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Heard A Good Story Lately?

January 18th, 2015 Posted in sermons | 1 Comment »

The best stories are ones that have a clear plot, and a character you can relate to. For the story to connect, there needs to be conflict and then resolution. There might even be a surprise ending.

Hollywood will make films and screen them for reaction before they are released. Many times people do not like the way the movie concluded—perhaps the hero dies, or never finds love, or whatever, so they will reshoot the end of the film.

Someone pointed out that there are certain things that are always true in movies:

• The ventilation system of any building is the perfect hiding place. No one will ever think of looking for you in there. By the way, you can travel to any other part of the building you want, without difficulty.
• When paying for a taxi, you don’t look at your wallet as you take out a bill. You just grab one at random and hand it over. It will always be the exact fare.
• The Eiffel Tower can be seen from any window in Paris.
• Also, all grocery shopping bags contain at least one stick of French bread.
• In movies, all bombs are conveniently fitted with electronic timing devices with large red readouts so you know exactly when they’re going to go off.
• It does not matter if you are heavily outnumbered in a fight involving martial arts. Your enemies will wait patiently to attack you one by one by dancing around in a threatening manner until
you have knocked out their predecessors.
• Bad guys can spray machine-gun fire everywhere, never hitting the hero (but hitting the ground and objects nearby) and the yet the hero can hit a bad guy at 100 yards with a 5-shot revolver
that can fire 20 bullets without reloading.

Our lives may not be as dramatic as the movies, but we each have a story. We are each the featured character in our own movie called life. Psalm 90:9 says, “We spend our years as a tale that is told.” Our lives it are full of conflicts and twists and turns. Too bad we can’t reshoot the ending, because sometimes we don’t like the way it is going.

Imagine how Joseph felt mid-story, around the time he was in prison. It started off well, loved by his father, but then betrayed by brothers and falsely accused.

Imagine how Job felt mid-story. Children dead, possessions stolen, health gone as well, and a wife driving him crazy.

The problem was that Job never read the Book of Job and Joseph never read Genesis. But both of those stories had a surprise ending.

Remember, there is an Author to your story, a Director in your film, and that is the Lord. There is a script, and He has a plan—that’s all you need to know for now.

And ultimately, it’s good!

Last Sunday at Harvest Riverside and Orange County

January 17th, 2015 Posted in sermons | 1 Comment »

Our life is like a story.

The Bible says “We spend our days as a tale that is told.” That means there is a beginning, middle, and end to this story we call life. There are times this story makes complete sense. There are other times when it makes no sense at all.

Be patient . . . your story is still unfolding. Be sure of this—your story has an author and His name is Jesus Christ. And ultimately, your story will have a very happy ending.

That’s what I want to talk about at Harvest Riverside and Orange County. We will look at two people who had great needs. And we will see how Jesus met those needs. We will also see how He can help you and help you to have a happy ending, whenever that is. The title of my message is “The Whole Story.”

You can watch the archived webcast here »

P.S. We are launching a brand new series on Sunday nights called Live, Love, Fight! My message at the PM service will be “Why God Chose You.” The service starts at 6:00 PM at the Riverside campus only.

We Can Work It Out.

January 12th, 2015 Posted in sermons | 1 Comment »

This is the time of the year when people make resolutions, go on diets, lose weight, eat healthier, spend less money, etc. According to Forbes magazine, 40 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but only 8 percent keep those resolutions.

So should we just give up?

No, because there is a place for change in our lives. However, I’m not so sure New Year’s resolutions are the best way to accomplish this.

A follower of Jesus should always be “taking stock” and wanting to get stronger. Lamentations 3:40 says, “Let us test and examine our ways. Let us turn back to the LORD” (NLT), and 2 Corinthians 13:5 tells us,

“Check up on yourselves. Are you really Christians? Do you pass the test? . . . Or are you just pretending to be Christians when actually you aren’t at all?” (TLB).

Instead of merely focusing on weight loss and exercise (there is a place for that), let’s focus primarily on our relationship with God in this coming year.

Is it really possible to change—to be a “new you” this year?

The answer is yes, people can change.

But there is God’s part and there is your part. People seem to swing to one of two extremes on this topic. Either it’s all about human effort and what we must do for God (illustrated in the cliché “God helps those who help themselves!”) or it is no effort at all on our part and God will just somehow do it for us (illustrated in the cliché, “Let go and let God!”).

Neither one of those views, in and of itself, is true.

Scripture teaches that if we want to change, there is our part and there is God’s part. A classic verse that pulls those together in found in Philippians 2:13–14, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”

The idea of “working out one’s salvation” is referring to living out one’s faith—carrying it out correctly.

The verb “work out” carries the meaning of “work to full completion.” There is work involved in living the Christian life, as well as warfare and discipline.

These are not words we necessarily want to hear, but if you want to get in good shape, you “work out,” not “sit out.” The Christian life is not an easy one.

It is not a playground, but a battleground.

When the California Gold Rush began, gold was plentiful. You would find it in the streams on the ground.

Word quickly spread and people streamed into our state by the thousands. They all thought that gold was theirs for the taking and they would become instant millionaires. Of course, that gold quickly disappeared. But there was plenty more, deep in the mines.

As Christians, there is so much God has done for and in us. But we have to mine it—discover it. “Working out what God worked in.”

Andraé Crouch – My Tribute

January 9th, 2015 Posted in sermons | 4 Comments »

Andraé Crouch went to be with the Lord on January 8. You can read about his accomplishments if you just google his name. But let me share my personal insights as someone who knew him.

I first heard Andraé Crouch and his band, The Disciples, in the early ’70s. I loved his progressive Gospel/R&B style. He was truly an innovator that had a unique gift from God. It was not just his music, amazing as it was, but the fact that God worked mightily through him. When you went to hear him sing, it was part concert, part revival meeting. Anytime I heard he was playing, I would go and hear him.

He was at the peak of his career. Yet, for some unknown reason, he became a personal friend. I was just a young preacher starting a church in Riverside, California. It was 1975 and Andraé was performing around the world to packed-out audiences, but I asked him if we would come and sing for our little church on a Sunday. To my great delight he said yes! We had an old, upright, slightly out of tune piano and Andraé sat down and sang some of his classic songs.

And those songs were amazing!
“I’ve Got the Confidence”
“The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power”
“Through It All”
“Take Me Back”
“Jesus Is the Answer”
“My Tribute”

I worked with Andraé a number of times through the years and we had him out for our Raleigh, North Carolina, Crusade in 2007. I had not spoken with him for a while and was sitting down with Linda McCrary and some other friends and we started singing some Andraé Crouch songs. Linda had been one of Andraé’s backup singers. They were shocked to find out that I knew all the lyrics! Linda had his phone number and asked, “Would you like to talk to Andraé right now?” Of course I agreed and she rang him up and the Gospel legend and I talked a bit about old times. This was a few months ago.

I, for one, will miss Andraé Crouch and I thank God he took time and made room in his life for me.

Live, Love, Fight

January 8th, 2015 Posted in Pastor's corner | No Comments »

Have you ever gone to your ATM and read the message, “Insufficient funds”? I have good news for you—If you are a Christian, God has placed more than you will ever need in heavenly resources; as the Bible says, we have “Everything needed for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).

At Harvest Orange County we’ve begun a brand new series in the book of Ephesians. I am calling this series Live, Love, Fight.

Click to watch the live HD webcast of my first message, “Why God Chose You.”

Where’s My Hoverboard?

January 5th, 2015 Posted in Pastor's corner | No Comments »

It’s hard to believe, but another year has already passed.

I am still wondering where my personal spaceship and robot maid are, as seen in The Jetsons cartoons. Or at least a hoverboard, like Marty McFly had in Back to the Future II.

I would settle for Baymax from Big Hero 6.

Time seems to go so much faster as you get older. But 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.”

So now, 2014 is in the rearview mirror and we face the uncertainties of a new year. It may contain both promise and pain, triumph and tragedy, happy days and sad ones.

So how are we to look at this new year? With great hope, because our God is on the throne. He is in control of all things, including our lives.

As we enter into a new year, remember that God is in control—that God is sovereign. He always has a plan!

“He does as He pleases among the angels of heaven and among the people of the earth. No one can stop Him or say to Him, ‘What do you mean by doing these things?'” (Daniel 4:35 NLT).

When you put your faith in Jesus Christ, you come under His protective care. 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 details 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. God is doing exactly what He wants to do for His plan and for your good.

Sometimes His plans don’t make sense to us, but remember that He has a plan—and it is a good one!

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 NKJV).

In Isaiah 55:8, God says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways” (NKJV). We focus on the immediate. God focuses on the ultimate. Our world is the here and now. God’s plan is over all; it is panoramic.

As Christians we are all a “work in progress” and God will work “all things together.” Did He not do that for you last year? Philippians 1:6 reminds us that we can be “confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (NKJV).

Good news: God finishes what He starts!

This Sunday at Harvest Riverside and Orange County

January 3rd, 2015 Posted in sermons | No Comments »

At the beginning of this new year, as resolutions are being made by millions of Americans, we wonder, can we ever really change?

In our own strength, the answer is no.

But through Christ we can do all things!
That’s what I want to talk about tomorrow at Harvest Riverside and Orange County.

“A New You in 2015!”

Join us for one of our four services: 8:00 AM, 10:00 AM, 12:00 PM, and 6:00 PM (Riverside only), all Pacific time.

These services will also be webcast live at www.harvest.org

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.