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Pray for Those who Serve Our Country

This weekend, the United States celebrates its annual observance of Veteran’s Day. It began in 1919, the first anniversary of the end of WWI. Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance, and November 11 became a national holiday beginning in 1938. This day can be blurred with Memorial Day, in which the fallen are remembered. But today it is a time to pause and honor all those among us who have served in the Armed Forces.

Yes, contemporary political debates rage over the use of the military, defense spending, and other issues of hard power in this world. But an unintended consequence in the middle of those debates can be that we unintentionally overlook the actual military personnel in front of us.

One writer puts it this way, “As a society, we should not forget that those in the military are real people, with hopes and joys, a moral compass and a worldview. These are the men and women who are in ‘the service’ and sincerely desire to give of themselves for a greater good. These are the hearts behind the culture and creativity of ‘soft power,’ and they’re a force that should not be dismissed or underestimated.

“It is the serviceman or woman who most seeks peace because they protect and cherish the common good. When necessary, it is a good worth fighting for, but the service member knows that such a good is always stained by any such conflict.”

The military men and women who serve and protect the U.S. come from all walks of life; they are parents, children, grandparents, friends, neighbors and coworkers, and are an important part of our community. Here are some facts about the veteran population of the United States:

•   16.1 million living veterans served during at least one war.

•   5.2 million veterans served in peacetime.

•   2 million veterans are women.

•   7 million veterans served during the Vietnam War.

•   5.5 million veterans served during the Persian Gulf War.

•   Of the 16 million Americans who served during World War II, about 558,000 are still alive.

•   2 million veterans served during the Korean War.

So, this morning you may have sat on something that surprised you — unless, of course, you checked things out before just sitting down. Every seat in our Worship Center this morning has a small plastic toy soldier. Of the inexpensive variety. But they were each placed on your seat intentionally. They are our gift to you. A gift with a purpose.

Please take home this toy soldier and put it somewhere prominent in your life this week. When you see it, pray for our men and women serving our nation. Pray for our leaders who make important decision which impact these faithful individuals. And pray for those who have served.

This holiday should not be forgotten. Take your solider home. You can even take a couple of them, we have plenty. Place it somewhere that will remind you to pray for those who serve our country.

Light in the Darkness

If you missed it — it was an amazing night. It was THE happening place to be on Halloween, I must admit. The band was rocking it. The booths were staffed with the friendliest group of folks. And the hot dogs were grilled to perfection. The cotton candy went so well this year, I’m sure Ken (who says every year, “this is my last,” will be back again. He looks so good in smurf blue.

I’m sure you know by now, that the “it” you may have missed with Harvest Festival 2018. Laurie Keller and Dee Vula did one fabulous job. The night ran as smooth as a Michel Medawar clock. It was as fun as the youth playing Nine Square, led by Andrew. Being, of course, the grand decider of crowd estimates, I’d say it was easily our largest crowed — EVER — at the event. It was jammed and the reactions of folks were very positive. Our count estimate is 1,160. WOW!

Plans and tweaks (I hear) are already in the works for 2019. Thanks for praying. Thanks for giving. Thanks for smiling.

For me, however, the night didn’t end as the decorations and booths were headed back into storage for another year. I got a message that my in-laws had been hit by a car as they were turning left onto Crenshaw from Crestridge. Oh dear… A young driver had run the red light coming up Crenshaw and hit the front of their car. Don Shoff could not move his arm, so we sent him off to the hospital for a checkup. There was nothing broken, so that was good news. After midnight they came to our house for some rest and Christie took them back to LaVerne in the morning.

My job was to wait. And wait. And wait. For what? The tow truck. They sent one tow truck for both cars. Then I got to wait as the driver delivered the other car to the driver’s home and then came back for the Shoffs’ car. I got home about 11:30 pm, if my memory serves me. I should have had two hot dogs, I’m just saying.

But I got to wait surrounded by Peninsula folks. They came down right away to offer any assistance they could and hung around until a clear picture was evident. What a blessing! Robert Medawar stayed until the bitter end, and we sent Andy Iseli home just before the tow truck arrived (the second time). Note to self:  try not to get into an accident on Halloween. There aren’t many sheriff’s available, and even fewer tow trucks. Go figure.

My long day was capped by a longer evening. We slept well, however.

You never know what the next moment will bring. But through it all and no matter what, we have a sovereign God Who rules this earth. Whether it is the ministry of the evening or the tough times which follow. We are family. And through it all we will stick together and shine the light of God in the darkness of life. Let’s continue to serve with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength. God is at work, let’s join Him in what he’s doing here.

What Ever Happened to Sin?

Small groups can be painful.

Well, they can also bring connection and support and encouragement.

But they can also be painful.

This week, our group began a new study. We are reading a book by Jerry Bridges, “Respectable Sins.” Do you know what our small group is going to learn how to do over the next several months? Yes, confront the sins we tolerate in life. We live in a world which says, “I’m OK and you are OK.” Well, more accurately these days, “I’m OK, and you are not OK.” We are good at pointing out the sin in others while we whitewash or even ignore our own.

We don’t talk much about sin in our culture. In the church, we harp on the biggies and make sure that we are on the righteous side of those devious beasts of sin. Yet we tolerate the more socially acceptable sins present in our culture. Hence the book. After this week’s home group, I must admit that sin is within me. It’s painful truth.

We plunged the depth of our sinful state this week. We covered three chapters (just like the study guide told us to do). And each chapter took us deeper into the pit of our sinful state. The author kept promising hope, but it wasn’t there. Not yet. It’ll come I’m sure. I do need to grasp an accurate picture of life lived for self if I am going to grasp the unsearchable riches in Christ. This week, I got to face the ugly truth of sin.

Sin is like cancer. It’s malignant and dangerous. If we deny it, it will kill us. We can’t ignore it because it will surely bring us to ruin. And we can’t simply focus on the very obvious sin in our lives, we have to address the more subtle ones, too. All sin, any sin, breaks God’s law.

I find it way too easy to downplay things like impatience, gossip, pride, resentment, and anger. But I forget that those “acceptable” sins are just as cancerous as the biggies. As long as I follow Jesus I am going to battle sin. I — well, we — must face it clearly and with eyes wide open. And even though our culture as a whole ignores even the word itself (sin) it cannot disappear from our thinking. Sin is very real. The consequences of ignoring it or justifying it or making light of it are always the same. It will destroy our lives as surely as untreated cancer.

One quote struck me this week. It wasn’t from the Bible, but from the secular psychologist, Karl Menninger. He wrote, “the very word, sin, which seems to have disappeared, was once a proud word. It was once a strong word, and ominous and serious word… But the word went away. It has almost disappeared — the word, along with the notion. Why? Doesn’t anyone sin anymore? Doesn’t anyone believe in sin?” What ever happened to sin?

So, small groups can be painful. Well, I guess if we just swept our sin under the rug it wouldn’t be so painful. Maybe it’s not the small group that’s painful. Maybe it’s me. And whoever recommended we study this stinking book. It wasn’t me!

Preparing for the Aches of Life

Suffering hits us all. Now, it is true that the older you get the more often and more enduring it seems to be. The joints ache. The back gets stiff. The feet get sore. The energy is spent by noon. And that’s just the stuff on the outside. Internally, at some point we must have some things removed, right? Gallbladder and appendix. Tonsils. And some hernias repaired and bones mended and malignant cells removed. Life can be lived under the impression of invulnerability. But one day that is shattered. Life suddenly looks shorter, and we gain some perspective. Hopefully.

I don’t have any announcements or anything, but I came across the wisdom of Paul Tripp a couple of weeks back and wanted to share some of his thoughts. About four years ago, he barely escaped death, but it left him tired and weary. Always exhausted. You may be in that season of life as well. But even in that season we should learn something about God and about ourselves.

Not all struggles are physical. Sometimes life gets us down and it has nothing to do with our bodies. It could be a nagging relational issue that just eats away at us. Or a financial circumstance.

How do you respond? Or better…how are you responding? Are you letting the Spirit accomplish eternal results through your temporary trial? Even if that trial lasts for the rest of your life? Let me “borrow” Paul Tripp’s words.

Your responses to the situations in your life, whether physical, relational, or circumstantial, are always more determined by what is inside your heart than by the things you are facing. You never come to your suffering empty-handed. You always drag a bag full of experiences, expectations, assumptions, perspectives, desires, intentions, and decisions into your suffering. What you think about yourself, life, God, and others will profoundly affect the way you interact with and respond to the difficulty that comes your way.

Therefore, the writer of Proverbs says: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

What are you carrying around in your soul that has the potential to complicate your suffering? What are you preaching to yourself that could allow you to forget the truths of the gospel?

Never forget: No matter what painful thing you’re enduring, as God’s child, it’s impossible for you to endure it all by yourself.

The One who created this world and rules it with wisdom, righteousness, and love is in you, with you, and for you, and nothing has the power to separate you from His love.

Do you need an example? Chat with Mary Jeanne Buttrey, my hero. She is facing her second round of chemo with her heart set on Jesus and her hope firmly in heaven. You see, it is what you bring to your trial which makes all the difference in your life. Our suffering is more powerfully shaped by what’s in our heart than by what’s in our body or the world around us. What are you cultivating in your heart that would prepare you for the aches of life? Learn to cling to Jesus and His Word.

Ant Instructions

The ants on which our house was apparently built finally crossed the line. War broke out, and we’d had enough. Well, Christie had had enough, and I had the time to make the call to the exterminator. We had one of those when we lived in the desert, and the children were very small. I would go on Black Widow hunts after the kids went to bed and could crush 4-5 a night outside the house. And then the occasional scorpion would wander through the kitchen. So, with small and inquisitive children, we would get the bugs exterminated every once in a while.

But along the coast, the creatures are not nearly as exotic. But we have ants. By the millions over the past 17 years I’m sure. And they usually congregate where you’d least appreciate their presence — the kitchen sink and the light-colored bathroom tile. They aren’t good at hiding, and we had had enough. This is war.

On Tuesday, the bug guy came. He sprayed environmentally acceptable (unless you are an ant) and pet-friendly liquid all around the interior and exterior of the house. Then I was summoned on a tour of the most infested areas, where he pulled back the bark in the planters to reveal the mother-lode of all ant trails. I guess we need a follow up visit in 30 days.

But then his instructions were the most counter-intuitive I’d ever heard. He said we would have ants in the house for the next day or two. Maybe three. DO NOT USE RAID ON THEM, our standard defense. Let them wander. He wanted their little hoofs to walk through his poison and carry it back into the nest outside the house. Really? We aren’t supposed to kill any ants for the next few days?

Let me just say this has been very difficult. Our house is now an ant graveyard. They lay there by the hundreds in piles in the corners…but there are some stragglers walking around, so we have to let them do their thing. This has been most difficult for my wife. Ants that are moving should be immediately nuked and their remains removed from sight.

But we can’t do that. Not if the goal is long-term eradication. So, we are living through an ant-apocalypse. It is quite humorous, at least to me, though not to everyone in my house. But if we do this which is so counter to every strategy we’ve tried before, we should keep the ants out of the house and off the counters for the foreseeable future. It’s been tough to obey. Very tough.

But sometimes obeying God’s instructions are very similar. He asks us to act in a way that is counter-intuitive to the natural man, to the way of the world. Give to Him first, before the bills are paid. Love your enemies. Pray for those who give you grief. Love all. Submit. And the list goes on. And on. But we are called to do what we believe to be true instead of what we see to be true. That’s tough. But that’s faith. I’ll let you know if it works in the ant department. But I do know it works in the God department.

My Plan vs His Plan

It was a routine Friday in the office. Busy. Fridays and spontaneity don’t mix. There’s too much work to do. I had a meeting early in the afternoon. I turned down a lunch meeting because… well, it is Friday. I moved that lunch request to 3 pm. The topic was to be baptism, so this shouldn’t be too long.

A little after 3, Joseph Medawar showed up with his friend, Kamran. We sat and got acquainted a bit, before I steered the conversation to baptism. Kamran was clearly seeking God and wanted a fresh start in his spiritual journey. He had trusted Christ as Savior as far as I could tell. He answered all my questions. He wanted a fresh start with God and wanted to be baptized.

Great! We have our next baptismal celebration the Sunday before Thanksgiving. We have some folks already wanting to be baptized, so another person is just fabulous. Well. That was my plan. Ordered. But he will be traveling a lot and might not be available. Can we do it another time?

Well, sure. Do you know of anyone with a pool or jacuzzi? No.

Since I’m here and you are here, why can’t we do it today?

As in right now? Yes. I mean…now?

I went through my list of excuses. Drought in California. The baptistry is not clean. You shouldn’t drive back to Beverly Hills with wet underwear. It’s Friday afternoon. My resistance proved futile. Inwardly, I’m objecting. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be. But Kamran was not deterred. He wanted to follow Jesus, and he wanted to be baptized. Why not now? I had no good answer.

We went upstairs and started to fill the tank. Kamran is not a short guy, it’ll take a bit of water. But he’s young and flexible, so it won’t take too much water (his input). I scrounged together the items needed for a baptism while the tank filled. Towels. Water shoes. Empty changing room. I ran to my car and found my gym shorts. I could wear those and leave my pants dry for the trip home. Those are all the details you get.

It came together spontaneously. I don’t do spontaneous very well. When the tank was about half full he said that was enough. And it was.

We went down into the water and read Romans 6. And then it struck me to read the account of Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. And as I read the account, standing next to Kamran in a half-filled baptistry, I learned a lesson. This was an Acts 8 moment. Again. I prefer to script my life. Change is tough for me sometimes. But Phillip shared Christ, the eunuch responded, they found some water and it was done. Spontaneously. That was now my experience.

Kamran has an interesting story. He lives in Beverly Hills, so we won’t see him much. His grandmother, however, was the twin sister of the Shah of Iran. But today, he follows Jesus. From Persia to Peninsula and into the waters of baptism. We all must end up at the cross. An apparently spontaneous event, planned before the foundation of the world. Pray for Kamran and his growing walk with Jesus. May his tribe increase.My P

Foundation

The morning I left for Uganda I walked the dog and got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. It had nothing to do with my upcoming flight (though it very well could have), nor the dog. No, it had to do with something I saw that morning. Life was changing in our neighborhood. There’s a house not too far from mine that I knew was for sale. It must have sold because a company was setting up an estate sale. It was going to be significant. They were liquidating everything.

This house is not small. Nor a bargain. It sold for about $6 million. It is an amazing place, six bedrooms, eight bathrooms. With all (and I mean all) the amenities. When Danny was in fifth grade, there was no house on that lot, but the owner was at science camp with me up in Wrightwood. We both had sons in fifth grade. He was dealing with the City to acquire the permits to build this house. It was his baby.

All these years later the house was sold and its contents on the market as well.  I found it a haunting thought. Extremely sad. Why? Well, I sort of knew the family, but not really. I hadn’t seen dad around the neighborhood lately, and knew something was wrong. I had recently discovered he had died last year of pancreatic cancer.  But he’s my age? His wife was now selling everything and returning to her native Germany. To sell everything after such life trauma must be extremely difficult. I ached for her and her now grown sons.

Let me say that I know nothing of their spiritual inclination. But what struck me that morning was this:  here is an example of a kingdom built by man which is now in ashes. He had obviously “gained the whole world,” but what of his soul? I did not know the answer to that question. But I walked by with an ache in the pit of my stomach. I found it terribly sad.

Are we carefully and prayerfully making wise choices in life? On what foundation is our life built? To most people in the world, we are fabulously wealthy. Maybe our houses don’t sell for $6 million, but they sell for a whole lot more than most of the world could ever afford. But where is our hope? Are we living in such a way that we are investing in eternal things? If we build our lives on the stuff of this world, it’ll all be sold (or in my case, given to Goodwill) some day. And perhaps sooner than we imagine.

How do you live with such paradoxes in life? Solomon taught us to enjoy life as a gift, make the most of every opportunity, live with reverence toward God, and with an eye toward eternity. Check out the last two verses of Ecclesiastes. Do I really know what happened in my neighbor’s life? No. But it still made me think. I should examine my own life and its choices. In fact, I must.

Showing Up

Back from Bombo. Back in this time zone. Fall is here, and I can’t wait to see what God will do. I know there are some areas of struggle in our church. Some personal. Some health. Some corporate. Some relational. But this I do know: great is the faithfulness of God. His mercies, they are new each and every morning. And they will be new once again for us this fall as well.

I always come home from Uganda with fresh insight into the faithfulness of God. And that keeps me going for another year. But this year things were different. Maybe I was a bit more alert to the work of God in that dusty place. We’ve done 11 clinics, and I’ve been there 12 times. That’s a lot. But is it enough? And that is sort of my point. Sometimes it takes our faithfulness to teach others of the faithfulness of God.

Ministry is not something that you can do in a few days or even a few months. You demonstrate love by being present over the long haul. A one-week clinic is not the best way to teach faithfulness, but a one-week clinic repeated as faithfully as Peninsula has done, will, after a while, make more significant impact in the community than we could imagine after year one, or five, or even 10. As the same faces show up year after year, I learned that impact cannot be measured in the stats of each year.

There is a father and his adult son who show up every year. Dad is sick but can get around. They know me now. Their smiles are huge when I see them for the first time each year. I’m pretty sure they are Muslim. Dad has an ugly (and painful) sore on his ankle. It never seems to heal. He’s seen some doctors in between clinics, and he needs much more than we can offer. But he comes for a checkup and for some Unna Boots, medicated gauze wrappings that promote healing. They are ace bandages with cream.

Will they cure him? No, apparently not. But they relieve his pain and give him some hope. There are systemic issues that he has to deal with and we are working on those issues, too. Sometimes, though, that cup of cold water is an Unna Boot. Water doesn’t heal, but it can refresh. Pastor Alex is going to meet with this old man in the coming weeks and explain to him the hope we have in Jesus. There are several of those conversations Alex can have and will have over the next few weeks. The clinic opens doors. Faithfulness opens more doors.

Sometimes you just have to show up to make a difference in a life. The more faithful you are, the more impact you will have. It’s true in your small group, in children’s ministry, and youth ministry. Showing up makes a statement. God never fails to show up in my life — so let me be like Him. We see things we cannot cure. We hold hands that won’t last long on this earth. We sacrifice a little for those who don’t have very much. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We just have to show up. This fall, where do you need to simply…show up?

Harvest in Our Own Backyard and Beyond

Team Bombo is home from Africa (well, there is one couple still traveling in South Africa by choice). But the rest of us are home trying to get back into this time zone after an exhausting couple of weeks. We ended up having over 6,000 patient visits (some patients do see multiple doctors) and 323 decisions for Christ in the six days of the clinic. By all accounts, it was a significant week of ministry in the rural suburbs north of Kampala, Uganda.

We had dinner in Kampala on Monday with Pastor Alex and his wife, Millie, and they related a story from just last Sunday. One week ago, after we had gone, they had four Muslims come to church seeking God. They shared and prayed with them for three hours after the services. That story confirmed what both Pastor Alex and myself concluded anecdotally about this year’s medical clinic. The repetitive nature of the medical mission in that community is softening hearts to Christ. Especially the Muslims. Alex and I both noted a crowd that was much friendlier than usual. They were appreciative, engaging, and more thankful than we’ve ever seen before.

There is something to say for sticking somewhere long term.

But that’s not the only place where we are seeing opportunities to reach the community with some hope. Last Sunday morning, we – yes, we right here at Peninsula – began a fresh round of ESL classes. Last season we had about four people attending. This year we upped our visibility a little. Well, a lot. Apparently, the lawn banner is perfect to draw the attention of those wanting some help with English. Last Sunday morning, we had someone from the preschool attend, someone from SBECC, and the rest from the community. Thirteen people in all came to the first class. They came from Guatemala, Taiwan, Mexico, China and Japan. Their levels of English proficiency varied. But this is great news.

We’ve been promoting it for a while now, and have obviously found an itch that needs some scratching. And this one is right in our own back yard. There are people in our own community that will come to something we offer at church if we just take some action to help them meet their own personal need.

There is a field waiting to be harvested. We need to pray for the laborers to work the fields. And I think sometimes we forget that the field is white to harvest even in our own back yard. Pray for Sharon Posse and her team as they present the love of Jesus to people who want to improve on their English skills.

And pray for Pastor Alex and the church in Bombo, who must live and minister in a heavily Muslim area, hardened most often to the Gospel. But they get sick and need a doctor. May physical needs drive them to understand their spiritual needs.

There is something to say for sticking somewhere long term. People are watching to see if we really love them. Even here at home they wonder, “Do they really care?” We must figure out how to show them we do care, and then watch God work. It’s going to be a great fall.

A Father’s Love

Sometimes ministry takes place because of grand preparations. Sometimes ministry takes place with a casual word, spoken without much thought to its impact. Any medical mission is in the category of ministry which requires great preparation. If you are going to demonstrate the love of Jesus to people who are sick, you need to be prepared with the right tools to do so.

But tonight, I experienced the other kind of ministry, that which takes place without much thought of its impact. Granted, we can destroy relationships with a casual word, but we can also draw people to God through the casual word.

I was chilling out in my room tonight getting ready to write my daily journal. My next-door neighbor was with me and we were just talking. Not writing. There was a knock at my open door, and Jeff went to “answer” it. There stood one of the young gals that works here in the office at the guest house. She wanted to talk, and it was clear she was under some level of distress.

The three of us sat down to talk. The conversation began as she explained how she came to be in our presence tonight. I had said something earlier in the week. As I was leaving the dining room – and I probably was exhausted and just wanted to get to my room – I said (and it’s not even clear it if I spoke to this young gal or not…), “I have to go say goodnight to my daughter.” Casual comment, right? No big deal, right?

But it was that statement of a father’s love for his daughter which brought her to me tonight. She was overwhelmed that there really was a father out there that would love his daughter. Her father abandoned her family when she was young. And recently, her husband abandoned her and her year-old child. Her husband even said the same thing to her that her father had said to her mother as he walked out years ago. Children don’t forget those traumatic moments of life, do they?

So here we three sat, weeping. I was desperate for words that could bring her comfort. She needed some hope. I blathered on and tried to connect with her. After some time, we prayed together on our knees. Her situation is desperate. She didn’t ask for money, but sought reassurance that God loved her in spite of all the failures of love which surrounded her.

As she left, I probably said the most important thing I could have said that night. Words she will probably remember as much as those casual comments made as I left the dining room. Only this time they were not random words. They were spontaneous, yes, but they reflected my heart. As she turned to leave I said to her, “Goodnight, my daughter.” I wanted her to know that there was a father figure in her life who would love her in spite of everything else. I could be that model of God to her. It’s the least I could do.

We will chat again before I leave. There was a whole lot of pre-planned ministry this week. And there were also those random moments where ministry just happened. And God is leading in both.

Blog Fulllwidth

Pray for Those who Serve Our Country

This weekend, the United States celebrates its annual observance of Veteran’s Day. It began in 1919, the first anniversary of the end of WWI. Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance, and November 11 became a national holiday beginning in 1938. This day can be blurred with Memorial Day, in which the fallen are remembered. But today it is a time to pause and honor all those among us who have served in the Armed Forces.

Yes, contemporary political debates rage over the use of the military, defense spending, and other issues of hard power in this world. But an unintended consequence in the middle of those debates can be that we unintentionally overlook the actual military personnel in front of us.

One writer puts it this way, “As a society, we should not forget that those in the military are real people, with hopes and joys, a moral compass and a worldview. These are the men and women who are in ‘the service’ and sincerely desire to give of themselves for a greater good. These are the hearts behind the culture and creativity of ‘soft power,’ and they’re a force that should not be dismissed or underestimated.

“It is the serviceman or woman who most seeks peace because they protect and cherish the common good. When necessary, it is a good worth fighting for, but the service member knows that such a good is always stained by any such conflict.”

The military men and women who serve and protect the U.S. come from all walks of life; they are parents, children, grandparents, friends, neighbors and coworkers, and are an important part of our community. Here are some facts about the veteran population of the United States:

•   16.1 million living veterans served during at least one war.

•   5.2 million veterans served in peacetime.

•   2 million veterans are women.

•   7 million veterans served during the Vietnam War.

•   5.5 million veterans served during the Persian Gulf War.

•   Of the 16 million Americans who served during World War II, about 558,000 are still alive.

•   2 million veterans served during the Korean War.

So, this morning you may have sat on something that surprised you — unless, of course, you checked things out before just sitting down. Every seat in our Worship Center this morning has a small plastic toy soldier. Of the inexpensive variety. But they were each placed on your seat intentionally. They are our gift to you. A gift with a purpose.

Please take home this toy soldier and put it somewhere prominent in your life this week. When you see it, pray for our men and women serving our nation. Pray for our leaders who make important decision which impact these faithful individuals. And pray for those who have served.

This holiday should not be forgotten. Take your solider home. You can even take a couple of them, we have plenty. Place it somewhere that will remind you to pray for those who serve our country.

Light in the Darkness

If you missed it — it was an amazing night. It was THE happening place to be on Halloween, I must admit. The band was rocking it. The booths were staffed with the friendliest group of folks. And the hot dogs were grilled to perfection. The cotton candy went so well this year, I’m sure Ken (who says every year, “this is my last,” will be back again. He looks so good in smurf blue.

I’m sure you know by now, that the “it” you may have missed with Harvest Festival 2018. Laurie Keller and Dee Vula did one fabulous job. The night ran as smooth as a Michel Medawar clock. It was as fun as the youth playing Nine Square, led by Andrew. Being, of course, the grand decider of crowd estimates, I’d say it was easily our largest crowed — EVER — at the event. It was jammed and the reactions of folks were very positive. Our count estimate is 1,160. WOW!

Plans and tweaks (I hear) are already in the works for 2019. Thanks for praying. Thanks for giving. Thanks for smiling.

For me, however, the night didn’t end as the decorations and booths were headed back into storage for another year. I got a message that my in-laws had been hit by a car as they were turning left onto Crenshaw from Crestridge. Oh dear… A young driver had run the red light coming up Crenshaw and hit the front of their car. Don Shoff could not move his arm, so we sent him off to the hospital for a checkup. There was nothing broken, so that was good news. After midnight they came to our house for some rest and Christie took them back to LaVerne in the morning.

My job was to wait. And wait. And wait. For what? The tow truck. They sent one tow truck for both cars. Then I got to wait as the driver delivered the other car to the driver’s home and then came back for the Shoffs’ car. I got home about 11:30 pm, if my memory serves me. I should have had two hot dogs, I’m just saying.

But I got to wait surrounded by Peninsula folks. They came down right away to offer any assistance they could and hung around until a clear picture was evident. What a blessing! Robert Medawar stayed until the bitter end, and we sent Andy Iseli home just before the tow truck arrived (the second time). Note to self:  try not to get into an accident on Halloween. There aren’t many sheriff’s available, and even fewer tow trucks. Go figure.

My long day was capped by a longer evening. We slept well, however.

You never know what the next moment will bring. But through it all and no matter what, we have a sovereign God Who rules this earth. Whether it is the ministry of the evening or the tough times which follow. We are family. And through it all we will stick together and shine the light of God in the darkness of life. Let’s continue to serve with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength. God is at work, let’s join Him in what he’s doing here.

What Ever Happened to Sin?

Small groups can be painful.

Well, they can also bring connection and support and encouragement.

But they can also be painful.

This week, our group began a new study. We are reading a book by Jerry Bridges, “Respectable Sins.” Do you know what our small group is going to learn how to do over the next several months? Yes, confront the sins we tolerate in life. We live in a world which says, “I’m OK and you are OK.” Well, more accurately these days, “I’m OK, and you are not OK.” We are good at pointing out the sin in others while we whitewash or even ignore our own.

We don’t talk much about sin in our culture. In the church, we harp on the biggies and make sure that we are on the righteous side of those devious beasts of sin. Yet we tolerate the more socially acceptable sins present in our culture. Hence the book. After this week’s home group, I must admit that sin is within me. It’s painful truth.

We plunged the depth of our sinful state this week. We covered three chapters (just like the study guide told us to do). And each chapter took us deeper into the pit of our sinful state. The author kept promising hope, but it wasn’t there. Not yet. It’ll come I’m sure. I do need to grasp an accurate picture of life lived for self if I am going to grasp the unsearchable riches in Christ. This week, I got to face the ugly truth of sin.

Sin is like cancer. It’s malignant and dangerous. If we deny it, it will kill us. We can’t ignore it because it will surely bring us to ruin. And we can’t simply focus on the very obvious sin in our lives, we have to address the more subtle ones, too. All sin, any sin, breaks God’s law.

I find it way too easy to downplay things like impatience, gossip, pride, resentment, and anger. But I forget that those “acceptable” sins are just as cancerous as the biggies. As long as I follow Jesus I am going to battle sin. I — well, we — must face it clearly and with eyes wide open. And even though our culture as a whole ignores even the word itself (sin) it cannot disappear from our thinking. Sin is very real. The consequences of ignoring it or justifying it or making light of it are always the same. It will destroy our lives as surely as untreated cancer.

One quote struck me this week. It wasn’t from the Bible, but from the secular psychologist, Karl Menninger. He wrote, “the very word, sin, which seems to have disappeared, was once a proud word. It was once a strong word, and ominous and serious word… But the word went away. It has almost disappeared — the word, along with the notion. Why? Doesn’t anyone sin anymore? Doesn’t anyone believe in sin?” What ever happened to sin?

So, small groups can be painful. Well, I guess if we just swept our sin under the rug it wouldn’t be so painful. Maybe it’s not the small group that’s painful. Maybe it’s me. And whoever recommended we study this stinking book. It wasn’t me!

Preparing for the Aches of Life

Suffering hits us all. Now, it is true that the older you get the more often and more enduring it seems to be. The joints ache. The back gets stiff. The feet get sore. The energy is spent by noon. And that’s just the stuff on the outside. Internally, at some point we must have some things removed, right? Gallbladder and appendix. Tonsils. And some hernias repaired and bones mended and malignant cells removed. Life can be lived under the impression of invulnerability. But one day that is shattered. Life suddenly looks shorter, and we gain some perspective. Hopefully.

I don’t have any announcements or anything, but I came across the wisdom of Paul Tripp a couple of weeks back and wanted to share some of his thoughts. About four years ago, he barely escaped death, but it left him tired and weary. Always exhausted. You may be in that season of life as well. But even in that season we should learn something about God and about ourselves.

Not all struggles are physical. Sometimes life gets us down and it has nothing to do with our bodies. It could be a nagging relational issue that just eats away at us. Or a financial circumstance.

How do you respond? Or better…how are you responding? Are you letting the Spirit accomplish eternal results through your temporary trial? Even if that trial lasts for the rest of your life? Let me “borrow” Paul Tripp’s words.

Your responses to the situations in your life, whether physical, relational, or circumstantial, are always more determined by what is inside your heart than by the things you are facing. You never come to your suffering empty-handed. You always drag a bag full of experiences, expectations, assumptions, perspectives, desires, intentions, and decisions into your suffering. What you think about yourself, life, God, and others will profoundly affect the way you interact with and respond to the difficulty that comes your way.

Therefore, the writer of Proverbs says: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

What are you carrying around in your soul that has the potential to complicate your suffering? What are you preaching to yourself that could allow you to forget the truths of the gospel?

Never forget: No matter what painful thing you’re enduring, as God’s child, it’s impossible for you to endure it all by yourself.

The One who created this world and rules it with wisdom, righteousness, and love is in you, with you, and for you, and nothing has the power to separate you from His love.

Do you need an example? Chat with Mary Jeanne Buttrey, my hero. She is facing her second round of chemo with her heart set on Jesus and her hope firmly in heaven. You see, it is what you bring to your trial which makes all the difference in your life. Our suffering is more powerfully shaped by what’s in our heart than by what’s in our body or the world around us. What are you cultivating in your heart that would prepare you for the aches of life? Learn to cling to Jesus and His Word.

Ant Instructions

The ants on which our house was apparently built finally crossed the line. War broke out, and we’d had enough. Well, Christie had had enough, and I had the time to make the call to the exterminator. We had one of those when we lived in the desert, and the children were very small. I would go on Black Widow hunts after the kids went to bed and could crush 4-5 a night outside the house. And then the occasional scorpion would wander through the kitchen. So, with small and inquisitive children, we would get the bugs exterminated every once in a while.

But along the coast, the creatures are not nearly as exotic. But we have ants. By the millions over the past 17 years I’m sure. And they usually congregate where you’d least appreciate their presence — the kitchen sink and the light-colored bathroom tile. They aren’t good at hiding, and we had had enough. This is war.

On Tuesday, the bug guy came. He sprayed environmentally acceptable (unless you are an ant) and pet-friendly liquid all around the interior and exterior of the house. Then I was summoned on a tour of the most infested areas, where he pulled back the bark in the planters to reveal the mother-lode of all ant trails. I guess we need a follow up visit in 30 days.

But then his instructions were the most counter-intuitive I’d ever heard. He said we would have ants in the house for the next day or two. Maybe three. DO NOT USE RAID ON THEM, our standard defense. Let them wander. He wanted their little hoofs to walk through his poison and carry it back into the nest outside the house. Really? We aren’t supposed to kill any ants for the next few days?

Let me just say this has been very difficult. Our house is now an ant graveyard. They lay there by the hundreds in piles in the corners…but there are some stragglers walking around, so we have to let them do their thing. This has been most difficult for my wife. Ants that are moving should be immediately nuked and their remains removed from sight.

But we can’t do that. Not if the goal is long-term eradication. So, we are living through an ant-apocalypse. It is quite humorous, at least to me, though not to everyone in my house. But if we do this which is so counter to every strategy we’ve tried before, we should keep the ants out of the house and off the counters for the foreseeable future. It’s been tough to obey. Very tough.

But sometimes obeying God’s instructions are very similar. He asks us to act in a way that is counter-intuitive to the natural man, to the way of the world. Give to Him first, before the bills are paid. Love your enemies. Pray for those who give you grief. Love all. Submit. And the list goes on. And on. But we are called to do what we believe to be true instead of what we see to be true. That’s tough. But that’s faith. I’ll let you know if it works in the ant department. But I do know it works in the God department.

My Plan vs His Plan

It was a routine Friday in the office. Busy. Fridays and spontaneity don’t mix. There’s too much work to do. I had a meeting early in the afternoon. I turned down a lunch meeting because… well, it is Friday. I moved that lunch request to 3 pm. The topic was to be baptism, so this shouldn’t be too long.

A little after 3, Joseph Medawar showed up with his friend, Kamran. We sat and got acquainted a bit, before I steered the conversation to baptism. Kamran was clearly seeking God and wanted a fresh start in his spiritual journey. He had trusted Christ as Savior as far as I could tell. He answered all my questions. He wanted a fresh start with God and wanted to be baptized.

Great! We have our next baptismal celebration the Sunday before Thanksgiving. We have some folks already wanting to be baptized, so another person is just fabulous. Well. That was my plan. Ordered. But he will be traveling a lot and might not be available. Can we do it another time?

Well, sure. Do you know of anyone with a pool or jacuzzi? No.

Since I’m here and you are here, why can’t we do it today?

As in right now? Yes. I mean…now?

I went through my list of excuses. Drought in California. The baptistry is not clean. You shouldn’t drive back to Beverly Hills with wet underwear. It’s Friday afternoon. My resistance proved futile. Inwardly, I’m objecting. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be. But Kamran was not deterred. He wanted to follow Jesus, and he wanted to be baptized. Why not now? I had no good answer.

We went upstairs and started to fill the tank. Kamran is not a short guy, it’ll take a bit of water. But he’s young and flexible, so it won’t take too much water (his input). I scrounged together the items needed for a baptism while the tank filled. Towels. Water shoes. Empty changing room. I ran to my car and found my gym shorts. I could wear those and leave my pants dry for the trip home. Those are all the details you get.

It came together spontaneously. I don’t do spontaneous very well. When the tank was about half full he said that was enough. And it was.

We went down into the water and read Romans 6. And then it struck me to read the account of Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. And as I read the account, standing next to Kamran in a half-filled baptistry, I learned a lesson. This was an Acts 8 moment. Again. I prefer to script my life. Change is tough for me sometimes. But Phillip shared Christ, the eunuch responded, they found some water and it was done. Spontaneously. That was now my experience.

Kamran has an interesting story. He lives in Beverly Hills, so we won’t see him much. His grandmother, however, was the twin sister of the Shah of Iran. But today, he follows Jesus. From Persia to Peninsula and into the waters of baptism. We all must end up at the cross. An apparently spontaneous event, planned before the foundation of the world. Pray for Kamran and his growing walk with Jesus. May his tribe increase.My P

Foundation

The morning I left for Uganda I walked the dog and got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. It had nothing to do with my upcoming flight (though it very well could have), nor the dog. No, it had to do with something I saw that morning. Life was changing in our neighborhood. There’s a house not too far from mine that I knew was for sale. It must have sold because a company was setting up an estate sale. It was going to be significant. They were liquidating everything.

This house is not small. Nor a bargain. It sold for about $6 million. It is an amazing place, six bedrooms, eight bathrooms. With all (and I mean all) the amenities. When Danny was in fifth grade, there was no house on that lot, but the owner was at science camp with me up in Wrightwood. We both had sons in fifth grade. He was dealing with the City to acquire the permits to build this house. It was his baby.

All these years later the house was sold and its contents on the market as well.  I found it a haunting thought. Extremely sad. Why? Well, I sort of knew the family, but not really. I hadn’t seen dad around the neighborhood lately, and knew something was wrong. I had recently discovered he had died last year of pancreatic cancer.  But he’s my age? His wife was now selling everything and returning to her native Germany. To sell everything after such life trauma must be extremely difficult. I ached for her and her now grown sons.

Let me say that I know nothing of their spiritual inclination. But what struck me that morning was this:  here is an example of a kingdom built by man which is now in ashes. He had obviously “gained the whole world,” but what of his soul? I did not know the answer to that question. But I walked by with an ache in the pit of my stomach. I found it terribly sad.

Are we carefully and prayerfully making wise choices in life? On what foundation is our life built? To most people in the world, we are fabulously wealthy. Maybe our houses don’t sell for $6 million, but they sell for a whole lot more than most of the world could ever afford. But where is our hope? Are we living in such a way that we are investing in eternal things? If we build our lives on the stuff of this world, it’ll all be sold (or in my case, given to Goodwill) some day. And perhaps sooner than we imagine.

How do you live with such paradoxes in life? Solomon taught us to enjoy life as a gift, make the most of every opportunity, live with reverence toward God, and with an eye toward eternity. Check out the last two verses of Ecclesiastes. Do I really know what happened in my neighbor’s life? No. But it still made me think. I should examine my own life and its choices. In fact, I must.

Showing Up

Back from Bombo. Back in this time zone. Fall is here, and I can’t wait to see what God will do. I know there are some areas of struggle in our church. Some personal. Some health. Some corporate. Some relational. But this I do know: great is the faithfulness of God. His mercies, they are new each and every morning. And they will be new once again for us this fall as well.

I always come home from Uganda with fresh insight into the faithfulness of God. And that keeps me going for another year. But this year things were different. Maybe I was a bit more alert to the work of God in that dusty place. We’ve done 11 clinics, and I’ve been there 12 times. That’s a lot. But is it enough? And that is sort of my point. Sometimes it takes our faithfulness to teach others of the faithfulness of God.

Ministry is not something that you can do in a few days or even a few months. You demonstrate love by being present over the long haul. A one-week clinic is not the best way to teach faithfulness, but a one-week clinic repeated as faithfully as Peninsula has done, will, after a while, make more significant impact in the community than we could imagine after year one, or five, or even 10. As the same faces show up year after year, I learned that impact cannot be measured in the stats of each year.

There is a father and his adult son who show up every year. Dad is sick but can get around. They know me now. Their smiles are huge when I see them for the first time each year. I’m pretty sure they are Muslim. Dad has an ugly (and painful) sore on his ankle. It never seems to heal. He’s seen some doctors in between clinics, and he needs much more than we can offer. But he comes for a checkup and for some Unna Boots, medicated gauze wrappings that promote healing. They are ace bandages with cream.

Will they cure him? No, apparently not. But they relieve his pain and give him some hope. There are systemic issues that he has to deal with and we are working on those issues, too. Sometimes, though, that cup of cold water is an Unna Boot. Water doesn’t heal, but it can refresh. Pastor Alex is going to meet with this old man in the coming weeks and explain to him the hope we have in Jesus. There are several of those conversations Alex can have and will have over the next few weeks. The clinic opens doors. Faithfulness opens more doors.

Sometimes you just have to show up to make a difference in a life. The more faithful you are, the more impact you will have. It’s true in your small group, in children’s ministry, and youth ministry. Showing up makes a statement. God never fails to show up in my life — so let me be like Him. We see things we cannot cure. We hold hands that won’t last long on this earth. We sacrifice a little for those who don’t have very much. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We just have to show up. This fall, where do you need to simply…show up?

Harvest in Our Own Backyard and Beyond

Team Bombo is home from Africa (well, there is one couple still traveling in South Africa by choice). But the rest of us are home trying to get back into this time zone after an exhausting couple of weeks. We ended up having over 6,000 patient visits (some patients do see multiple doctors) and 323 decisions for Christ in the six days of the clinic. By all accounts, it was a significant week of ministry in the rural suburbs north of Kampala, Uganda.

We had dinner in Kampala on Monday with Pastor Alex and his wife, Millie, and they related a story from just last Sunday. One week ago, after we had gone, they had four Muslims come to church seeking God. They shared and prayed with them for three hours after the services. That story confirmed what both Pastor Alex and myself concluded anecdotally about this year’s medical clinic. The repetitive nature of the medical mission in that community is softening hearts to Christ. Especially the Muslims. Alex and I both noted a crowd that was much friendlier than usual. They were appreciative, engaging, and more thankful than we’ve ever seen before.

There is something to say for sticking somewhere long term.

But that’s not the only place where we are seeing opportunities to reach the community with some hope. Last Sunday morning, we – yes, we right here at Peninsula – began a fresh round of ESL classes. Last season we had about four people attending. This year we upped our visibility a little. Well, a lot. Apparently, the lawn banner is perfect to draw the attention of those wanting some help with English. Last Sunday morning, we had someone from the preschool attend, someone from SBECC, and the rest from the community. Thirteen people in all came to the first class. They came from Guatemala, Taiwan, Mexico, China and Japan. Their levels of English proficiency varied. But this is great news.

We’ve been promoting it for a while now, and have obviously found an itch that needs some scratching. And this one is right in our own back yard. There are people in our own community that will come to something we offer at church if we just take some action to help them meet their own personal need.

There is a field waiting to be harvested. We need to pray for the laborers to work the fields. And I think sometimes we forget that the field is white to harvest even in our own back yard. Pray for Sharon Posse and her team as they present the love of Jesus to people who want to improve on their English skills.

And pray for Pastor Alex and the church in Bombo, who must live and minister in a heavily Muslim area, hardened most often to the Gospel. But they get sick and need a doctor. May physical needs drive them to understand their spiritual needs.

There is something to say for sticking somewhere long term. People are watching to see if we really love them. Even here at home they wonder, “Do they really care?” We must figure out how to show them we do care, and then watch God work. It’s going to be a great fall.

A Father’s Love

Sometimes ministry takes place because of grand preparations. Sometimes ministry takes place with a casual word, spoken without much thought to its impact. Any medical mission is in the category of ministry which requires great preparation. If you are going to demonstrate the love of Jesus to people who are sick, you need to be prepared with the right tools to do so.

But tonight, I experienced the other kind of ministry, that which takes place without much thought of its impact. Granted, we can destroy relationships with a casual word, but we can also draw people to God through the casual word.

I was chilling out in my room tonight getting ready to write my daily journal. My next-door neighbor was with me and we were just talking. Not writing. There was a knock at my open door, and Jeff went to “answer” it. There stood one of the young gals that works here in the office at the guest house. She wanted to talk, and it was clear she was under some level of distress.

The three of us sat down to talk. The conversation began as she explained how she came to be in our presence tonight. I had said something earlier in the week. As I was leaving the dining room – and I probably was exhausted and just wanted to get to my room – I said (and it’s not even clear it if I spoke to this young gal or not…), “I have to go say goodnight to my daughter.” Casual comment, right? No big deal, right?

But it was that statement of a father’s love for his daughter which brought her to me tonight. She was overwhelmed that there really was a father out there that would love his daughter. Her father abandoned her family when she was young. And recently, her husband abandoned her and her year-old child. Her husband even said the same thing to her that her father had said to her mother as he walked out years ago. Children don’t forget those traumatic moments of life, do they?

So here we three sat, weeping. I was desperate for words that could bring her comfort. She needed some hope. I blathered on and tried to connect with her. After some time, we prayed together on our knees. Her situation is desperate. She didn’t ask for money, but sought reassurance that God loved her in spite of all the failures of love which surrounded her.

As she left, I probably said the most important thing I could have said that night. Words she will probably remember as much as those casual comments made as I left the dining room. Only this time they were not random words. They were spontaneous, yes, but they reflected my heart. As she turned to leave I said to her, “Goodnight, my daughter.” I wanted her to know that there was a father figure in her life who would love her in spite of everything else. I could be that model of God to her. It’s the least I could do.

We will chat again before I leave. There was a whole lot of pre-planned ministry this week. And there were also those random moments where ministry just happened. And God is leading in both.

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