang violence. Part of the reason she chose law is because she saw her own parents, as working class residents, struggle to get sound legal advice for her troubled brother. Read the rest of the article.

Editor’s Note: Cynthia Santiago was the flower girl in my wedding 25 years ago. My wife and I lost track of her when we spent 16 years in Guatemala as missionaries. When I found her on Facebook 24 years later, I’m surprised to see her all grown up and a lawyer! I praise God she, coming from a family without college students, had the wherewithal to study and achieve a dream. It seems to me that her choice to forgive is extreme and compelling. Her choice to help the neediest who need help only makes me admire her more.

Thank you for friendship

AshcraftsTo all my followers who have been with me through the ups and downs, exchanging encouragement and exhortations, thank you. Some of you are dear friends. Others of you I would like to get to know more.

Shaming as revenge

joseph, husband to mary

Joseph the jilted decided to NOT humiliate Mary after she obviously cheated — she was pregnant, and he knew it wasn’t him.

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily — Matt 1:9.

BEFORE an angel had told him to go ahead and marry Mary, EVEN BEFORE a miraculous vision assured him this was an act of God and not his fiance fooling around, BEFORE ANY OF THESE ASSURANCES Joseph, BEING A JUST MAN, opted to not shame her.

The revenge people do through social media these days makes me cringe. Nothing good comes of it.

He taught me to return shopping carts

my friend channingAfter 35 years of not seeing my old friend, Channing and I got together. He found me on the internet. He’s face has changed, but his have-fun life philosophy remains the same. My face is the same and so is my faith.

Channing taught me to do a good deed every day. That lesson has stayed with me all these years.

We were two 12-year-olds heading off to Thrifty’s for ice-cream or candy. It was about a mile walk. Channing grabbed a straggler shopping car to push it home.

“Come on, Channing, leave it,” I said. “It’s gonna slow us down. It’s not your problem.”

His simple reply stuck with me all these years.

Sure, why not. I have time and energy. I can do a good deed. There is reward inherent in doing things not for a reward.

Now everybody leaves their shopping cars right where they parked their cars (here in Los Angeles). It used to be that people returned them to the corral for the supermarket guy to take in to the store, but people are more self-centered than decades ago. I always try to grab one or two and roll it up to the front of the store. I can do this. It doesn’t require much time or effort. Do a good deed just because.

After years of doing this thankless good deed, someone finally thanked me.

I have Channing to thank for the lesson.

The reason we give gifts at Christmas

christmas-christmas-tree-colorful-gifts-ornaments-Favim.com-248327

Jesus was God’s gift to mankind. When we give each other gifts, we celebrate that Jesus was a gift and that salvation (forgiveness of sins) is a free gift to any who would receive.

I suspect there are many people giving and receiving gifts, celebrating Christmas, without knowing anything more than it is a family tradition. Little do they realize they are honoring Christ and proclaiming salvation.

Forgiveness is sweet

revenge is sweetNo longer does her riches matter. At the end of her life, Miss Havisham has lost the adopted daughter she treasured. In Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations, Miss Havisham steeled Estella against the inconstant love of men. She only wished to spare Estella from her own heartbreak; she had been jilted on her wedding day. But in trying to protect Estella against the dangers of love, she made her incapable of love.

She also made her an instrument of revenge upon all men.

A tease, Estella was drilled on how to break hearts. She would wreak her Miss Havisham’s vengeance.

Stunned when Estella turns against her, Miss Havisham moans alone on her vast estate in the wee hours of morning. Nothing is left, nothing matters.

So she tries to do good. To Pip whom she trapped with Estella’s beauty, she now asks for forgiveness. No longer the haughty rich woman, she falls to her knees and begs desperately to have played with Pip’s emotions such that he was tortured by unrequited love for almost 20 years. He willingly and readily forgives her.

The dramatic scene from the book highlights a hugely underrated satisfaction in life, that of being forgiven.

As you move along in life, you accrue wrongs to yourself. You offend and sin against people dear to you. You become burdened with guilt and regret. The antidote is not more sin, drugs, alcohol or therapy. It is forgiveness.

First and foremost, mankind has need of forgiveness from God. Second from his fellow man. Third, he has need to forgive others. This is true bliss.

Revenge is not sweet; it is bitter. Forgiveness is sweet.

Dr. Viral

Dr Bob skateboardSupposedly, doctors halt viruses, but local pediatrician Robert Hamilton just went viral.

His charming video on how to get a 1-month-old to stop crying hit 14.5 million views in little more than a week. It got picked up by Inside Edition, Mashable and True Feed. From there, the Huffington Post featured it. It moved to Buzzfeed and USA Today and was topping Reddit. Now, Dr. Bob — as locals affectionately call him — will talk on the Dr. Oz Show.

Dr. Bob, originally from Eureka, has struck gold.

Widely known and loved in Santa Monica, Dr. Bob has attended for 30 years to children of celebrities and soccer stars. He’s administered injections, checked newborns and calmed jittery parents.

“This is where God has put my wife and me and where we were meant to labor,” Dr. Bob said. “We have seen good times and challenging times. We have seen triumphs and heartbreaks.”

Dr. Bob has also led medical missions for over 20 years to Africa, Kyrgyzstan and Central America. Lighthouse Medical Missions have brought doctors and free medicine to some of the remotest parts of the planet on about 25 separate occasions through the decades.

Early on, Dr. Bob was especially impacted by what he saw in Sierra Leone, once the world’s second poorest country according to United Nations rankings. In post civil war time, there was appalling need unmatched by the nation’s scarcity of doctors and medical infrastructure.

“I am haunted by the image of a woman beating on our car’s window as we departed our compound en route to the airport,” said the owner of Pacific Ocean Pediatrics. “The mother was pointing to her son with a huge abscess on his leg. I thought, We need to get this kid antibiotics. But we were late and we couldn’t stop.”

He broke down in tears. Did the child live? He felt compelled to return to Africa.

Africa1

Dr. Robert Hamilton in Africa on medical mission for Lighthouse Medical Missions.

To help where need is great bestows its own rewards. It has added to an already enriched life. He is happily married to Leslie Hamilton. They both have six kids and six grandchildren.

His daughter Noel also studied to be a pediatrician and now works alongside her dad in his business on Santa Monica Blvd across from St. John’s Health Center.

Lighthouse Medical Missions (LMM) has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for its medical missions. They take all their own medicine and equipment. They have built four schools/ churches in Sierra Leone – in Lungi, in Lunsar, in Jui, and in Kenema. Two full-scale water projects have been funded.

Dr. Bob, a born-again Christian since age 13, attends the vibrant and historic Lighthouse Church, from which he borrowed the name for his medical mission. LMM is open to just about anyone going and donating, even if they don’t share the Christian values of Dr. Bob.

Dr. Bob studied his undergraduate at U.C. Davis, where at age 20 he also married his childhood sweetheart. Then it was off to UCLA Medical School.

Regarding his fund-raising, Dr. Bob clarifies that money has flowed. “I’m pretty ambitious. But I’m NOT that ambitious about Africa. God has brought the money in. I’m not breaking people’s knuckles to give to Africa. It’s amazing what God has done.”

His latest venture – into the online world – started as a rather unambitious attempt to help parents calm fussy babies. He recruited talented film-makers from the Lighthouse Church and posted it on Sunday. Several church members shared it on their social media.

Dr. Bob – whose wildest dream was for 10,000 views – was disappointed with only 80 the day after posting.

But somebody of influence spotted it and re-posted it. It exploded like a nuclear bomb: by Tuesday it had 570,000 views. The next morning, 1.5 million. At last check last night, it hit 8.7 million.

“This is just phenomenal,” said a surprised Dr. Bob.

Meanwhile in his clinic, he’s prescribing to stop viruses.

*Picture: Rarely does Dr. Bob skateboard outside his office. Note: Since I wrote this article for the Santa Monica Patch, I am including it here on my blog. I hope you enjoy.

Anonymous ministers

anonymousWhen I was head pastor, I romanticized being an anonymous servant. I even prayed to be one.

Then I became pretty much an anonymous member of the church. No more high-flying ministry. Honestly, I didn’t like it too much.

God had to remind that I had prayed to become anonymous. If you’re not on the kudos list here on Earth, don’t despair. Just praise Jesus because you’ll be getting your reward in Heaven.