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Reach the World Via Your Own Backyard

It was just a tweet that I read as I was finishing breakfast this week. It’s been quite the news week, hasn’t it?  It’s been a week that’ll give you whiplash and news glut overload if you don’t just turn away occasionally. But this tweet stuck to me. Why? Because for me, it clarified why we do some of the things that we do around here. And it made me see why we should re-double our efforts, and not give up in doing good.

The tweet highlighted some statistics of which I was unaware. Maybe you weren’t. Japan is the second-least-reached nation in the world. With a population of 125 million, just 0.58 percent are evangelical Christians. That’s not very many.

Approximately 38 million people live in the greater Tokyo area, making it one of the largest cities in the world. Without much of a gospel witness. The tweet referred to an article, which I later went on to read. The article tells of a faithful church planter working in Tokyo to bring the gospel to his own people. It was interesting, but the damage was done to my heart simply by reading the tweet. It wasn’t over 280 characters. That’s for sure.

What can we do about that sad statistic? Well, the good news is that we are already doing something about it. And it’s right in our own back yard. Every year our weekday preschool enrolls a good number of children whose parents are working here in the South Bay, but they are thoroughly Japanese. The children will come not speaking a word (literally) of English. Their parents are here for a short time to work and then return (reluctantly, because they like the weather here) to Japan.

We have a short, but wide open window to share something of God’s love and the mission of His Son into the world. Those parents will sometimes come to church on Sunday morning. They will come to things like the Harvest Festival or VBS or the Family Fun Night (movie nights). We have opportunities to share our love of Jesus with them.

Maybe you didn’t think about that when you signed up to help be a leader at VBS next week. Maybe you should have thought about that when you declined the opportunity to serve. But when we do these events around here there is always a purpose. And that purpose can extend even to Tokyo. Or wherever. Maybe the positive impression we make will open the door for a church planter in Tokyo to share the life-saving Gospel with a heart cultivated by something we’ve done. You never know. Some plant. Some water. Others reap.

So just think big. Think global. Remember that we will not know the impact of everything we do. But our ministry to children, whether during the week or over the weekend, has an impact around the world. Literally. That’s the nature of life in SoCal — and in the South Bay. The opportunity to reach the world is right in our own backyard. Let’s be faithful to love and to share. It’s all for His glory.

Summer

We enjoyed a grand Sunday morning last weekend. Historic, actually. Honoring the Junkermanns was a blast, and it helped me to remember the good things God has done. He’s amazing, actually. But now we press ahead.

It’s summer. VBS opens in two weeks. Really? After VBS the summer kicks into high gear with PCC at the Park (with kickball). The youth are hitting it hard all summer long with a mission trip to Thermal, weekly fun and shenanigans because it’s summer, and camp at the end of July. Then it’s Summer Family Night (featuring “The Lion King”) on the first Friday in August. Then maybe (but probably not) we can take a bit of a rest in August. There is this thing called the medical mission in Africa. Technically, it doesn’t open until September, but by then school is open again here and we are ready for fall.

What a summer awaits! I hope you have some plans to get away. Relax. Recharge. Refresh. I’m heading to Mammoth in July (for as long as the bank account will allow). I haven’t been fishing in a very, very long time so my friends are calling for my return. The big blue sky and vast expanses of mountainous terrains are calling, too. Loudly.

But whatever you have planned for summer, don’t forget God. Don’t forget to continue to seek first His Kingdom. The work of God doesn’t take a vacation. The day of its rest is not today. Grow in Jesus at every opportunity you have. And I was thinking this week, about some adjustments for summer. You know, we will get a lot of guests these next few months. It’s a high-guest time of year. So maybe this summer we could be on the lookout for those new folks.

Maybe you could sit somewhere different for a couple of weeks.

Maybe you could check out the “other” service a couple of times, to meet a fresh face or two.

Maybe you could volunteer to teach or be in the nursery for a couple of weeks.

Maybe you could come early and roam around a bit on the patio before worship. Work that smile.

Maybe you could purposefully hang around after worship a little longer than normal, just to shake some hands and get to know someone new.

Summer is full of wonderful opportunities to refresh ourselves. But let’s not make it all about ourselves, as our pattern can be so easily. Maybe, just maybe, this summer could be about enfolding some folks into the church family. Or getting to know someone new in the church. Yes, we ought to rest after another long school year. But let’s use these days for the sake of the Kingdom. The fields are still ready for harvest. Even in the South Bay. Will you work this field you are in today?

I love summer for lots of reasons. Sitting in the middle of a lake catching fish is just one of them. It’s time to keep fishing for souls as we gather each Sunday together. Don’t make summer just about you. Reach out. Try something new. You never know what door God will open. Or where He’ll want you to serve next. Give something new a try.

Thank You Junkermann Family!

This morning is a momentous moment in the life of our church family. Yes, it is the unofficial beginning of summer (and we might actually get to see some sun, though I’m not counting on it). But that’s not what makes this day so special. Today is officially CELEBRATE THE JUNKERMANN FAMILY DAY. Yes, it is historic. And I’m being serious (for a change).

It was in June of 1998 that Bruce and Laura came to our church officially as staff. Haley was just over a year old (four months past a year). And Mercy? Well, she wouldn’t come around for another year. The small family of three packed up their possessions in San Diego and ventured north to the South Bay. Twenty. Years. Ago.

We’ve seen a lot of change in the church and in their lives over these past 20 years. Not only did they add to their family, but we got to watch them grow up. And this church has added to its family, and we have been able to enjoy solid spiritual growth in the process. For most of his tenure, Bruce has overseen our ministry to children and families. It was a long and significant ministry, enabling us to grow families to reach their world, and beyond. Lately, Bruce has made his mark felt in the discipleship and adult ministry of the church. He is a man with a plan, and we are reaping the fruit of his vision these days.

Now, we thought of all kinds of ways we could remember Bruce and his contributions to Peninsula. We could have decorated his office in the manner and zeal with which he re-decorated mine over the course of many years. But I vetoed that. You are welcome, Bruce.

I wanted to supply him with a year’s supply of all kinds of things, like he did for me a while back. I think one jar of pickles, one can of split pea soup, and a pound of tofu would have lasted a whole year in his pantry. Maybe a decade. And maybe one $5 gift card to Yellow Fever could have lasted the year, except the rest of the staff likes to go there. But alas, I vetoed that idea as well. And we just couldn’t afford a year’s worth of gift certificates to Wienerschnitzel. We’d be broke. So, the staff has been in a bit a quandary.

What did we decide to do? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see. But there is nothing more significant that we could do than to reassure Bruce, Laura, Haley, and Mercy of our love and continued prayer and support for their family and their ministry among us. Today is a day to do that. And we’ll ask everyone to join us as we remind them clearly of our love and of our support for God’s work in them and through them.

So, we celebrate 20 years of life lived together. Faithfully. Wisely. Joyfully. Reliably. All those characteristics are rare in our world, and so today we look to God and thank Him for that decision twenty years ago. What a wild run it’s been! To God be the glory.

Three Teenage Boys Who Did Something

I invited a guest to author the Back Page this week. Well, I got this in an email and couldn’t put it down. So, here you go. And thank you, Paul Tripp.
– Pastor Jim

When you look at a 16-year-old, what are your hopes and expectations for them? Go to school, do your homework, and please avoid the typical teenage temptations and errors? Some boys are different. Here is the story of three who refused to be passive in the face of wrong.

The boys were attending a large, established, and well-known Christian school. But there were problems in the school as never before. The student body had become divided, with a separation between the “suburban” kids and the “city” kids.

Those labels were just a cover. This once-great school had become racially divided. There hadn’t been any violence, at least not yet, and much of the racism was covert. But it was there, and real, and undeniable.

This was unacceptable to these three teenage boys. A Christian school is supposed to be known for its love. A place of peace. Yet the culture of this school had become defined by worldly stereotypes and division.

These three teenage boys decided to do something. They asked the headmaster for permission to hold a weekly Friday-afternoon discussion on race relations in the school. That first Friday, a mixed group of 25 uncomfortable teenagers gathered in the assigned classroom, with the three original boys the only ones looking as if they wanted to be there.

One of the three boys started the conversation by confessing his own hurt and bias. Voice after voice followed. Sometimes it was confession, sometimes confrontation, but honesty ruled that hour. The culture of the school didn’t change permanently that day, but a door had been opened that would be hard to close.

The following week, 50 students crammed into that classroom and the conversation began to migrate from confession and confrontation to reconciliation. There were even times when students would get up, walk across the room, and embrace one another in a public gesture of respect. The third week, the gathering had to be held in the auditorium.

These three teens have since graduated, but their legacy remains. That school is more racially unified than it would have ever been otherwise, and it’s only because three unremarkable and unsuspecting boys would not remain passive in the face of an unbiblical status quo.

Don’t miss the point: As a follower of Jesus Christ, you cannot think biblically about life and adopt a passive lifestyle.

To begin with, the world you live in is terribly broken (Rom. 8:18–22). Second, God’s agenda is the complete renewal of everything (Rev. 21:1–5). Third, God is sovereign and has placed you exactly where he intends you to be (Acts 17:24–28). Fourth, you have been lit by God’s grace and called to radiate his character in the darkness that surrounds where he has placed you (Matt 5:14–16).

The question is, will you live biblically, exercising the character and influence you have been given? Or in your passivity will you try to take yourself off the hook with self-serving rationalizations, flawed logic, and unbiblical thinking? Remember, the One who has positioned and called you is with you.

Handling Life’s Surprises

I shall begin this Back Page with a statement dripping in sarcasm, in case it’s not obvious. 

I had a wonderful start to the week. From the high of walking in the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (among others), I spent my first hours back in the saddle in the dentist’s chair. And when I finally got back to the church office, my speech was slurred and I sounded as if I’d had a stroke. I hid in my office for a couple of hours. Then I went home.

Pain did not prompt the unscheduled visit, but some pressure and a chipped crown sent me to that chair. Oh, that chair. Now, my dentist is as nice as he can be. I like him, just not what he does to me. We don’t get to schedule only pleasant things on our calendars, do we? Sometimes the unpleasant ones have their way of working into the appointment book whether we like them or not. And after last Tuesday, I’m still not done at the dentist yet, but we won’t talk about that.

When I was in Israel we had some surprise appointments too. Like a drenching shower in Nazareth. A fall in Tiberius. A hamburger in Arad (with fries and a drink it was $17). A cooling cloud cover on Masada.Another cloud burst in Pella (Jordan). An amazing Palestinian meal in Samaria, with soup that most called the best they’d ever had in life. Some surprises are good and we like those; others are not so good and we don’t like those.

As we walk with God we need to learn to handle both kinds of surprises with grace and faith. We can’t gloat about the good ones nor stew about the bad ones. How well do you handle surprises? Sometimes I handle them quite well, thank you. Other times, not so much. Isn’t it true that we often question the sovereignty of God when life throws us a curveball? We tend to go straight to questioning His goodness or His faithfulness.

It is in that moment that we must ask ourselves some honest questions. What do we really want out of life?  What do we really want from God?  How much have our dreams been personal, earthly, physical, or consumed only with life here on earth?  Are we willing to let God bring into our life what He considers best?  Or is He just some divine waiter, ready to deliver only whatever we order from the menu?

We serve a God who doesn’t always provide us a simple life or a clear pathway.  God is not messing with you, but no matter what comes your way, He is exercising His power to make you more like Jesus.

So, the next time God surprises you, don’t doubt His goodness, faithfulness, and love. No, lift your hands to the heavens and celebrate. You are being rescued. You are being loved. You are being delivered. You are being transformed. And be thankful that since nothing can separate you from His love, there are more gracious surprises to come!

Evidence

I am freshly back from a couple of weeks in Israel and Jordan. Of course, I’m exhausted. I mean, we walked 68 miles over 13 days, surrounded by six take-offs and countless security lines. With the time change there and back, we are all a bit worn on our return. But it was an amazing trip. Amazing.

But since I’ve been over 10 times, the most energizing part of the journey to me is to listen to folks react to what they see and smell and discover on this journey. The evidence of God at work is everywhere. We stopped in popular sites and some at which we were almost alone. But they all speak to the soul.

Shiloh was meaningful on this trip. You stand on the spot where the Tabernacle/Temple had been found for the longest time in Israel’s history (369 years) and soak in the landscape around you. Solomon’s Temple didn’t last nearly that long. Neither did Herod’s. But at Shiloh could stand and gaze around to where the tents of the people of Israel would have been pitched on those days of festivals over the years. It is there that the story of the presence of God among His people can be told. What a place!

Of course, I love to stop in Hazor in the north so that we can learn of the veracity of God’s Word. The Bible records that Joshua captured and then burned this city with fire. And what have the archeologists discovered? Clear evidence of a fire at Hazor. We saw the consequences of a fire burning with raging heat during the days of Joshua. And then we saw the stone found at Tel Dan with the inscription, the “house of David.” This stone is the only non-biblical reference to King David, which proves his existence. To be honest, many “scholars” have relegated David to the realm of myth over the years. But this stone, inscribed by a Gentile, proves David is no myth or legend, he is real.

We saw two gates dated back to the days of Abraham. We saw the stone with an inscription of the governor of the area, Pontius Pilate. And the stone declaring an ossuary to be that of Caiaphas, the high priest. Evidence of God at work in the land is everywhere. In archeology and in the land itself. We discovered proof of the accuracy of the text. We discovered life-changing scenic vistas which support and inform the biblical narrative.

We stood above the Sea of Galilee and saw what a dramatic difference such a small geographic region could make on the whole world. The Jewish third of that shoreline has changed the world. It changed some fishermen. A tax collector. A Gentile centurion. And yet, having seen the presence of God among them, most never recognized Jesus for Who He was and is. And so, these towns in Galilee where Jesus invested most of His time were cursed, and their cities relegated to a pile of stones.

May we respond in humility to Him who came to bring us to God. May we be faithful to proclaim His tender mercies and follow the instructions given to us. The evidence is real. May our faith be just as real.

The Presence of God

Today was our last day of touring in Israel. Could it be? We will be up early in the morning headed to Jordan. The adventure continues. Our last day in Israel was great. Besides two amazing meals — one Palestinian and one Lebanese — we toured Samaria today — Shiloh, Shechem, and Sebastia. The weather was overcast and not so clear, but that brought the temperature down a bit (for those of us used to desert temps at least). I finally got to stand on one of those twin mountains, so I guess I will be able to keep them straight once and for all. We drove through a Samaritan village to stand on the mountain of blessing. Gerizim or Ebal? Which one was I on? It’s a quiz.

The highlight of the day for me was my second visit to Shiloh. The Ark of the Covenant stayed at Shiloh for 369 years, easily the longest of its homes. It left when Israel was attacked by the Philistines and the Israelites desperate for something to turn the tide of the battle in their favor, took the Ark from Shiloh and used it as a good luck charm. It didn’t work. That’s not its purpose.

I thought about the presence of God as we sat at Shiloh. From the days of God walking in the Garden with Adam and Eve to the future promise of the presence of God in eternity, the Bible talks a lot about God’s presence. After the Fall, God showed up in the Tabernacle. And then in the Temple. And then He left the Temple. And then Jesus came and lived among us and we could see the glory of God.

The concept of the presence of God is scattered throughout the pages of the Testaments, Old and New. What is most intriguing is that after the death and resurrection of Jesus, there is a change in the display the presence of God.

That which lived in Shiloh for 369 years. That which motivated the people to remain unified as a people. That which spoke hope to the lives of the people of Israel. That which provided comfort to the people. That which served as the central focus of worship and forgiveness for a nation. Where is that presence today? It’s in you. The presence of God dwells in each believer. Really? That’s what the New Testament says.

“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). Jesus promised to be with His church always (Matt. 28:20). Ever since the Day of Pentecost in AD 33, the Spirit of God has indwelt each person who believes in Jesus.

That is pretty amazing. God’s presence during 369 years of Israel’s history was at Shiloh. God’s presence today is in you. And me. With that presence, we ought to be able to change the world. Let’s do it. Together. As the Tabernacle of God…on Crestridge. By the way, the answer to the quiz is:  Mt. Gerizim.

The Storm

Shalom from Galilee. My feet ache. I need a nap. But dinner is soon. My soul, though, is refreshed, without a doubt.

Today was our second day of touring and we are exhausted. We’ve walked five miles each day already and seen several thousand years of history within a stop or two. From Solomon to the crusaders to Herod the Great…it all jumbles together from time to time. Today we slowed down, and our visits were unique — all first century –the times of our Savior:  Magdala, Tabgha, Capernaum, Bethsaida, and the Mount of the Beatitudes.

Our journey through Matthew’s Gospel is bringing a fresh light to how I see and understand everything on this trip. It has reinvigorated my thinking and my perspective. In Capernaum, I talked about Matthew — I would never have done that before. I’ll finish up about Matthew on Sunday from Mt. Arbel, the grand overlook of the Sea of Galilee and our last stop before heading south. We’ll take a look at the last half of Matthew 4…sound familiar?

This is the first trip in which I could see the power of a storm on the Sea of Galilee. We experienced it in Nazareth, actually. We went out to the Ridge for a view of the Jezreel Valley and didn’t get a view, but instead gone drenched. Not sure who insisted we give it a try, but they lost points for that decision. Fortunately, I’m not in line for a tip, so it won’t affect my overall performance. Anyway, we got some interesting pictures, and wet shoes.

As we drove down to the Sea of Galilee after that outburst, it was a very different scene than we normally experience. Of course, the skies were still gray, but the beaches and picnic areas along the shore were nothing but mini-lakes. The road was muddy. A car had gotten crushed by a falling tree. Branches were strewn everywhere. At our hotel I talked to the folks at the desk and they said there had even been hail — egg-sized (they have small eggs I think). But it had to have been brutal. In the desert, the flooding killed nine. So very sad.

This morning after we were out on the Sea, white caps popped everywhere. I’ve read about the power of the storms in Galilee, but I’ve never had a chance to see one. I’m not sure I ever want to see one in person again. I would do it while tucked into my hotel room with a front row seat to a storm. But I’d not like to be any closer than that.

Isn’t that how we like to face every turbulent situation in life? Inside. Under the covers. No personal risk. That’s nice, but it’s not how we grow. Nor how we deepen our faith in the reliability of our God. I want to be open to listen to and walk with God in each of life’s trials. That gets risky, but it is worth it in the long run. If Jesus can calm a violent storm (and He can), then I don’t have to be afraid. May our walk with God be deepened today.

To Protect and To Serve

I’ve been approved for a new role in the community, volunteer chaplain for the Sheriff’s department. The phone rang last week to see if I could assist with a death notification. What a way to start! A female inmate was in custody when the coroner called with news that her mother had died. They were not sure how she would react to the news, so I guess they call the clergy.

I said I would love to come. OK, I fibbed a little bit. I wasn’t too excited, but I was willing. When? Now. On my way. I guess.

I’ve never been in jail before (there’s a news flash, right?). A young and very kind black woman walked me through what was going to happen. She was clearly in charge. Someone eventually brought the woman into a holding cell (I guess that’s what you’d call it). The deputy delivered the bad news and the initial reaction was loud, of course. After a few minutes, they left me to talk with her for as long as I thought was needed. No pressure to rush.

We talked for maybe 15-20 minutes. Emotions rolled in and out like the waves in Redondo. She clutched her Kleenex – a well-worn small roll of toilet paper. I think mom was homeless, as was this inmate. I suppose she hadn’t made good choices and now she felt alone. All alone. Mom was gone.

When we finished talking, I made my way across the hall to the waiting officers. I started a bit of a chat with the deputy in charge. It was a fascinating conversation. Brief, but memorable. She shared that on a day like this our humanity is most important. Being a member of the human family was most important on this difficult day. And then she made a comment which struck me hard. I wish I could remember exactly how the words came together, but the gist of it was something like this:  When the sheriffs put humanity first, no one pays attention. They all get a bad rap most of the time, but they are simply humans trying to help us all get through life.

It was a sentence drenched with emotion. These deputies are trying to do their best and love people and serve the community, but they never get much credit. And sometimes, to be honest, it is just hard. Very hard on them. And on days like that one, they will do anything to relieve human heartache. I ached for her, most of all.

It is difficult to work in law enforcement these days. We don’t appreciate them enough. We don’t thank them enough. And yes, there are some bad ones out there. But in case you haven’t noticed, there are some bad preachers and lawyers and doctors and engineers out there too.

I left with a heavy heart for that young sheriff. She’s got a tough job, and I’m not sure there was much I could do to lighten the load. But I will pray. And I will appreciate those who serve to keep order in the community.

Stranger Than A Herd of Goats

It was a bit of a strange sight so it got my attention right away. I was on my way to church, approaching Ralph’s (the one at Crest and Hawthorne). Not many people park on Crest, especially at that time of day. But a crowd had gathered. I saw several cell phones snapping pictures. What could this be all about? An accident? Celebrity? I didn’t have time to think it through, so I never guessed it correctly. But remember, it is spring in PV.

What was it? Goats. Yes, folks. Goats. Like we’ve never seen goats before? We need to park and snaps pictures of goats? I get we do. Well, it is SoCal and Palos Verdes, so they aren’t that common. I haven’t even seen too many in my lifetime. But a bunch of goats penned into a small area is really photo-worthy? I could understand it if there were some young families taking a peek, but these were all seniors — definitely older than me, that’s for sure.

One of the rituals of spring around here is the hiring of goats to eat up the foliage which winter rains have brought. And it was that canyon’s turn. Now, the goats weren’t in the canyon yet, just in a pen waiting to be set loose. But the sight was so unusual that a small crowd had gathered.

Hey, maybe we ought to be more goat-like as a church? I mean we, too, want to gather a crowd. Right? In a couple of weeks, we will be in the Sermon on Mount in Matthew — and I’ll be on the Mount of the Beatitudes in Israel… and how did Jesus gather that crowd? I’m sure there were lots of ways, miracles and compassion and care for people. But Jesus also told us in the Upper Room how to gather a crowd. But His way is not so simple or easy. He said that the way to stand out in the world was to demonstrate clearly that we love one another. It seems a loving and unified group of believers would draw a crowd.

We don’t need goats. We need to love. We need to fall more in love with Jesus. I think we underestimate the power of our relationships with one another. There is so much in our world which divides, let us be an oasis of grace. And love.

I’m not saying we aren’t unified. But I am saying is that to draw a crowd is going to be dependent on how we walk with God and reflect that walk in our personal relationships. Our unity ought to be drawing a much bigger crowd than a bunch of goats along the side of the road. Even a road in PV in the spring. Genuine unity is stranger than a herd of goats in our modern world. We don’t see many goats, but how much true unity do we really see as well?

Not much. We’d better work to maintain it around here. Everything will stand or fall depending on if we can get this love thing right. By the way, have I told you lately that I really do love you. I do.

Blog Fulllwidth

Reach the World Via Your Own Backyard

It was just a tweet that I read as I was finishing breakfast this week. It’s been quite the news week, hasn’t it?  It’s been a week that’ll give you whiplash and news glut overload if you don’t just turn away occasionally. But this tweet stuck to me. Why? Because for me, it clarified why we do some of the things that we do around here. And it made me see why we should re-double our efforts, and not give up in doing good.

The tweet highlighted some statistics of which I was unaware. Maybe you weren’t. Japan is the second-least-reached nation in the world. With a population of 125 million, just 0.58 percent are evangelical Christians. That’s not very many.

Approximately 38 million people live in the greater Tokyo area, making it one of the largest cities in the world. Without much of a gospel witness. The tweet referred to an article, which I later went on to read. The article tells of a faithful church planter working in Tokyo to bring the gospel to his own people. It was interesting, but the damage was done to my heart simply by reading the tweet. It wasn’t over 280 characters. That’s for sure.

What can we do about that sad statistic? Well, the good news is that we are already doing something about it. And it’s right in our own back yard. Every year our weekday preschool enrolls a good number of children whose parents are working here in the South Bay, but they are thoroughly Japanese. The children will come not speaking a word (literally) of English. Their parents are here for a short time to work and then return (reluctantly, because they like the weather here) to Japan.

We have a short, but wide open window to share something of God’s love and the mission of His Son into the world. Those parents will sometimes come to church on Sunday morning. They will come to things like the Harvest Festival or VBS or the Family Fun Night (movie nights). We have opportunities to share our love of Jesus with them.

Maybe you didn’t think about that when you signed up to help be a leader at VBS next week. Maybe you should have thought about that when you declined the opportunity to serve. But when we do these events around here there is always a purpose. And that purpose can extend even to Tokyo. Or wherever. Maybe the positive impression we make will open the door for a church planter in Tokyo to share the life-saving Gospel with a heart cultivated by something we’ve done. You never know. Some plant. Some water. Others reap.

So just think big. Think global. Remember that we will not know the impact of everything we do. But our ministry to children, whether during the week or over the weekend, has an impact around the world. Literally. That’s the nature of life in SoCal — and in the South Bay. The opportunity to reach the world is right in our own backyard. Let’s be faithful to love and to share. It’s all for His glory.

Summer

We enjoyed a grand Sunday morning last weekend. Historic, actually. Honoring the Junkermanns was a blast, and it helped me to remember the good things God has done. He’s amazing, actually. But now we press ahead.

It’s summer. VBS opens in two weeks. Really? After VBS the summer kicks into high gear with PCC at the Park (with kickball). The youth are hitting it hard all summer long with a mission trip to Thermal, weekly fun and shenanigans because it’s summer, and camp at the end of July. Then it’s Summer Family Night (featuring “The Lion King”) on the first Friday in August. Then maybe (but probably not) we can take a bit of a rest in August. There is this thing called the medical mission in Africa. Technically, it doesn’t open until September, but by then school is open again here and we are ready for fall.

What a summer awaits! I hope you have some plans to get away. Relax. Recharge. Refresh. I’m heading to Mammoth in July (for as long as the bank account will allow). I haven’t been fishing in a very, very long time so my friends are calling for my return. The big blue sky and vast expanses of mountainous terrains are calling, too. Loudly.

But whatever you have planned for summer, don’t forget God. Don’t forget to continue to seek first His Kingdom. The work of God doesn’t take a vacation. The day of its rest is not today. Grow in Jesus at every opportunity you have. And I was thinking this week, about some adjustments for summer. You know, we will get a lot of guests these next few months. It’s a high-guest time of year. So maybe this summer we could be on the lookout for those new folks.

Maybe you could sit somewhere different for a couple of weeks.

Maybe you could check out the “other” service a couple of times, to meet a fresh face or two.

Maybe you could volunteer to teach or be in the nursery for a couple of weeks.

Maybe you could come early and roam around a bit on the patio before worship. Work that smile.

Maybe you could purposefully hang around after worship a little longer than normal, just to shake some hands and get to know someone new.

Summer is full of wonderful opportunities to refresh ourselves. But let’s not make it all about ourselves, as our pattern can be so easily. Maybe, just maybe, this summer could be about enfolding some folks into the church family. Or getting to know someone new in the church. Yes, we ought to rest after another long school year. But let’s use these days for the sake of the Kingdom. The fields are still ready for harvest. Even in the South Bay. Will you work this field you are in today?

I love summer for lots of reasons. Sitting in the middle of a lake catching fish is just one of them. It’s time to keep fishing for souls as we gather each Sunday together. Don’t make summer just about you. Reach out. Try something new. You never know what door God will open. Or where He’ll want you to serve next. Give something new a try.

Thank You Junkermann Family!

This morning is a momentous moment in the life of our church family. Yes, it is the unofficial beginning of summer (and we might actually get to see some sun, though I’m not counting on it). But that’s not what makes this day so special. Today is officially CELEBRATE THE JUNKERMANN FAMILY DAY. Yes, it is historic. And I’m being serious (for a change).

It was in June of 1998 that Bruce and Laura came to our church officially as staff. Haley was just over a year old (four months past a year). And Mercy? Well, she wouldn’t come around for another year. The small family of three packed up their possessions in San Diego and ventured north to the South Bay. Twenty. Years. Ago.

We’ve seen a lot of change in the church and in their lives over these past 20 years. Not only did they add to their family, but we got to watch them grow up. And this church has added to its family, and we have been able to enjoy solid spiritual growth in the process. For most of his tenure, Bruce has overseen our ministry to children and families. It was a long and significant ministry, enabling us to grow families to reach their world, and beyond. Lately, Bruce has made his mark felt in the discipleship and adult ministry of the church. He is a man with a plan, and we are reaping the fruit of his vision these days.

Now, we thought of all kinds of ways we could remember Bruce and his contributions to Peninsula. We could have decorated his office in the manner and zeal with which he re-decorated mine over the course of many years. But I vetoed that. You are welcome, Bruce.

I wanted to supply him with a year’s supply of all kinds of things, like he did for me a while back. I think one jar of pickles, one can of split pea soup, and a pound of tofu would have lasted a whole year in his pantry. Maybe a decade. And maybe one $5 gift card to Yellow Fever could have lasted the year, except the rest of the staff likes to go there. But alas, I vetoed that idea as well. And we just couldn’t afford a year’s worth of gift certificates to Wienerschnitzel. We’d be broke. So, the staff has been in a bit a quandary.

What did we decide to do? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see. But there is nothing more significant that we could do than to reassure Bruce, Laura, Haley, and Mercy of our love and continued prayer and support for their family and their ministry among us. Today is a day to do that. And we’ll ask everyone to join us as we remind them clearly of our love and of our support for God’s work in them and through them.

So, we celebrate 20 years of life lived together. Faithfully. Wisely. Joyfully. Reliably. All those characteristics are rare in our world, and so today we look to God and thank Him for that decision twenty years ago. What a wild run it’s been! To God be the glory.

Three Teenage Boys Who Did Something

I invited a guest to author the Back Page this week. Well, I got this in an email and couldn’t put it down. So, here you go. And thank you, Paul Tripp.
– Pastor Jim

When you look at a 16-year-old, what are your hopes and expectations for them? Go to school, do your homework, and please avoid the typical teenage temptations and errors? Some boys are different. Here is the story of three who refused to be passive in the face of wrong.

The boys were attending a large, established, and well-known Christian school. But there were problems in the school as never before. The student body had become divided, with a separation between the “suburban” kids and the “city” kids.

Those labels were just a cover. This once-great school had become racially divided. There hadn’t been any violence, at least not yet, and much of the racism was covert. But it was there, and real, and undeniable.

This was unacceptable to these three teenage boys. A Christian school is supposed to be known for its love. A place of peace. Yet the culture of this school had become defined by worldly stereotypes and division.

These three teenage boys decided to do something. They asked the headmaster for permission to hold a weekly Friday-afternoon discussion on race relations in the school. That first Friday, a mixed group of 25 uncomfortable teenagers gathered in the assigned classroom, with the three original boys the only ones looking as if they wanted to be there.

One of the three boys started the conversation by confessing his own hurt and bias. Voice after voice followed. Sometimes it was confession, sometimes confrontation, but honesty ruled that hour. The culture of the school didn’t change permanently that day, but a door had been opened that would be hard to close.

The following week, 50 students crammed into that classroom and the conversation began to migrate from confession and confrontation to reconciliation. There were even times when students would get up, walk across the room, and embrace one another in a public gesture of respect. The third week, the gathering had to be held in the auditorium.

These three teens have since graduated, but their legacy remains. That school is more racially unified than it would have ever been otherwise, and it’s only because three unremarkable and unsuspecting boys would not remain passive in the face of an unbiblical status quo.

Don’t miss the point: As a follower of Jesus Christ, you cannot think biblically about life and adopt a passive lifestyle.

To begin with, the world you live in is terribly broken (Rom. 8:18–22). Second, God’s agenda is the complete renewal of everything (Rev. 21:1–5). Third, God is sovereign and has placed you exactly where he intends you to be (Acts 17:24–28). Fourth, you have been lit by God’s grace and called to radiate his character in the darkness that surrounds where he has placed you (Matt 5:14–16).

The question is, will you live biblically, exercising the character and influence you have been given? Or in your passivity will you try to take yourself off the hook with self-serving rationalizations, flawed logic, and unbiblical thinking? Remember, the One who has positioned and called you is with you.

Handling Life’s Surprises

I shall begin this Back Page with a statement dripping in sarcasm, in case it’s not obvious. 

I had a wonderful start to the week. From the high of walking in the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (among others), I spent my first hours back in the saddle in the dentist’s chair. And when I finally got back to the church office, my speech was slurred and I sounded as if I’d had a stroke. I hid in my office for a couple of hours. Then I went home.

Pain did not prompt the unscheduled visit, but some pressure and a chipped crown sent me to that chair. Oh, that chair. Now, my dentist is as nice as he can be. I like him, just not what he does to me. We don’t get to schedule only pleasant things on our calendars, do we? Sometimes the unpleasant ones have their way of working into the appointment book whether we like them or not. And after last Tuesday, I’m still not done at the dentist yet, but we won’t talk about that.

When I was in Israel we had some surprise appointments too. Like a drenching shower in Nazareth. A fall in Tiberius. A hamburger in Arad (with fries and a drink it was $17). A cooling cloud cover on Masada.Another cloud burst in Pella (Jordan). An amazing Palestinian meal in Samaria, with soup that most called the best they’d ever had in life. Some surprises are good and we like those; others are not so good and we don’t like those.

As we walk with God we need to learn to handle both kinds of surprises with grace and faith. We can’t gloat about the good ones nor stew about the bad ones. How well do you handle surprises? Sometimes I handle them quite well, thank you. Other times, not so much. Isn’t it true that we often question the sovereignty of God when life throws us a curveball? We tend to go straight to questioning His goodness or His faithfulness.

It is in that moment that we must ask ourselves some honest questions. What do we really want out of life?  What do we really want from God?  How much have our dreams been personal, earthly, physical, or consumed only with life here on earth?  Are we willing to let God bring into our life what He considers best?  Or is He just some divine waiter, ready to deliver only whatever we order from the menu?

We serve a God who doesn’t always provide us a simple life or a clear pathway.  God is not messing with you, but no matter what comes your way, He is exercising His power to make you more like Jesus.

So, the next time God surprises you, don’t doubt His goodness, faithfulness, and love. No, lift your hands to the heavens and celebrate. You are being rescued. You are being loved. You are being delivered. You are being transformed. And be thankful that since nothing can separate you from His love, there are more gracious surprises to come!

Evidence

I am freshly back from a couple of weeks in Israel and Jordan. Of course, I’m exhausted. I mean, we walked 68 miles over 13 days, surrounded by six take-offs and countless security lines. With the time change there and back, we are all a bit worn on our return. But it was an amazing trip. Amazing.

But since I’ve been over 10 times, the most energizing part of the journey to me is to listen to folks react to what they see and smell and discover on this journey. The evidence of God at work is everywhere. We stopped in popular sites and some at which we were almost alone. But they all speak to the soul.

Shiloh was meaningful on this trip. You stand on the spot where the Tabernacle/Temple had been found for the longest time in Israel’s history (369 years) and soak in the landscape around you. Solomon’s Temple didn’t last nearly that long. Neither did Herod’s. But at Shiloh could stand and gaze around to where the tents of the people of Israel would have been pitched on those days of festivals over the years. It is there that the story of the presence of God among His people can be told. What a place!

Of course, I love to stop in Hazor in the north so that we can learn of the veracity of God’s Word. The Bible records that Joshua captured and then burned this city with fire. And what have the archeologists discovered? Clear evidence of a fire at Hazor. We saw the consequences of a fire burning with raging heat during the days of Joshua. And then we saw the stone found at Tel Dan with the inscription, the “house of David.” This stone is the only non-biblical reference to King David, which proves his existence. To be honest, many “scholars” have relegated David to the realm of myth over the years. But this stone, inscribed by a Gentile, proves David is no myth or legend, he is real.

We saw two gates dated back to the days of Abraham. We saw the stone with an inscription of the governor of the area, Pontius Pilate. And the stone declaring an ossuary to be that of Caiaphas, the high priest. Evidence of God at work in the land is everywhere. In archeology and in the land itself. We discovered proof of the accuracy of the text. We discovered life-changing scenic vistas which support and inform the biblical narrative.

We stood above the Sea of Galilee and saw what a dramatic difference such a small geographic region could make on the whole world. The Jewish third of that shoreline has changed the world. It changed some fishermen. A tax collector. A Gentile centurion. And yet, having seen the presence of God among them, most never recognized Jesus for Who He was and is. And so, these towns in Galilee where Jesus invested most of His time were cursed, and their cities relegated to a pile of stones.

May we respond in humility to Him who came to bring us to God. May we be faithful to proclaim His tender mercies and follow the instructions given to us. The evidence is real. May our faith be just as real.

The Presence of God

Today was our last day of touring in Israel. Could it be? We will be up early in the morning headed to Jordan. The adventure continues. Our last day in Israel was great. Besides two amazing meals — one Palestinian and one Lebanese — we toured Samaria today — Shiloh, Shechem, and Sebastia. The weather was overcast and not so clear, but that brought the temperature down a bit (for those of us used to desert temps at least). I finally got to stand on one of those twin mountains, so I guess I will be able to keep them straight once and for all. We drove through a Samaritan village to stand on the mountain of blessing. Gerizim or Ebal? Which one was I on? It’s a quiz.

The highlight of the day for me was my second visit to Shiloh. The Ark of the Covenant stayed at Shiloh for 369 years, easily the longest of its homes. It left when Israel was attacked by the Philistines and the Israelites desperate for something to turn the tide of the battle in their favor, took the Ark from Shiloh and used it as a good luck charm. It didn’t work. That’s not its purpose.

I thought about the presence of God as we sat at Shiloh. From the days of God walking in the Garden with Adam and Eve to the future promise of the presence of God in eternity, the Bible talks a lot about God’s presence. After the Fall, God showed up in the Tabernacle. And then in the Temple. And then He left the Temple. And then Jesus came and lived among us and we could see the glory of God.

The concept of the presence of God is scattered throughout the pages of the Testaments, Old and New. What is most intriguing is that after the death and resurrection of Jesus, there is a change in the display the presence of God.

That which lived in Shiloh for 369 years. That which motivated the people to remain unified as a people. That which spoke hope to the lives of the people of Israel. That which provided comfort to the people. That which served as the central focus of worship and forgiveness for a nation. Where is that presence today? It’s in you. The presence of God dwells in each believer. Really? That’s what the New Testament says.

“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). Jesus promised to be with His church always (Matt. 28:20). Ever since the Day of Pentecost in AD 33, the Spirit of God has indwelt each person who believes in Jesus.

That is pretty amazing. God’s presence during 369 years of Israel’s history was at Shiloh. God’s presence today is in you. And me. With that presence, we ought to be able to change the world. Let’s do it. Together. As the Tabernacle of God…on Crestridge. By the way, the answer to the quiz is:  Mt. Gerizim.

The Storm

Shalom from Galilee. My feet ache. I need a nap. But dinner is soon. My soul, though, is refreshed, without a doubt.

Today was our second day of touring and we are exhausted. We’ve walked five miles each day already and seen several thousand years of history within a stop or two. From Solomon to the crusaders to Herod the Great…it all jumbles together from time to time. Today we slowed down, and our visits were unique — all first century –the times of our Savior:  Magdala, Tabgha, Capernaum, Bethsaida, and the Mount of the Beatitudes.

Our journey through Matthew’s Gospel is bringing a fresh light to how I see and understand everything on this trip. It has reinvigorated my thinking and my perspective. In Capernaum, I talked about Matthew — I would never have done that before. I’ll finish up about Matthew on Sunday from Mt. Arbel, the grand overlook of the Sea of Galilee and our last stop before heading south. We’ll take a look at the last half of Matthew 4…sound familiar?

This is the first trip in which I could see the power of a storm on the Sea of Galilee. We experienced it in Nazareth, actually. We went out to the Ridge for a view of the Jezreel Valley and didn’t get a view, but instead gone drenched. Not sure who insisted we give it a try, but they lost points for that decision. Fortunately, I’m not in line for a tip, so it won’t affect my overall performance. Anyway, we got some interesting pictures, and wet shoes.

As we drove down to the Sea of Galilee after that outburst, it was a very different scene than we normally experience. Of course, the skies were still gray, but the beaches and picnic areas along the shore were nothing but mini-lakes. The road was muddy. A car had gotten crushed by a falling tree. Branches were strewn everywhere. At our hotel I talked to the folks at the desk and they said there had even been hail — egg-sized (they have small eggs I think). But it had to have been brutal. In the desert, the flooding killed nine. So very sad.

This morning after we were out on the Sea, white caps popped everywhere. I’ve read about the power of the storms in Galilee, but I’ve never had a chance to see one. I’m not sure I ever want to see one in person again. I would do it while tucked into my hotel room with a front row seat to a storm. But I’d not like to be any closer than that.

Isn’t that how we like to face every turbulent situation in life? Inside. Under the covers. No personal risk. That’s nice, but it’s not how we grow. Nor how we deepen our faith in the reliability of our God. I want to be open to listen to and walk with God in each of life’s trials. That gets risky, but it is worth it in the long run. If Jesus can calm a violent storm (and He can), then I don’t have to be afraid. May our walk with God be deepened today.

To Protect and To Serve

I’ve been approved for a new role in the community, volunteer chaplain for the Sheriff’s department. The phone rang last week to see if I could assist with a death notification. What a way to start! A female inmate was in custody when the coroner called with news that her mother had died. They were not sure how she would react to the news, so I guess they call the clergy.

I said I would love to come. OK, I fibbed a little bit. I wasn’t too excited, but I was willing. When? Now. On my way. I guess.

I’ve never been in jail before (there’s a news flash, right?). A young and very kind black woman walked me through what was going to happen. She was clearly in charge. Someone eventually brought the woman into a holding cell (I guess that’s what you’d call it). The deputy delivered the bad news and the initial reaction was loud, of course. After a few minutes, they left me to talk with her for as long as I thought was needed. No pressure to rush.

We talked for maybe 15-20 minutes. Emotions rolled in and out like the waves in Redondo. She clutched her Kleenex – a well-worn small roll of toilet paper. I think mom was homeless, as was this inmate. I suppose she hadn’t made good choices and now she felt alone. All alone. Mom was gone.

When we finished talking, I made my way across the hall to the waiting officers. I started a bit of a chat with the deputy in charge. It was a fascinating conversation. Brief, but memorable. She shared that on a day like this our humanity is most important. Being a member of the human family was most important on this difficult day. And then she made a comment which struck me hard. I wish I could remember exactly how the words came together, but the gist of it was something like this:  When the sheriffs put humanity first, no one pays attention. They all get a bad rap most of the time, but they are simply humans trying to help us all get through life.

It was a sentence drenched with emotion. These deputies are trying to do their best and love people and serve the community, but they never get much credit. And sometimes, to be honest, it is just hard. Very hard on them. And on days like that one, they will do anything to relieve human heartache. I ached for her, most of all.

It is difficult to work in law enforcement these days. We don’t appreciate them enough. We don’t thank them enough. And yes, there are some bad ones out there. But in case you haven’t noticed, there are some bad preachers and lawyers and doctors and engineers out there too.

I left with a heavy heart for that young sheriff. She’s got a tough job, and I’m not sure there was much I could do to lighten the load. But I will pray. And I will appreciate those who serve to keep order in the community.

Stranger Than A Herd of Goats

It was a bit of a strange sight so it got my attention right away. I was on my way to church, approaching Ralph’s (the one at Crest and Hawthorne). Not many people park on Crest, especially at that time of day. But a crowd had gathered. I saw several cell phones snapping pictures. What could this be all about? An accident? Celebrity? I didn’t have time to think it through, so I never guessed it correctly. But remember, it is spring in PV.

What was it? Goats. Yes, folks. Goats. Like we’ve never seen goats before? We need to park and snaps pictures of goats? I get we do. Well, it is SoCal and Palos Verdes, so they aren’t that common. I haven’t even seen too many in my lifetime. But a bunch of goats penned into a small area is really photo-worthy? I could understand it if there were some young families taking a peek, but these were all seniors — definitely older than me, that’s for sure.

One of the rituals of spring around here is the hiring of goats to eat up the foliage which winter rains have brought. And it was that canyon’s turn. Now, the goats weren’t in the canyon yet, just in a pen waiting to be set loose. But the sight was so unusual that a small crowd had gathered.

Hey, maybe we ought to be more goat-like as a church? I mean we, too, want to gather a crowd. Right? In a couple of weeks, we will be in the Sermon on Mount in Matthew — and I’ll be on the Mount of the Beatitudes in Israel… and how did Jesus gather that crowd? I’m sure there were lots of ways, miracles and compassion and care for people. But Jesus also told us in the Upper Room how to gather a crowd. But His way is not so simple or easy. He said that the way to stand out in the world was to demonstrate clearly that we love one another. It seems a loving and unified group of believers would draw a crowd.

We don’t need goats. We need to love. We need to fall more in love with Jesus. I think we underestimate the power of our relationships with one another. There is so much in our world which divides, let us be an oasis of grace. And love.

I’m not saying we aren’t unified. But I am saying is that to draw a crowd is going to be dependent on how we walk with God and reflect that walk in our personal relationships. Our unity ought to be drawing a much bigger crowd than a bunch of goats along the side of the road. Even a road in PV in the spring. Genuine unity is stranger than a herd of goats in our modern world. We don’t see many goats, but how much true unity do we really see as well?

Not much. We’d better work to maintain it around here. Everything will stand or fall depending on if we can get this love thing right. By the way, have I told you lately that I really do love you. I do.