Join us this Christmas season!

CHRISTMAS TREE LIGHTING
Friday, November 30 at 7 pm
Join us for a fun-filled night of Christmas songs, homemade cookies, children’s story and the third annual lighting of our Christmas tree!

“CAROLING, CAROLING” CHRISTMAS CONCERT
Sunday, December 16 at 7:30pm
Join us for an evening of Christmas carols, solos, duets, choral gems and a sing-along as the PCC Choir and The Joanna Medawar Nachef Singers share the joyous sounds of the season. Bring the family for a musical night that will be filled with the warmth of His blessed birth and a celebration of the King of Kings.

CHRISTMAS SUNDAY
December 23 at 9 & 10:30 am
Worship the coming of Jesus, our Savior.

CHRISTMAS EVE CANDLELIGHT SERVICES
December 24 at 3:30 & 5 pm
Enjoy the quiet of the evening as we celebrate the arrival of God’s Son to our world. These family services fill up quickly, so come early. Childcare for children 5-yrs and under are available by reservation.

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Stop, Think It Over

Tuesday marks 46 years since the passage of Roe v Wade, which made abortion-on-demand the law of the land. This year also marks the 45 years since what is arguably the most courageous act in pop culture history.

In the early 1970s, the Texas-born Jim Seals and Dash Crofts were at the peak of their popularity. Their 1972 album “Summer Breeze” reached number seven on the Billboard album charts. The 1973 follow-up, “Diamond Girl,” did even better, peaking at number four.  The record company was thrilled and so were fans. Both were looking forward to what was next from Seals and Croft.

Lana Day Bogan, wife of the duo’s recording engineer and longtime friend Joe Bogan, had seen a television documentary on abortion and was moved to write a poem, from the point of view of the baby. Seals, at Lana’s suggestion, put it to music. It opened with the lines “Oh little baby, you’ll never cry, nor will you hear a sweet lullaby.” The result was the song “Unborn Child,” which also became the name of their new album.

The song opens gently, but depicts the reality of abortion. The unborn child is “a tiny bud that grows in the womb only to be crushed before it can bloom” with an emphasis on the word “crushed.”

To put it mildly, this is not what their label, Warner Records, had in mind. Only a year since Roe v Wade and abortion remained very controversial. Add in the duo’s unapologetic and urgent plea for women contemplating abortion to “stop, think it over…” and it’s no shock that their record label had concerns.

As Dash Crofts later recalled, the label said, “This is a highly controversial subject, we advise that you don’t do this.” To which they replied, “But you’re in the business to make money; we’re doing it to save lives. We don’t care about the money.”

When the album released in early 1974, the label’s fears came true: Radio stations refused to play the title track because abortion supporters demanded equal time and picketed Seals and Croft concerts.

As music writer Bill de Young wrote 20 years later, “The critics tore the record to pieces, and Seals and Crofts with it…  ‘Unborn Child’ hurt Seals and Crofts’ reputation—it was as if they had crossed that thin line, that sacrosanct divider that separated their music from their religious beliefs.”

Those beliefs? Seals and Croft weren’t Christians. They were Baha’is, a 19th century religion from Persia.

As Seals and Crofts later said, it’s worth the risk. “I think we got more good results out of it than bad…” Dash Crofts said. “…a lot of people called us and said, ‘We’re naming our children after you, because you helped us decide to save their lives with that song.’”

The message according to Seals and Crofts was simple:  don’t take life too lightly, stop and think before going through with an abortion. But that message has no place in a world controlled by the abortion lobby. The sad truth is, “Unborn Child” was, for Seals and Crofts, the beginning of the end. Just like abortion has been for almost 61 million children since Roe v Wade. That’s more tragic than the Seals and Crofts story. At least they saved a few.

Promoted to Heaven

It was June 13, 1965. We were called Peninsula Baptist Church back then. There hadn’t been a senior pastor yet, only an interim pastor. The ink had hardly dried after the October signing of a founding declaration by 33 people, giving birth to Peninsula. The church was meeting at Margate School (now called PVIS). By the way, Margate has a much less institutional feel than PVIS. Right?

Anyway, eight months after the official launch of Peninsula, we sent out our first missionary. She would go to the Philippines and join the faculty of Faith Academy, where she would serve for well over 30 years. She had our support until she retired. Every month without fail.

This week is a bit nostalgic and sad for those who’ve been around awhile. That first sent missionary was Jan Lahman, and she passed away in Colorado this week. She suffered from dementia for many years and was under the care of a nursing home with a wonderful guardian to guide her through these last stages of life. It was a long slide home, but in my last contact with her guardian I learned she still loved to read her Bible every single day and was still smiling at the thought of Jesus. That was over a year ago.

Jan smiled a lot in life. A lot. Leaving the States in the mid-60s as a single woman could not have been easy. I must say a little bit bold. I got to know Jan in the 1990s when she’d come around while on furlough. Jan lit up a room. She loved Jesus and it was evident. There was a winsome spirit about her that was contagious. It was always great to have her around Peninsula for as long as we could get her.

Jan never married and her relatives were scattered across the country (at least from my recollection). When she retired, she went to work in the home office of the mission board that handled her support, Cadence. That office was too far from SoCal, so we didn’t get to see her much after that. Our loss. Her final lap was long and difficult. I have no doubt she made deep friendships in Colorado, but these last five years must have been difficult.

Just because you devote your life to serving Christ in a foreign culture, you don’t get a pass from the struggles of life. She faced with courage each phase of life, never losing the joy of walking with Jesus. She believed that the value of what waited for her in eternity far outweighed anything she gave up serving Jesus on earth. She never expected special treatment from God just because she left home to serve students in Manilla.

When I think of Jan I remember her laugh. I think of the pure joy that surrounded her wherever she went. And I am reminded of the price she paid to follow Jesus. May we all take a moment today to reflect on the grace of her life, whether we knew her or not. She was faithful to the end. Dependent on the Word. Full of joy and God’s grace. What more could we want?

Bombo College Students Update

I’ll never forget our first trip to Bombo. It was August/September of 2007 and none of us knew anything about what was in store for us in the future. On our last day in Bombo (actually we were in our guest house in Kampala) we sat down with Alex and Millie Ojera from Bombo Pentecostal Church (BPC) for a debriefing. We asked Alex and Millie this question: If we continue to be involved with BPC, what do you need that we could provide? They immediately responded with two things: (1) We need some kind of a medical mission or clinic and (2) we have some students who have graduated high school but don’t have the means the means to go on to college or Bible school. Well you know the story of what is now 11 medical clinics, but the story I want to tell is about those students.

After our meeting with the Ojeras, Les Smith and I began talking and when we got home the rudiments of a plan had been formulated. We would ask our Sunday school class to sponsor some of the young people in Bombo to a college education. I presented the need for college scholarships to the Sunday school class and with excitement the class decided to take on five students selected by Alex and Millie and provide scholarships for those five students. The scholarships ranged from a low of $250 to a high of $500 per term for each student. In conjunction with the Ojeras, we established three rules for the recipients:

• Walk close to the Lord throughout your education process.
• Maintain good grades throughout.
• After graduation, stay in Uganda and use your education to help your own people.

As I write this in mid-December, we have now provided scholarships for 16 students, 14 of which have graduated, one dropped out and one is still in medical school and plans to return to Bombo upon graduation and take charge of the medical clinic PCC paid for a few years ago. The others among other things are:

• Teaching in Donela School, the private Christian school established by Align Ministries in Bombo, now serving more than 600 students in grades 1-8.
• Pastoring in churches in towns near Bombo, churches planted by BPC.
• Leading in music and worship in the various churches.
• And more.

In fact those original students we sponsored decided they needed to do more and they committed on their own initiative to save part of their income to help provide tuition funding for students who would follow them. And they have continued to do that.

Currently we are supporting four new students all of whom started college this year. What a rich blessing this has been for the class. Who knew back in the fall of 2007 the ways we at PCC could have an impact on this wonderful community of young Christian students half a world away!

Silent Night

As the sun sets tonight, we celebrate something special. A couple of things, actually. We remember the birth of Jesus, the arrival of the Son of God. May we never tire of telling His story.

But there is something else to remember tonight. Two hundred years ago, a song was sung for the very first time. It was Christmas Eve 1818, in the church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf near Salzburg, Austria, that “Silent Night” was sung for the very first time. Tonight, the song is officially 200 years old.

The words to “Silent Night” were the work of the Rev. Joseph Mohr, a young priest in Oberndorf. He wrote them in 1816 as a reflection on peace after a summer of violence in Salzburg. The poem sat on a shelf for two years.

In 1818, a roving band of actors was performing in towns throughout the Austrian Alps. On December 23, they arrived at Oberndorf, where they were to re-enact the story of Christ’s birth in the small Church of St. Nicholas.

Unfortunately, the St. Nicholas’ church organ wasn’t working and would not be repaired before Christmas. Because the church organ was out of commission, the actors presented their Christmas drama in a private home. That Christmas “pageant” put assistant pastor Josef Mohr in a meditative mood. Instead of walking straight to his house that night, Mohr took a longer way home. The longer path took him up over a hill overlooking the village.

From that hilltop, Mohr looked down on the peaceful snow-covered village. Reveling in majestic silence of the wintry night, Mohr gazed down at the glowing Christmas card-like scene. His thoughts about the Christmas play he had just seen made him remember a poem he had written a couple of years before. That poem was about the night when angels announced the birth of the long-awaited Messiah to shepherds on a hillside.

Mohr decided those words might make a good carol for his congregation the following evening at their Christmas eve service. The one problem was that he didn’t have any music to which that poem could be sung. So, the next day Mohr went to see the church organist, Franz Xaver Gruber. Gruber only had a few hours to come up with a melody which could be sung with a guitar. However, by that evening, Gruber had managed to compose a musical setting for the poem. It no longer mattered to Mohr and Gruber that their church organ was inoperable. They now had a Christmas carol that could be sung without that organ.

On Christmas Eve, the little Oberndorf congregation heard Gruber and Mohr sing their new composition to the accompaniment of Gruber’s guitar. The rest is history.

Before the entrance of the angelic army to the hills of Judea, the night was as silent as ever. But all that changed with the arrival of the Child. Jesus changed their lives and He has changed ours, too. What began in silence ended in raucous celebration. Tonight, let the arrival of the Son turn this silent night into a night that changes everything. Rejoice, the Savior has been born. Today.

Glory Collided with Tragedy

Christmas is very different in my house these days. We certainly don’t celebrate Christmas the way we did 20 years ago. I mean, we have a couple of Advent Calendars at the house, and I don’t think we touched them once this month. There used to be a mad dash to the calendars every day to see who could remove the current day. Those mini-disturbances are a thing of the past, though we learned to pre-assign a rotation for each calendar, which ended those morning scuffles.

There aren’t as many cookies being baked (yet). There aren’t as many toys to be wrapped. There aren’t any school programs to attend. But the time still fills up and the big day arrives faster than ever. Or so it seems, even in this year where there are the most days possible between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Maybe I’m tired because I’m just older. No, that can’t be it.

We are no longer up at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning in our house. This year, Lindsey works all night on Christmas Eve and Jeremy is on call the morning of Christmas Day (just in case there are any Alexa app technical glitches — be sure to call him). The rest of us are exhausted from the hectic schedule of church and life (at our age) so we won’t be getting up early. Of course, my 94-year-old dad will be with us, and he gets up before the chickens. It’s ironic that this year it’s going to be the grandparents that get us up on Christmas day. Oh, how the tables have turned.

It may be a calmer celebration and the only attention the Advent Calendar may see is on Christmas Day itself, but we will still gain weight (I blame the Peppermint Chocolate Chip Malts at Chick-fil-A). As some things change, other things don’t. And there is one thing I work hard on so it will not change.

We still celebrate the Child, with rich traditions that highlight the unique nature of that birth in the Judean hills south of Jerusalem. I want to ponder the mysteries of the Incarnation as Mary did long ago. Paul Tripp put it this way. At Christmas, “glory collided with tragedy.” What a great summary of the story of God in the Bible. The glory of God’s presence, the glory of His promise, and the glory of His grace collide with the tragedy of sin…there in Bethlehem.

But where is the most violent collision of glory and tragedy? On the Cross. That collision is previewed when King Herod, scared to death for his own political power, planned the slaughter of the infants born surrounding Bethlehem around the same time as Jesus. God’s glory collided with tragedy.

As our celebrations change, never let the wonder of the story of God in our lives be diminished. Be overwhelmed as you look in the manger and see the One who came to die. The angels announced His arrival and the peace they mention is only possible because of the tree on which He would one day hang. And that’s not a tree covered with beautiful decorations. Only with His blood.

Don’t let your ever-changing celebrations crowd out the hope we have in Jesus, the glory of God.

Jury Duty

I spent the week in and out of a courtroom. Literally. It was about half and half, actually. We all know the pain of Jury Duty, and I used to think that worst role is to end up is as an alternate. You get to sit through everything, not talk about anything (ever) and then hope your compatriots make the right decision. There is only really one thing I could imagine being worse than that. Being the ONLY alternate. Yes, before the trial even began, the two of us alternates became one. Me. But I have changed my mind. It can be worse to deliberate than to “alternate.”

As we proceeded through the short trial (three witnesses), I gladly retreated to the Jury Assembly room upstairs to wait as the other twelve deliberated. It was a he said/she said case. The only real testimony was the “she said” so a decision hinged on the victim’s credibility.

As they rehashed all the facts over the next two days, I sat and read. By myself. The room had but one occupant. Me. I read Christopher Yuan’s new book, “Holy Sexuality and the Gospel.” I highly recommend it, by the way. You should pick up a copy to stretch your thinking about biblical anthropology, among other things.

Anyway, I went up and down the elevators 4-5 times in those two deliberation days. If the jury had a question, I had to be there to hear it and the answer. When they requested testimony be read back, I had to be there to hear it. When they were hung 8-4, I was back in the courtroom to watch the judge order them to not give up. Up and down. Up and down. But when I was up, oh wow…it was gloriously peaceful. Something I would not have experienced in the deliberation room. I could tell. So, I was finally glad to be an alternate. Oops, the alternate.

By the end of the process, the jury remained hung, 8-4. Not much flexibility. No one budged and the judge declared a mistrial. I was free, but exhausted. The commute to Inglewood was tiring and the pressure surprising. But I was grateful to have skipped the jury room deliberations and to read.

I came away looking forward to the day when justice will prevail. We have the best system of justice on the planet, but it is not perfect. But some day. A day is coming when the king born in Bethlehem will rule the planet with justice. And wisdom and grace, don’t forget those elements. I drove home on the 405 longing for the day when my Savior would judge and His righteousness would prevail.

And I was thankful that I didn’t have to be in that jury deliberation room. It wasn’t as exciting upstairs, but it was much more profitable. Other jurors said they’d wished I been in there with them, but I really didn’t miss it. Upstairs was much better for my soul. I guess God knew that and spared me those hours of haggling. I’m done for at least a year and am looking with a more steadfast resolve for the day The Judge will make all things right. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Living As If Friday Isn’t Available

Weird weeks can teach you a lesson. This week was weird. And I’ve learned something, too. I’ve been on Jury Duty. In Inglewood. Now, I haven’t had to go in yet (it is Thursday and I have one more shot at fulfilling my civic duty). So that’s the weird part. All week, I haven’t been able to commit to anything with my location and availability in limbo. That does force some flexibility on my part. But as I type, there is still Friday (the day of my biggest deadlines) still hanging over my head. Sermon notes are due. Text for the sermon slides. The Back Page. The Friday Update. Friday is not my slack-off day, not even close. But, what if I’m not around? Yikes. I need Plan B.

Therefore, I have had to live as if Friday would be spent in Inglewood. The bonus is that if I’m in Inglewood, I’m hoping to spend the day with Lillie Popoola. We both have jury duty this week…in Inglewood. But so far, I only saw her at home group, not at court. But I never know…there’s still Friday looming on the horizon.

Living as if Friday isn’t available has changed my week. All my “Friday work” had to be done by the end of the day on Thursday. That’s not so easy for those of us who tend to procrastinate…just a tad. And when I’m out of my routine it’s too easy to forget to do something. Hopefully, that won’t happen this week. But who knows? If there are no sermon slides this morning, you’ll know why.

Living as if Friday isn’t available had some advantages, too. I actually might (might!) get to work ahead on planning for 2019. That could be huge. Maybe this government-imposed “margin” is a blessing in disguise? Maybe I could learn something from this weird week? But, if I get “the call” to head to Inglewood on Friday, so much for working ahead. But my Thursday goal is to make sure the office staff can complete their work on time. If that sets me up to do some 2019 dreaming, that’s a huge bonus.

But as I think about it, maybe I ought to live more often like “Friday isn’t available” every week. Wow, that could be amazing. It’s not going to happen, but the thought of it is fascinating. I did think about the fact that “Friday” is never promised. Maybe that trumpet will sound, and Jesus will be on His way. Or maybe my time will be up here on earth. “Friday” is never a guarantee. And since life is preparation for eternity, perhaps I should live each week with that “Friday in Inglewood” in view.

James tells us to make plans yet submit them to the sovereign hand of God. We might have an itinerary mapped out, but God gets the final say. Always. This week I learned I actually could shuffle things around, if the motivation was high enough. There are advantages to creating margin in life. For me, sometimes it is just not worth it, if I’m honest. But maybe I should change. That’s a powerful lesson.

Conspire With Us

The calendar has given us some margin this year. At least so it seems. With Thanksgiving falling on the earliest day possible, we have the most days possible between the fluid date of Thanksgiving and the fixed date of Christmas. It kind of felt like a week of margin for us all. There hasn’t been the intense pressure to get everything together right away. At least not around my house!

But everything begins in earnest now. December has arrived. There is no turning back. But does that have to be a bad thing? No, it doesn’t.

Over 10 years ago, a few pastors were lamenting how they’d come to the end of another Christmas season exhausted and sensing they’d missed it — the awe-inducing, soul-satisfying mystery of the incarnation.

For many of their people, they were drowning in a sea of financial debt and endless lists of gifts to buy. They struggled to find the connection between our Christmas to-do lists and the story of Jesus’ birth. And they were not alone.

An overwhelming stress had overtaken worship and celebration. The time of year when focusing on Jesus should be the easiest was often the hardest. Somehow, this had become the new normal.

So, in 2006, three pastors, Chris Seay, Greg Holder, and Rick McKinley, decided to try something different. They called it the Advent Conspiracy movement, and came up with four tenets—Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All—to guide themselves, their families, and congregations through the Christmas season.

The movement started small—just a handful of churches who would try this experiment and make the Christmas story personal again. That first Christmas they got creative, changed their traditions, and ended up raising enough money for a water-well in West Africa.

The news spread quickly, a book was written, videos were created, and along the way a revolution was born. Over the last decade, thousands of churches have celebrated with more relational traditions, partnered with more organizations, and have channeled more resources to the poor, marginalized, and forgotten. Peninsula is one of them.

Advent Conspiracy is about the entire body of Christ at work in the world. As we worship fully, spend less, give more, and love all, something begins to happen that is greater than any single person, church, or denomination. As the Church, we are telling the story of Jesus to the watching world.

It is my prayer is that more churches join together to live out the story of Jesus’ sacrificial love. God is not finished with our world and He is inviting us deeper into the Christmas story. You will find a “menu” in your worship folder with ideas for you to use to bring meaning, simplicity, and joy to the season. We will be explaining a new kind of project for us this year. We’ve built multiple wells around the world because of Advent Conspiracy. We’ve invested in Mercy’s Village and paid for the printing of Bibles for the Waxe (their first and only Bible for their tribe in Papua New Guinea). It’s been a wonderful journey with new steps to be taken this year.

And I just ask one thing of us all:  Conspire with us.

An Email of Encouragement

Not often enough, I get an email like the one found below. I just have to share the encouragement.

We have met several times over the years, but I would forgive you if you didn’t put a face with this name. My wife and I live in Westchester and have come to PCC services over the years. Mostly on Easter because my grandmother lived at the Canterbury, and anyone who went to Dallas Seminary she approved of and wanted to hear speak. She lived to 106 and, full disclosure, it was a shock to us when we went to our own Easter service after she passed because we had never been before.

While we attend church in West LA, my parents live in Palos Verdes and we like to drop in and visit when in town. This year our church had a men’s retreat and my wife was chagrined by the fact Cornerstone didn’t have a women’s retreat.

During the announcements at PCC they said they would be having a women’s retreat at Forest Home. My wife immediately leaned over and whispered, “I’m going.” I leaned back, my arm already around her, and said, “The women’s retreat is for their church and I don’t think it is appropriate you join.”

She leaned back in and said, “I’m still going. If they have spots, I am going.” When the last song was being played, I excused myself and went to pick up our kids. Back on the patio, I found my wife signing up for Forest Home. I said to her, “Are you sure this is okay, do they have enough room?”

To which she replied, “I am going, and I am taking a friend.” I really didn’t have words, mostly because my three-year-old was socking away donuts in her mouth like it was the last meal before she went into hibernation.

Here is where it gets interesting. Somehow you had two spots. Monica called a few close friends, straws were drawn, and up the mountain went my wife and Meredith. They had a fantastic time. They were touched by the speaking and warmth of the women in the PCC cabin times of sharing.

Coming off that mountain they agreed to approach our pastors with doing a women’s retreat. God clearly saw purpose in this weekend. Our pastors agreed, assembling a teaching team from our church, and booked Forrest Home Ojai for the first Cornerstone women’s retreat.

In an act of faith, our church put down the deposit to allow 80 women to come. By the time the dust settled, 110 women signed up. The retreat was held in early October and it was a huge success.

But as my wife was telling me all this, I couldn’t help but think back to that day on your church patio. Peninsula welcomed my wife and her friend with open arms. Had they not, none of the 110 women who went to our retreat would have had the experience they did. Thank you Peninsula, the leadership on your women’s retreat, and the women on the retreat who were so open to both Monica and Meredith. Great things continue to come out from that weekend, and your church body was instrumental in it all.   – Jonathan Lee

The Table

We will gather around a table this week. So much happened around a table in the Bible. Abraham met strangers. The Passover in Egypt. David almost lost his life. Jesus shared His last meal. The early church learned to be inclusive. And some day we will celebrate the return of the King.

To sit at a table is an ordinary thing to do, but it can mark a significant event as well. This week it will be special.  We’ll invite special guests and have unique décor and an abundance of food. An extravagant celebration, actually. Thanksgiving is a time to pause and reflect on the bounty of God in our lives.

But the Thanksgiving table has not been regularly celebrated in our history, much as giving thanks is not always a discipline we do as often as we should. It was President George Washington who proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving in 1789. I have always assumed that was it, it became a permanent and beloved feature of American life. Not so, however. It had a rather bumpy history, and there were those not so thrilled with that initial proclamation. On that first Thanksgiving, Washington attended services at St. Paul’s Chapel in NYC and then donated beer and food to debtors in prison. That was it.

He repeated his proclamation in 1795, and other presidents declared days of Thanksgiving, but not consistently. Thomas Jefferson fought every attempt at proclamations. By 1855, 16 states celebrated Thanksgiving (not all on the same day).

When President Lincoln took office, he would order government offices closed for a local day of thanksgiving. But then on September 28, 1863, Sarah Jospeha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote a letter to Lincoln urging him to have the “day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.”

She explained, “You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.”

Unlike his predecessors, President Lincoln loved the idea. His predecessors had regularly ignored her petitions, which she’d sent for the previous 15 years. On October 3, 1863, Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November would be “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” But against what backdrop? The Civil War.

Lincoln noted that, “In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity…order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict…”

Out of deep division and struggle, our permanent national celebration was born. The table became permanent. As you sit at the table this week, add that to your list of things for which to be thankful. As life gets hard, there is a table at which so much has happened. There is a table which reminds us of our faith and of our Savior. Gather at the table to remember its rich history and the hope of that one great feast to celebrate the King’s return. In everything, give thanks.

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Stop, Think It Over

Tuesday marks 46 years since the passage of Roe v Wade, which made abortion-on-demand the law of the land. This year also marks the 45 years since what is arguably the most courageous act in pop culture history.

In the early 1970s, the Texas-born Jim Seals and Dash Crofts were at the peak of their popularity. Their 1972 album “Summer Breeze” reached number seven on the Billboard album charts. The 1973 follow-up, “Diamond Girl,” did even better, peaking at number four.  The record company was thrilled and so were fans. Both were looking forward to what was next from Seals and Croft.

Lana Day Bogan, wife of the duo’s recording engineer and longtime friend Joe Bogan, had seen a television documentary on abortion and was moved to write a poem, from the point of view of the baby. Seals, at Lana’s suggestion, put it to music. It opened with the lines “Oh little baby, you’ll never cry, nor will you hear a sweet lullaby.” The result was the song “Unborn Child,” which also became the name of their new album.

The song opens gently, but depicts the reality of abortion. The unborn child is “a tiny bud that grows in the womb only to be crushed before it can bloom” with an emphasis on the word “crushed.”

To put it mildly, this is not what their label, Warner Records, had in mind. Only a year since Roe v Wade and abortion remained very controversial. Add in the duo’s unapologetic and urgent plea for women contemplating abortion to “stop, think it over…” and it’s no shock that their record label had concerns.

As Dash Crofts later recalled, the label said, “This is a highly controversial subject, we advise that you don’t do this.” To which they replied, “But you’re in the business to make money; we’re doing it to save lives. We don’t care about the money.”

When the album released in early 1974, the label’s fears came true: Radio stations refused to play the title track because abortion supporters demanded equal time and picketed Seals and Croft concerts.

As music writer Bill de Young wrote 20 years later, “The critics tore the record to pieces, and Seals and Crofts with it…  ‘Unborn Child’ hurt Seals and Crofts’ reputation—it was as if they had crossed that thin line, that sacrosanct divider that separated their music from their religious beliefs.”

Those beliefs? Seals and Croft weren’t Christians. They were Baha’is, a 19th century religion from Persia.

As Seals and Crofts later said, it’s worth the risk. “I think we got more good results out of it than bad…” Dash Crofts said. “…a lot of people called us and said, ‘We’re naming our children after you, because you helped us decide to save their lives with that song.’”

The message according to Seals and Crofts was simple:  don’t take life too lightly, stop and think before going through with an abortion. But that message has no place in a world controlled by the abortion lobby. The sad truth is, “Unborn Child” was, for Seals and Crofts, the beginning of the end. Just like abortion has been for almost 61 million children since Roe v Wade. That’s more tragic than the Seals and Crofts story. At least they saved a few.

Promoted to Heaven

It was June 13, 1965. We were called Peninsula Baptist Church back then. There hadn’t been a senior pastor yet, only an interim pastor. The ink had hardly dried after the October signing of a founding declaration by 33 people, giving birth to Peninsula. The church was meeting at Margate School (now called PVIS). By the way, Margate has a much less institutional feel than PVIS. Right?

Anyway, eight months after the official launch of Peninsula, we sent out our first missionary. She would go to the Philippines and join the faculty of Faith Academy, where she would serve for well over 30 years. She had our support until she retired. Every month without fail.

This week is a bit nostalgic and sad for those who’ve been around awhile. That first sent missionary was Jan Lahman, and she passed away in Colorado this week. She suffered from dementia for many years and was under the care of a nursing home with a wonderful guardian to guide her through these last stages of life. It was a long slide home, but in my last contact with her guardian I learned she still loved to read her Bible every single day and was still smiling at the thought of Jesus. That was over a year ago.

Jan smiled a lot in life. A lot. Leaving the States in the mid-60s as a single woman could not have been easy. I must say a little bit bold. I got to know Jan in the 1990s when she’d come around while on furlough. Jan lit up a room. She loved Jesus and it was evident. There was a winsome spirit about her that was contagious. It was always great to have her around Peninsula for as long as we could get her.

Jan never married and her relatives were scattered across the country (at least from my recollection). When she retired, she went to work in the home office of the mission board that handled her support, Cadence. That office was too far from SoCal, so we didn’t get to see her much after that. Our loss. Her final lap was long and difficult. I have no doubt she made deep friendships in Colorado, but these last five years must have been difficult.

Just because you devote your life to serving Christ in a foreign culture, you don’t get a pass from the struggles of life. She faced with courage each phase of life, never losing the joy of walking with Jesus. She believed that the value of what waited for her in eternity far outweighed anything she gave up serving Jesus on earth. She never expected special treatment from God just because she left home to serve students in Manilla.

When I think of Jan I remember her laugh. I think of the pure joy that surrounded her wherever she went. And I am reminded of the price she paid to follow Jesus. May we all take a moment today to reflect on the grace of her life, whether we knew her or not. She was faithful to the end. Dependent on the Word. Full of joy and God’s grace. What more could we want?

Bombo College Students Update

I’ll never forget our first trip to Bombo. It was August/September of 2007 and none of us knew anything about what was in store for us in the future. On our last day in Bombo (actually we were in our guest house in Kampala) we sat down with Alex and Millie Ojera from Bombo Pentecostal Church (BPC) for a debriefing. We asked Alex and Millie this question: If we continue to be involved with BPC, what do you need that we could provide? They immediately responded with two things: (1) We need some kind of a medical mission or clinic and (2) we have some students who have graduated high school but don’t have the means the means to go on to college or Bible school. Well you know the story of what is now 11 medical clinics, but the story I want to tell is about those students.

After our meeting with the Ojeras, Les Smith and I began talking and when we got home the rudiments of a plan had been formulated. We would ask our Sunday school class to sponsor some of the young people in Bombo to a college education. I presented the need for college scholarships to the Sunday school class and with excitement the class decided to take on five students selected by Alex and Millie and provide scholarships for those five students. The scholarships ranged from a low of $250 to a high of $500 per term for each student. In conjunction with the Ojeras, we established three rules for the recipients:

• Walk close to the Lord throughout your education process.
• Maintain good grades throughout.
• After graduation, stay in Uganda and use your education to help your own people.

As I write this in mid-December, we have now provided scholarships for 16 students, 14 of which have graduated, one dropped out and one is still in medical school and plans to return to Bombo upon graduation and take charge of the medical clinic PCC paid for a few years ago. The others among other things are:

• Teaching in Donela School, the private Christian school established by Align Ministries in Bombo, now serving more than 600 students in grades 1-8.
• Pastoring in churches in towns near Bombo, churches planted by BPC.
• Leading in music and worship in the various churches.
• And more.

In fact those original students we sponsored decided they needed to do more and they committed on their own initiative to save part of their income to help provide tuition funding for students who would follow them. And they have continued to do that.

Currently we are supporting four new students all of whom started college this year. What a rich blessing this has been for the class. Who knew back in the fall of 2007 the ways we at PCC could have an impact on this wonderful community of young Christian students half a world away!

Silent Night

As the sun sets tonight, we celebrate something special. A couple of things, actually. We remember the birth of Jesus, the arrival of the Son of God. May we never tire of telling His story.

But there is something else to remember tonight. Two hundred years ago, a song was sung for the very first time. It was Christmas Eve 1818, in the church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf near Salzburg, Austria, that “Silent Night” was sung for the very first time. Tonight, the song is officially 200 years old.

The words to “Silent Night” were the work of the Rev. Joseph Mohr, a young priest in Oberndorf. He wrote them in 1816 as a reflection on peace after a summer of violence in Salzburg. The poem sat on a shelf for two years.

In 1818, a roving band of actors was performing in towns throughout the Austrian Alps. On December 23, they arrived at Oberndorf, where they were to re-enact the story of Christ’s birth in the small Church of St. Nicholas.

Unfortunately, the St. Nicholas’ church organ wasn’t working and would not be repaired before Christmas. Because the church organ was out of commission, the actors presented their Christmas drama in a private home. That Christmas “pageant” put assistant pastor Josef Mohr in a meditative mood. Instead of walking straight to his house that night, Mohr took a longer way home. The longer path took him up over a hill overlooking the village.

From that hilltop, Mohr looked down on the peaceful snow-covered village. Reveling in majestic silence of the wintry night, Mohr gazed down at the glowing Christmas card-like scene. His thoughts about the Christmas play he had just seen made him remember a poem he had written a couple of years before. That poem was about the night when angels announced the birth of the long-awaited Messiah to shepherds on a hillside.

Mohr decided those words might make a good carol for his congregation the following evening at their Christmas eve service. The one problem was that he didn’t have any music to which that poem could be sung. So, the next day Mohr went to see the church organist, Franz Xaver Gruber. Gruber only had a few hours to come up with a melody which could be sung with a guitar. However, by that evening, Gruber had managed to compose a musical setting for the poem. It no longer mattered to Mohr and Gruber that their church organ was inoperable. They now had a Christmas carol that could be sung without that organ.

On Christmas Eve, the little Oberndorf congregation heard Gruber and Mohr sing their new composition to the accompaniment of Gruber’s guitar. The rest is history.

Before the entrance of the angelic army to the hills of Judea, the night was as silent as ever. But all that changed with the arrival of the Child. Jesus changed their lives and He has changed ours, too. What began in silence ended in raucous celebration. Tonight, let the arrival of the Son turn this silent night into a night that changes everything. Rejoice, the Savior has been born. Today.

Glory Collided with Tragedy

Christmas is very different in my house these days. We certainly don’t celebrate Christmas the way we did 20 years ago. I mean, we have a couple of Advent Calendars at the house, and I don’t think we touched them once this month. There used to be a mad dash to the calendars every day to see who could remove the current day. Those mini-disturbances are a thing of the past, though we learned to pre-assign a rotation for each calendar, which ended those morning scuffles.

There aren’t as many cookies being baked (yet). There aren’t as many toys to be wrapped. There aren’t any school programs to attend. But the time still fills up and the big day arrives faster than ever. Or so it seems, even in this year where there are the most days possible between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Maybe I’m tired because I’m just older. No, that can’t be it.

We are no longer up at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning in our house. This year, Lindsey works all night on Christmas Eve and Jeremy is on call the morning of Christmas Day (just in case there are any Alexa app technical glitches — be sure to call him). The rest of us are exhausted from the hectic schedule of church and life (at our age) so we won’t be getting up early. Of course, my 94-year-old dad will be with us, and he gets up before the chickens. It’s ironic that this year it’s going to be the grandparents that get us up on Christmas day. Oh, how the tables have turned.

It may be a calmer celebration and the only attention the Advent Calendar may see is on Christmas Day itself, but we will still gain weight (I blame the Peppermint Chocolate Chip Malts at Chick-fil-A). As some things change, other things don’t. And there is one thing I work hard on so it will not change.

We still celebrate the Child, with rich traditions that highlight the unique nature of that birth in the Judean hills south of Jerusalem. I want to ponder the mysteries of the Incarnation as Mary did long ago. Paul Tripp put it this way. At Christmas, “glory collided with tragedy.” What a great summary of the story of God in the Bible. The glory of God’s presence, the glory of His promise, and the glory of His grace collide with the tragedy of sin…there in Bethlehem.

But where is the most violent collision of glory and tragedy? On the Cross. That collision is previewed when King Herod, scared to death for his own political power, planned the slaughter of the infants born surrounding Bethlehem around the same time as Jesus. God’s glory collided with tragedy.

As our celebrations change, never let the wonder of the story of God in our lives be diminished. Be overwhelmed as you look in the manger and see the One who came to die. The angels announced His arrival and the peace they mention is only possible because of the tree on which He would one day hang. And that’s not a tree covered with beautiful decorations. Only with His blood.

Don’t let your ever-changing celebrations crowd out the hope we have in Jesus, the glory of God.

Jury Duty

I spent the week in and out of a courtroom. Literally. It was about half and half, actually. We all know the pain of Jury Duty, and I used to think that worst role is to end up is as an alternate. You get to sit through everything, not talk about anything (ever) and then hope your compatriots make the right decision. There is only really one thing I could imagine being worse than that. Being the ONLY alternate. Yes, before the trial even began, the two of us alternates became one. Me. But I have changed my mind. It can be worse to deliberate than to “alternate.”

As we proceeded through the short trial (three witnesses), I gladly retreated to the Jury Assembly room upstairs to wait as the other twelve deliberated. It was a he said/she said case. The only real testimony was the “she said” so a decision hinged on the victim’s credibility.

As they rehashed all the facts over the next two days, I sat and read. By myself. The room had but one occupant. Me. I read Christopher Yuan’s new book, “Holy Sexuality and the Gospel.” I highly recommend it, by the way. You should pick up a copy to stretch your thinking about biblical anthropology, among other things.

Anyway, I went up and down the elevators 4-5 times in those two deliberation days. If the jury had a question, I had to be there to hear it and the answer. When they requested testimony be read back, I had to be there to hear it. When they were hung 8-4, I was back in the courtroom to watch the judge order them to not give up. Up and down. Up and down. But when I was up, oh wow…it was gloriously peaceful. Something I would not have experienced in the deliberation room. I could tell. So, I was finally glad to be an alternate. Oops, the alternate.

By the end of the process, the jury remained hung, 8-4. Not much flexibility. No one budged and the judge declared a mistrial. I was free, but exhausted. The commute to Inglewood was tiring and the pressure surprising. But I was grateful to have skipped the jury room deliberations and to read.

I came away looking forward to the day when justice will prevail. We have the best system of justice on the planet, but it is not perfect. But some day. A day is coming when the king born in Bethlehem will rule the planet with justice. And wisdom and grace, don’t forget those elements. I drove home on the 405 longing for the day when my Savior would judge and His righteousness would prevail.

And I was thankful that I didn’t have to be in that jury deliberation room. It wasn’t as exciting upstairs, but it was much more profitable. Other jurors said they’d wished I been in there with them, but I really didn’t miss it. Upstairs was much better for my soul. I guess God knew that and spared me those hours of haggling. I’m done for at least a year and am looking with a more steadfast resolve for the day The Judge will make all things right. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Living As If Friday Isn’t Available

Weird weeks can teach you a lesson. This week was weird. And I’ve learned something, too. I’ve been on Jury Duty. In Inglewood. Now, I haven’t had to go in yet (it is Thursday and I have one more shot at fulfilling my civic duty). So that’s the weird part. All week, I haven’t been able to commit to anything with my location and availability in limbo. That does force some flexibility on my part. But as I type, there is still Friday (the day of my biggest deadlines) still hanging over my head. Sermon notes are due. Text for the sermon slides. The Back Page. The Friday Update. Friday is not my slack-off day, not even close. But, what if I’m not around? Yikes. I need Plan B.

Therefore, I have had to live as if Friday would be spent in Inglewood. The bonus is that if I’m in Inglewood, I’m hoping to spend the day with Lillie Popoola. We both have jury duty this week…in Inglewood. But so far, I only saw her at home group, not at court. But I never know…there’s still Friday looming on the horizon.

Living as if Friday isn’t available has changed my week. All my “Friday work” had to be done by the end of the day on Thursday. That’s not so easy for those of us who tend to procrastinate…just a tad. And when I’m out of my routine it’s too easy to forget to do something. Hopefully, that won’t happen this week. But who knows? If there are no sermon slides this morning, you’ll know why.

Living as if Friday isn’t available had some advantages, too. I actually might (might!) get to work ahead on planning for 2019. That could be huge. Maybe this government-imposed “margin” is a blessing in disguise? Maybe I could learn something from this weird week? But, if I get “the call” to head to Inglewood on Friday, so much for working ahead. But my Thursday goal is to make sure the office staff can complete their work on time. If that sets me up to do some 2019 dreaming, that’s a huge bonus.

But as I think about it, maybe I ought to live more often like “Friday isn’t available” every week. Wow, that could be amazing. It’s not going to happen, but the thought of it is fascinating. I did think about the fact that “Friday” is never promised. Maybe that trumpet will sound, and Jesus will be on His way. Or maybe my time will be up here on earth. “Friday” is never a guarantee. And since life is preparation for eternity, perhaps I should live each week with that “Friday in Inglewood” in view.

James tells us to make plans yet submit them to the sovereign hand of God. We might have an itinerary mapped out, but God gets the final say. Always. This week I learned I actually could shuffle things around, if the motivation was high enough. There are advantages to creating margin in life. For me, sometimes it is just not worth it, if I’m honest. But maybe I should change. That’s a powerful lesson.

Conspire With Us

The calendar has given us some margin this year. At least so it seems. With Thanksgiving falling on the earliest day possible, we have the most days possible between the fluid date of Thanksgiving and the fixed date of Christmas. It kind of felt like a week of margin for us all. There hasn’t been the intense pressure to get everything together right away. At least not around my house!

But everything begins in earnest now. December has arrived. There is no turning back. But does that have to be a bad thing? No, it doesn’t.

Over 10 years ago, a few pastors were lamenting how they’d come to the end of another Christmas season exhausted and sensing they’d missed it — the awe-inducing, soul-satisfying mystery of the incarnation.

For many of their people, they were drowning in a sea of financial debt and endless lists of gifts to buy. They struggled to find the connection between our Christmas to-do lists and the story of Jesus’ birth. And they were not alone.

An overwhelming stress had overtaken worship and celebration. The time of year when focusing on Jesus should be the easiest was often the hardest. Somehow, this had become the new normal.

So, in 2006, three pastors, Chris Seay, Greg Holder, and Rick McKinley, decided to try something different. They called it the Advent Conspiracy movement, and came up with four tenets—Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All—to guide themselves, their families, and congregations through the Christmas season.

The movement started small—just a handful of churches who would try this experiment and make the Christmas story personal again. That first Christmas they got creative, changed their traditions, and ended up raising enough money for a water-well in West Africa.

The news spread quickly, a book was written, videos were created, and along the way a revolution was born. Over the last decade, thousands of churches have celebrated with more relational traditions, partnered with more organizations, and have channeled more resources to the poor, marginalized, and forgotten. Peninsula is one of them.

Advent Conspiracy is about the entire body of Christ at work in the world. As we worship fully, spend less, give more, and love all, something begins to happen that is greater than any single person, church, or denomination. As the Church, we are telling the story of Jesus to the watching world.

It is my prayer is that more churches join together to live out the story of Jesus’ sacrificial love. God is not finished with our world and He is inviting us deeper into the Christmas story. You will find a “menu” in your worship folder with ideas for you to use to bring meaning, simplicity, and joy to the season. We will be explaining a new kind of project for us this year. We’ve built multiple wells around the world because of Advent Conspiracy. We’ve invested in Mercy’s Village and paid for the printing of Bibles for the Waxe (their first and only Bible for their tribe in Papua New Guinea). It’s been a wonderful journey with new steps to be taken this year.

And I just ask one thing of us all:  Conspire with us.

An Email of Encouragement

Not often enough, I get an email like the one found below. I just have to share the encouragement.

We have met several times over the years, but I would forgive you if you didn’t put a face with this name. My wife and I live in Westchester and have come to PCC services over the years. Mostly on Easter because my grandmother lived at the Canterbury, and anyone who went to Dallas Seminary she approved of and wanted to hear speak. She lived to 106 and, full disclosure, it was a shock to us when we went to our own Easter service after she passed because we had never been before.

While we attend church in West LA, my parents live in Palos Verdes and we like to drop in and visit when in town. This year our church had a men’s retreat and my wife was chagrined by the fact Cornerstone didn’t have a women’s retreat.

During the announcements at PCC they said they would be having a women’s retreat at Forest Home. My wife immediately leaned over and whispered, “I’m going.” I leaned back, my arm already around her, and said, “The women’s retreat is for their church and I don’t think it is appropriate you join.”

She leaned back in and said, “I’m still going. If they have spots, I am going.” When the last song was being played, I excused myself and went to pick up our kids. Back on the patio, I found my wife signing up for Forest Home. I said to her, “Are you sure this is okay, do they have enough room?”

To which she replied, “I am going, and I am taking a friend.” I really didn’t have words, mostly because my three-year-old was socking away donuts in her mouth like it was the last meal before she went into hibernation.

Here is where it gets interesting. Somehow you had two spots. Monica called a few close friends, straws were drawn, and up the mountain went my wife and Meredith. They had a fantastic time. They were touched by the speaking and warmth of the women in the PCC cabin times of sharing.

Coming off that mountain they agreed to approach our pastors with doing a women’s retreat. God clearly saw purpose in this weekend. Our pastors agreed, assembling a teaching team from our church, and booked Forrest Home Ojai for the first Cornerstone women’s retreat.

In an act of faith, our church put down the deposit to allow 80 women to come. By the time the dust settled, 110 women signed up. The retreat was held in early October and it was a huge success.

But as my wife was telling me all this, I couldn’t help but think back to that day on your church patio. Peninsula welcomed my wife and her friend with open arms. Had they not, none of the 110 women who went to our retreat would have had the experience they did. Thank you Peninsula, the leadership on your women’s retreat, and the women on the retreat who were so open to both Monica and Meredith. Great things continue to come out from that weekend, and your church body was instrumental in it all.   – Jonathan Lee

The Table

We will gather around a table this week. So much happened around a table in the Bible. Abraham met strangers. The Passover in Egypt. David almost lost his life. Jesus shared His last meal. The early church learned to be inclusive. And some day we will celebrate the return of the King.

To sit at a table is an ordinary thing to do, but it can mark a significant event as well. This week it will be special.  We’ll invite special guests and have unique décor and an abundance of food. An extravagant celebration, actually. Thanksgiving is a time to pause and reflect on the bounty of God in our lives.

But the Thanksgiving table has not been regularly celebrated in our history, much as giving thanks is not always a discipline we do as often as we should. It was President George Washington who proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving in 1789. I have always assumed that was it, it became a permanent and beloved feature of American life. Not so, however. It had a rather bumpy history, and there were those not so thrilled with that initial proclamation. On that first Thanksgiving, Washington attended services at St. Paul’s Chapel in NYC and then donated beer and food to debtors in prison. That was it.

He repeated his proclamation in 1795, and other presidents declared days of Thanksgiving, but not consistently. Thomas Jefferson fought every attempt at proclamations. By 1855, 16 states celebrated Thanksgiving (not all on the same day).

When President Lincoln took office, he would order government offices closed for a local day of thanksgiving. But then on September 28, 1863, Sarah Jospeha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote a letter to Lincoln urging him to have the “day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.”

She explained, “You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.”

Unlike his predecessors, President Lincoln loved the idea. His predecessors had regularly ignored her petitions, which she’d sent for the previous 15 years. On October 3, 1863, Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November would be “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” But against what backdrop? The Civil War.

Lincoln noted that, “In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity…order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict…”

Out of deep division and struggle, our permanent national celebration was born. The table became permanent. As you sit at the table this week, add that to your list of things for which to be thankful. As life gets hard, there is a table at which so much has happened. There is a table which reminds us of our faith and of our Savior. Gather at the table to remember its rich history and the hope of that one great feast to celebrate the King’s return. In everything, give thanks.

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