Tag Archives: ministry

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.

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.

Eating is such a waste of time

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Avocado fries at Rustic Kitchen from West Los Angeles.

Yeah, I can find so many better things to do with my time. And they keep giving you rules: what’s healthy, what you shouldn’t eat. Why don’t they let me lead my life the way I want? They’re so judgemental, hateful, hypocritical. What’s the point? Why do they try to force you to eat?

Oops.

Sorry. Switch “eat” for “church” to understand my analogy.

Spiritual food is just as necessary, useful and delicious as physical food.

#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.

‘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.

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.

These pork chops are ministry for the #ValleyBoyPastor

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Good thing Venezuela and Mexico tied 1-1 because my friend, from Mexico, is married to a lady from Venezuela. Peace reigned that night over their house, and nobody had to sleep on the couch.

Ramon saw me in the open area of the apartment complex I manage and called me over. I thought “a moment” meant there was another problem to fix. It turned out it was the chance to watch the America Cup and eat pork ribs afterwards.

I unwisely started making observations about soccer quality. But since her family — all Venezuelan — jumped all over me for praising any Mexican player, I feared for my life and decided it was better to be quiet.

For most of the game, Venezuela — never before a soccer powerhouse — was winning from a stunning bicycle kick off  header across the goal. My Venezuelan friends were cooing and clucking happily because Mexico has had a very good tournament was unbeaten for 21 games. But then with a mere 15 minutes to the final whistle, Corona single-handedly dribbled past five defenders to slot left.

Ramon erupted. I ventured a non-commital comment that the game was going to get good now, and the two teams battled to a draw.

Then the pork chops.

This is ministry. Don’t stress about getting people to church. Get yourself to people.

They asked me to pray for the food. It’s a small step, but in this guarded generation given to opposing the gospel, it was not insignificant.

When I was first a pastor, I felt uncomfortable with people giving to me or to the church. Now I understand better: any gift represents an investment. When people invest in you or your church, they are more committed (or closer to commitment) than you might imagine.

So yes, eating their sumptious pork chops is ministry.

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.

Come together in the crunch

teenagemutantheaderThe Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are splintering at a critical time. They disagree on what to do with a serum that turns humans into monsters and, Donatello believes, monsters — like them — into humans. The prospect tantalizes Michelangelo and Raphael, who long for a chance to have normal interaction with humans and not face the antipathy their cold-blooded bodies elicit. But Leonardo, thinking in terms only of effective crime-fighting, doesn’t even take them into account when deciding against such a transformation. They fracture.

Meanwhile, the bad guys are joining forces.

tmnt.0.0But one of the delights of the movie is they overcome their differences, work to understand each other and appreciate each others’ differences, and they join forces. At the same time, the bad guys split up. You know who wins.

I hope the church can join together at the critical moment.

Erosion in the church


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There are two kinds of erosion: breaking and smoothing. The first happens when water flows into cracks and then freezes. It makes jagged edges and rough surfaces. The second when water or wind slowly wears down and rounds.

When people disappoint you in church, it’s wearing. It can erode your spirit. But what is left is up to you. Does it become beautiful, as if molded by God, or does it show the painful barb of breakage?

Let us, as Joseph, see the hand of God ultimately in the pain other “Christians” inflict.

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.

The new frontier

Other townsAs a newbie, Peter doesn’t understand why Jesus doesn’t stay in the spotlight. After all, the Lord has successfully gathered a great crowd after healing sick and freeing people from demons. Then, right when He’s won Galilee Idol, He sneaks off to pray alone.

Peter, who fancies himself Jesus’ campaign manager, comes and tells him, “Everybody’s looking for You.” (Mark 1:37)

Jesus just mystifies him: “Let’s go to other towns so that I may preach there also because that is what I was sent for.” Why wouldn’t he capitalize on the crescendo?

Peter didn’t understand, as many Christians today, that the highest priority is not popularity or prosperity. It’s extending the message of salvation to others and to still others.

Once upon a time, Americans looked for new frontiers. Some still do, scientists, for example. But Christians? Are we basking in the glory of perfect services with quality music and preaching while the huddling masses in other towns languish with no hope?

I’m taking on a new frontier. I’ve moved out of luxury and into poverty, from Santa Monica to Van Nuys. There’s a method to the madness: God has called me to save souls elsewhere. After a month, there’s already one family in the Thursday night Bible study — thanks to y’all’s prayers. (Sorry, I can’t resist “y’all” even though I’m not from the South. English needs a plural second person pronoun.)

Well, that was easy #ValleyBoyPastor gets first people in his Bible study

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After three Bible studies with 0 in attendance, 5 people came today. I was blessed to host my neighbors, a family. It was wonderful to help them find Mark. I hope they soon find Jesus.

This venture into Van Nuys is taking me out of luxurious Santa Monica. My family likes the beachside city with cool breezes in the summer, but my eyes are caulking with glaze after I sit in church and hear sermon after sermon. God has called me to be on the playing field, not in the bleachers. So when my pastor spoke to me about the possibility of apartment-managing in Van Nuys, I considered it in prayer and meditation for about a nano second and begged and pleaded on my knees volunteered for the job.

I suppose the previous manager did me a huge favor. She was, um, a tad grumpy. So by contrast, I come off as a saint. Maybe I’m in the honeymoon stage of the job, but I can see palpably the distinct advantage of starting a church by apartment managing. Instead of trying to build relationship with people who have their guard up, the position gives me instant rapport: I’m not after something. I have a job to do — serve them. If I serve them the way Jesus would want me to, they might be happy. In turn, this has the potential to predispose them to an openness of coming to a Bible study.

The Bible study message: repentance, it’s not as bad as it seems.

I want to thank all of you for prayer. Your prayers are working miracles in the hearts of men.

 

But there are giants in the land #ValleyBoyPastor

IMG_0367(1)Anytime you want to do something GOOD, major opposition looms.

If, however, you want to do something BAD, the path forward is a glittery and easy speedway.

What scared the Israelites and sent them back into the desert for 40 years, what kept them from their destiny, were giants. These guys were 9-feet tall — and there was no NBA back then. The whining spies said they felt like cockroaches compared to them.

It can be intimidating to do ministry. But God can knock those giants down. The taller they are, the harder the fall, as David found.

I’ve moved to Van Nuys to open a Bible study and possibly parlay it into a church. I’ve found the giant already. I’ve learned you have to stare down giants.

Tuna out of a can for #ValleyBoyPastor

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My sentiments definitely lie with the simplify-life crowd. But while my wife sees out the school year in Santa Monica with my kids, I’m starting our new gig apartment managing in Van Nuys with some Spartan furnishings. All I have are chairs for the Bible study, to which no one has attended yet.

So I’m eating tuna out of can because I don’t yet have a refrigerator. Please don’t think I’m suffering. I was missionary in Guatemala, and I beg to differ — I’m living luxury. I have a cot and a sleeping bag.

And I have a friend. Alex invited me over for dinner last night, but I had already eaten, so I didn’t know how I could fit it in. Luckily, I was able largely due to the fact that it was super delicious.

It’s good to have friends. You might have gobs of cash, but if you don’t have true friends, you’re slumping in poverty. Alex is a fellow Christian, and the handyman at my apartment. We’ve already watched soccer together!

I remember that I cried when I was in Guatemala alone with my wife for Christmas and Sister Lizette, without even really knowing us, invited us for dinner. I cried tears of joy because we were experiencing loneliness. So by significant measure, we already doing much better than our first church-planting venture — I already have a good friend.

I still believe

I still believe

In 37 years of being a Christian, I’ve seen lots of friends tap out. They go through disappoints, failures, humiliations, emotional abuse. Out there, there are ravenous wolves disguised as sheep. Jesus warned as much, but it’s still pretty hard to swallow  bitter pills.

I haven’t given up in part because of the alternatives. As Peter said, Lord, You have the words of eternal life. Where else can we go? Jesus had just shown a horror flick, and His popularity took a nose dive; He had just told people to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Grisly material. Not even the disciples understood, but the stuck with Him.

I read articles and opinion pieces galore about trends of people leaving the church. They are “spiritual but not religious.” That sounds nice, but Jesus left just one institution. The gates of Hell would not prevail against His church. He did warn that there would be corruption in it.

Hitting up against corruption doesn’t feel particularly good. Or getting hit by it. Whichever. How much can a normal person stand? There’s no trite answer. All I can say is, “I still believe.”

Expecting God

IMG_0241Gideon seriously doubted that God could use him:

  • He questioned why the angel addressed him as “mighty man of God.”
  • He questioned his pedigree and his capability.
  • He asked for a sign twice, in opposite ways from one day to the next.
  • He needed to hear the enemy prophecy his victory.

Despite his doubts, God moved through him greatly. With 300 men, he defeated the Midianites.

As I venture out for a second time in my life to start a church, I have more confidence that God will move. He is blessing each step.

Today, he gave me a free dinner. Some Egyptians in the apartment complex I manage gave me food. Since my wife and kids are still in Santa Monica (until the end of the school year), this is tremendous blessing because I can pretty much cook only scrambled eggs for myself.

If you look for problems on every side, you will find them. If you look for God’s blessing at every point, you will find them. If you expect God to move, He will be happy with your faith. If you doubt His backing, He may move anyhow.

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.

Meet Camila, born to parents who couldn’t have kids

IMG_9784Prayer brought her into the world, and from the looks of it she is now learning how to pray.

Her parents, Gunter and Yara, were among the best disciples in the church. Medically speaking, they couldn’t have kids. Evangelist after evangelist prayed for them. Then my friend, Isaias Campos, came to preach for me. Ironically, he himself couldn’t have natural children. But God told him he would pray for somebody to have kids. That did the trick.

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My son, Hosea, among the kids of the Door Christian Church in Guatemala City.

I left Guatemala six years ago under duress. I am currently visiting, and I’m blown away by the revival I’m seeing. It’s been packed, and people are hungry for God.

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.

Back in Guatemala

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Six year ago, we quit Guatemala after 16 years of ministry. It looks like God is opening doors for me to start a new church in the U.S. (more to come later). But for now, I’m in Guatemala visiting, preaching, reinvigorating, helping. And I have my son, Hosea, with me. So I guess this post, I’ll just be asking for prayers. Thanks! It’s great to see everyone again!

I killed myself at the gym today, so…

killing yourself at the gym…I wasn’t surprised when the homicide detectives showed up at my door later.

Ok, this picture is not me. I’m more of a (bad) punster than a muscle man. Actually, I’m the pencil-necked kind of guy with spindly arms and legs.

But I enjoy going to the gym. I have lofty, unattainable goals. In the striving, at least I’m staying healthy. And a healthy body is will be useful for the Lord’s service longer than a sick or frail one. I like the gym almost as much as the church; both are focused on goodness, healthiness and improvement.

Ha ha ha! Orange marmalade has ‘wires’

Orange-marmalade1The pungent and sweet taste of orange marmalade is one I missed as a missionary in Guatemala. So when we got back to the U.S. a few years ago after 16 years abroad, I got it, and I shared it with my youngest son. To put it mildly, Hosea didn’t like it.

“Dad! It tastes like it has wires!” He was somewhere between aghast and livid. He believed it was his duty to inform me what I didn’t know. The rind gratings — um — were grating to his palate.

Of course, I cracked up. For his ingenuousness, thinking I didn’t know it had rind gratings. For his descriptiveness.

This is how I feel when newbie leaders want to give me a lecture on spirituality. When does the senior ever let the freshman tell him how to play varsity football? You have to take things with humor or it can be a discouraging thing coming back into your mother church. And you gotta enjoy the orange marmalade despite what people say.

Don’t pass over to the dark side of the force

star warsSometimes I tune out the movie-maker’s message and get my own. Such was the case of Star Wars. I’m a middle-aged pastor, who’s between churches right now. I’ve gone through some tough experiences, disillusions, etc. I can see how it would be easy to grow bitter, to rack up the negatives experiences and to snipe. So God spoke to me about the danger of passing over to the dark side of the force, as the movie says. It would be easy. I could be very effective. BUT, I would be in darkness.

This post goes out to all the aging pastors who have lost of the sense of romance when you’re young and starting ministry. Maybe you’ve been removed from ministry, suffered financial hardships, gone through unfair circumstances. Don’t pass over to the dark side. Renew yourself in the Lord, rejuvenate, refresh. Let waters flow into the desert and make it a lush garden again.

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)!

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.

Shake the snake

shake the snakeWhen Paul and crew shipwrecked, they washed ashore. Paul helped gather wood for a fire, and a snake latched itself on his hand. The natives of the island thought it was karma, that Paul was a murderer and was being judged. But Paul shook off the snake into the fire and was unharmed — Acts 28:5.

This miracle teaches us what we should do when we are bitten — by disappointments, by hurtful words, by unfair treatment.

Just shake it off.

Don’t let it bother you. Move on, forgive, forget. Don’t let the poison fill your body with death.

The value of one soul

Liceo Bilingue La PuertaWhen she came to Christ last year, she was so excited that she began to rebuke classmates for their lackadaisical attitude toward God. She was the one salvation out of the school this year — until he accepted Christ just a few weeks ago when I visited Guatemala. Together, they are the fruit of this year at the Door Christian School in Guatemala.

The irony? We were considering cutting their studies program because of lack of funds. Why are effective ministries not funded? Why do Christians not pay their tithes and promises?

Sinners helping sinners

sinners helping sinnersIt’s the great irony of ministry: I’m far from perfect, and yet I attempt — and sometimes succeed! — in helping other imperfect people.

As ministers of God’s grace, we should never lose sight of the fact that we, ourselves, are sinners. We are NOT the inerrant voice of God. Stay humble.

The world hurls “hypocrite!” I don’t snarl in return. Because basically it’s true. Who can say it’s not? Who is without sin to throw stones?

God’s grace is such that He reaches people with His grace THROUGH imperfect people.

Photo source.

Christ brings color to your life

color to your lifeTired of drab? Jesus will take your black-and-white life of money or sin and paint something beautiful out of it. He made me a person who helps other out of self-destruction. First I was a missionary in Guatemala. Now I work in a Christian school. You can have a purpose in your life!

*Photo Credit: James M. Berry, photographer extraordinaire, and a great friend.

I wanted to help my friend Zeke.

IMG_3531It’s been two long years that I have wanted to visit my friend, Ezekiel. I met him playing soccer just before the accident. I wanted to pray for him and embrace him. He lived far away, in Salt Lake City.

I wanted to somehow bless him. Instead, he blessed me.

I got a vision of him preaching. I saw him functioning as a powerful man of God. I could totally visualize him being used by God. I saw no obstacles for him.

This was convicting to me. Because I see all kinds of limitations and disqualifiers for myself. While I had no doubt that God wanted to use Zeke, I am plagued by doubts about myself.

Seeing potential

photo(5)Hosea and I are extremely happy. After being without a team for 1 1/2 years, he’s been accepted on to Autobahn Soccer Club based in Santa Monica. Club soccer is the highest level for kids. You’ll get the best training available.

In my unbiased opinion (keep in mind that I’m the dad), Hosea is something of a soccer genius. With ball in front of goal, his spontaneous tricks befuddle goalies. He’s got a baby face, but he plays like a tank.

But 1 1/2 years ago, another club wouldn’t have him. He made a few poor decisions. He lack fitness. He was heartbroken. So was I.

At the end of his tryout, Coach Herve saw some spark that he liked. He saw potential.

If you are in leadership in the church, do you dismiss the players God sends you. Do you dwell on their defects, their inferiority. If you are going to build a winning team, you’ll have to see what Jesus sees: potential. (Everybody has potential.) Develop it in your followers.

The most exciting day in a long time: an emo for dinner

better than expresso

What’s better than coffee? Getting someone saved.

The highlight of the week has been reached. We had our neighborhood emo for dinner.

An emo is a latest iteration on the goth/punk subculture, which revels in depression and dresses dark with bright colored hair. Why would I want my daughter hanging out with her? Because we’re going to get her saved.

Behind the despair, there’s a heart that needs Jesus. Behind the self-harm (if she does it), there’s a dire need for love. We Christians are not on Planet Earth for any other reason than to lavish love on the unloveable.

There is nothing more thrilling or meaningful than to see people come to Christ.

Nine years ago today, my mother died

legacy | missionary

Guess which one is me. I “stand out” a bit from the teachers who now lead the Christian school in Guatemala in my absence.

It was a glorious conclusion to a life lived for God. In her later years, she had served as a chaplain in the Sylmar juvenile hall facility to counsel wayward youngsters back to the the Lord’s path. She oversaw the preparation of turkey dinner with all the trimmings for incarcerated youth and solicited toiletry packs for the kids.

“You are so lucky to have Chaplain Beth as your mom.” The hoodlum’s words hit me hard. I had accompanied her to a Bible study one day. The thug’s admiration for my mom exceeded my own. To be honest, at the time I was annoyed in typical teen rebellion by some of her irksome attributes (all humans have them). It took a delinquent to set my thinking right.

fam14revised

With my family last Fall.

Years after, I set my life-course onto the mission field and served with my wife in Guatemala for almost 16 years. When my mother died, I could affirm at her funeral that she was alive — in me. I had no regrets because I figured I had caught all the good lessons to learn from her. I’m still serving Jesus today. I teach at a Christian high school in Santa Monica for no other reason to help kids get into the right path. My mom helped kids inside jail, I help kids outside.

My pastor sometimes says he feels as if his dad were with him, encouraging to glorify Jesus. I don’t feel my mom with me. I feel she is me. I live what she lived. Everything she stood for, I stand for.

I can’t hardly remember the things that irked me about her (stuff like nagging). Now what stands out is her legacy.

I love coffee.

I love Jesus, my wife, my family, my ministry and coffee — in that order.

There are rich and famous people who are widely admired by the world, but when they die, they become forgotten. They leave nothing to the world. Give me the simple soul who plants his imprint on a fellow human being. You can change the world one soul at a time.

I wonder if I’ll ever meet that kid from juvenile hall again. If I do, I’ll thank him.

Am I supposed to say I miss Mom? Am I supposed to brood and fret over no longer being physically present in my life? Sorry. I feel like her death was a glorious graduation.

Step on you class

step on meSome people take Step Class. Others Step On Others Class.

They adhere to the idea, that to get to the top, they must climb upon others. To feel good about themselves, they must make others feel bad about themselves. This pernicious poison is more pervasive than you might think.

You ought to take a class in loving others. This is what was so revolutionary about Jesus: He practiced love, especially toward the sinner. But the person who held himself in self-proclaimed piety got His wrath.

*This pic comes from a gym in Santa Cruz, and I adapted it. Sorry if you are offended by it. Please know that I’m not making any money on it. I give you kudos for a great pic.

The cup makes the coffee

real ChristiansIf I drink my home-percolated Costco coffee in a Starbucks cup, that makes it Starbucks coffee, I’ve decided.

It’s a good decision. I’ll enjoy it much more now, and it’ll certainly be a lot cheaper than going to Starbucks.

He is a Jew who is inwardly, Paul says in Rom. 2:29. By extension, a Christian is one is inwardly, not one who “dresses” the part, though it be a lot cheaper.

Pastors are like trashmen

I was watching Ethan for my boss, while he taught class. The 2-year-old loves watching videos of trash trucks! What a funny thing.

garbage-truckAs I meditated on why (I suppose he like the big machines with hydraulics), I realized that pastors are trashmen. They are constantly helping people to get the trash (sin) out of their lives.

Trash is a part of life (we are all sinners, the Bible says). But you don’t want to wallow in it; you want to get it out of your home because it poisons. Sermons expose the trash lurking in our hearts. (We thought it was having fun! What a shock to find out that our “fun” was wallowing in trash like the pig loves mud!)

Don’t be offended the inglorious comparison. I’m a pastor too.

A church for Muslims: Compassion not suspicion

Adrian-churchPastor Adrian Rodriguez has been preaching the gospel, translated by his wife, to about 30 people every Sunday in a church on the outskirts of Hartford, Connecticut, and not one of the congregants is Christian.

All of them are Muslim.

“We’re dealing with very hardcore Muslims,” he says of the immigrant refugees from the Middle East who are drawn to his church. “They’re very indoctrinated. But God is speaking to their hearts.”

Pastor Adrian’s response to America’s burgeoning Muslim enclaves is perhaps Christianity’s best model: View them with eyes of compassion, not with eyes of suspicion.

With 375 Muslims per 100,000 residents, Connecticut is the 14th most Muslim state in the nation, according to a Huffington Post article in 2012. The number of mosques has doubled to more than 2,100 nationwide since the year 2000, according to a survey.

While most Americans are not hostile towards Islam according to reports, there has been concern about radicalized youths. The Homeland Security Department estimates 100 U.S. citizens have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS.

Read the rest of the article.

Fatigue failure

fatigue failure

I was surprised that planes crack more from pressurization than from turbulence. That’s why 747s that do long flights have been around fro 30 years while small planes doing several flights a day hit the scrap heap quickly.

It turns out that we can only stand so much. Depending on the elasticity of the material, the on-and-off loading wears it out and it eventually breaks.

God promises NOT to give us more than we can bear, but sometimes it seems like it is more than we can bear. God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it — 1 Cor. 10:13 NKJV.

I’ve wondered why older Christians struggle with bitterness. There’s some truth to burn-out. Pray for renewed in your strength, rejuvenated in your spirit and to run like the youth.

But those who wait on the LORD
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.
— Isa. 40:31 NIV.

The man of 1,000 jobs had to leave…

Relaxing with a leader on my recent visit.

Relaxing with a leader on my recent visit.

… in order for 1,000 workers to rise up and do those jobs.

When I was the pioneer pastor of a church and school in Guatemala, I did everything.

I was intense. If I didn’t know how to direct worship, or something, I learned and did it competently. As members trickled it, it was hard to delegate. I was unwilling to relinquish ministry.

First God allowed my voice to unravel (somewhat) and forced me to seek a substitute (even if he sang out of tune).

Then He got rid of me altogether. Threat of kidnappers forced me to return to the States, and then EVERYTHING was handed off to others.

Jesus handed off ministry after 3 1/2 years. I took almost 16.

This is God’s pattern. The only way to raise up a future generation of leaders is by letting them lead.

Si le quedó grande el traje, pues ni modo

photo (24)Translation: If the suit was too big for him, well, of course. = If the shoes were too big for him, well, of course.

Four years ago, I handed off ministry abruptly to Pastor Ludving: a main church, a couple of church plants and the huge task of administering a financially-struggling Christian school. Previously, Pastor Ludving had only pastored a small pioneer work.

Suddenly, he found himself thrust into a situation where he was promoted among colleagues who inevitably questioned and compared his every decision to what I would have done (I was their pastor for 16 years). Sometimes, he didn’t get a fair shot because people sometimes didn’t give him a chance for a learning curve.

Yet, there he is still. Four years later he has won over most everybody. He has refined his dealings with people. And he has managed to succeed in areas that I never did: The accounting is up to date, and the building is immaculately clean!

He’s “grown into the suit,” despite being much shorter than me.

My trip to Guatemala came to an end yesterday with a huge sense of gratitude to God for what He does. You may find joy in some other achievements in life, but I love serving God.

(Sorry about the Spanish title. I don’t mean to put anyone off. I used it because nothing in English corresponds precisely and because I thought it was a nifty pun, given the stature differential. I hope you can overlook it.😀 )

Show your true colors

show off your colorsI don’t know why I have to be different than I am. People want me to be a tough guy. I am not a tough guy. I have never been a tough guy. God made me a sensitive type. If you don’t like it, too bad. I’m not changing for you.

Sometimes churches can try to make you fit their mold. We would lose our diversity if everybody liked football. God made us all different for a reason. If we were all football fans, how would the soccer fans get saved.

When God gave you unique fingerprints, unique DNA and a unique personality, it was to bless His church. Be yourself!

The best and the worst

Beautiful Pictures on G+The best and the worst can be found in the people of God. When Christians love, there is nothing better. When they reflect Christ’s love poorly, it hurts badly.

If you are a Christian, this is my appeal for you to love. If you are not a Christian and you have been hurt by one, this is my appeal to you to forgive us and to keep trying to find love from Christians.

Original image from Beautiful Pictures on Google Circles.

The loco church

flying chanclasThey’re not aiming for American Idol, a recording contract or a nationwide tour. They call themselves the Flying Chanclas (flipflops in Spanish), and their ambitions are much larger. They have their sights set on souls.

Yesterday, the Flying Chanclas from the Pacoima Potter’s House Church and a smattering of other Christians “invaded” Santa Maria, CA, a small town not far off the coast, to pass out flyers and do a concert in the evening to get people saved. I brought my drama group.

In an age where droves are crowding churches so big they’re called “mega,” others prefer — myself included — decidedly small churches where you can do more than sit and watch professionals deliver Emmy quality ministry. You can get involved with your own rickety performance. You can DO something more than just applaud others. I’m part of a group of churches called Christian Fellowship Ministries.

While all the hype is about the mega ministry, many Christians get their kicks by carrying out the Great Commission quietly, anonymously, one soul at a time. (After all, Jesus’ chosen successors weren’t the masses; they were individuals.)

You may not see this in mainstream news outlets, but the local loco church (as in, we are loco for Jesus) is thriving. If you were with Jesus 2000 years ago, would you want to partake of the multiplied loaves and fishes or serve them?

But as for the Flying Chanclas, you’ll have to ask Pastor Matt Sinkhorn of the Potter’s House in Sylmar, Services are held at Hubert Humphrey Park at 12560 Filmore St. in Pacoima 91331 on Sunday at 10:30 a.m.

There are also Bible studies at the pastor’s house Sunday night 6:30 and Wednesday night 7:30 at 12107 El Dorado Ave. #11 Sylmar CA 91342

Friendship is the bomb!

friendsThis side of eternity, the greatest thing is having friends.

Prepare the way for another

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi

If you ponder who is the greatest footballer of all time, Lionel Messi would be a contender for the title. Thanks to Messi, FC Barcelona are the team to beat, the standard-bearers of magic on the pitch, a distinction formerly held by nemesis Real Madrid.

But there would have been no Messi, and Barcelona would have remained always in the shadows of white uniforms of Spain’s capitol city, had it not been for a legend from the past. Johann Cruyff is almost forgotten in the radiance of today’s stars. But it was Cruyff who made the way for Messi.

cruyff

Johann Cruyff

Wanted at Real Madrid, the Dutch dazzler opted to move to then-underdog Barca. Immediately he won the championship and two Ballons d’Or. Later as coach, he won four consecutive titles and one European Cup. He devised the farm training team for future stars to rise in. It was there that Messi discovered his own greatness.

Today, Cruyff fades into the background as the steamroller Messi continues to smash records. Who is greater? The one who became great or the one who forged the path for him to find destiny.

Maybe your ministry is waning, your influence declining. Fret not. What you have done for God has brought others into their own destiny and greatness.

Pain: when I think on my circumstances

Pain: when I think on my circumstancesJoy: when I think of others’ blessings.

I get discouraged by my own circumstances.

But when I think about other rising disciples in the church, I rejoice to see God blessing and using them.

Lesson learned: think about others.