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Andrew & Katie

Ah, young love is in the air. And it’s grand. Our youth pastor, Andrew Staffieri, is now headed to the altar to marry Katie McGregor. I knew Bruce McGregor and I had something in common. We will both be facing many tears in 2020. There is something very special when your daughter walks down the aisle.  At least I think it will be.

Anyway, Andrew came into my office before Thanksgiving and shut the door. That’s not usually a good sign from where I sit, but he had his backpack slung over his shoulder so I figured the news couldn’t be too bad. He stood hovering over my desk which the grin of a Cheshire cat all over his face. He reached into his backpack and pulled out a small box. Of course, “Medawar” was emblazoned on the top…and I knew where this was headed.

He was on his way to surprise Katie with a certain question. What I will never forget was the sweet smile on his face. He was so happy. He was bubbling with anticipation. He couldn’t wait to show me the ring (it is beautiful…and you ought to take a look at it) and then get out onto the road to accomplish this most significant of tasks. It was a precious moment…and I barely kept my composure.

I didn’t know the plans (there was no need for me to be in that loop). But I knew Andrew and I knew how excited he was in that moment. Young love is great. And inspiring. I am so happy for them both and can’t wait to celebrate their love on some special day next year. No pressure from me, by the way.

But I thought about our Bridegroom, Jesus. We often talk about making sure we are looking forward to His return. But in that moment, I wondered what this all must be like for Him. What’s it like for Him to anticipate the wedding supper of the Lamb? If we as the bride are excited, what’s it like for the Bridegroom. The last few I’ve seen are petty thrilled that the wedding is coming. So, I imagine that Jesus must be looking forward to that great day as well.

But linger on that thought for a moment. Jesus is the Bridegroom. And as a bridegroom He’s looking forward to the wedding as much as the bride. The King of the universe came into the world to find a bride. The price for that bride was His own blood. He’s coming again to marry that bring and take her into the infinitely beautiful chambers and gardens of His love. John Piper put it this way, “King Jesus came into the world to take a wife. Not a harem. And not for sex. But to give her pleasures that make sex taste like cardboard. He paid for her with his life. And he is now at work by his Spirit and by his word purifying and beautifying her for himself and for her joy.”

I’m sure Jesus can’t wait to make us His bride. He’s got that Cheshire grin of Andrew as the day draws closer and closer. Katie is blessed to have caught the eye of Andrew. We are blessed to have caught the eye of Jesus.

Our Anchor

The calendar says it is now December. This month our theme is “Behold Your King.” One of the ways to behold Jesus this Christmas is to make a commitment to draw near to Him daily, no matter how busy life gets. There are many tools to help you to Behold the King. Here is Day One of a devotional by my former boss, Ray Pritchard. Links to the entire set may be found on our Christmas page on the website. There are links to other devotional resources as well. Just pick one….and Behold Your King!

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. Jesus has entered there on our behalf as a forerunner” (Hebrews 6:19-20).

Everyone has an anchor.

The only question is, how well does it hold? If your soul is anchored to your money, what will you do when the money runs out? If your soul is anchored to your spouse, what will you do when your spouse is taken from you? If your soul is anchored in your career, what will you do when you are fired? If your soul is anchored in your happiness, what will you do when hard times come?

If you put your anchor in the sand, it will never hold. You need a place for your anchor to rest so it can’t be moved. Nothing in this world will ever be strong enough when your life falls apart. We need an anchor that cannot be moved no matter what happens, which means we need an anchor that is quite literally “out of this world.”

That’s what we have.

Most of us think of an anchor that goes down to the bottom of the ocean, but we have an anchor that goes up to heaven. Our anchor rests in the Holy of Holies in heaven, behind the curtain, in the very presence of God himself.

Guess who’s already there? Jesus!

The word “forerunner” describes a smaller boat that went ahead of a large ship to guide it into the harbor. When the storms are raging, the “forerunner” boat goes ahead of the large boat and drops the anchor in the harbor, so the large boat is safe during the storm. When the storms are past, the big boat enters the harbor also.

Jesus leads us home to heaven.

You couldn’t be safer than you already are because we are already anchored in heaven. It’s not as if Jesus said, “I’m going to show you the way, but then you’re on your own.” It’s more like this: Jesus went ahead of us into heaven, and then he became the anchor for our soul.

We’re hooked up with Jesus in heaven. We’re as safe as Jesus is safe.

That’s why the hope is called “firm.” The word means “never failing.” It comes from a Greek word that combines a word meaning “totter” or “fall” plus the word “not.”

Our anchor will never fail. Our anchor will never slip. Our anchor will never give way. Our anchor holds because it rests on Jesus in heaven.

Dan – Loyal, Faithful Pillar & Friend

I got the phone call on Wednesday night, just before dinner. Dan Kazarian had passed away. He died on Tuesday while eating breakfast. It was quick. It was unexpected. And his daughter was relieved that he hadn’t suffered. Dan is now with His Savior and his dear wife, Julia. I suppose that most folks reading this Back Page will not have a clue who I am talking about, but Dan had been a member (and a very loyal member) here at Peninsula for over 48 years. That’s a long time to belong to a church. But Dan and Julia were loyal. Faithful. Pillars. Dear friends of Peninsula. They had endured much over the years but had given much as well.

The last time I saw Dan was in August, before leaving town for the Bombo medical mission. He was in good spirits and looking pretty good, actually. The staff had been over to celebrate his 92nd birthday in July. And he looked better in August. He’d had a spat of health issues which kept him at home a couple of years ago, so we haven’t seen much of him since then. But I do know this — he read every Friday Update (do you?), and he watched the live stream faithfully. He knew what was going on here at Peninsula and missed you all so very much.

When I first came to Peninsula, Dan would take me to lunch. He loved to bend my ear about the latest theological issue that he’d been spending hours researching on the internet. He liked to know where we were headed as a church. And put in his two cents. He always came back to this piece of advice:  I should just study the text for the week and then just get up and talk about it. Uh, that’s not in my skill set or even close to my style. So, there is one piece of advice I haven’t followed. But he meant well. He always did.

Eventually, he had his own website where he would post articles and ruminations on all matters theological. He loved the Word, to study it and to debate it. And he didn’t mind stirring up some trouble around his interpretations of the Scripture.

Dan was never in want of an opinion. In any area. He was an engineer, retiring from the LA Airforce Base, if my memory serves me well. Having a church full of engineers just means you’d better think things through. Things like theology and vision and purpose and direction. You have to be prepared to answer every conceivable question because someone is going to ask it. And if no one else did, Dan would.

He mellowed in his later years and seemed to enjoy living at Canterbury, across the street. He missed Julia very, very much. His life was never quite the same after she passed away from cancer in 2009. And now they are both with Jesus. I just miss them. The streets of heaven are getting populated with Peninsula alums. We bow before a Savior who is able to keep that which we’ve committed to Him until that day. Safe at home. And we must press on since our race is not yet done.

Fishing and Fantasy Football

A week ago we were in Mammoth, fishing. The locals said we encountered great weather – an “Indian summer.” Well, my experience with that weather pattern is a little more heat during the day than we felt. But, hey, Mammoth in the 60s in November, I’ll take it. Especially since the fish were biting (at least for me). There weren’t many fishermen battling for the trout still swimming around at the end of fishing season. I think that made a huge difference.

We got skunked on day one of fishing. Then we took out a boat and did well. Then some of the family headed home and others went on a hike – and I went out on the lake by myself. And I did even better on that excursion. It was quiet and the views from Lake Mary are special.

Now it was not a lazy week – we hiked a lot, too. We hiked so much we had a pup with bleeding paws. We took it easier on her after that. But the trek through Little Lake Valley (behind Rock Creek Lake) is a special hike. It was deserted in the middle of November, so that was nice. The green leaves of summer had long ago fallen to the ground. Some of the creeks were frozen. A few of the lakes were beginning to ice over. But the sun was shining and the views were spectacular.

Getting out into the mountain landscapes is good for my soul. And in November you always find a parking spot near the trailhead or lake. And I certainly didn’t mind the empty streets in downtown Mammoth. We had a great time in the Eastern Sierra. And it was most certainly icing on the cake to crush the boys in the annual fishing derby. And I mean crush. Of course, I fished at least twice as long as they did…but still, I caught more than twice what they caught – combined! So I’ll crow about it while I can (and ignore any hint of Fantasy Football this season). Me? No, I’m not fielding a team this year. It’s all Andrew…

But isn’t that how we normally tackle life. We pick and choose what stories to tell. We like the ones where we look good. And the other ones? We hope no one tells them. Fantasy Football 2019? May it fade into oblivion. Fishing 2019? I will never let you forget the adventure.

In life, however, it’s not always that simple. We need to explore those areas we’d rather ignore. It is in those places where spiritual growth can, and should, occur. Don’t so love yourself so much that you cannot be honest about the failures and struggles of life. Admit them. Learn from them. They are valuable moments that can be used by God to strengthen our faith and deepen our hope in Him. And, they tend to keep us with a healthy sense of humility. And that’s never a bad thing.

So I’m a failure in Fantasy Football (no shock there, actually). But I can help you find some fish in Lake Mary. Maybe it’s time to take stock of some more important matters, however. Let’s draw near to Jesus and let Him have His way today. Be honest.

Passing the Baton

It’s been just over one month since I was given the opportunity to talk about passing the baton. In the time since it has been so encouraging to see how this church continues to grow together. Just last week we held our annual Harvest Festival. This is perhaps our biggest opportunity of outreach all year. Close to 1,200 people from all over the area coming to our church for candy, family fun, and a famous free hot dog. Obviously this is a huge opportunity for us as PCC to show the people of our community even just a small glimpse of Jesus. It takes a lot of work and a lot of volunteers to make an event like this happen, and church members of all ages responded to the call! What a gift not only for our church, but for the whole community to have middle schoolers up through “slightly” older than middle schoolers serving side by side as the body of Christ. This event was another step for us to continue to grow in becoming intergenerational.

But Harvest Festival wasn’t the only “passing the baton” event this month. Oh no no no… Just yesterday the women of the church held a cross-generational event that encouraged women of all ages to come together and discuss the meaning of having an identity in Christ, as well as the different pressures women face to constantly measure up in an ever-changing culture. Generations may feel disconnected with each other at times due to the fast pace trends of the world. I feel like I have to Google a reference my kids make every week. Yet, the struggle to find purpose and a meaningful identity resonates with everyone. The leadership team, made up of women from different generations, really fueled the collaborative process of creating this event and reflects the shared discussion among the different age groups. Events like this Saturday are vital to creating bridges throughout the church body.    

Two big intergenerational events are pretty good, but what if I told you there was more. The first Saturday of every month is the Gathering. The Gathering as many of you may know is a worship night geared to draw young adults into the church. It’s not just young adults who come to this event though. It’s meant to bring people together to worship God and pray together. This last month has been a powerful month in “passing the baton” and now as we move into the Christmas season let’s keep it up.

Heroes of Faith

Halloween has come and gone for 2019. I always break out in a small smile when that celebration is over. Why? Because at its best, Halloween has become a celebration of the mindless paganism our ancestors wisely turned their backs on. But now the best holidays are in front of us. And Friday was one you may have overlooked. The name Halloween comes from a shortening of All Hallow’s Eve, the night before All Saints’ Day, which was Friday.

For centuries on All Saints’ Day the Church celebrated the lives of Christians who went before us. And rightly so: We can learn so much from those whom the author of Hebrews calls that great cloud of witnesses. This week, I came across a piece by the late Chuck Colson. I’ve highly edited for this space. I’m not this smart.

The tradition of remembering the Church triumphant dates back to the time of the first Christian martyrs. When soldiers of Marcus Aurelius Verus came to arrest Polycarp, a beloved church leader, Polycarp greeted them kindly. According to the third century historian Eusebius, Polycarp “ordered a table to be laid for them immediately, invited them to eat as much as they liked, asking in return a single hour in which he could pray.”

When Polycarp later stood in the coliseum, accused and surrounded by the jeering crowds, the governor pressed him to recant his faith. Instead, this man, who himself had been discipled by the Apostle John, said this: “For eighty-six years, I have been [Christ’s] servant, and He has never done me wrong: How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” As they were preparing to burn him alive, Polycarp offered up prayers of faith and praise.

In the years following Polycarp’s death, Christians would gather annually to take communion beside his grave. There they would remember his brave witness and take courage from his example.

As the years passed, the day shifted in focusing from remembering Polycarp to honoring all martyrs. By the seventh century, the Church created a holiday to honor all of God’s saints—heroes of the faith.

One of the heroes was a woman named Monica, who lived during the fourth century. She would never face flames or jeering crowds, as did Polycarp, but she did face testing. That testing came in the form of her own longing for the return of her prodigal son, Augustine. His immoral lifestyle made this Christian mother weep. Later, when Augustine, who is now known as one of the foremost theologians of Christianity and scholars of Western civilization, did come to Christ, he wrote this prayer: “My mother, Your faithful servant, wept to You for me, shedding more tears for my spiritual death than others shed for the bodily death of a son. You heard her.”

History reveals story after story like this, from Justin Martyr to Martin Luther to Amy Carmichael. But we have lost touch with those stories. Maybe you should do some research? Maybe you could get your kids excited about uncovering the heroes of the faith? Let me encourage you to do…something. Honor the great saints who set examples for us. Talk about the lives of Christian heroes.

Real heroism is found not in a costume, but in how we live our lives. How’s that going?

Practical Advice

Practical Advice

Every once in a while, the Back Page ought to provide practical advice. I wish I was smart and clever enough to provide witty banter every week, but I’m not. The kids have left the nest, so my best material went with them. Parenting is great fodder, at least for me. I messed up a lot. But writing something clever, designed to make you think — while at the same time preparing us for worship, can be tough.

So this week, I’ve decided to just be practical. I’ll avoid all things political (that’s a given usually). I’ll not be a pundit or a prognosticator or even a theologian today. Nothing from Israel. Nothing from Uganda. Nothing from life here at church. Just something from life.

You probably know that I’m now a volunteer chaplain with the Sheriff’s Department. That means regular ride-a-longs. It’s quite interesting. Usually. If there is a hint of trouble, I’m glued to the passenger seat while the deputy checks things out.

But, there is one very practical lesson that I’ve learned in my patrolling adventures. And it is not all that profound. And there is nothing particularly spiritual about it. And yet, I would say it could be one of the most important topics I’ve highlighted on the Back Page in a while. Maybe ever.

Are you ready? Here’s what I’ve learned over the last couple of trips around the hill while on duty. (Have I properly built up some suspense? Or maybe you just skipped ahead). What is it that I learned that I’d like to pass along to us all? It is simply this: slow down.

Yep, just slow down in our pursuit of any destination.

We’ve talked about that concept spiritually when we explored creating some margin in life. But what I’m talking about now is this: when you drive, take your time. Slow down. Why be in such a hurry? You aren’t really going to make that much of a difference in your arrival time anyway. And even if you are late to work, don’t rush. Slow down. Try getting out of the house earlier tomorrow, that could help. But for the moment, slow down.

The last couple of adventures in a sheriff’s car, I’ve had to stand around while people deal with the aftermath of a car accident, which on some level involved the need to get somewhere faster than what was safe. So, put down your cell phone. Ease up a bit on the gas pedal. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Before plowing through an intersection, look both ways — even if your light is green.

Just slow down. I beg you.

Why are we always in such a hurry in our modern world? I guess because we think we are that important. Or we are just impatient. Well, being on time is important — but it’s not worth the risks you take. So, I beg you…slow down. Take your time. Keep yourself and others out of the ER.

So, there you have it. My profound and witty and sage advice for the week is simple: slow down. Oh, and while you are at it, go ahead and come to a full stop at every stop sign. What’s the hurry?

The Jerusalem Santa

I had walked by this place while I’d been alone in Jerusalem. And I scoffed. It bothered me that here in the land of Jesus, there’s a place devoted to Santa Claus. Come on, no Santa here.

When we were out on an evening excursion for gelato, we walked by this house again. There’s a large canvas sign on the second story touting a basketball player. Below are multiple signs wishing us all a Merry Christmas from the “Ho Ho Holyland.” We could hear Christmas music — and there was a gregarious face peering over the balcony. We exchanged greetings and he asked us if we wanted to check out his Christmas display. The ladies were all over that. More than gelato. I lost.

This friendly guy came downstairs and opened the door for us. It was clear pretty quickly that he was the player touted for his basketball prowess. He’s a bit famous. And he uses his fame for God. His energy was contagious — and after a day of touring, we needed that energy.

His current mission in the world has changed. He played basketball for 25 years, but now he’s the Jerusalem Santa. He has a two-room Santa studio below his house (his family has lived there for well over 100 years). The first of his two rooms has a sleigh — and it is used for photos. And it has a snow machine that showers the occupants for even better Christmas pictures.

Inside the second room there is more Christmas kitsch than any room should hold. There’s a desk for Santa to do his correspondence. A Christmas tree, of course. Tons of Christmas decorations. And, there are “Santa School” diplomas on the wall (three of them if I recall). He’s been to three Santa schools in the US — a couple in Denver and one in Gatlinburg.

His name is Issa Kassissieh, and he had more energy than all of us put together.

He uses the Santa gig to tell the story of Jesus. He tells people Jesus was born here and yet we don’t do Christmas right. We don’t decorate. We don’t tell the story. We just don’t do it properly. So, he has decorated everything to the max — and when children come to visit, he tells them the story of Jesus. And…this Jesus was born here — in Israel — in Bethlehem. Last Christmas over 12,000 children came to his home to meet Santa. And hear of Jesus. They are Jews and Christians and Muslims. They all come. They all hear the story, a story few know. But because of the Jerusalem Santa they know of Jesus.

In January, he is bringing almost 100 Santas to Israel to tour the land and see what he does. The Ministry of Tourism loves him. And he was the only Middle Eastern Santa at the convention of Santas. Who knew such things existed?

I, who scoffed at the concept of Santa in the Holy Land, have repented of my scoffing. This guy uses Santa to tell the story of Jesus. And there is a missions project in there:  he has a hard time getting candy canes in Israel, so on my next trip I will bring candy canes to the Old City. He’ll use them to share the Gospel. It’s a great excuse to go again, right?

25 Years

Twenty-five years ago this week, I preached my first sermon here at Peninsula. The message was a blur, but I still have the notes and may just preach it again someday. It was no barnburner; I can guarantee that. How do I know? Because I’d used my two best sermons to get the job! There were no others left in the files.

The previous Sunday the church had welcomed their new pastor and his family in grand style. Looking back, I think they honestly wondered if anyone would take the job. I never caught that sentiment until a couple of years later, but it wouldn’t have mattered, I was up for most any challenge. My father-in-law spoke at the installation. Don Personius had made a banner out front (no patio and no stairs to the parking lot mind you, just sidewalks going in various directions). After the service, we went over for a light lunch in the Fellowship Hall. It was there that my dad would ask Ken Garland when the first raise was coming. Really, Dad? The place was decked out in purple. Grapes everywhere. A grape stuffed animal still sits on a shelf in my office from that day. The Welch family got a grape-filled welcome. It was clever and appreciated.

The journey to that moment was far from certain. I had a daughter who really did not want to leave her dear friends in the desert. The search committee had to prep me for my interview with the “Elders” (they were called Deacons back then) for a couple of hours. Was I that shaky? And then there was a wise woman who warned me to not let the other women “eat me up.” Wow. There’s a ringing endorsement.

On that first Sunday, Danny was just 18 months — so we were a young family (young children, old parents). We were scared, to be honest. It was time for this change in our lives, but we’d left a situation full of young families and came into a situation where there were some, but not many. Where should we start?

It was my first position in the senior role in a church. I didn’t have much to do at first. After work, I’d take the kids to the beach (it was one block from our house) and wonder if I’d gone to heaven. Nine years in the desert makes you forget what living in a normal temperature is like. It’s like heaven, by the way.

But it’s been a wonderful journey together. The church has been gracious to my children. There were never unrealistic expectations (spoken or implied) put on them. They were allowed to grow up as regular kids, and I appreciated that grace given to them.

There have been good days and bad. People have come, and people have gone. Some were happy when they left, others not so much. I never actually drafted a resignation letter, though I may have thought about it from time to time. When I did think such thoughts, I reminded myself to love the people, no matter what. And cling to Jesus.

And what do I say after 25 years? To God be the glory, great things He has done. No doubt about it. May we all serve God in this generation. And then spend eternity together with Him.

Complete Immersion

Every once in a while, it is great to hear a fresh perspective on life and the Word. This week, we hear from Brett MacKenzie, fireman, paramedic, Jesus lover. This is all Brett. Thanks, my friend. — Pastor Jim

I’ve been thinking about something for a little while now and it occurred to me again as we travelled through Israel with Pastor Jim.

Social media is everywhere all the time and has implications for everyone from families and friends to world leaders. Most of us are now immersed in, and totally saturated by, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the tens of other newer platforms. We are saturated with technology, and technology is saturated with us.

As we travelled through Israel, I pictured our Lord walking with His disciples and followers in the area around Galilee or up to Jerusalem. Looking out the bus window, I pictured them walking down wadis and across streams and resting a little in the shade with Jesus taking the opportunity to instruct, encourage or even rebuke a little. I pictured our Lord moving easily and thoughtfully almost as though He were conducting an orchestra.

I could see Him controlling the flow of the discussion on every level with a word or a glance and, also, the pace of the steps which would land them all exactly where they needed to be at all times…every time. Very quickly after the disciples were called, they must have had their eyes and ears completely attuned to Jesus looking for cues as to what was next.

This is where the social media part comes in. Our Lord intentionally assembled exactly the right people that He might be heard and watched every minute of every day. He then taught truth so that it would be written down in exactly the way He wanted it all communicated. He even made it so that the questions or challenges He received were properly phrased and placed so that He could use them to reinforce a point or introduce something new. In today’s language we’d say there were “tweets,” “re-tweets,” “likes,” “followers” and even “trolls” (Pharisees, usually).

I’m no historian but I can’t think of another example of someone having subjected himself to, or even being capable of orchestrating, such complete immersion. Maybe we could do that today with our modern technologically, but what would that look like? Even the most loving and compassionate of us would crack or bail out once the fury started. Jesus put Himself in the middle of it, and we read the results. In so doing, we read not only the accounts but we feel the love, awe and reverence of each writer.

In effect, Jesus was surrounded by us as much as He would have been had there been smartphones, drones and Go Pros that wouldn’t exist for another 2,000 years. He took the unrelenting glare of fallen humanity and used it to illuminate and show us The Way. The resulting record, as it is contained in the Scriptures, is complete and astonishing and, indeed, it shines ever brighter. Our Lord inspires awe every way you look at Him.

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Blog Fulllwidth

Andrew & Katie

Ah, young love is in the air. And it’s grand. Our youth pastor, Andrew Staffieri, is now headed to the altar to marry Katie McGregor. I knew Bruce McGregor and I had something in common. We will both be facing many tears in 2020. There is something very special when your daughter walks down the aisle.  At least I think it will be.

Anyway, Andrew came into my office before Thanksgiving and shut the door. That’s not usually a good sign from where I sit, but he had his backpack slung over his shoulder so I figured the news couldn’t be too bad. He stood hovering over my desk which the grin of a Cheshire cat all over his face. He reached into his backpack and pulled out a small box. Of course, “Medawar” was emblazoned on the top…and I knew where this was headed.

He was on his way to surprise Katie with a certain question. What I will never forget was the sweet smile on his face. He was so happy. He was bubbling with anticipation. He couldn’t wait to show me the ring (it is beautiful…and you ought to take a look at it) and then get out onto the road to accomplish this most significant of tasks. It was a precious moment…and I barely kept my composure.

I didn’t know the plans (there was no need for me to be in that loop). But I knew Andrew and I knew how excited he was in that moment. Young love is great. And inspiring. I am so happy for them both and can’t wait to celebrate their love on some special day next year. No pressure from me, by the way.

But I thought about our Bridegroom, Jesus. We often talk about making sure we are looking forward to His return. But in that moment, I wondered what this all must be like for Him. What’s it like for Him to anticipate the wedding supper of the Lamb? If we as the bride are excited, what’s it like for the Bridegroom. The last few I’ve seen are petty thrilled that the wedding is coming. So, I imagine that Jesus must be looking forward to that great day as well.

But linger on that thought for a moment. Jesus is the Bridegroom. And as a bridegroom He’s looking forward to the wedding as much as the bride. The King of the universe came into the world to find a bride. The price for that bride was His own blood. He’s coming again to marry that bring and take her into the infinitely beautiful chambers and gardens of His love. John Piper put it this way, “King Jesus came into the world to take a wife. Not a harem. And not for sex. But to give her pleasures that make sex taste like cardboard. He paid for her with his life. And he is now at work by his Spirit and by his word purifying and beautifying her for himself and for her joy.”

I’m sure Jesus can’t wait to make us His bride. He’s got that Cheshire grin of Andrew as the day draws closer and closer. Katie is blessed to have caught the eye of Andrew. We are blessed to have caught the eye of Jesus.

Our Anchor

The calendar says it is now December. This month our theme is “Behold Your King.” One of the ways to behold Jesus this Christmas is to make a commitment to draw near to Him daily, no matter how busy life gets. There are many tools to help you to Behold the King. Here is Day One of a devotional by my former boss, Ray Pritchard. Links to the entire set may be found on our Christmas page on the website. There are links to other devotional resources as well. Just pick one….and Behold Your King!

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. Jesus has entered there on our behalf as a forerunner” (Hebrews 6:19-20).

Everyone has an anchor.

The only question is, how well does it hold? If your soul is anchored to your money, what will you do when the money runs out? If your soul is anchored to your spouse, what will you do when your spouse is taken from you? If your soul is anchored in your career, what will you do when you are fired? If your soul is anchored in your happiness, what will you do when hard times come?

If you put your anchor in the sand, it will never hold. You need a place for your anchor to rest so it can’t be moved. Nothing in this world will ever be strong enough when your life falls apart. We need an anchor that cannot be moved no matter what happens, which means we need an anchor that is quite literally “out of this world.”

That’s what we have.

Most of us think of an anchor that goes down to the bottom of the ocean, but we have an anchor that goes up to heaven. Our anchor rests in the Holy of Holies in heaven, behind the curtain, in the very presence of God himself.

Guess who’s already there? Jesus!

The word “forerunner” describes a smaller boat that went ahead of a large ship to guide it into the harbor. When the storms are raging, the “forerunner” boat goes ahead of the large boat and drops the anchor in the harbor, so the large boat is safe during the storm. When the storms are past, the big boat enters the harbor also.

Jesus leads us home to heaven.

You couldn’t be safer than you already are because we are already anchored in heaven. It’s not as if Jesus said, “I’m going to show you the way, but then you’re on your own.” It’s more like this: Jesus went ahead of us into heaven, and then he became the anchor for our soul.

We’re hooked up with Jesus in heaven. We’re as safe as Jesus is safe.

That’s why the hope is called “firm.” The word means “never failing.” It comes from a Greek word that combines a word meaning “totter” or “fall” plus the word “not.”

Our anchor will never fail. Our anchor will never slip. Our anchor will never give way. Our anchor holds because it rests on Jesus in heaven.

Dan – Loyal, Faithful Pillar & Friend

I got the phone call on Wednesday night, just before dinner. Dan Kazarian had passed away. He died on Tuesday while eating breakfast. It was quick. It was unexpected. And his daughter was relieved that he hadn’t suffered. Dan is now with His Savior and his dear wife, Julia. I suppose that most folks reading this Back Page will not have a clue who I am talking about, but Dan had been a member (and a very loyal member) here at Peninsula for over 48 years. That’s a long time to belong to a church. But Dan and Julia were loyal. Faithful. Pillars. Dear friends of Peninsula. They had endured much over the years but had given much as well.

The last time I saw Dan was in August, before leaving town for the Bombo medical mission. He was in good spirits and looking pretty good, actually. The staff had been over to celebrate his 92nd birthday in July. And he looked better in August. He’d had a spat of health issues which kept him at home a couple of years ago, so we haven’t seen much of him since then. But I do know this — he read every Friday Update (do you?), and he watched the live stream faithfully. He knew what was going on here at Peninsula and missed you all so very much.

When I first came to Peninsula, Dan would take me to lunch. He loved to bend my ear about the latest theological issue that he’d been spending hours researching on the internet. He liked to know where we were headed as a church. And put in his two cents. He always came back to this piece of advice:  I should just study the text for the week and then just get up and talk about it. Uh, that’s not in my skill set or even close to my style. So, there is one piece of advice I haven’t followed. But he meant well. He always did.

Eventually, he had his own website where he would post articles and ruminations on all matters theological. He loved the Word, to study it and to debate it. And he didn’t mind stirring up some trouble around his interpretations of the Scripture.

Dan was never in want of an opinion. In any area. He was an engineer, retiring from the LA Airforce Base, if my memory serves me well. Having a church full of engineers just means you’d better think things through. Things like theology and vision and purpose and direction. You have to be prepared to answer every conceivable question because someone is going to ask it. And if no one else did, Dan would.

He mellowed in his later years and seemed to enjoy living at Canterbury, across the street. He missed Julia very, very much. His life was never quite the same after she passed away from cancer in 2009. And now they are both with Jesus. I just miss them. The streets of heaven are getting populated with Peninsula alums. We bow before a Savior who is able to keep that which we’ve committed to Him until that day. Safe at home. And we must press on since our race is not yet done.

Fishing and Fantasy Football

A week ago we were in Mammoth, fishing. The locals said we encountered great weather – an “Indian summer.” Well, my experience with that weather pattern is a little more heat during the day than we felt. But, hey, Mammoth in the 60s in November, I’ll take it. Especially since the fish were biting (at least for me). There weren’t many fishermen battling for the trout still swimming around at the end of fishing season. I think that made a huge difference.

We got skunked on day one of fishing. Then we took out a boat and did well. Then some of the family headed home and others went on a hike – and I went out on the lake by myself. And I did even better on that excursion. It was quiet and the views from Lake Mary are special.

Now it was not a lazy week – we hiked a lot, too. We hiked so much we had a pup with bleeding paws. We took it easier on her after that. But the trek through Little Lake Valley (behind Rock Creek Lake) is a special hike. It was deserted in the middle of November, so that was nice. The green leaves of summer had long ago fallen to the ground. Some of the creeks were frozen. A few of the lakes were beginning to ice over. But the sun was shining and the views were spectacular.

Getting out into the mountain landscapes is good for my soul. And in November you always find a parking spot near the trailhead or lake. And I certainly didn’t mind the empty streets in downtown Mammoth. We had a great time in the Eastern Sierra. And it was most certainly icing on the cake to crush the boys in the annual fishing derby. And I mean crush. Of course, I fished at least twice as long as they did…but still, I caught more than twice what they caught – combined! So I’ll crow about it while I can (and ignore any hint of Fantasy Football this season). Me? No, I’m not fielding a team this year. It’s all Andrew…

But isn’t that how we normally tackle life. We pick and choose what stories to tell. We like the ones where we look good. And the other ones? We hope no one tells them. Fantasy Football 2019? May it fade into oblivion. Fishing 2019? I will never let you forget the adventure.

In life, however, it’s not always that simple. We need to explore those areas we’d rather ignore. It is in those places where spiritual growth can, and should, occur. Don’t so love yourself so much that you cannot be honest about the failures and struggles of life. Admit them. Learn from them. They are valuable moments that can be used by God to strengthen our faith and deepen our hope in Him. And, they tend to keep us with a healthy sense of humility. And that’s never a bad thing.

So I’m a failure in Fantasy Football (no shock there, actually). But I can help you find some fish in Lake Mary. Maybe it’s time to take stock of some more important matters, however. Let’s draw near to Jesus and let Him have His way today. Be honest.

Passing the Baton

It’s been just over one month since I was given the opportunity to talk about passing the baton. In the time since it has been so encouraging to see how this church continues to grow together. Just last week we held our annual Harvest Festival. This is perhaps our biggest opportunity of outreach all year. Close to 1,200 people from all over the area coming to our church for candy, family fun, and a famous free hot dog. Obviously this is a huge opportunity for us as PCC to show the people of our community even just a small glimpse of Jesus. It takes a lot of work and a lot of volunteers to make an event like this happen, and church members of all ages responded to the call! What a gift not only for our church, but for the whole community to have middle schoolers up through “slightly” older than middle schoolers serving side by side as the body of Christ. This event was another step for us to continue to grow in becoming intergenerational.

But Harvest Festival wasn’t the only “passing the baton” event this month. Oh no no no… Just yesterday the women of the church held a cross-generational event that encouraged women of all ages to come together and discuss the meaning of having an identity in Christ, as well as the different pressures women face to constantly measure up in an ever-changing culture. Generations may feel disconnected with each other at times due to the fast pace trends of the world. I feel like I have to Google a reference my kids make every week. Yet, the struggle to find purpose and a meaningful identity resonates with everyone. The leadership team, made up of women from different generations, really fueled the collaborative process of creating this event and reflects the shared discussion among the different age groups. Events like this Saturday are vital to creating bridges throughout the church body.    

Two big intergenerational events are pretty good, but what if I told you there was more. The first Saturday of every month is the Gathering. The Gathering as many of you may know is a worship night geared to draw young adults into the church. It’s not just young adults who come to this event though. It’s meant to bring people together to worship God and pray together. This last month has been a powerful month in “passing the baton” and now as we move into the Christmas season let’s keep it up.

Heroes of Faith

Halloween has come and gone for 2019. I always break out in a small smile when that celebration is over. Why? Because at its best, Halloween has become a celebration of the mindless paganism our ancestors wisely turned their backs on. But now the best holidays are in front of us. And Friday was one you may have overlooked. The name Halloween comes from a shortening of All Hallow’s Eve, the night before All Saints’ Day, which was Friday.

For centuries on All Saints’ Day the Church celebrated the lives of Christians who went before us. And rightly so: We can learn so much from those whom the author of Hebrews calls that great cloud of witnesses. This week, I came across a piece by the late Chuck Colson. I’ve highly edited for this space. I’m not this smart.

The tradition of remembering the Church triumphant dates back to the time of the first Christian martyrs. When soldiers of Marcus Aurelius Verus came to arrest Polycarp, a beloved church leader, Polycarp greeted them kindly. According to the third century historian Eusebius, Polycarp “ordered a table to be laid for them immediately, invited them to eat as much as they liked, asking in return a single hour in which he could pray.”

When Polycarp later stood in the coliseum, accused and surrounded by the jeering crowds, the governor pressed him to recant his faith. Instead, this man, who himself had been discipled by the Apostle John, said this: “For eighty-six years, I have been [Christ’s] servant, and He has never done me wrong: How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” As they were preparing to burn him alive, Polycarp offered up prayers of faith and praise.

In the years following Polycarp’s death, Christians would gather annually to take communion beside his grave. There they would remember his brave witness and take courage from his example.

As the years passed, the day shifted in focusing from remembering Polycarp to honoring all martyrs. By the seventh century, the Church created a holiday to honor all of God’s saints—heroes of the faith.

One of the heroes was a woman named Monica, who lived during the fourth century. She would never face flames or jeering crowds, as did Polycarp, but she did face testing. That testing came in the form of her own longing for the return of her prodigal son, Augustine. His immoral lifestyle made this Christian mother weep. Later, when Augustine, who is now known as one of the foremost theologians of Christianity and scholars of Western civilization, did come to Christ, he wrote this prayer: “My mother, Your faithful servant, wept to You for me, shedding more tears for my spiritual death than others shed for the bodily death of a son. You heard her.”

History reveals story after story like this, from Justin Martyr to Martin Luther to Amy Carmichael. But we have lost touch with those stories. Maybe you should do some research? Maybe you could get your kids excited about uncovering the heroes of the faith? Let me encourage you to do…something. Honor the great saints who set examples for us. Talk about the lives of Christian heroes.

Real heroism is found not in a costume, but in how we live our lives. How’s that going?

Practical Advice

Practical Advice

Every once in a while, the Back Page ought to provide practical advice. I wish I was smart and clever enough to provide witty banter every week, but I’m not. The kids have left the nest, so my best material went with them. Parenting is great fodder, at least for me. I messed up a lot. But writing something clever, designed to make you think — while at the same time preparing us for worship, can be tough.

So this week, I’ve decided to just be practical. I’ll avoid all things political (that’s a given usually). I’ll not be a pundit or a prognosticator or even a theologian today. Nothing from Israel. Nothing from Uganda. Nothing from life here at church. Just something from life.

You probably know that I’m now a volunteer chaplain with the Sheriff’s Department. That means regular ride-a-longs. It’s quite interesting. Usually. If there is a hint of trouble, I’m glued to the passenger seat while the deputy checks things out.

But, there is one very practical lesson that I’ve learned in my patrolling adventures. And it is not all that profound. And there is nothing particularly spiritual about it. And yet, I would say it could be one of the most important topics I’ve highlighted on the Back Page in a while. Maybe ever.

Are you ready? Here’s what I’ve learned over the last couple of trips around the hill while on duty. (Have I properly built up some suspense? Or maybe you just skipped ahead). What is it that I learned that I’d like to pass along to us all? It is simply this: slow down.

Yep, just slow down in our pursuit of any destination.

We’ve talked about that concept spiritually when we explored creating some margin in life. But what I’m talking about now is this: when you drive, take your time. Slow down. Why be in such a hurry? You aren’t really going to make that much of a difference in your arrival time anyway. And even if you are late to work, don’t rush. Slow down. Try getting out of the house earlier tomorrow, that could help. But for the moment, slow down.

The last couple of adventures in a sheriff’s car, I’ve had to stand around while people deal with the aftermath of a car accident, which on some level involved the need to get somewhere faster than what was safe. So, put down your cell phone. Ease up a bit on the gas pedal. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Before plowing through an intersection, look both ways — even if your light is green.

Just slow down. I beg you.

Why are we always in such a hurry in our modern world? I guess because we think we are that important. Or we are just impatient. Well, being on time is important — but it’s not worth the risks you take. So, I beg you…slow down. Take your time. Keep yourself and others out of the ER.

So, there you have it. My profound and witty and sage advice for the week is simple: slow down. Oh, and while you are at it, go ahead and come to a full stop at every stop sign. What’s the hurry?

The Jerusalem Santa

I had walked by this place while I’d been alone in Jerusalem. And I scoffed. It bothered me that here in the land of Jesus, there’s a place devoted to Santa Claus. Come on, no Santa here.

When we were out on an evening excursion for gelato, we walked by this house again. There’s a large canvas sign on the second story touting a basketball player. Below are multiple signs wishing us all a Merry Christmas from the “Ho Ho Holyland.” We could hear Christmas music — and there was a gregarious face peering over the balcony. We exchanged greetings and he asked us if we wanted to check out his Christmas display. The ladies were all over that. More than gelato. I lost.

This friendly guy came downstairs and opened the door for us. It was clear pretty quickly that he was the player touted for his basketball prowess. He’s a bit famous. And he uses his fame for God. His energy was contagious — and after a day of touring, we needed that energy.

His current mission in the world has changed. He played basketball for 25 years, but now he’s the Jerusalem Santa. He has a two-room Santa studio below his house (his family has lived there for well over 100 years). The first of his two rooms has a sleigh — and it is used for photos. And it has a snow machine that showers the occupants for even better Christmas pictures.

Inside the second room there is more Christmas kitsch than any room should hold. There’s a desk for Santa to do his correspondence. A Christmas tree, of course. Tons of Christmas decorations. And, there are “Santa School” diplomas on the wall (three of them if I recall). He’s been to three Santa schools in the US — a couple in Denver and one in Gatlinburg.

His name is Issa Kassissieh, and he had more energy than all of us put together.

He uses the Santa gig to tell the story of Jesus. He tells people Jesus was born here and yet we don’t do Christmas right. We don’t decorate. We don’t tell the story. We just don’t do it properly. So, he has decorated everything to the max — and when children come to visit, he tells them the story of Jesus. And…this Jesus was born here — in Israel — in Bethlehem. Last Christmas over 12,000 children came to his home to meet Santa. And hear of Jesus. They are Jews and Christians and Muslims. They all come. They all hear the story, a story few know. But because of the Jerusalem Santa they know of Jesus.

In January, he is bringing almost 100 Santas to Israel to tour the land and see what he does. The Ministry of Tourism loves him. And he was the only Middle Eastern Santa at the convention of Santas. Who knew such things existed?

I, who scoffed at the concept of Santa in the Holy Land, have repented of my scoffing. This guy uses Santa to tell the story of Jesus. And there is a missions project in there:  he has a hard time getting candy canes in Israel, so on my next trip I will bring candy canes to the Old City. He’ll use them to share the Gospel. It’s a great excuse to go again, right?

25 Years

Twenty-five years ago this week, I preached my first sermon here at Peninsula. The message was a blur, but I still have the notes and may just preach it again someday. It was no barnburner; I can guarantee that. How do I know? Because I’d used my two best sermons to get the job! There were no others left in the files.

The previous Sunday the church had welcomed their new pastor and his family in grand style. Looking back, I think they honestly wondered if anyone would take the job. I never caught that sentiment until a couple of years later, but it wouldn’t have mattered, I was up for most any challenge. My father-in-law spoke at the installation. Don Personius had made a banner out front (no patio and no stairs to the parking lot mind you, just sidewalks going in various directions). After the service, we went over for a light lunch in the Fellowship Hall. It was there that my dad would ask Ken Garland when the first raise was coming. Really, Dad? The place was decked out in purple. Grapes everywhere. A grape stuffed animal still sits on a shelf in my office from that day. The Welch family got a grape-filled welcome. It was clever and appreciated.

The journey to that moment was far from certain. I had a daughter who really did not want to leave her dear friends in the desert. The search committee had to prep me for my interview with the “Elders” (they were called Deacons back then) for a couple of hours. Was I that shaky? And then there was a wise woman who warned me to not let the other women “eat me up.” Wow. There’s a ringing endorsement.

On that first Sunday, Danny was just 18 months — so we were a young family (young children, old parents). We were scared, to be honest. It was time for this change in our lives, but we’d left a situation full of young families and came into a situation where there were some, but not many. Where should we start?

It was my first position in the senior role in a church. I didn’t have much to do at first. After work, I’d take the kids to the beach (it was one block from our house) and wonder if I’d gone to heaven. Nine years in the desert makes you forget what living in a normal temperature is like. It’s like heaven, by the way.

But it’s been a wonderful journey together. The church has been gracious to my children. There were never unrealistic expectations (spoken or implied) put on them. They were allowed to grow up as regular kids, and I appreciated that grace given to them.

There have been good days and bad. People have come, and people have gone. Some were happy when they left, others not so much. I never actually drafted a resignation letter, though I may have thought about it from time to time. When I did think such thoughts, I reminded myself to love the people, no matter what. And cling to Jesus.

And what do I say after 25 years? To God be the glory, great things He has done. No doubt about it. May we all serve God in this generation. And then spend eternity together with Him.

Complete Immersion

Every once in a while, it is great to hear a fresh perspective on life and the Word. This week, we hear from Brett MacKenzie, fireman, paramedic, Jesus lover. This is all Brett. Thanks, my friend. — Pastor Jim

I’ve been thinking about something for a little while now and it occurred to me again as we travelled through Israel with Pastor Jim.

Social media is everywhere all the time and has implications for everyone from families and friends to world leaders. Most of us are now immersed in, and totally saturated by, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the tens of other newer platforms. We are saturated with technology, and technology is saturated with us.

As we travelled through Israel, I pictured our Lord walking with His disciples and followers in the area around Galilee or up to Jerusalem. Looking out the bus window, I pictured them walking down wadis and across streams and resting a little in the shade with Jesus taking the opportunity to instruct, encourage or even rebuke a little. I pictured our Lord moving easily and thoughtfully almost as though He were conducting an orchestra.

I could see Him controlling the flow of the discussion on every level with a word or a glance and, also, the pace of the steps which would land them all exactly where they needed to be at all times…every time. Very quickly after the disciples were called, they must have had their eyes and ears completely attuned to Jesus looking for cues as to what was next.

This is where the social media part comes in. Our Lord intentionally assembled exactly the right people that He might be heard and watched every minute of every day. He then taught truth so that it would be written down in exactly the way He wanted it all communicated. He even made it so that the questions or challenges He received were properly phrased and placed so that He could use them to reinforce a point or introduce something new. In today’s language we’d say there were “tweets,” “re-tweets,” “likes,” “followers” and even “trolls” (Pharisees, usually).

I’m no historian but I can’t think of another example of someone having subjected himself to, or even being capable of orchestrating, such complete immersion. Maybe we could do that today with our modern technologically, but what would that look like? Even the most loving and compassionate of us would crack or bail out once the fury started. Jesus put Himself in the middle of it, and we read the results. In so doing, we read not only the accounts but we feel the love, awe and reverence of each writer.

In effect, Jesus was surrounded by us as much as He would have been had there been smartphones, drones and Go Pros that wouldn’t exist for another 2,000 years. He took the unrelenting glare of fallen humanity and used it to illuminate and show us The Way. The resulting record, as it is contained in the Scriptures, is complete and astonishing and, indeed, it shines ever brighter. Our Lord inspires awe every way you look at Him.

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

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