People generally like Christmas more than Easter. A baby born with animals all around is preferred over a story about a horrific execution, dead body, and tomb. Except for the resurrection at the end, Christmas is much more likable. A new baby is cuter than an empty tomb. But it turns out today’s celebration is the very core of Christianity.
Now, imagine if someone died on Friday and was buried, just two nights ago. What if that person walked in on breakfast this morning? As we look back from this Sunday morning, that’s how long Jesus was dead and buried.
Early that Sunday morning, according to the four gospels, women rushed to the men who had been followers of Jesus, and told them that the body of Jesus was gone and that two angels said that he was alive.
But “The story sounded like nonsense to the men.” (Luke 24:11)
It sounded like nonsense. And we can see why. When people die, they stay dead. When people are buried, they don’t show up two mornings later.
But … for some reason what sounded like nonsense to them that day became the essence of their message.
Absurd news became good news.
What caused them to change their minds? John tells us in his first letter.
“We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands.” (John 1:1)
But why should smart, educated people like us believe that this really happened? Here are some points to consider:
- Most scholars, Christian or not, acknowledge that Jesus of Nazareth was publicly crucified, was buried, that the tomb was found empty, and that his followers believed that they saw him alive.
- Eyewitnesses testified of the resurrection of Jesus even as they faced execution.
- Consider the growth in number of Jerusalem believers pro-claiming the risen Christ against opposition, in the city where the events of the crucifixion and empty tomb could have been denied.
- Why would Jews shift their traditional day of worship from Saturday to Sunday?
- The silence of the enemies of Christianity: no body of Jesus, or evidence contrary to the resurrection account, was produced by either the Jewish or Roman authorities. In fact, they acknowledged that the tomb was empty.
- Conversion of Paul: Paul was the arch-enemy of Christianity until Jesus appeared to him. He ended up spreading the Christian message as far as Italy.
But so what? What is the faith about? If the resurrection is the evidence, what is it the evidence for?
Here it is: He died as our substitute. He died for us. We were separated from God because of sin. He was willing to take our sins on himself and die in our place. He experienced the separation from God we deserved.
The worst part of death is that our sins go with us into eternal separation from God … unless we embrace Christ as our substitute.
Whoever believes in Him can know that they have eternal life. He took the sting of death away.
There is the story of a dad in the car with his kids … they see a bee. They go nuts, screaming. When the bee landed on the steering wheel, the dad grabbed the bee and held it. Then he let it go …still alive. The kids were afraid again. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I let it sting me. He can’t hurt you now.”
Jesus took the sting of death.
Death may scare us, but it’s lost its sting. It flies all around us, but it’s lost its threat. Because he rose from the dead, we know Jesus defeated death and offers us new life, now and forever.
What seemed like nonsense — absurd news — became the best news of all!
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My “Coming to God” Story
By Kelly Knutson
Recently I have been reminded of and have been processing over a wonderful truth that Paul speaks of in Acts 17:28. It states, “In Him we live and move and have our being.” Or as The Message version puts it, “He’s not remote; He’s near. We live and move in Him; can’t get away from Him!”
I love this! It says that I am enveloped by Him. I am covered, shielded, and protected, and I am breathing, moving and living every step IN Him and, therefore, with Him at all times. This gives me goose bumps as I reflect on the day I met Him and the events that led up to that moment. He was with me then, and He was gently pursuing and calling me into the very depths of Himself.
It was my senior year of high school and I, like most seniors, was having the time of my life. I was pretty much consumed with my friends and the events of my senior year, such as prom, graduation, senior days and our senior trip to Hawaii. But in the midst of that, I sensed my parents were dealing with financial hardship. I felt the tension, but tried to distract myself and focus on my activities. Then it literally happened overnight.
Two months before my graduation, my family lost everything. Truly, everything, but the clothes we wore. We ended up in a motel for five months, using rental cars, sharing one bedroom and one bath, and for a short while were living from meal to meal. I quietly watched God provide (pursue) in wonderful ways. At the same time, I was so lost in emotions of shame and embarrassment that it took me awhile before I shared with any of my friends where I was living. Somehow, by God’s grace and a gradual sense of peace, I managed to tell my friends the truth, attend prom, celebrate my graduation and even go on my senior trip, all the while living in
It was in that very motel room that I got down on my knees and had my first intimate, real discussion with God. It went something like, “God, if you are there and if you hear me, please help us. Please help me. I feel scared and unsure of our future.” My family and I remained closer than ever during that time, and within months we were back in a home, a much smaller home, still in a city, and I actually loved it.
It was five months after that day we lost everything that I was invited to a Bible study. It was in the month of October and I heard the message of God’s deep love for me. And it was that night that I found myself having another real, intimate talk with God. I asked Him to be my God, to take my life and make it His, and to be my Lord and my first Love. Ever since that night, I have been on a wonderful journey with Him and IN Him every step of the way and with every breath I have taken.
The journey so far has been wonderful and challenging. I have grieved the loss of many loved ones. I have grieved the loss of hopes and dreams, and I have had to let go of things that I held tightly. At the same time, I have rejoiced in the goodness of many joys and blessings. For example, I have a really good husband, two amazing sons, and a delightful community of people I get to call friends. Through the good times and the challenging times, my God is in me and with me, and I am in Him and with Him. Together we journey through every valley, and every mountaintop, and everything in between. For it is in Him that I live and move and have my being.
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God’s Love Story
By Julie Waterman
Shortly after we were married, Chuck found out that he had chronic glomerulonephritis. We were told that “someday” he would need a kidney transplant, but there was no way to predict when that would be. Almost ten years later, that day came. I remember sharing this with our Life Group at the time, in shock and not wanting to believe that it was finally here. Fear welled up in me. You see, not only was I worried about Chuck and his health, but at the time I was about five months pregnant with Erin. Zachary was about 15 months old, and Emma was not quite 3 ½ years. It was a lot to process.
Chuck had surgery to put a fistula in his arm, just in case. We began the process of finding a donor. He filled out medical and psychological forms. We got his will in order. Along the way in October of 2001, I gave birth to our sweet Erin.
Chuck’s sister was approved as a most perfect match. A date was selected in March 2002. That would be nine months of planning and waiting when the transplant would finally happen. We had to get work disability forms in order as Chuck was going to need to take the rest of the school year off from teaching. We were a young family. I wasn’t working. We had a house payment, Emma was in preschool, and there were bills to be paid.
The Deacon Fund helped pay for a hotel room right near the hospital. I was still nursing Erin, so I had her with me. Friends took Emma and Zach so our parents could be with us. My best friend from Arizona was able to come. While Erin and I sat in the lobby of the hospital, Chuck’s surgery went off without a hitch.
At five months old, Erin was super smiley and engaging. So many people commented on the beautiful smiley baby that greeted them and brightened their dreary, hard hours in the hospital. God poured out through her in that moment!
Chuck had to go back to UCLA hospital many times in the following months. He often had to be there at 5:00 in the morning! This meant leaving at 4:00 in the morning! I certainly couldn’t be doing that with a new baby, a toddler, and a preschooler!
This long story is all to tell you that this was one phase of my life where I had multiple God encounters. Watching and supporting someone going through an illness or hard time can be tough. My life had to continue ... all those regular life things. But from beginning to end, I had this profound sense of love, grace, and peace from God through the body of Christ. There was A LOT going on and A LOT that I could have stressed out about and made myself crazy. But as people stepped up to bring food, drive Chuck to appointments, pray for us, watch the kids, sit with us, and fly from out of state to be with us, I experienced God in a profound way. I felt an incredible sense of God’s presence and hand in all that was happening. The people that loved us, cared for us, and supported us were wrapping us in God’s love.
When I look back now, I am even more aware of how God showered us with his love, kindness, compassion, and mercy through the people of God. Remembering this God experience makes me reflect on Psalm 136. I suggest you go home and do that. It calls us to give thanks for what God has done — as we remember — His goodness to us. It reminds us that His Love Endures Forever. I like to put our story, the Waterman story, into this psalm. You can do the same!
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Serving Those In Need
Treasure Principle Adventures Toward the end of 2016, in response to Jesus’ teaching that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21), 15 people were each given $100 to invest toward God’s broader kingdom purpose in the world. Here are stories from two of those individuals. Andrea Malhotra
“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”
I’d read this quote by Mother Teresa many years ago, and it has stayed with me. From working in nursing homes for many years, I know this to be very true. Many of my patients have been housebound seniors who are often saddened by their loneliness. When I prayed how to best use the $100, I felt I was being led in the direction of feeding the hungry but also bringing joy to the lonely.
I have a 72-year old friend who recently moved here from India and lives with her son and family. She loves being here, but because she is unable to drive, she is homebound and lonely. She loves to knit, and so the idea came to use the money for yarn that would provide her many hours of joy as she knitted beanies that we could donate to the homeless. I asked for and promptly received donations from my friends. I was able to buy enough yarn to make 60 beanies! We also had enough money to make 100 lunch packets to donate to the homeless shelter.
Curtis Drever helped set up a day for us to deliver the meals and beanies. Unfortunately, I was working that day and could not go. However, my husband and a friend went with Curtis. Both were humbled by the appreciation of the people they served and are inspired to continue.
Throughout this process, I felt a sense of “living” my faith — a tremendous joy to be able to serve and also to bring family and friends into service with me. Jesus was reminding me to go back to the basics, to something taught to me in early Sunday school lessons
— to feed the hungry and comfort the sick and lonely.
I prayed diligently for several weeks, asking God how he wanted me to use the $100, but I didn’t get an answer nor seem to have any sense of direction. As the deadline neared, I became nervous. That, I felt, reflected on my spirituality. Humbly, I looked for advice.
My daughter reminded me of Matthew 25:40, “Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me — you did it to me! David Siaki advised that, as I went about my day, to notice if any need arose of which God may be making me aware.
I then was able to notice the six backpacks that had been sitting on my dining room floor for the past six months. I sensed God smiling and pointing out, “Oh, look right here. You can finish these and give them out. It’s that simple.”
“Oh, that would be fun, but it doesn’t seem significant.” “Britta, help the poor. This is what I want. I don’t want you to struggle or worry but to enjoy our working together and seeing how significant this can be.”
I filled the backpacks and put them in my car. When I saw a man sitting on the curb with a sign, I grabbed one and shoved it through the window saying, “I have something to help keep you warm, and some snacks.” The look on his face is indelibly imprinted on my mind. Before I could say it, he said, “Thank you and God bless you.” I was the one who received the gift.
I realized that this was not just about the backpacks. I learned that God comes up with better ideas that I do. I realized I tend to make things more complicated than necessary. I experienced the value of community and others’ wisdom. And I appreciated the accuracy and promise of his word! My feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and the need for approval were met by the One who says, “Do not be afraid. I am with you and will guide you.”
“Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”
– Philippians 4:8-9
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Walking Together in Faith
An Interview with Jeff Austin
“God will always be with us, even in the darkest places. And he knows we need each other — we can’t walk alone for very long without there being an actual hand to hold onto.” When Jeff Austin shared his faith story in Salt Shaker two years ago, his closing words talked about the people that have walked with him as he learned to follow Jesus.
One of those people was his dad, Tim. The Lord called Jeff 21 years ago to work in his dad’s family construction business, along with his brother-in-law, Jason. Until age 70, his dad never slowed down or expressed interest in retiring. Even through prostate cancer, he bounced back. But last spring, he was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of bladder cancer.
Tim’s instructions to Jeff and Jason were, “Hold down the fort until I’m back on my feet.” Eight weeks of unsuccessful chemo followed; so in August, he had his bladder removed. It became apparent that coming back to work would be hard. His dad said, “I think I’m going to retire with hopes of coming back as a consultant.” Tim loved his work and didn’t know what he’d do without it.
For Jeff, this was something new, facing his dad’s mortality and his “next phase” of life. Things turned quickly from a business relationship and a father/son relationship to being a caregiver. Jeff and Jason had to take over Tim’s duties and at the same time grieve the loss of the partnership. And in the beginning this was a really hard balance. “I knew I needed to spend extra time helping to get things in order for the company to keep things going, but all I wanted to do was to be with my dad. And I did so as much as I could, definitely letting a bit of my work go unchecked. At the same time, though, Jason’s response to the crisis was to spend extra time at work to hold things together. It was beautiful. He really stepped into the moment in ways I could not at the time. The three of us have God in common. We have each other’s backs. We handled it together, and the Lord blessed us.”
But that didn’t solve things at home. “I came home everyday so stressed and so cranky. And I never before had to rely on Laurie so much. But she handled it. She picked up my slack and was there for me for the emotional side — the stress and depression. She loved me all through that hard time.”
“During this time, I wouldn’t say my faith wavered, but I found it hard to pray. In the beginning, knowing what dad was facing, I would have hoped I could have kick started my prayer life for him. I tried, but nothing. All I could pray was ‘God, take care of my dad.’ I had nothing else! That was part of the depression. I wasn’t questioning God. I knew my dad is a believer and would be all right no matter what. But I was depressed that I couldn’t pray like a prayer warrior. However, I could call Chuck Waterman and he’d pray for me, and on the patio so many friends would ask me about my dad and tell me they were praying. And others sent notes, even people I didn’t really know. It was ok that I couldn’t pray! My Christian brothers and sisters were praying on my behalf. This was a powerful thing for me to learn. That’s why we have the body of Christ. It lifts us up. And it taught me to be more intentional about praying for others.”
As Tim was recovering, Jeff prayed. “God, everyone stepped up for me. Help me relate to you. Help me learn how to pray.” Three days later, Gary Knutson emailed Jeff. “I meet with this group, and we’re putting together a cohort to explore ways of praying. I personally wanted to invite you. I was praying and your name came to mind.” Jeff responded, “I just prayed for this!”
“God orchestrated it all. Once again, he used the body of Christ to walk with me and lift me up.”
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Blessing a Family
By Kerry Frank
Toward the end of 2016, in response to Jesus’ teaching that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21), 15 people were each given $100 to invest toward God’s broader kingdom purpose in the world. Here is one story of participation in the Treasure Principle Adventure.
At first, I struggled with God for a vision of what he wanted me to do with his $100 as part of the Treasure Principle Adventure. As I prayed about it, many ideas and thoughts came and went … including “why did I agree to this?!”
Through the entire process, my goal was to in some way help the ministry of Royal Family Kids. God has surrounded me with people involved with the RFK camp, both at church and at work. My wife, Lisa, and I attended and served at the summer birthday party for the kids at last year’s camp. So many people we know take a week out of their lives to give to kids whose lives are not ideal, to say the least. A colleague from work, Phil Armstrong, and his wife, Shanley, both served as camp counselors and had met three siblings. They decided to make a life-changing commitment to foster-to-adopt all three kids. I was, and still am, profoundly moved by their selfless act of kindness and generosity in bringing these kids into their home.
After a Friday round of golf, I shared with my golfing buddies my lack of progress in coming up with a vision for the $100. One of them suggested that I put on a small golf tournament for the benefit of something or someone that God had put on my heart. This prompted a vision to put on a small (3 – Foursome) golf tournament. Plans began in earnest on New Year’s Day. This was an exciting process as God gave me good idea after good idea to make this a special and intimate event to bless someone financially. It also became abundantly clear who that would be.
I approached Phil with my tournament idea and told him I’d like to use the proceeds to send their foster kids to camp this coming summer. He and Shanley were both very excited and jumped right in to help out with a few of the tournament prizes. God blessed this event with 12 generous and kind golfers. God’s total gift to this young family was $877.
I must say, however, that the largest blessing was getting to know a few more amazing people as well as watching God open doors and guide me in making sure this little tournament would happen. For example, I had originally booked the golf course for January 20, but realized shortly after that this was inauguration day. Thinking that people would want to see this once-every-four-years event, I decided to move it a week later to the 27th. As it happened, the 20th was one of the rainiest days in recent history! The following Friday was a beautiful, sunny day … thanks be to God!
I think one of the biggest challenges a Christian can face is trusting God. I said earlier that I had struggled to catch a vision of what God wanted me to do. I didn’t “feel” God in this process. As with most journeys, it takes movement to see things a bit differently, much like the story of the coal miner who can only see so far with his headlamp. He must venture deeper into the tunnel to get a different view. So it was for me in this process. Nothing was happening because I wasn’t moving forward. Once I began, the path was clear, and God made it straight. I became caught up in the excitement of seeing what God would do and found real peace in the busyness of preparation.
I’m incredibly grateful to those who participated and helped a young family get to camp this summer. This may become a tradition. Who knows? Perhaps God will bless this as an annual event and many more kids who would not otherwise have an opportunity to go will have a week to heal and just be kids.
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Helping the Homeless
By Curtis Drever
My first real experience was many years ago when I came across two homeless men named Jim and Mike. Both looked homeless, but Jim especially needed major dental work, and his fingernails looked pretty gross. Looking past their appearances, we actually had a pretty normal conversation. I knew they had some issues, and there was much I didn’t know yet, but I think it was during that initial conversation that I decided to try and help them.
They showed me where they lived — an old RV that was absolutely disgusting. I was shocked that they lived in such squalor when it seemed they could at least live in sanitary conditions. Jim claimed to be an inventor and said he’d worked with a neurologist (I partially confirmed this). He had dreams of an invention that could repair spines so people could walk again. He wanted to find an investor and create the device. However, he also believed that aliens took him at night and that he was married to one. I know this sounds crazy, but he really didn’t seem all that crazy.
As we got to know each other, I was able to share the gospel with them. They wanted a Bible and actually started reading it. They wanted to go to church, so I brought them to IPC one Sunday. I didn’t tell anyone; I just brought them. I wasn’t sure how people would react, but I told myself I wouldn’t do anything different because of them. We sat near the front on a communion Sunday. They “passed the peace of Christ” with people, took communion, listened attentively to the sermon, and went forward for prayer. I was pleasantly surprised — they felt welcomed!
After their visit to IPC, others offered to come alongside me to help. We got them haircuts, tried to get them jobs, housing, and more. But nothing seemed to change, even after a few months of trying to help them. I remember praying something like, “Lord, I don’t know what to do. This isn’t going anywhere. I feel stuck.” The very next time I saw them, Jim handed me a piece of paper with a name and phone number on it. He told me it was his sponsor, and that he wanted me to call him. I did, and the first words out of his mouth were, “You need to stop helping them immediately.” I instantly felt a huge burden lifted and knew this was an answer from God.
He went on to explain that Jim and Mike were ‘professional homeless.’ They knew the streets, how to work the system to get what they needed, and actually liked being homeless. I was stunned. How could someone enjoy being homeless? The answer is that some just don’t want any rules. In their minds, living on the streets, in tents, or in a disgusting RV is better than having rules. This was a monumental life lesson — most people will accept help, but not if it means having to change their lifestyles. Change is so hard, if not impossible. Paraphrasing what Jesus said, “What is impossible for people is possible with God. With God, all things are possible.”
So how did this turn out? I immediately switched to a ‘tough love’ approach. I stayed in touch with them, but did not go out of my way anymore. I also asked others to stop helping them. A few weeks later, Jim called and said they were moving back to Missouri. Mike was from that area and supposedly had a job lined up. They both thanked me and said they would call me again when they got to Missouri. That was the last I ever heard from them.
In hindsight, this wasn’t a random encounter, but something God orchestrated to teach me many things.
I have much more to say about this, perhaps in another article. If you’d like to talk more about this topic, let’s grab coffee. In the meantime, here is my encouragement. Next time you meet a homeless person, first treat them as a real person. Next, take the first step and ask, “Is there something you need?” Don’t hand them money. Just meet the need and from there, God will lead.
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Why Our Marriage Works
By Karen Mitchell
This is not an easy question, especially when you see the statistics that 50% of marriages end in divorce. So what makes ours so different? Otis and I share our story here with the hope that it encourages, and also to share some of the remedies that have enriched our married life together. Our relationship began 32 years ago when we met on a Tahoe ski vacation through Racquet Club of Irvine. This trip gave us some time to enjoy the fresh powder of Heavenly while getting to know each other. Upon our return, Otis sent me a postcard from Sun Valley asking me out on a date. The following year, he proposed in Tahoe.
As our love grew, Otis knew he no longer could put his faith on the back burner as it was central in my life. We began church hunting and found IPC with Ben Patterson and Jane Holslag. Neither of us were Presbyterians, but we loved the preaching. We soon asked Jane if she would marry us. Throughout membership classes, counseling with Linda Klassen, and wedding planning, we believed our marriage needed to bear witness of Christ’s love to the church and the world. We weren’t going to become a statistic!
Three things we focused on during our early years, before children:
- We needed to both put 100% into our relationship and to serve each other
- We needed to “court” each other through loving gestures, kindness, and respect
- We needed to love God first, recognize that our spouse was a gift to love forever, and know that divorce was not an option
These objectives were easier to accomplish when it was just the two of us. We showed our affection in loving ways — Hallmark cards in the suitcase for business travel, rose-petals on the bed, compliments to each other, and being each other’s greatest champions.
As our careers grew, we bought a house and began having children. All these external pressures made it more difficult to focus on the “us,” and yet we were both committed to each other. We also learned as new parents that we needed help raising our children in a Godly environment, so we joined a small life group at IPC. These new friends extended our church family to a deeper level and helped us face so many of the challenges we had with three boys close in age.
As Otis grew as a Christian, he continued to be my Prince, as my husband and father to our three boys. It was especially hard during my absence on business trips, but he always made all of us feel special. Our parenting became easier because we were one,
even under the most difficult circumstances we have endured in life’s journey.
God’s word is a beautiful love story of His amazing Agape love for His people, and this unconditional love is shown through His Son, Jesus. This same love should be expressed in our marriage, because it’s the best way to show the gospel story. If our joy in our marriage radiates, people will take notice and ask what makes us different. Then we have the opportunity to be witnesses for God’s kingdom.
As you think of your spouse this Valentine’s Day, remember — it’s the passionate love beyond the bedroom that he or she will notice (affirmation of one another, love notes, rose-petals, kindness). I love a prayer I just recently read, and I quote, “Lord, grant me the strength to answer your call to be a living sign of your love. Make my love for Otis be like your love for him: passionate, permanent, intimate, unconditional, and life-giving.”
Blessings to each of you.
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Faithful vs. Successful
By Burk Beadle
When we invited Jeremy into our home last February after having met him at Royal Family Kids Camp and staying in touch over the years, it wasn’t an easy decision. We spent months praying and talking with family, friends, social services, and with Jeremy himself. We knew adding a teenage boy to our family would change both our lives and his life.
How does one break down the bad habits and reshape the worldview of a teenager who has spent his childhood bouncing in and out of group and foster homes, sometimes with negligent and/or abusive family members? The gains were slow and hard-fought. Almost daily, I was confronted with a situation that I didn’t know how to handle. How was I supposed to deal with disrespectful and angry behavior without getting angry myself? I wanted clear validation—were we on the right track? It seemed like God had gone silent. Wasn’t He the one who had orchestrated this whole thing?
As I wrestled with this, I experienced God in a profound way through His word in Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
What did it mean to “walk humbly with my God?” I felt like we answered God’s call. Weren’t we taking the crucial first steps in our walk with God? But the verse doesn’t say “walk with your God,” it says “walk HUMBLY with your God.”
God has clearly shown me what is good and what is required of me. I now realize that it is selfish and disrespectful to need validation for simply doing what my Creator requires of me. God had not gone silent. In fact, he is actively working in my life to break down my pride of self-sufficiency and my need for affirmation and accomplishment. “It’s not about ME.” Ironic, that God is disciplining me so that I will become more respectful and unselfish! However, once my pride is broken, I find it liberating to not have to have all the answers and to realize that I’m not walking alone! God strategically puts people in our lives to help in our times of need, as he did when so many of you came to help Jeremy celebrate his 16th birthday in a way he’d never experienced.
Towards the end of 2016, the frequency and the severity of Jeremy’s explosions were accelerating, and he would not acknowledge our parental authority. He wanted to move on. His social workers recommended moving him to a therapeutic foster home. This was devastating to Cindy and me, worrying about what would happen to him and feeling like we failed both God and Jeremy.
We learned on January 6 that Jeremy would be placed in a foster home. We attended Sunday worship together one last time. Both Pastors Scott and Gabe found him crying at different times. Because we had not witnessed such an emotional reaction, Cindy asked him why he had been crying. Jeremy replied that he was asking himself, “What have I done?!”
Jeremy’s response was monumental. This was the first time he had taken ownership of his actions. But most remarkable was that it was the IPC church family he was going to miss most of all. He knows that here is he is loved and accepted and was happy fellowshipping and experiencing the love of Christ among this community.
Jeremy now lives in Moreno Valley in a foster home. We still stay in touch with him and see him occasionally. He is happy in his new home and in school.
I’m still processing this past year, trying to figure out what it means to walk humbly with my God. Recently, our daughter, Erin, found this quote from Mother Theresa: “God has not called me to be successful. He called me to be faithful.”
That’s it! At least part of the answer of what it means to “walk humbly with my God” is that I need to let God take care of the success. He is sovereign. For my part, I need to be faithful in all circumstances.
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Being in a Missional Community
By Rachel Van Niekerk
In September 2014, Maribeth Fung asked if we wanted to come to their house on Friday to see what a missional community was all about. She said it was open to kids, and it was going to be a Bible Study, sharing, and some snacks. Friday nights were traditionally the night we went out, as it was the end of the busy week and neither Carlo nor I had any desire to cook. But these events were becoming more expensive and more stressful with two busy little ones more eager to explore than eat. So we decided to take Maribeth up on her offer.
We hadn’t been involved in many extracurricular church activities since getting married and having kids. As is often the case, life got busy and extra church involvement didn’t seem possible. However, this time and this community seemed to work for us. I must admit, though, that in the first few months, I really did not enjoy it. Both kids required a fair amount of attention, and I often felt we were more of a distraction than participants. After a few months, however, things seemed to get easier. Maybe it was my comfort level or maybe it was the fact that the kids were older and less needy, but I started to really enjoy these events. And, as Carlo noted, it was a lot easier on our checkbooks than weekly dinners out! So now every Friday, we would come together with 8 to 10 families and focus on the rhythm of living UP to God, IN to each other, and OUT to our community.
Our kids began to develop friendships with older children in the group and eagerly anticipated Friday nights. They would also look forward to seeing these new friends at church. This has been one of my favorite outcomes from being involved in this group. Kids that would not necessarily be friends due to age gaps now regularly get to play together and enjoy each other. By regularly focusing on OUT, we have begun to think about how we can reach out to others in both our local neighborhood and community outside of IPC. Our favorite Fridays have been the OUT events where we are involved in large group activities, such as putting together bags for foster children or packaging scones, soups, or chocolate pretzels for the holidays to pass out to neighbors. This has given us the opportunity to talk to our children about how fortunate we are and the importance of praying for families who do not have as much as we do. It’s been a joy for us to see our children get excited about giving things away versus expecting to receive.
It has also been encouraging to be in a group of families with children a little older than ours and see what our future holds. Seeing children being raised in Christian environments models for us how we strive to parent. It is encouraging to see and hear young children express their prayers and questions in a comfortable and safe environment, and we love that this community encourages participation by all members — not just the adults.
Carlo and I have felt more connected to IPC as we have developed new and deeper friendships within this group, and we have a greater appreciation for what it means to be in a community which holds us accountable, and supports us regularly in prayer. We have a new perspective on neighbors and those we interact with regularly, thinking about them as potential persons of peace. We have also learned a new way to read and apply Scripture that has allowed us to more easily engage in regular and meaningful Bible study. So while there was not a lot of thought that went into our decision to join, our missional community has shaped us and our family’s life as well as given us a great way to spend Friday nights.
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My Faith Journey
By Eun Beenen
“… Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine …”. (Ephesians 3:20)
This verse rings true in my life as a recipient of God’s grace in the midst of life’s challenges.
My first memories at age 3 were ones of bewilderment and loneliness.
I had been abandoned by my Korean birth family and placed in an understaffed orphanage where children were neglected. As the youngest child in residence, I had to quickly become self-sufficient. At age 4, I was placed in a Korean foster home where I was expected to prepare meals, clean the house and wash clothes. By God’s grace, at age 5, I was adopted as an only child by an older American couple and began my life in the U.S. in a small town of 500 people in Kansas.
My adoptive parents were both school teachers. Although I was glad to have a family, it became clear that my new life was far from perfect. My father had mental health issues and was abusive. My mother, as the stable force in the home, did her best for me but was limited by her own fears. But God’s grace also was evident as my parents took me to church every Sunday and gave me my first Bible. And it was this Bible that I turned to for comfort to help me through childhood and adolescence. I accepted the Lord at age 11 and was baptized in Jr. High School.
College helped me launch a new chapter in life. I started to attend Campus Crusade ministry events, and although I considered myself a Christian, I saw other Christians had an intimacy with God that I didn’t have. One of the leaders gave me a pamphlet that asked, “Who is the Lord of your life? Is it Christ, yourself, or worldly things?”
After college, I thought back to that pamphlet as a volunteer counselor at a children’s camp in Chicago. Every morning the counselors would gather together for prayer, and I admired their dedication and love for God. I wanted what they had. When I returned home from camp, I knelt, wept and asked God to be the Lord and center of every aspect of my life.
Be careful what you ask for! Soon after that, I began to break down emotionally. It was as if all the hurt and rejection I had repressed and held on to from my past came to the surface. I began to struggle with depression and panic attacks. Overwhelmed, I had to turn to God for help with an intensity I hadn’t experienced until that point. God’s grace became even more evident to me. In my brokenness, He placed Godly people in my life — two Christian women in particular — to mentor and disciple me. They welcomed me into their homes as part of their family. They taught me how to have a genuine personal relationship with God through prayer, Bible study and fellowship with other believers. They showed me by example how to involve God in my daily life. God also led me to excellent counselors who helped me heal my emotional wounds and to overcome my fears.
Looking back at my life, I see how He always gave me what I needed to survive and persevere — and all in His perfect timing. I still struggle at times, but now I am more confident in His love than ever, and my faith is stronger because I’ve experienced his faithfulness and grace over and over again. And, He has given me what I never dared to dream: my own family ... with a loving husband and two wonderful kids; loyal friends, healthy relationships, and the knowledge of my purpose on earth — which is to give back to others the love and grace He has given me.
I am the recipient of God’s grace and favor as stated in Ephesians 3:20. Yes, he has given me more that I could possibly have hoped for or imagined.
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Following God Doesn’t Always Make Sense – Until It Does
by Aaron Schweizer
A month ago, I had two iPhones that I wasn’t using and I decided to sell them on Facebook. Right away three friends asked to buy them. I followed the “first come, first served” rule and told the third friend they were gone. She told me she understood and then innocently mentioned it was for her
high school daughter who had been praying to finally get a phone. Well, that was too much for my heartstrings to bear, and it might sound weird, but I sensed God wanted me to be a part of His answer to her prayer.
A little background — earlier this year, I started fixing iPhones to make a little spending money, and I’ve become pretty good at it. So I knew if I found a broken phone, I could fix it for her. After a quick search on Craigslist for “iPhone cracked screen,” I got a bunch of hits. None were very promising, until I saw the perfect one — in Torrance. So of course my first thought was, “Torrance, that’s really far. Aaron, are you seriously going to drive 40 miles to buy a broken iPhone?” But before I could answer, God answered for me, “yes, get in the car and drive.” Which again, probably sounds weird, but when does following God make a lot of sense?
I arranged with the seller, John, to meet at Starbucks, and after a quick check of the phone I said “so I think we agreed on $70, right?” Then John said, “Actually, this is going to seem weird (there’s that word again), but I want to give you the phone for free — all I want is for you to pray for me?” Excuse me? Did he just say PRAY or pay?
“Are you sure? Actually, it’s really no problem to do both!” I an-
swered. “No, no, I just want you to pray for me,” John said. “You can have the phone.” So I asked him, “Can you tell me what you want me to pray for?” “Well, it’s kind of selfish,” he said. “I’m going to be taking my CPA exam, and I just want you to pray that I pass.”
“Of course, that’s pretty exciting, and not really that selfish,” I told him. Then the weird thing happened again and I sensed God wanting me to ask, “By the way, are you involved in a church nearby?” So I asked, and he said “no,” that he hadn’t been to church for a while, and that he didn’t feel comfortable praying for himself. He told me that a few friends shared about prayer with him recently, so he really wanted someone to pray for him. Again, I agreed, and added that it would be a privilege. As I said goodbye and got in my car, I thanked God, and then I prayed for John — all the
Since our meeting, I have been emailing John every few days to tell him that I am still praying for him. The other day he wrote me back and said, “Thank you once again for your continuous care and support in prayer. It really does mean a lot to me. I was just expecting a single prayer, but the fact that you’re keeping this up, really means a lot to me. And it’s why I’m so thankful for your sincere care and effort.”
I still sense God inviting me to pray for John, and I hope to meet with him again in person, soon, to talk about his exam, prayer, and anything else he wants to talk about. So as I sit and write to share this story, I’m thinking, “God, you are weird. How does a girl’s prayer for a phone lead to all this?” But maybe it’s not so surprising. Sometimes following God just doesn’t make sense — until suddenly — it all makes sense.
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Who is My Neighbor?
By Scott Bullock
In Luke 10:25-37 a cheeky lawyer, prompted by Jesus’ summary of the law in action, “Love God, love neighbor,” asks Jesus to define neighbor. Jesus tells him the story of one man who helped another man in distress. It is a story of inspiration, incrimination, and insight into the definition of a neighbor—anyone around us whom we see in distress and in need of rescue and comfort.
My friend, Matt Svajda, has a neighbor named Odin. Odin was recently out of a job and had a fence repair that he couldn’t afford. Matt had become friendly with Odin, and they had talked about life and their respective faiths, Islam and Christianity. Odin wasn’t that interested in Jesus. When Odin faced his fence fiasco, Matt thought it would be great to ask a group of his Christian friends to help Odin repair it. The group decided to tackle Odin’s project on a Sunday. When they showed up, Odin took Matt aside and said, “Aren’t you supposed to be in church?” and Matt replied, “Odin, this is the church.” Odin paused and said, “Matt, I’m ready to talk about Jesus.” For the next three months, Matt and Odin met weekly and read through the Gospel of John. Recently, Matt had the opportunity to assist in Odin’s baptism. It is an amazing story of helping a neighbor that took intentionality.
When Matt and his wife, Jourdan, moved into their Irvine community, they decided they would intentionally love their neighbors. Their first step was to introduce themselves, so they wrote a letter. The letter was simple. It introduced them, said they were going to throw parties, and that the Svajda family hoped to get to know their neighbors. They canvassed the new neighborhood with the letter and then waited. Three months later, their doorbell rang. Matt opened the door, and a couple he had never seen before stood on the steps before him. The woman handed Matt a gift certificate for a box of See’s chocolates and said, “Thanks for your letter. We are your neighbors, Rita and Sanjeev.” Matt invited them in, and they learned that Rita and Sanjeev had moved to Irvine nearly two years before with the hope that this would be the warm and welcoming place as advertised. To their disappointment, in the past two years, they had met none of their neighbors until they received the Svajda’s letter.
When I asked Matt why he and Jourdan live this way, he quoted John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” The incarnation is their motivation for knowing and loving their neighbors. They are wholly committed to the idea that Christ-followers are called to live on mission where God has planted them: neighborhoods, schools, and work places. They champion the idea that every Christian is to be a disciple-making missionary in those locations. Matt and Jourdan have started a neighboring movement called the Hub. Through this work, they strive to encourage Christ-followers to know and love their neighbors as Jesus does.
The Svajda’s story of engagement with their neighbors may be quite overwhelming for some of us, but it all began with an intention of knowing and loving their neighbors, which is something all of us can do. One tool that Matt shared with me that he has gleaned from the book, Art of Neighboring, is a block map. The block map is a fridge magnet that shows eight homes around their home and simply asks the question,“Do I know the names of my eight closest neighbors?”
What would it look like for us to simply begin by asking the question posed by the block map,“Do you know the names of your eight closest neighbors?” Start there and ask God to lead. In doing so, you may discover people like Odin, Rita, and Sanjeev who have been longing for someone to notice, to care, to comfort, and with whom to connect.
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God’s Grand Plan for My Life
By Charlene Hsu
“But mom, I don’t want to go!”
It was the same conversation in the car every week: my sister trying to bargain with my mother regarding our weekly piano lessons. “If we skip this week, I’ll even give you two dollars.” I smiled to myself, knowing that there was no way on earth that we could get out of piano lessons for two dollars.
Even though my family had just moved to California, the first thing my parents made sure we had access to was a church and to music lessons. Ironically, Irvine Presbyterian Church wasn’t even the first church we went to, nor were handbells the first musical instrument we picked up, but God has a way of making things happen in His time.
Fast forward a few years, and my sister and I have both finally made it to Irvine Presbyterian ... but no handbells quite yet. Instead, we were singing in the children’s choir as trees in our first ever musical. At this time, Lisa Frank was still serving as the pianist in children’s choir, and somehow, handbells came up in conversation between my mother and her one afternoon. My mother—being the wonderful woman that she is-—wanted to make sure my sister and I had all the opportunities she and my father didn’t have while growing up in Taiwan, so she signed me up almost immediately. Before I knew it, I had one more extracurricular activity that I passively agreed it.
Eventually, my sister also was “volun-told” by my mother and joined handbells, and we’ve been there since. But handbells has been more than just a Monday night extracurricular activity. For my sister and me, it has also been a community and a church family of crazy uncles, wise aunts, and random cousins. My sister and I practically grew up with handbells, and through the ups and downs of school, work, and life in general, we’ve always had a group of believers that would be willing to pray for us, be patient with us, and to love on us. Through handbells, God has given my sister and me different examples of imperfect people that serve a perfect God. Even though none of us are perfect in bells (despite what it might seem like during Sunday services) and in life, as a handbell group, we’ve learned to laugh, to learn, and to grow from our mistakes. Handbells have evolved from the simple act of playing with nine other people on Monday nights into a way to glorify and praise our Father in Heaven with my brothers and sisters.
Did I know that handbells would have such a tremendous impact on my life when I stepped onto a wooden block (I wasn’t a particularly tall fifth grader, and this block allowed me to see over the music stand) and picked up a bell for the first time? Of course not! But God has this grand plan that we get to be a part of, even though it is only revealed to us a portion at a time. I didn’t know that the piano theory I had to unwillingly learn as a third grader would become relevant at a later time, nor could I predict that the handbell players I met when I first joined—seemingly intimidatingly more experienced—would eventually become friends that I value and hold dear. It’s exciting for me to see how handbells have influenced and shaped my life, and it will be interesting to see how else God will use it in His plan for me.
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In God’s Hands
Treasure Principle Adventure Stories
After being pushed to the front of the church by my wife the morning that the Treasure Principle Adventure was introduced this past summer, I began wondering what she had in mind. Patricia whispered, “Precious Kids.” Being the quick-minded man that I am, I immediately knew that she was referring to a ministry with which we have been connected for several years.
Precious Kids Center (PKC) in Kitali, Kenya, is a ministry to mostly special needs children in Africa, founded by Sammy Hammock from Orange County. God works in strange ways, and just as parents inherit insanity from their children, we can also inherit interests in powerful ministries. Out of Saddleback Church, Sammy started going to Kenya as a teenager and saw the need for a place for special needs children. She was determined to return and do something about it. Our daughter’s family has been long-time friends of the Hammock’s, and when Sammy founded PKC, they started traveling to Kenya to work there. This summer, our granddaughter, Cassie, spent ten weeks there and said that if she hadn’t had to come back to complete college, she would have stayed!
Of course, when I had returned to my seat, I was still at a loss for what Patricia had in mind. She quickly informed me that we should write a letter to our closest friends and family, letting them know about PKC and the Treasure Principle Adventure, and requesting that they help out however the Lord led them. This had to be a God thing because the last thing that Patricia ever wants to do is request money from anybody for anything.
Patricia and I grew in faith by seeing that is okay to ask people to help ministries like PKC. The response of others is not our responsibility, rather, it is God’s to make ministries grow. We are just conduits. Of course, we have the responsibility to be respectful and to let God do the work in others.
For more information, visit www.preciouskids.center.
Paul Van Horn
When Paul stood up and accepted the Treasure Principle Adventure, he knew he would use the $100 to support education at El Niño. But he went a step further and sent a letter inviting others to join him in this adventure.
In his letter, Paul shared that “God has gifted me with the love of my life, Diana, two sons and three granddaughters. They are treasures.” While life hasn’t been trouble free, in “reflecting on my path to the present, I find that God never lets go of my hand, even when I haven’t hung onto His assurance and love. And in my life, there have been moments of great joy when I have been able to help someone going through a difficult time, seeing no hope for the present or the future.”
Paul went on to explain how the Lord called IPC to support the people who had been displaced by El Niño’s torrential rains and flooding. These families were taken to a remote location and essentially left to go it alone, with only minor provision and no support from the Mexican government. A Mexican pastor living in the U.S. pleaded to God and to churches to help. IPC heard this call and responded by sending a small group to determine what was needed. The bottom line was that a new mission was initiated when IPC invested its treasures in response to the Lord’s call to care for his sheep. Families were saved, healthy living conditions were created, children were educated, and God’s word and love were made real.
Paul has felt called to pledge his time and money in continuing support of El Niño, particularly in seeing children being educated both in the pursuit of career goals and in the growth of their Christian faith. “In this way, they are able to give back to society and to show in their lives the gifts that God has given them.”
How did this end up? “I don’t know! I do know that $300 additional had been pledged. More may have come in. All I know is that I praise the Lord Jesus for any amount. All the support for El Niño is His and His alone!”
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A Thanksgiving Testimony
By Gabe Fung
I grew up in a Christian home with parents who loved God and followed Jesus. I don’t recall a Sunday when I was growing up when we weren’t in church. When I was twelve, our youth group held an overnight Easter vigil, and that night I committed my life to Jesus as Lord and Savior.
A few months later, on my thirteenth birthday, I was baptized. But it wasn’t until I was sixteen that the Christian faith my parents had passed on to me really became my own.
It was during my last year of secondary school when I began to doubt and question God’s love for me. As a teenager, I longed for my dad’s affirmation and approval, but often felt I wasn’t good enough for him, and I could never do enough to please him. These feelings carried over into my relationship with God; I felt I wasn’t good enough for God either, that I was insignificant and of no use to Him. Over a period of several months, this became a crisis of faith for me. I remember at one point thinking to myself, “If God is like my dad, then I’m not so sure I want to keep following Him.”
The turning point came on a Tuesday night in July 1992. I was alone in my room and somehow felt compelled to think back and write down the times when I had experienced God’s presence in my life—at the Easter vigil when I first committed my life to Jesus, at my baptism, and at a youth camp a few years earlier. I then wrote down how God had blessed me through my family, even though, at the time, I was struggling with my dad. Next I wrote down God’s provision of food, clothing, and shelter—how I had never lacked. I wrote down how God had blessed me with good health and a good education. I listed my gifts and abilities, my accomplishments and the things that I was good at. I wrote down the names of friends and mentors and people whom God had used to encourage me. I wrote and wrote until my list of God’s blessings filled three pages. For the first time in my life, I realized how much God loved me; at the same time, I was deeply convicted because I had taken everything for granted. That night, I committed my life to God anew. I said,“God, I will never again doubt that you exist or that you love me, and I will follow you as best I know how for the rest of my life.”
Through this simple exercise in thanksgiving, God broke through my doubts. He met me and revealed Himself to me as the perfect heavenly Father. This revelation freed and transformed me. All of a sudden, I was filled with a profound sense of joy and gratitude, and a quiet confidence that God is my Father, and that is all that matters. A few weeks later, in his perfect timing, God also began to heal my relationship with my dad.
Dallas Willard describes the New Testament letter of Colossians as one of the best overall descriptions of what Jesus’ disciples are to look like. This little book exhorts us to cultivate various traits and practices, but the reminder to be grateful and to give thanks to God punctuates every chapter and is found no less than six times (Colossians 1:12; 2:7; 3:15, 16, 17; 4:2). In other words, thanking God is foundational to a life of loving Him and following Jesus. Indeed, over the years, I’ve learned the importance of regularly thanking God for who he is, what he’s done, and all his goodness expressed in ways both big and small. I’ve also experienced the life-giving benefits of doing so: thanksgiving brings perspective and helps me refocus on God, it strengthens my faith, and it fuels my worship. More than just a holiday or a season of the year, we practice thanksgiving because ultimately everything is a gift from God. It’s all grace.
What’s on your thanksgiving list?
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When God Surprises Us
An Interview with Jin Cho
Sometimes God takes us on unexpected and unplanned journeys. In Jin Cho’s case, it challenged his identity and direction, but it has led to new knowledge, personal growth, and a passion for the City of Irvine.
“I’ve been in ministry for 20 years, 16 of those as a pastor in Irvine. But in March, I went on an unexpected extended sabbatical. I thought I would just move into the next pastoral position, but my wife knew that we were both burnt out. Seeds of awareness were planted that maybe ministry might be something other than what I thought I was called to do. God began bringing wise people into my life to give me personal guidance and encouragement.
I began to connect with other pastors and realized how narrow my circle was for 16 years. I didn’t recognize what God was doing outside my church. I became part of the Irvine pastor’s network, Envision Irvine. I’m learning to ask, “What does it mean to love the city?” This is thrilling! As pastors, we tend to focus on growing our church versus growing the church. Now I’m focusing more on the bigger picture of God’s kingdom work in the world. As I meet with pastors in other denominations, I’m realizing that, while there could be many things we disagree on, the main thing that binds us all is a sense of Christ’s lordship.
I’m gaining a deeper sense of the issues in Irvine and seeing that we are a diverse city, yet strangely segregated. We are too polite to have real conversations. At this point, unity in Irvine isn’t deep. There is a cost to being one of the safest cities in America. It hides things. Churches are great when people are exactly alike, but then it means they can only invite similar people and are not meaningfully challenged by others’ issues. But with Envision Irvine, our conversations are different. We talk about our understanding of others’ issues, and opportunities. We want to lead. We want to be defined by the center, that is Christ, not by the boundaries. We can’t do it alone. We must talk to others outside our church whose journeys aren’t parallel, but nevertheless are going out from the same center. We are asking the challenging questions about what really is important.
As part of God’s surprise for me, for the first time, I’m not directly connected as a pastor of a particular church. Yet I have certain skills and insights, and I’m seeing how this makes it easier for me to relate to others and them to relate to me. I’ve been open with others about the space of uncertainty that I’m in. I don’t know what’s next. This vulnerability opens up great conversations. I’ve had pastors ask me to come alongside them as an advisor, and as a friend. For example, there are about 12 church plants in Irvine, some that have difficulty getting advice. I can serve them, learning through our conversations what can be useful, what benefits them. Or on a personal level, for a veteran pastor who is weighed down and needs a sabbatical, I can help him understand that as pastors, we sometimes don’t know when we need to take a break. I can help him because I’m also going through this. I can talk with other pastors about staying personally healthy, or help them through theological conversations to develop a discipleship strategy.
Though this break was unplanned and unwanted, I hear God saying to me, “You are useful to me right now.” Now it’s a joyful sabbatical! That is a tremendous gift. I know that he is shaping my heart for the long term and is teaching me amazing things about His kingdom.”
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Taking It on the Road
By Annie Kirkby and Dylan Kirkby
At the beginning of this past summer, my son Dylan shared in the IPC weekly about how he was excited to be gearing up for leading VBS worship. As July approached, a great group of musicians came together, and I was able to be a part of the team by running the display of the
song lyrics for the week. We had an awesome time, learning some new songs (“Multiplied”) and singing, once again, the VBS favorites, plowing the words of Scripture even deeper into those young hearts. It was an especially sweet week for me as a mom, watching all three of my children use their God-given talents in His service: Dylan growing as a worship leader, using his innate enthusiasm to connect with the kids; Helen team-teaching the 6th grade class, almost magnetically drawing the young girls around her and then sharing Jesus stories with them; and Trevor guiding the 4th grade class, reaching out to the shy boys with his own quiet invitation to come on board. It was a lovely, hectic week, and we were all exhilarated and exhausted when it was over.
But God had a second act in mind. And in the way that I have come to expect from God, it was similar, and yet different.
A few weeks after VBS was over and we had recovered, I received an email from my neighborhood entertainment committee asking if Dylan might be able to lead some sing-alongs before a big-screen showing of Star Wars in our park later in the month. My neighbor, Sabine, wanted to help build up our UCI faculty community and to do something more than watch a screen together—she wanted us to interact! I think Sabine is what Pastor Gabe calls a “person of peace” — someone who is working for the Christ-like unity and restoration in the world, and someone who we, as Christ-followers, should reach out to and partner with.
Now, our culture loves music and, enabled by our technology, we steep ourselves in it to an unprecedented degree. Music fills the background of nearly every mile we travel in our cars, every TV show we watch, every mall we stroll through, and every minute we exercise. But that is all professional-grade, canned music. One thing that the church can offer this post-Christian world is real, live, interactive music, because we are one of the few groups of people that still do it regularly.
I forwarded Sabine’s email to Dylan, who wasn’t immediately keen on singing in the park to our neighbors. It is easier to pass on an invitation than it is to stand up in front of people you only kind of know, and who might themselves be hesitant about singing with people they only kind of know! But I told him I thought it might be kingdom work, and Dylan eventually said yes.
He had learned a Star Wars-themed Weird Al Yankovic rewrite of “American Pie” a while ago, so he started by working that up as a solo piece. Then he found another Weird Al Star Wars song (“Yoda,” cleverly overlaid onto the tune of The Kinks’ old hit “Lola”). As a kid, he had been a huge Raffi fan, so for the little kids he adapted “Willoughby Wallibi” and “Spider on the Floor” to the Star Wars theme. I did what I’m good at, and I made up slides full of Star War characters and song lyrics, and paged them forward on the big screen to the beat, just the way Dylan likes it.
That night, Dylan brought his IPC-honed skills and God-given enthusiasm to Gabrielino Community Park, and a couple of hundred folks—UCI professors and their kids—were blessed with a taste of God’s kingdom, without even knowing it.
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Out of the Boat in Africa
By David Boyd
My first trip to Africa was in 2004 with a team from IPC. We served at several Christian ministries focused on children. I wondered how we might add value to the work God was already doing through these ministries. I felt I had little to offer. Yet, we were encouraged to go and “step out of the boat.”
We served at the 5Cs Orphanage in Hillbrow, an impoverished section of Johannesburg well known for its large numbers of homeless teens. In addition to housing orphaned children, the 5Cs has a feeding program where homeless children are invited into the safety of the orphanage for a meal and worship. When the homeless children arrived, I was nervous with anticipation. The first boy that came in was around 10 years old. He had no shoes. His feet and hands were caked with dirt. His dusty hair was matted. His teeth were chipped and stained. His clothes were dirty and torn. He had a confident smile and an outgoing spirit. Many of them mask their pain by sniffing glue. I was overcome with sadness and the horrible thought that this young boy would return to the streets soon. I thought of how God’s heart must be broken by the plight of homeless children.
Our team also served at the Ubuhlebethemba Community Development Center (UBCD) in Soweto, an impoverished township with over 50% unemployment. The UBCD founders, Themba and Buhle, told us that, due to high unemployment, many of the children have little hope of a prosperous future. With little sense of hope, many of them spend their free time in a “shebeen,” a private home that sells liquor illegally. One of UBCD’s mission objectives is to care for vulnerable children. Their community center is an oasis for children and families living in poverty. I was encouraged by Themba and Buhle’s faithful reliance on God for everything and their passion for loving others.
At the New Life School in Swaziland, we helped construct a classroom, provided a dental clinic for the community, and helped with VBS for the children. The mission of the school is to provide a Christian based education to vulnerable children. We met a young boy who was abused by his stepmother and found living in the brush at 8 years old. He was attending the school and living in a nearby orphanage. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has left many Swazi children in vulnerable living situations with no resources to support themselves. The school provides a life-changing education for children who would otherwise have little hope of an education.
Upon returning home, the IPC team felt a calling to be a part of what God was doing through our friends in Africa. The IPC Africa Outreach ministry was started in 2005. My faith has been greatly influenced by the courage of these front-line missionaries that operate with few resources and bold plans. They’ve modeled for me what it means to fully trust God. They’ve shown me that God’s perfect plans don’t always fit my expectations. They have exposed me to worldly things that break God’s heart. They’ve encouraged me to play an active role in God’s plan, and deepened my faith tremendously. When I pray to God for these children, I know that God wants me to play an active role in His response.
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My Treasure Adventure
By Janet Wolensky
For three weeks, I walked the long corridor several times a day from the elevator of the Superior Court building in Santa Ana to the courtroom to watch the trial my husband, Gary, was defending. One side of the corridor had windows from floor to ceiling where I could look down the eight stories to the homeless below.
They had created sections of tiny communities in the courtyards with their tents, bicycles, and other belongings. There was a hierarchy. Some were in the shade of trees or buildings; others had their tents baking in the sun all day. Some had pet dogs; others had patio chairs; one lady was sweeping her “front yard.” I learned later that there were homeless gangs that controlled the covered picnic area, and it was dangerous to wander over there. At the beginning of each month, when most receive their disability checks, the courtyards empty out as the recipients head to local cheap hotels to shower, drink and do drugs. Then, they return and find a spot again in “the hood.”
Angel, my dog walker, knows these unfortunate ones. She serves them several times a week through a nonprofit she works for called Insights Foundation. The foundation primarily serves inmates, but she has taken it upon herself to serve the homeless. Being that she is a vet tech and loves animals, she is always concerned about
My beloved whippets love Angel. She walks them when I am not able and stays with them when we’re out of town. I’ve gotten to know her a bit over the past several years and am in awe of her dedication to serving the down and less fortunate. With $100 of God’s Treasure Principle money in hand, I knew where He would want me to invest it.
Angel joyfully accepted the cash (and an additional $100 from us) and left immediately to purchase bottled water and various strengths of reading glasses. The $200 covered 29 cases of water and 170 pairs of glasses! That Saturday, we went to the very area in Santa Ana that I had been viewing from the courthouse and spent several hours milling around, offering water and glasses to all. We had fun with those that wanted the glasses, as we had a colorful variety of them. They wanted to try on several pairs, deciding between the bright orange ones or the ones with “diamonds” along the rims. It was important for them to have our approval on which ones made them look the coolest! I let some take two pairs, provided they used the second pair to read the Bible. “Oh, yes! Of course!”
I learned from this experience that the homeless are all kinds of folks—old, young, mentally healthy, but physically disabled, or just unlucky. Angel loved having us show interest in her work to the point of going to the front lines with her. She says it’s hard to find volunteers to help her. I’ve always believed that serving hands-on in difficult places is one part of the lifelong process of sanctification. Sanctification is the state of proper functioning. A football is sanctified when it’s used to toss. In the theological sense, we are sanctified when we live according to God’s design and purpose. “Sanctus” means holy. The “tion” is the ongoing or continuing process towards holiness, which takes a lifetime.
We realized that Saturday that Angel didn’t have a car. She was taking buses or borrowing a truck when it was available. She lives in a rough area, so she needs to be home before dusk every day. Yet with all this, she spends her days serving. Gary and I knew we needed to help her get a car of her own. We pulled Dan Brown in to give us some advice, and she now has her own car. Treasure Principle multiplied!
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LA Mission Trip
By Curtis Drever
“See that woman over there at the bus stop?” I asked Paige, “How about her?” Paige nods her head and walks over and has a brief exchange with the woman who is sitting on a bench. She returns to our group, smiling. “What did she say?” we asked. “She said she doesn’t need anything,” pauses, then adds “except a diamond ring.” The woman looked over to us smiling. We then realized we were standing in front of a jewelry store there in downtown LA. She was, of course, joking.
This was just one story from something we experienced called “Meet a Need.” The goal of this was simple—walk around downtown LA and ask people, “Is there something you need?” Surprisingly, many times we get “No, thank you.” They may not want to be bothered; they may be too prideful; they may not like how we look; maybe they really don’t need anything.
Pete is a Vietnam veteran whom we found sitting in a wheelchair on a very busy street corner. We asked if he needed something, but he politely declined. We kept talking with him—about life in the city, where he was from, what he did in the service. After five minutes, we asked again if he needed something. This time he said, “I’d really like a hamburger!” Although it was about 10 am, we found a place and quickly returned. He didn’t eat right away and set it aside. We had earned the right to hang out with him. I sensed a “God encounter,” a Kairos moment, when things become a bit surreal.
A man hovered nearby. He was intently watching and listening to us talk with Pete. [Great reminder—people are watching us, the world is watching us.] However, I know from experience this is the time when I must block out the surrounding scene and focus on the person in front of me.
We continue talking with Pete and ask more personal questions. Soon we had to go, so I asked if it was OK to pray for him. He said “yes” without hesitation, so several of us prayed. Only God knows, but I believe our prayers impacted Pete. He gave me his phone number, and I said I would call him sometime.
Later, I reminded the team that if we treat people decently, look beyond their circumstance or appearance, and suppress our fear or bias, then doors will open.
If asked to summarize what this trip is all about, I have two answers: “God encounters”(which give us stories) and “it’s a gift.” God has all these encounters prearranged. Our job is to be available and take advantage of them. And this year, more than ever, it dawned on me that God gave me this trip as a gift. God has taught me much, and whatever I have learned, I try to pass on to the next generation.
It’s a blessing to be part of junior high students’ lives and experience what God does in and through them in a week. One student goes from being nervous about praying out loud on Sunday to praying Spirit-filled prayers on Friday; another is now not afraid to approach a homeless person and ask, “Is there something you need?” and so on. These are life lessons they are learning, and being part of that is a gift. It doesn’t get better
Disciples Making Disciples (DMD) is a term we hear, but we can still be unclear as to what it really means. For me, the LA trip has helped crystallize what DMD means in real and personal terms. I am a disciple, and as a disciple I am called to live out the life of Jesus to the best of my ability. Even if I don’t feel equipped or adequate, the Spirit reminds me that it’s “not by [my] might nor by [my] power, but by His Spirit.” And “For it is God who works in me, to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13) Living that out is the essence of Disciples Making Disciples.
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Where Rivers Flow
An Interview with Andrew Scarborough
About 3 1/2 years ago, I was preaching at a church in Los Angeles when the pastor said to me, “You should start a church in Orange County.” Later that night, I pulled out an Orange County map, and Irvine jumped out at me. I’d never even heard of Irvine! But after what was really a random invitation, we received several miraculous confirmations that this is what my family and I were meant to do. So we left our home in Australia and came to Irvine, as Christians who love Jesus, to be church planters.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that, as Christians, we are good at going across the globe, but often struggle going across the road. How could we begin planting churches without first meeting our neighbors to “love your neighbor as yourself”? So, we began by hosting a monthly barbecue. This caught on quickly and grew to where we had nine different ethnicities sitting in our living room! One man who had lived on our street since 1997 said he’d never had a meal with a neighbor before. “We never knew each other until you came,” he said. We’ve had conversations about God with people of different religions and people who have no faith at all. And we’ve seen a genuine interest in Jesus from this group who had previously been total strangers.
Beyond the planned barbecues, we’ve seen spontaneous meals and camping trips taking place, neighbors watching out for one another’s kids, and the simple pleasure of just being in each other’s lives. Some girls of unchurched parents in our group kept asking us where we were going on Sundays, and we told them we were going to church. They wanted to go, too! One of the families invited them, and they attended church for the first time. They are now eager to get their parents to come, too.
When our neighbor’s iPad was stolen from his car, I thought back to a training I attended where the speaker had said, “People that aren’t yet Christians want to know that we Christians practice what we preach, so they will want to see us actually love and serve our neighbors. What’s more, those that aren’t yet Christians also want to do good. So, take opportunities to involve your neighbors in your ‘missions’ activities.” We sent out a text to our neighbors asking if they could help. The outpouring of love and donations happened so quickly, including contributions from neighbors that didn’t even know him, and we were able to buy him a new IPad! This neighbor later told us that they had been planning to move, but decided to stay in the neighborhood because of the way their neighbors have all come around them.
Being the church is doable. We need to ask, “How can I be the church, not just simply attend one?” We know our call is to love our neighbors, regardless of the outcome. We want them to know Jesus. We’ve invited them into our world and into relationship. We want to show them how much we love them and how much we love God, then watch it all unfold. We trust that God will build the church, and pray that he opens the hearts of our neighbors. He is preparing them! And so far, no one has said, “Stop loving us.”
Please pray for Andrew and his family. Pray for continued favor and trailblazing opportunities as Andrew gathers with other leaders across the city to be a missional presence in our communities, equipping people to be the church in our neighborhoods. Pray for courage, wisdom and discernment, and with all the various things that press on him each day, pray for time.
Andrew and his wife, Joyce, and two children, Sean and Abigail moved to the U.S. about 2 ½ years ago from Melbourne, Australia. Andrew recently graduated from Fuller Seminary with an M.A. in Global Leadership. He is now on staff at Mariners as a resident church planter, learning from them while simultaneously planting churches. He recently wrote and published,“Where Rivers Flow,” a guide to capturing the heart of God and sharing it across the road and across the globe.
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United with One Goal
By Rob Clark
Throughout my 13 years of youth ministry I’ve seen its nasty side. Ego-driven youth pastors, competition for kids, and competition to be the “best” youth ministry in the city (which, let’s be real, is about as prestigious as being the coolest “boy band” in Riverside). But what is happening here in Irvine is different. As I’ve gotten to know the hearts of my peers in Irvine, the term “ego-driven” isn’t synonymous with any one of them.
Once a month, the IPC interns and myself get the opportunity to join youth ministry professionals from Mariners, Young Life, Good Shepherd Lutheran, Pacific Church of Irvine, Voyagers, and FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) for prayer, fellowship and strategic planning on how to reach students in Irvine. This collaboration of ministries has been going on for eight years, with IPC joining the mix when I came on staff back in 2012.
If I’m honest, I was extremely hesitant to join this network of youth ministries, but I have found that every youth worker involved in the network is committed to supporting one another and reaching students for Jesus Christ. Our network team operates out of a Philippians 2 model, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Over the course of the past year, we’ve been talking about how we can operate as one church with many different expressions. We want kids to see us as youth pastors united as one team committed to the same goal—not as competing ministries. Here are some of the things we’ve done as a team:
- Held an end-of-the-year youth group as a team at IPC where we had over 200 students show up to play dodgeball in the Fellowship Hall, and hear the gospel message delivered by Joe Barsha (Jr High Director at Forest Home)
- Collaborated on summer pool parties at the Dietz’s house
- Held trainings for all volunteers in the ministries
The hope in this collaboration of events is twofold: first, we hope that kids begin to move away from competition about which group is best, and second we hope they can get to know other believers in their schools. This summer, we saw some fruit of this collaboration in action. During one of our summer pool parties at the Dietz’s home, an intern from Voyagers named Faith had a sudden seizure. We immediately turned her on her side and called 911. The paramedics came, and took her to the hospital.
As I walked to the backyard with Jordan, the youth pastor at Voyagers, what we saw together warmed our hearts: all 40 kids standing in a circle, holding hands, and praying for Faith. This was the church in action; kids from IPC, FCA, Voyagers, and other ministries coming together in prayer. It was amazing to see God at work.
Faith ended up having a mass in her brain that caused the seizure, and we are thankful that she is now okay. I am also thankful that what God is doing in this city is bigger than Irvine Presbyterian Church. It’s bigger than Voyagers, Good Shepherd, FCA, Mariners, Saddleback, and Young Life. He has called us to act as one body and join Him on His mission to make all things new. I am incredibly blessed to walk alongside these wonderful men and women as we continue to learn from one another and pursue God’s plan and vision for this city.
Rob Clark is IPC Director of Student Ministries.
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By Christina Brantuk
As Christians, we often talk about God’s forgiveness through Christ. However, in terms of our relationships with other people, forgiveness is not something we really like to think about.
In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus says, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
How can God’s forgiveness be dependent on our ability to forgive when the gospel message says His grace is unconditional? Directly after teaching the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” Jesus reemphasizes in the above verse its importance and how God’s unconditional forgiveness should compel us to bestow the same to others. Just as sin separates us from God, refusing to forgive separates us from His work in us and perhaps in the person who wronged us.
This has been a struggle for me in my relationship with my dad. While growing up in Spokane, WA, my parents and I were really close. My dad and I were even baptized together when I was 14. Then in my early years at Whitworth University, my mom told me about my dad’s affair. I remember feeling my world crumbling down. The close family that I grew up with was dying. I couldn’t stop it, and I felt abandoned.
So I had a choice—do I cut myself off from him completely? No one would blame me. But despite his actions, I loved my dad. I did not want to forsake the relationship. He divorced my mom and legally married this other woman in 2010, and they have an
For seven years I have refused to forgive my dad for abandoning our family and living a life so contrary to the dad I thought I knew. But one day three years ago, the Holy Spirit moved me through
the above Matthew passage, and in tears I forgave him
In The Art of Forgiving, Lewis Smedes writes: “It takes one person to forgive. It takes two to be reunited. Forgiving happens inside the wounded person. Reunion happens in a relationship between people. We can forgive a person who never says he is sorry. We cannot be truly reunited unless he is honestly sorry. We can forgive even if we do not trust the person who wronged us once not to wrong us again. Reunion can happen only if we can trust the person who wronged us once not to wrong us again. Forgiving has no strings attached. Reunion has several strings attached.”
If both my dad and his wife admitted their wrong, apologized and committed to follow Christ, I hope that I would forgive her and be reunited with my dad. That’s the fantasy we want forgiveness to invoke. And while believing God can make that happen one day, my reality continues to be filled with moments of disappointment, anger, and grieving expectations of who I want my dad to be.
When asked, Jesus said to forgive your neighbor “seventy-seven times.” The number isn’t important, but it’s clear that forgiveness is not a one-time deal. It’s a journey made up of layers and cycles that we can’t do on our own. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you will never feel anger or sadness about the situation or the person again. That’s the fantasy. It means that God has brought you to a place where your desire for God’s healing is greater than your desire for justice. God calls us to forgive because He forgives us. But we can’t do it without Jesus.
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God Uses Our Work for His Mission
By Maribeth Fung
When I was a college freshman, I remember looking up at the altar in the Catholic church I attended every Sunday and asking, “God, why are you distant?” He was always at the altar, but seemed unreachable. I prayed and prayed, but didn’t hear Him answering. I was searching for a personal relationship with Him.
God used my older brother, Harvey, who was the first in my family to become a Christian, to encourage me to read the Bible and later invite me to the small Filipino Baptist Church he attended. I remember inviting Jesus for the first time into my life to be my Savior. Then it became crystal clear why we celebrate Christmas and the full meaning of Jesus dying on the cross for my sins and rising again on Sunday as we celebrate Easter. A year later I was baptized.
I was in nursing school at that time. As a new believer, I was excited about my new faith. I wanted the world to know what God was doing in my life, so much so that I wanted to quit nursing school and go to the seminary to be in full-time ministry. My pastor’s wife, Helen, advised me to finish school, because if God called me later to the mission field, I would be welcomed as a nurse. Through her wisdom, she taught me that God can use our daily life/work and make it our mission field.
Since that time, I have sensed God growing in me as His everyday disciple. One of my first patients as a nursing student had throat cancer. I found myself standing outside his hospital room, anxious because I wanted to share Jesus’ love for him but not knowing what to tell him. I’d only memorized one Bible verse at that time: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son,” John 3:16. I sensed God telling me, “One verse is all you need.” That patient needed to hear that God loves him and Jesus died for him. At the end of my shift, I told him, “Jesus loves you,” and after sharing my faith, he agreed to pray with me. The following day, before the shift started, I went straight to his room, but the bed was empty. He had been discharged at night against medical advice because he wanted to go home, but he died on the way. I felt sad and at the same time, humbled how God used me.
I got my Bachelor of Science in Nursing and went on to become a cardiac critical care nurse. For the past three years, I’ve been working as a home health nurse. In February, I had a patient, Tom, who was dying. I had offered to pray with him about two months earlier, but he said, “No. I am an atheist. I don’t believe in God and prayers.” I continued to care for him. One day, I found out it was their wedding anniversary, so I went and bought his wife a bouquet of flowers. They were both very appreciative. Late one night, Gabe, Matthew and I were on our way home when I got a call that Tom was going downhill fast. He was ready to sign with hospice but wanted IV hydration first. I told Gabe, “I need to see this patient tonight. The kindest thing I can do for him and his wife is to put this IV in tonight.” On the way, I told Matthew that Tom reminded me of Jesus and the two robbers with Him at the cross. At the last minute, He told the one who believed in Him, “You will be with me in paradise.” I prayed that Tom would believe in Jesus, even in his last moments. I got to Tom’s house and managed to get the IV in on the first try, even though his veins were weak. His breathing was shallow, and he was barely able to talk. I asked, “Can I pray for you, Tom?” He nodded his head and weakly said yes. I said, “Tom, it’s time to make your peace with God. All your life He has been pursuing you, and at the same time He is waiting for you to come to Him. God loves you. He wants you in heaven with Him.” I told him about God’s love for him through Jesus dying on the cross for us. The next day, his wife sent a text that Tom had passed away that morning. I am just humbled and amazed at God’s compassion and patience with Tom. I witnessed his mercy first hand!
God wants the world to know about Him, and He will use you if you are willing. You have to step out of your comfort zone and trust as you follow Him.
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Peace Begins with Us
By Bruce Main
“Peace begins with a smile.” – Mother Teresa
Everyone sat still, eyes riveted to the two teenage girls at the front of the room.
“I wrote this letter because I needed to forgive my older sister,” confessed the first teenager. “She used to tell me that I was ugly, that I was a mistake, and that I would never amount to anything. My anger towards my sister was destroying me.”
And then this brave teen began to read her heartfelt letter of forgiveness. She talked about the pain her sister caused, her consequent feelings of worthlessness, their troubled relationship, and that she wanted to forgive her. “I forgive you,” she ended. “I don’t want hate to live in me.”
These teenage girls are part of a “girl’s”group that meets once a week under the direction of our StreetLeader coordinator, Allyse. The purpose of the group is to create a safe place where young women can bare their souls, a place where they can find healing and learn to forgive.
“I just noticed that there were all these girls with broken relationships,” recalls Allyse. “In order to move ahead with their lives, they needed to forgive. Some girls have written ten letters to the same person. Forgiveness, I’m learning, is a process.”
Listening to our teens read their “forgiveness letters” reminded me of the courage it takes to really bring peace into the world. Peace takes work, because peace begins with our own lives. We can’t be instruments of peace if we’re not committed to healing the unrest in our own lives first. Peace begins with us.
[ Bruce Main has been a guest speaker at IPC and is Founder and President of Urban Promise. ]
About Urban Promise
Since 1988, the mission at UrbanPromise has been to equip children and young adults with the skills necessary for academic achievement, life management, spiritual growth, and Christian leadership. They strive to fulfill this mission through after-school programs, summer camps, two schools, experiential learning, job training, and a host of other programs that challenge youth to develop and realize their potential.
In a dusty church basement in East Camden, NJ, a small group of college missionaries created a summer camp for neighborhood children--providing a safe, loving, fun and creative place for local youth to escape dangerous city streets.
The core of the organization isabout relationships and the message that every child and teen is wonderfully created in the image of God.
– Jodina Hicks: Executive Director and Bruce Main: Founder and President, Urban Promise
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The Great Adventure
By Paul Siaki
One of the most exciting things I have been involved with in the past year has been Fresh Expressions. I am the Chairman of Fresh Expressions North (in South Africa), and I’m privileged to work with a team of eight top denominational leaders to launch this exciting church planting initiative.
Together, we have seen year-long training courses called Mission-shaped Ministry pop up all over the northern part of South Africa.
The main idea is that there are many people who would never “darken the door” of a traditional church, but who desperately need a relationship with Jesus. The leaders were inspired and trained on how to bring church to the people in new and innovative ways without waiting for people to come to church. God is moving!
There are exciting stories of how this movement is changing lives in the UK and other areas of the world. “Church” is happening in community centers, parks, restaurants, and even pubs. Lives are being transformed. As many of you know, Barbara and I planted a Fresh Expression church about 10 years ago in a restaurant, starting out with only 12 people. There were no spare rooms for the Sunday school, so Barb actually taught kids in the bar area! And can you believe that at 10 am, there were sometimes people there already starting to drink—they had to listen to kids’ singing and a Bible lesson!
Over the years, we’ve seen other Fresh Expression churches pop up and have been blessed to be part of them. A man who used to be addicted to drugs leads one of the groups that started through our church plant. He has started different groups with those who are usually involved in Narcotics Anonymous. The unique thing about Fresh Expressions is that sometimes they can stay and eventually grow into a mature expression of church. Sometimes they are only meant for a season (for whatever reason), will stop, or sometimes take a break. Others find that they stay together indefinitely, but haven’t quite progressed to viewing themselves as a church.
Yet there are also those who view themselves as church almost immediately, no matter where they are. For instance, in Cape Town there were some men who found Christ in prison and have started a Fresh Expression church to reach out to gangs. They don’t view themselves as just a Christian group meeting in prison. They see themselves as a full-on church! Who’s going to tell them no, right?
Last year, one of our participants in the Mission-shaped Ministry course had a real burden on his heart to reach out to the prostitutes in the area where their church was located. He just didn’t know how and would never have considered thinking of starting a church with them! He just knew that they would never come to his church, so he would go to them.
One of the principles of Fresh Expressions is to start by listening to your target community. One Friday he and some others went out and just started talking and listening to prostitutes and praying for them. They also realized that the women were very poor and often hadn’t eaten all day. So one Friday night, the group brought some soup and bread. This was a huge hit! Slowly, the group began to build and become more regular. The prostitutes in the area soon began to come early to a corner near the church on a Friday night, and the church members would feed them, share some scripture, and pray for them. Ironically, one of the prostitutes herself began calling this her “church” and would never miss being there on a Friday night. Our participant told this story to us, and said that he now sees this as a very real and powerful church, and sees himself as their pastor. Praise God!
It’s amazing what God can do when we open ourselves up to His leading in every area of life. We were called into this great adventure with God!
Paul Siaki is an IPC missions partner serving in South Africa.
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By Lisa Frank and Ed Nilsen
Jesus is Lord of the universe! Ultimately, we are a church on His mission. And as disciples who make disciples, part of what we do is worship, to glorify God and sing praises to His holy name. As a church, then, we need to ask, “How can we enter His presence in a way that we all come together through the person of God, no matter how we worship? How can we engage the congregation and the community in a way that makes worshipers out of all of us? And how can we collectively show a unified, heartfelt approach to loving God and obeying His commands?
As we wrestled with these questions, we asked, “Lord, what are you calling us to do? Who have we overlooked? How does this tie into our mission?” God used these questions to spark thought and conversation. We began to realize that God was calling us to do something different through our worship services. We’re excited now to go back to two Sunday services, offering two different forms of worship expression, both still in line with our mission.
As IPC, we provide a service to the community. We are a lighthouse, beckoning people to come, and a hub for people to congregate. We must do whatever we can to reach out to our neighbors to share the gospel, the saving grace of Jesus Christ. We all have different preferences in everything we do, from what cars we drive and what foods we eat, to how we connect to and express ourselves in worship. But the underlying fact is that we are called as a church to be “open for business”—to relate to the community in a way that provides opportunities for all to engage with God in worship.
It all comes back to the work of the Lord. If He opens the door for something new to happen that brings glory to Him, this should be our focal point. By having two services, we can be united in the
same spirit and theology even though our expressions of worship are different.
With two services, we will continue to ask, “How can we make both services joyful and connected? How can we band together to do God’s work?” To start, we will be following the same teaching/preaching series in both services. We will be using video more intentionally, sharing the stories of those in our congregation at both services so that everyone connects as the large body. Throughout the year, we will have times where we all gather for worship in one combined service.
As we take that leap of faith to offer two Sunday services, beginning October 9, please pray for His grace to carry out His mission and His purpose. Pray with sincere and heartfelt passion for the body at large, for boldness along with patience. And pray for yourself, too, asking, “How can I engage in ways I haven’t before? How can I use this opportunity to do something I haven’t done before? How can I step out of my normal routine and reach out in His service so that we will be strengthened as one body, joyfully connected when we gather as a church each Sunday and when we go out into the world to do His kingdom work?”
Lisa Frank and Ed Nilsen are IPC Worship Ministry Leaders.
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Joy and Pain
By Rob Clark
Joy and pain. Two words that don’t go together very often, yet two emotions that are often in conflict with each other. Many of us feel these emotions with the loss of a loved one who knew Christ. We feel a deep sense of pain because we can no longer see this person on a daily basis. We can no longer see their smiles, hear their laughs, or give them hugs. Yet, wrestling with this emotion is a deep sense of joy—joy in knowing that they are experiencing love at a depth that we can’t even begin to imagine, joy that lets us know they are dancing with the King, and a joy that reminds us that we will see them again at the end.
I have been experiencing these two emotions myself the past few months. On June 11, I experienced the deepest sense of joy I ever thought possible. This was the day I was blessed enough to enter into the covenant of marriage with the most loving and gracious woman I know, Jessica. The day was Spirit-filled. From worshiping in the Sanctuary together, to saying our vows, to taking communion, and to dancing the night away, it was truly a day of joy.
Unfortunately, later that same night we were caught in our tracks by a CNN alert that popped up on my phone: “Shooting at gay nightclub in Orlando Florida, 49 killed.” The emotions I felt were hard to describe, but it was a deep sense of grief and pain. On the best and most joyous day of my life, people whom our Lord loves with all his heart were being massacred. While I had been celebrating new life with Jessica, people were mourning and crying over the loss of loved ones. I thought, “How are we to respond to such things as Christians? How am I supposed to react to this?”
Just a few days later, Jessica and I were off to Europe for our 22-day honeymoon adventure. We did our best to put aside the pain that was caused by the Orlando shooting, but we weren’t fully able to. It was while we were in Europe that Brexit happened, and the news was full of people spewing incredibly hateful things—mostly fueled by race and ethnicity. Again, I could feel pain and joy battling within me.
As we were packing up to leave our honeymoon adventure, we had no idea what was in store for us personally and for our country. The next few days we learned of the devastating and surprising death of my grandfather, the shooting of Alton Sterling, the shooting of Philando Castile, and the killing of police officers in Dallas. All this within a 3-day period at the end of our honeymoon. Joy and pain.
Jessica and I haven’t yet fully processed the emotions we’ve experienced the last month and a half, but we have felt these emotions on a deep level. This morning I was brought to tears listening to the song, “Holy Spirit,” which was played during communion at our wedding. And last night I was brought to tears reading about a young man texting his mom while in the bathroom of the nightclub waiting for his death.
What I do know is this: we are meant to feel these emotions.
These are emotions that God gives and God feels, and he invites us into them with him. We have many reasons to celebrate and be joyful, and that celebration and joy must not be surrendered when confronted with pain. At the same time, we need to enter into the pain, enter into the darkness, and stand up for those who are so broken that joy doesn’t seem like an option. We believe our call and mission is to stand with and in the pain of others, to join with everyone across the globe to pray for God’s kingdom to come, and to embrace joy and pain, leaning on the God of love in the midst
of it all. n
Living Out John 13:35
By John Wilson
I come from a line of preachers. Every Sunday you were at church. You wouldn’t even think not to be there.
I grew up in Santa Barbara in the congregational church, attended Youth for Christ gatherings, and was active in Young Life In high school. My nickname was “Straight Arrow,” because I was just a good kid. But by the time I got to college, Christ was not a major part of my life. I met Mary while in grad school and since she was an active Lutheran, I became one, too. It was a lukewarm experience for us.
The first half year of our marriage was rough, and it wasn’t until we decided to go to the movies one night to see For Pete’s Sake that our lives and our marriage turned around. When this Billy Graham film ended, we poured out our troubles to a man that was there. It turned out he was a pastor named Rollin Rogness. We were desperately seeking and realized that the central factor missing in our lives was Jesus. We readily accepted Him and felt totally transformed. We went to the Lutheran Brethren Church where he was the pastor and were blown away as we witnessed Christian love. That commitment made all the difference to the rest of our lives. We got into fellowship with other Christian families and could really see how marriage worked.
This is also where I learned that God gifts us all in certain ways. It was a relief to me to understand my calling as a teacher. After moving around a bit, we ended up at Southern California College, now called Vanguard University, with Mary getting a job as a librarian and me as a history professor. I have the opportunity every day to model Christianity, to integrate faith and learning, and to show the students what it’s like to be a happily married couple.
I believe one of the worst things you can do to another person is to ignore them, so I say hello to everyone! It gives me a lift and is an affirming connection with others. I try to follow Matthew 25:40 by treating my students with respect. “As you did it for the least of these my brethren, you did it unto me.” For example, when they take a test, I know they are on pins and needles to get their scores. So I make a commitment to respect that sensitivity, and even though it takes considerable effort, I get their scores back to them by the next class meeting. When people apply for jobs, I let them know what’s happening no matter what, based on my own experience of having to wait and wonder if I’d made the cut.
I also follow David Meyers principle and advise my students that once they have the basic needs in life met, they should pursue their calling, what God has gifted them for. Happiness is then a by-product of the journey.
Finally I teach, “Does love inform our behavior?”and “How do we love God?”. These are manifested in how we love our neighbors, think the best of people, show trust, don’t hold grudges, and forgive and forget. Remember John 13:35—they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
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An Unexpected Calling
By Doug Robison
“So if Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned, would we all be naked today?” came the words from the wiggly 9-year-old boy, not fully aware of what he was asking.
I could hear the twitter of the other kids as each imagined what it would be like. Meanwhile, I nervously wondered how I would respond to the question. I certainly had never thought about it before! But at the same time, I was excited that the kids were tracking with the lesson and thinking about the consequences of what we were reading.
I started teaching 4th grade Sunday school at IPC when a friend asked me to join their teaching team, primarily to help with crafts. I was looking for some way to serve, and this seemed like something I could try. Please understand that I am NOT trained as a teacher, and the only previous experience I had was as a helper to the kindergarten class. Little did I know that it would lead to many years of service.
What got me hooked? I soon found energy in trying to instill in 9- and 10-year-olds my excitement for understanding and application of God’s Word, and to encourage them to make the Christian faith mean more than something to do on Sunday. I want them to see God as alive and at work, and not a relic of history. As our church focuses on Jesus’ command to “make disciples,” one way to do that is with the children and youth of our congregation. Sometimes it may be difficult for parents to have theological discussions with their kids, but for a few minutes each week, Sunday school teachers get that opportunity. What a blessing it is to have input into the life of children and be an additional and supporting voice as the kids start to make decisions on their own.
A bonus of teaching 4th grade is getting to know the younger families in our congregation. With my daughters now on their own, I value my time with younger parents and their energy, vitality, and differing perspectives. As I chat with the students during the craft time, I find out about hobbies, sports, vacations, grandparents, and much more. As our teaching team takes the opportunity to pray with the youth, we learn about their concerns, family illnesses, and travel plans.
Although it doesn’t happen with every student, it has been meaningful to follow some of them as they mature into adulthood. In many cases, an initial meeting in Sunday school has been followed by years of side-by-side service in other ministries of IPC. Rob Clark, Director of Student Ministries, has shared how important it is to a young person to have adults other than their parents involved in their lives, and Sunday school is a natural way to make that happen. For the kids to be known at church provides a sense of belonging to something bigger than they are. It acts as an anchor as they head into a large and unknown world.
So when the kids ask those questions for which I don’t have an immediate answer, I rest in the fact, however I answer, that God is working in the lives of these kids, to bring them closer to Himself and to show them that He is just as relevant today as He was in the past. And He will continue to be relevant no matter what comes their way.
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An Interview with Ed Nilsen
Sometimes reaching out to a new person in our midst can sow the seeds of a disciple-making relationship. It was just after band rehearsal on Good Friday when Ed Nilsen noticed a young man sitting by himself in the sanctuary. “I always like to introduce myself to new people. I didn’t recognize him, so I introduced myself. I learned his name was Willem, and that he was a 22 year old from South Africa who was in California hiking the Pacific Crest trail. Willem was staying briefly with an Irvine friend from his South African film school after having been rescued in the snow in the Idyllwild area. He was walking in the neighborhood when he saw IPC’s Easter sign and activity on our campus, so he decided to come in.”
Ed invited Willem out to dinner after the service, along with Chase LeBlanc, a high school student who had played electric guitar at our Good Friday service. Willem was excited to go to Chili’s for steak after having been living on trail food. At dinner, Ed learned Willem’s story. Although his dad is a pastor in South Africa, Willem was not a believer. Willem shared his story of hitchhiking from the East Coast to California, having limited resources but lots of optimism in starting his journey. His goal was to learn, and document on film, others’ stories and to create his own story. Ed said, “I was amazed at his faith and trust in people here.”
“I learned that he needed a ride to Big Bear where he was to meet up at Mile 286 with a man he’d met online from Switzerland. His first job was to find the trail, and then find this friend.” Ed offered to drive him, but when they got to Big Bear, they had a difficult time finding the trailhead. “Willem’s phone wasn’t working, so I added the ability to make international calls on my phone so he could connect with the young Swiss man. We also stopped at a fire station for directions, which were somewhat vague, so we spent some time driving on snowy dirt roads, looking for Mile 286. We talked a lot, and throughout the conversation, I tried many times to bring in the spiritual element—the Creator amidst creation. Willem understood that what he would encounter on the trail was a work of God, but there was no sense of him being a believer. But I know he is on a journey.”
Willem was also interested in hearing about Ed’s music and how he tells stories through this art, and about the impact on him of family and of the death of his son. “The Spirit led me to talk more about the personal challenges I’ve experienced. Willem encouraged me in that conversation, helping me see that a good sign of leading the Christian life is taking what the Lord gives you and being thankful for it.“
“I don’t know how Willem’s story continued or even if he connected with his friend. I know that I may not have hit a home run in reaching Willem spiritually, but I know I was a part of his journey. I had to temper my enthusiasm, knowing that his journey would not happen overnight. But ‘success’ is in the process, one day, one step at a time.”
Ed, who truly endeavors to act as a little Jesus at all times, sowed some seeds in his time with Willem. “How many other Willems are out there? I see this as an invitation to be mindful of the person sitting next to me, to see him or her with fresh eyes. I know the Lord will work through our efforts in reaching out to others. I ask, ‘Who is here today that you want me to minister to?’”
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Christ Church Christian Care Center, South Africa
By Jeff Hanson
Three main things struck me when I visited the Christ Church Christian Care Center (the “5Cs”) in South Africa. First, I was deeply moved and saddened to hear the many stories of pain and loss that the children have experienced. Second, I was incredibly touched by the faith of these very same children who have experienced so much suffering. And third, it quickly became clear that it was possible to help make a big difference in their lives through supporting the orphanage.
I believe stories are a powerful form of communicating thoughts effectively. Below is sixteen year old Thulisile’s story in her own words. She is one of about fifty children who live at 5Cs. As you read this, I wouldn’t be surprised if the main things that stood out to me not long ago also strike you—pain, faith, and our ability to make a difference.
“My mother passed away while giving birth to me. I have never seen my father, and I don’t know if he is alive or dead, as he abandoned us at birth. My granny took care of me. Life was tough, as we lived under very poor conditions with very little to eat. I remember traveling a long distance to school without breakfast and coming back with very little or nothing to eat. Then my granny passed away, which left me very sad and caused a lot of pain, as she loved me very much. My life was shattered, and I was scared about what would happen to me.
It was then, when I was eight years old, that an aunt heard about the Care Center, and I was brought here. I met many children who have had similar experiences. They became my new family. The staff loves me and cares for me, providing all my needs, especially sending me to school.
I also began to learn about God and Jesus’ love for me. In the beginning, I struggled to understand about God’s love, as I had no living person to call my own. Gradually, I began to enjoy life, as the Center met all my needs.
However, pain came again last year when I had a cough that was not healing. I discovered that I had TB. At that time, tests also showed that I was HIV positive. Once again, my hopes were shattered. I became very negative, and my performance at school dropped. It was a difficult time in my life.
The staff and counselors at the Center played an important role in helping me overcome this situation. Now I am beginning to look at life positively. My faith in the Lord has deepened, and I have a group of girls here who encourage me every day.
I am presently in grade 11, and next year will be completing high school. My passion is to do further studies in Interior Design, which I think will be my future career.”
I first visited the 5Cs four years ago when I had the privilege of traveling with a small group of IPC members who spent time with each of the church’s ministry partners in the region. A faithful brother in Christ, Mike Sunker, leads the 5Cs orphanage, and he deeply inspires me with his life of sacrifice, service, and contentment. Since that first visit, I have come to realize that the Lord allowed me this experience not only to play a small part in making an impact, but for the purpose of molding me into the kind of man God desires me to become. I often think of James 1:27 that tells us that “pure religion in the sight of God is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress.” Getting involved in the mission of 5Cs blesses me with the privilege to practice something so pure.
Thulisile’s story is one that I will not soon forget. I feel humbled to a play a role in her story by helping to support such an amazing ministry. We invite you to join us in the effort.
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More Than Just a Wave
By Kathy Luetto
“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:40)
“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Hebrews 13:1-2)
Every time I walk down my street, it seems I “wave” to one or more of my fellow neighbors. Because we are all a little too busy living our individual lives, many of my neighbors have only a “waving” relationship with me as well as with the others living on my street. But one day while walking my dog down to the local park, I remembered “UP, IN, and OUT” and the continuous challenge at IPC to share our faith. I felt God opening up an opportunity to practice “OUT” and serve the people who live right next to me.
So, I planned a Morning Coffee and Tea for all the women living on my street. I made a special invitation card and hand delivered them to each woman. This took quite a few trips to each front door. I did not want to just leave the invitation. I wanted to make a personal connection and let each woman know how much I wanted to include her in this gathering of neighbors.
My street is quite a collection of multinational, ethnic and religious people. As I delivered the invitations, many of my neighbors were excited to lend a hand with the gathering. One neighbor offered to bring her Chinese tea set and share traditional Chinese teas with the other neighbors. Another offered to pick up special pastries at a Vietnamese bakery. Others brought gifts and treats from their native cultures. A few of the ladies did not speak English, but we all communicated with the limited translation abilities among us. As I welcomed the ladies to my home and invited them to have some refreshments, I shared the challenge from our church to provide hospitality and serve those OUT from around our homes. They were all touched and shared that many of their husbands would enjoy the opportunity to become acquainted with the other men on the street as well. We all decided that a summer evening gathering on the greenbelt at the end of our street would be a good next event. We are currently in the process of planning that event now that the days are longer and the weather a bit warmer.
The experience was at first a bit out of my comfort zone. But now, although the waves on the street have continued, through prayer and direction from God, connection and friendship is included. I believe God’s work and His seeds were planted that morning through the fellowship of some diverse ladies and from all of us taking a little time away from our Saturday chores to come together to begin forming relationships.
Video Short Story
"Into The Unknown," a short telling from Rob Clark, Director of Student Ministries, of how entering into life's unknowns with the one's we love makes even the unexpected easier to bear.
Life is hard. But when we hear each other's stories, we know we're not alone on our journeys. Hear stories from our community – real people with real burdens who rely on God when trouble comes.
Your Story Matters
We are passionate about following Jesus and about our mission of making disciples who make disciples! That passion is reflected each week through personal stories, teachings about practical aspects of the Christian life or an upcoming sermon series, and words from our mission partners. Each story points back to the calling God has for us as we trust Him to lead us on mission together.
To share your story, contact Dorothy Bregozzo.