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Some Thoughts as 2014 Ends and 2015 Begins

December 31st, 2014 Posted in sermons | 2 Comments »

It has been said that men talk of killing time while time quietly kills them. According to the Bible, we live our lives for a certain period of time – not a moment longer and not a moment shorter. All of the health-food solutions are not going to extend your life beyond what God has determined.

You can eat free-range chicken and organic vegetables and tofu every day of your life if you want to. You can use all of the lotions and potions and special vitamins on the market today, but you will not live one day longer than God wants you to live. Nor will you live one day shorter. He has an appointed time for each of us.

Solomon wrote, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot” (Ecclesiastes 3:1–2). And Job said, “My life passes more swiftly than a runner. It flees away without a glimpse of happiness. It disappears like a swift papyrus boat, like an eagle swooping down on its prey” (Job 9:25–26 NLT). The problem is that we spend a lot of our lives doing things we would rather not be doing. We have control over some of these things, but not all of them.

Someone compiled these statistics about the amount of time the average American will spend doing certain things over the course of a lifetime: six months sitting at traffic lights, waiting for them to change; one year searching through desk clutter for misplaced objects; and eight months opening junk mail. The average American also will spend two years trying to call people who aren’t in or whose line is busy, five years waiting in lines and three years in meetings.

But here is something we have some control over. The average American will watch 1,700 hours of television every year.

C. S. Lewis said, “The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of 60 minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”

We live by time. But God is outside of time. I am not implying that God is not aware of time, because he is completely aware of every minute and second of our lives and everything that is happening in them. But God lives in the eternal realm. His interpretation of time is quite different than ours. He has his own timing.

Of course, there are times in life when it appears to us as though God is late, that God is somehow disengaged, that God is not paying attention. Going back to what Solomon had to say in Ecclesiastes, there were two important words he used in Ecclesiastes 3:1: “season” and “time.” The word season originates from a Hebrew term that refers to a fixed, definite portion of time. And the Hebrew word for time that Solomon refers to is a beginning or a starting period.

Putting it all together, Solomon was saying that God has appointed everything that comes into our lives for a specific purpose. He knows just when to bring them, and he knows how long they should last. The things we experience are not random events that float in and out of our lives. Rather, they are specific events that have been chosen by God as timely and purposeful – and that applies to the good things as well as the bad things. It applies to the good times as well as the bad times.

As we get a little bit older, we eventually realize that many of the bad times will, in retrospect, turn out to be good times. Because it is through those so-called bad times that we will learn some of life’s most important lessons.

If I decided how my day would go, I would never experience crisis. I would never get sick or have my tire go flat there or have this unexpected disaster take place over here. I would just write in all the good stuff. I would make sure that everything would go my way, there would be no traffic on the freeways, and that it always would be green lights and blue skies.

But we are not in charge of our own lives. God is. And He will let bad things, so-called, happen. But as time goes by, you will find the important lessons you have learned in life did not come from the good times. They came from those times of crisis when perhaps you were more dependent on God.

When you put your faith in Jesus Christ, you come under His protective care. It means that God is fully aware of everything that happens to you. And thankfully, God is never asleep on the job. He is always paying careful attention to the smallest detail of your life and is in complete control of all circumstances that surround it.

As Solomon observed, there is a season for everything. We are not victims of the fickle finger of fate or dumb luck. If you are a Christian, then you have come into God’s providence, which means that he will guide and direct your steps. It means that your times are in his hands.

A Review of the Film “Unbroken”

December 27th, 2014 Posted in sermons | 12 Comments »

I am not a film reviewer, but I am a fan of film in general and have been anxiously awaiting the release of the new movie Unbroken, which is the life story of someone I got to personally know, Louis Zamperini.

I interviewed Louis on four different occasions and also spent quite a bit of time with him. His memory and attention to detail were nothing short of astounding.

I loved the book this film is based on, by the same title, written by Laura Hillenbrand. So when I heard it was finally going to make it to the big screen, I was thrilled.

Let me start by saying I loved it!

Great attention was given to the details of Louis’s story, from his rebellious childhood and early days in Torrance, California, to Olympic glory, and of course his great suffering in World War 2. Actor Jack O’Connell did an amazing job capturing the strength and commitment of this amazing man. I thought the whole cast was outstanding.

There are some powerful visual moments in Unbroken that I am sure will move the viewer as they moved me. At the end of the film, Louis returns home safely after two years in a Japanese POW camp, where he received the cruelest of treatment by Mutsuhiro Watanabe, also known as “The Bird.” Preceding this, Louis had spent 47 days adrift at sea after his plane was shot down over the Pacific Ocean. This is all well documented.

Louis’s life did not end there, of course. He returned home with severe PTSD and was a raging alcoholic. His life was spiraling downward, and at the urging of his newly converted wife, Cynthia, Louis agreed to attend an evangelistic event led by a young preacher from North Carolina, Billy Graham. Louis did go to that crusade and remembered how, when adrift at sea on that raft, he told God in a prayer that if, “He got me out of this, I will serve Him.”

The Lord did get Louis out of it, and Louis responded to the invitation from Billy Graham to follow Jesus Christ. Louis Zamperini did just that and served God for the rest of his very long life. Louis died this year at age 97.

Louis told me personally that God instantly healed him of PTSD, and he put alcohol in his past. Filled with a new love for his enemies, Louis returned to Japan to forgive and share the gospel with the very guards who had so mistreated him in the POW camp.

Louis was never able to make contact with “The Bird.” At the end of the film there is some footage of the real Louis Zamperini running in the Olympics in Japan, and some text on the screen that speaks of how, because of his faith in God, he was able to forgive those who so mistreated him.

Closing Thoughts

I, for one, wish Louis’s conversion was included in the film. But here is my question: Would you rather not have it included and alluded to, or included and misrepresented?

I’m reminded of the new film about the life of Moses, Exodus: Gods and Kings, directed by Ridley Scott. I think Scott is a brilliant director, but clearly, he gutted the story so badly, I felt as if I were watching another story altogether that featured the same names as the Bible story. For instance, in Exodus: Gods and Kings the Lord comes to Moses through a small boy instead of speaking through a burning bush as the Bible states. Instead of Moses going into the court of Pharaoh, performing miracles by the hand of God, we have what appear to be a series of calamities that naturally follow one another, initiated by some very large crocodiles that are nowhere to be found in the biblical account. The miracle of the parting of the Red Sea appears to be nothing more than a low tide. At the end of the film, it is Moses, not God, who writes the Ten Commandments.

I could go on, but my point is that the film distorted the biblical story and was a huge disappointment to me. In contrast, director Angelina Jolie just alludes to Louis’s conversion, and hopefully will send the viewer wanting to see more.

So, for what it’s worth, I endorse the film.

I am asked to endorse films quite regularly, and I usually decline. No one asked me to endorse Unbroken, but I have chosen to do so because I believe it is well worth seeing and supporting. As Christians, we can use this powerful film as a springboard to tell the rest of Zamperini’s amazing life story and how Jesus Christ changed him from a man filled with hate to one filled with forgiveness.

Here is a link to an interview that I did with Louis about his life.

Christmas: A Riches-to-Rags Story

December 24th, 2014 Posted in sermons | 1 Comment »

I think we have made Christmas too beautiful. We have taken the raw, powerful message and, in many ways, gutted it. Most of us, whether we grew up in a Christian home or not, can call to mind Christmas card images of snowy countrysides, horse-drawn sleighs, frosty windows, red candles, etc.

Besides these, we have all the lovely biblical images as well: mother and child, animals in the stable, adoring shepherds, richly robed wise men, and a shining star. It’s all so beautiful.

The reality is that the Son of God was born in a filthy stable surrounded by animals. He was wrapped in rags with the chill of the night air on His infant face. It’s one thing for Him to come to this earth in the first place, but like this?

The birth of Jesus is not a rags-to-riches story; it is a riches-to-rags story. Jesus came to earth, giving up everything to save us. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9 NKJV). It was a rescue operation.

Commentator R. Kent Hughes writes, “It was as if the Son of God rose from His splendor, stood poised on the rim of the universe irradiating light, and dove headlong, speeding through the stars over the Milky Way to earth’s galaxy, where He plunged into a huddle of animals. Nothing could be lower.”

God came down to us.
The Invisible became visible.
The Infinite became finite.
The Creator became a creature.
God became a man.

The voice of God was heard on earth for the first time through human vocal cords. As Max Lucado said, “He was deity in diapers.”

He was created from a mother whom He created. He was carried by hands that He formed. Chesterton wrote, “The hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle that surrounded Him. Too small to change His own clothing or to put food into His own mouth. Amazing God in infant helplessness.”

“Though He was God, He did not demand and cling to His rights as God. He made Himself nothing; He took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form He obediently humbled Himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8 NLT).

In the ultimate act of humility, Jesus was born to die that we might live.

A Baby with a Mission

Why did Jesus come on that first Christmas?

It was not so we would have a reason to shop, eat, and go in debt.
It wasn’t just to teach everyone to be good and love his or her neighbor.
It was to die an agonizing death to ransom us from an eternal death sentence.

The beautiful baby born in the manger at Bethlehem came with a distinct purpose. That mission was to grow up and, in the very prime of His life, surrender Himself to the horrors of a Roman cross, shed his blood, and die for the sins of the world.”

The whole purpose of the birth of Christ was so there would be the death of Christ. The incarnation was for the atonement.

The shadow of the cross lay over the beauty of that first Christmas night.

Think of Mary, proudly carrying her newborn Son into the temple to have Him circumcised. An old man named Simeon took the Child into his arms speaking of salvation and glory. But before he turned away, he had a sober message for Mary: “Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35 NKJV). Within the joy, within the wonder, there is also pain, because of the blood to be shed.

At Christmas we decorate our trees with festive lights and ornaments. But the real tree in the Christmas story wasn’t beautiful at all; it was a cruel instrument of execution, used to bring about the death of God’s Son. The Bible says, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). Jesus hung on that tree and “became sin for us.”

Christmas is not about gifts under a tree. It’s about the gift God gave on the tree where Christ died for our sins, giving us eternal life.

One of my favorite holiday songs is “White Christmas” sung by Bing Crosby.
You can have a white Christmas this year if you first have a Red one.

Isaiah 1:18 says, “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’”

The only way to have a white Christmas is first to have a red Christmas.
Jesus came to shed His blood and die on the cross for you! That’s why red is the color of Christmas.

God’s gift to us was Jesus Himself.

Titus 2:14 says, “He gave Himself for us to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us His very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.” Have you experienced that?

Are you under the power of some vice or addiction or sin? You don’t have to be! “He gave Himself to free you from every kind of sin!”

He wants to cleanse you and make you “white as snow.”

Yes, red is the color of Christmas, but your Christmas can be as “white as snow” if you receive the gift.

How do you do that? Through prayer.
Find out how to receive God’s gift and have a “white Christmas” at www.KnowGod.org.

Police Officers

December 23rd, 2014 Posted in Pastor's corner | 11 Comments »

police

I think someone should establish a national Law Enforcement Appreciation Day. Maybe they already have. I know I for one appreciate those officers who serve our communities, our nation, and us.

I am a chaplain for two police departments and I personally know a lot of cops. There are also many who attend the church I pastor. I have done too many memorial services for officers killed in the line of duty, and I can tell you that other officers, even if they did not know the person who died, take it very hard. They are a fraternity, a family.

These are people just like us, who have, in many ways, made a sacrifice to literally risk their lives each and every day for relatively little pay. I think this appreciation is overdue, especially in the light of the NYC police officers who were just murdered: Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. Something that has just come out is that Officer Ramos, who was a Christian, would have been commissioned as a lay chaplain this past Saturday—tragically, the day he was shot.

The Bible tells us that these courageous men and women who serve in law enforcement are doing God’s work: “The authorities are sent by God to help you. But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for you will be punished. The authorities are established by God for that very purpose, to punish those who do wrong” (Romans 13:4).

I know that those in law enforcement are not all perfect, and that there are some bad apples in the mix. But that is true of every profession—including ministry, I might add. But by and large, those that serve us in law enforcement are fine and upstanding people and they deserve our respect and admiration.

So if you see a cop today, let them know you appreciate them!

P.S. If you appreciate police officers, or are one, speak out right here.

Leave your comments.

It’s almost Christmas of 2014 and our world is in turmoil.

December 22nd, 2014 Posted in sermons | 5 Comments »

• We have riots in our streets.
• Terrorism continues with this recent slaughter attack against a school in Pakistan.
• Taliban terrorists killed 145 people (132 of them children).
• Two NYC police officers killed.

And yet there is that message from the angels to the shepherds 2,000 years ago:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”

So, where is that peace and goodwill toward men today?

One of the most powerful songs of Christmas is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The story behind it is interesting. It was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In the year 1860, Longfellow was at the peak of his success as a poet. Abraham Lincoln had just been elected president, giving hope to many. But things turned dark for America, and for Longfellow personally.

The civil war began the next year, and then Longfellow’s wife died in a tragic accident in their home. Longfellow obtained severe burns on his hands and face trying to save his wife. He was so badly burned, he could not even attend her funeral.

In his diary for Christmas Day 1861, he wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are the holidays.” In 1862, the toll of war dead began to mount and in his diary for that year Longfellow wrote, “A merry Christmas, say the children, but that is no more for me. . .”

In 1863, his son, who had run away to join the Union army, was severely wounded, and returned home in December. There is no entry in Longfellow’s diary for that Christmas.

Longfellow wanted to pull out of his despair, so he decided to write a poem of Christmas. He began: “I heard the bells on Christmas day. Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth, good will to men.”

As he came to the third stanza, he was stopped by the thought of the condition of his beloved country. The battle of Gettysburg was not long past. Days looked dark, and he probably asked himself the question, “How can I write about peace on earth, goodwill to men in this war-torn country, where brother fights against brother and father against son?”

But he kept writing: “And in despair I bowed my head. ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said, for hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

But then, catching an eternal perspective, and the real message of Christmas, and Christ Himself, Longfellow changed his perspective: “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep; ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep!’ The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

Back to that message of the angels to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” A better translation of what they said would help: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom He is pleased!”

To be ‘pleasing to God’ means there first must be a change of heart.

We need to turn from our sins and put our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.

Before we can be reconciled with one another we must first be reconciled to God.

The movie “Unbroken” is coming out Christmas Day. It’s the story of Louis Zamperini.
It tells the story of the unimaginable treatment Louis faced in a Japanese POW camp in WW2.

The movie ends with Louis returning to America as a hero.

But the real story does not stop there.

Louis had severe PTSD and was also an alcoholic when he returned from the war.
He wanted to murder the man who treated him so cruelly in the camp.
The man was known as “the Bird.”
Louis was even trying to raise money to return to Japan to personally kill this man.

But Louis found Christ at the Billy Graham crusade of 1949.
Louis told me personally that he was instantly healed of the PTSD.

Because of that he wanted to forgive the man who hurt him so badly.

When a person finds Christ they want to please Him. And that means we need to forgive.

That’s what we need in our country today: forgiveness.
That’s what we need in our lives as well.
Things would be so much different today if we would forgive.
As Scripture tells us, “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”
Then we will have the goodwill and peace the angels promised 2000 years ago.
And not before.

This Sunday at Harvest Riverside and Orange County.

December 20th, 2014 Posted in sermons | 1 Comment »

Is it possible to “lose God?”

Technically, the answer is no.

But practically the answer could be yes for some.

In all the busyness of Christmas, it is very easy to forget all about the One we are supposedly celebrating: Jesus Christ.

A better way to put it is, we can “leave” God.

Tomorrow at Harvest, I want to look at a story where Joseph and Mary actually lost Jesus.

Or at least, they lost track of where He was.

It is also the story of how they found Him, and we can find Him too if we search with all of our hearts.

Our service times are 8:00 AM, 10:00 AM, and 12:00 PM, Pacific.

You can also join our LIVE video webcast at www.harvest.org

The Three C’s of Life

December 13th, 2014 Posted in sermons | No Comments »

We have all heard of the story, Alice in Wonderland. It was written by Lewis Caroll. In it, Caroll writes:
“Alice came to a fork in the road.
‘Which road do I take?’ she asked.
‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat.
‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered.
‘Then,’ said the Cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.'”

According to the Bible, there are two roads we can take in life. One road is narrow, the other wide. One is hard, the other much easier.

The Bible also tells us there are two foundations in life that we can build our lives on. One will sustain when the storms come, and the other will not.

We decide what road and what foundation we will build our lives on. That will ultimately determine where we will spend eternity.

Again, there are two choices. . . they are Heaven and Hell.

That is what I spoke about this past Sunday at Harvest Riverside and Orange County in my message, “The Three C’s of Life.” You can watch the archive now »

The Nonbeliever’s Favorite Verse

December 6th, 2014 Posted in sermons | 4 Comments »

So, which one do you think it is? If you guessed, “Judge not lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1), you got it right!

So, why is that the nonbeliever’s favorite verse? It’s because they don’t want you as a Christian to, at least in their view, “push” your views on them.

So, what did Jesus even mean when He said, “Judge not, lest you be judged”? Does that mean that as Christians we are never to make evaluations and judgments?

That’s what I talk about in my message. I think you may be surprised by what we discover together.

Watch the archive here »

When God Cried

December 3rd, 2014 Posted in sermons | 1 Comment »

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.
— John 11:33
At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus surveyed the scene. Mary, Martha, and the others were all weeping and mourning. And Jesus wept. Tears rolled down His cheeks.

Jesus wept tears of sympathy for Mary and Martha and for all of the sorrow caused by sin and death through all the long centuries of human existence. The Bible says that He was “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). When you have lost someone you love, He knows and understands the pain and hurt deep inside your soul. Maybe other people never will completely understand, but Jesus has wept with you.

His tears also were tears of sorrow for Lazarus. Those tears were for one who had known the bliss of heaven and now would have to return to a wicked earth where he would have to die all over again.

Jesus also wept tears for the unbelief of the people: “Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled” (John 11:33). Jesus was troubled. And He was angry.

The ravages of sin in the world He had created stirred deep emotions in His heart. His wonderful, original plan, His perfect creation, had been deeply marred by sin. Death was a part of the curse, and it angered Jesus to see the devastating effect sin had on humanity.

Some may wonder, Well, why doesn’t He do something about it? He has. He went to the cross of Calvary and died for our sins so that death doesn’t have to be the end. There is life beyond the grave for the Christian. There is something beyond . . . something we can look forward to.

And it’s all because He laid down His life to rescue us.

Some Thanksgiving Thoughts for You Today

November 27th, 2014 Posted in sermons | 1 Comment »

Often at this time of year, we put a lot of emphasis on Christmas.
As merchants compete for our attention, we start becoming preoccupied with putting up the lights, trimming the tree, buying presents, and so on. In the process of it all, we can very easily forget the beautiful holiday called Thanksgiving. Proclaimed as a national Thanksgiving Day in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln, it initially was a religious holiday and, more to the point, a Christian holiday.

At this particular time of year we can sometimes forget about how thankful we ought to be. We need to never forget that God has blessed us to live, in my opinion, in the greatest country on the face of the earth, the United States of America. We have so many privileges here. We have a lot to give thanks for.

Certainly the Bible urges us to give thanks to the Lord. We are told in Psalm 106:1, “Praise the Lord! Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever” (NKJV). Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (NKJV). Then in Hebrews 13:15, we read, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (NKJV, emphasis mine).

Sometimes worship and thanksgiving can indeed be a sacrifice. Why? Because we don’t feel like it. It may be because we are down or depressed or things aren’t going all that well for us. Maybe we are experiencing hardship or a tragedy has struck, and we don’t want to thank God. But Psalm 106:1 doesn’t say, “Give thanks to the Lord because you feel good.” It says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.”

We are quick to ask for help, but we are slow in returning thanks. Yet we should be just as definite in giving thanks to God as we are in requesting help from Him. As a result, there are at least three things about giving thanks that we Christians need to know.

First, to give thanks, we must recognize that God is in control of all circumstances surrounding our lives, both good and bad. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (NKJV). God is paying attention to what is going on in our lives. And He knows what you are going through right now.

Second, we must realize that God loves us and is always looking out for our eternal benefit, even if what we are presently going through is difficult. As 2 Corinthians 4:17–18 says, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (NKJV).

Third, we must realize that God is wiser than we are. He is always dealing with us for our best eternal good, where in contrast, we are always interested in what is for our temporary good. But sometimes what is good for us eternally is not easy for us temporarily. God will make that determination and work in our lives accordingly.

When is the last time you said, “Lord, thank You that you have allowed me to live in the United States of America…. Thank You for my church and allowing me to be a part of it…. Thank You for the freedom to openly worship You without fear of harassment, persecution, arrest, or torture… Thank You for sending Your Son to die on the cross for my sins… Thank You that He rose again… Thank

You that my life, which was once filled with guilt, is now filled with Your purpose and peace and joy… Thank You that no matter what happens, You are coming back again for me”? There is so much to give thanks for. Have you been thanking God? Let’s not wait until the fourth Thursday of November. Because for the Christian, every day should be Thanksgiving.
May you all have a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving today!