A Cloud of Witnesses

Our Celebration of the Faithful was once again a needed reminder of the “cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us and who both inform and help complete our faith. Contrary to the illusion of relentless individualism, we are indeed indebted. Probably more so than we could fathom even if we were to try.
First of all, we are fundamentally indebted to God beginning with the initial breath we take. From this essential element of life, every step we take thereafter (both literally and figuratively) we owe to others. Given this reality, it is incumbent upon us to embrace and celebrate our indebtedness rather than resent or “outgrow” our inherent neediness.
So we purpose to acknowledge the faithful lives of the saints that we might be encouraged to also be faithful witnesses today and for future generations, “Oh, may all who come behind us find us faithful,” is certainly an appropriate song to call us on.
To that end, this year we learned about David Duplessis, the “donkey”, who humbly sought unity in the larger body of Christ. We were reminded of the remarkable transformation and subsequent steadfast witness of Nixon’s “Hatchet Man”, Charles Colson. The short but powerful life of Borden of Yale served as an implicit indictment of our often complacent lives. “No reserve, no retreat, no regrets.”
Samuel Lamb was a frail and weak man made powerful and effective by God to lead the Underground church in China. His 20 years of imprisonment and “re-education” by Chinese communist merely served to strengthen and deepen his cheerful trust in God. We learned that the activism of Cesar Chavez was informed and motivated by his radical faith.
Richard Wurmbrandt reminds us both of the constant presence of the Lord to sustain in unimaginable circumstances as well as the current persecutions and martyrdom today of Christians throughout the world. Isn’t the very least we can do is to be mindful of and pray for our brothers and sisters today?
We were given a “first person” account from Elizabeth Eliot of her courtship and marriage to Jim Eliot, who, along with faithful partners became a martyr in Ecuador. Incredibly, Elizabeth and Rachel Saint (sister of one of the martyrs) went on to live among and minister to those who had murdered their beloved.
This is what faith looks like. It is all the more remarkable therefore, that Hebrews 11 states,…”that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” (RSV) Peterson in The Message translates this truth as, “God had a better plan for us, that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole; their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.” (Heb. 11:40)
So gird up your loins. Joyfully celebrate and embrace your indebtedness in all its glory! And give thanks by living lives of faithfulness and partnership.

Turn and become like children

We just finished our Celebration of the Children and it was brilliant! Thirty some years ago our pastors conceived the idea of a church calendar where sacred events would be celebrated as a church family. We would celebrate the faithful, that “cloud of witnesses” such as the ones listed in Hebrews 11. We would set aside time to “turn and become like children.” The Celebration of Life Together would be time set aside to do just that.

But this week we celebrated God’s gift to us in our children. We usually start with a basic theme for the week, and this year we chose “time travel.” After a wonderful visit to the Dreamworks concert at the Hollywood Bowl, we had our spectacular opening day. Our seven kids became time travelers for the day. After climbing into their time machines they traveled to 6 destinations in history where they were needed to solve problems.

Each followed a different route to various times in history. They visited Ancient Greece where they trained for the Olympics in archery and javelin throwing and learned how to use their brains and the pulley system. There was a visit to Medieval Times where the children rescued the princess from a dragon lady with the help of a trusty steed and knights. They stopped in to help some cave people interpret their cave drawings and throw some rocks. Pyramid building and hieroglyphics were on the agenda for Ancient Egypt, and their help was required in China’s Ming Dynasty to repair the Great Wall and repel marauders. We all ended up in the Chat N Chew, a 50’s diner where we enjoyed shakes, floats, and burgers and danced at the sock hop.

We swam and played games together at the pool. The rest of the week we took day trips to the zoo, railroad museum, miniature golf, and flew some kites together. At night we gathered to play games, watch movies, and enjoy a crazy mixed-up dinner at the Time Travel Inn. We gave thanks at each gathering, and as the week closed we once again realized the great gifts God has given us in our children. Jesus himself blessed the children and exhorted us to become like them. Once again God teaches us through a Child. We look forward to the rest of our celebrations this year, especially anticipating our Celebration of the Faithful in August.

Loving to the end

file1651234673508

“I will wait. I wait. I will wait.” So sing Mumford and Sons. Their words are literally music to our ears. Everyone longs for happily ever after, to be waited for, to be special, considered, loved.

All too often we regard this as romantic love, but God has a far bigger vision than this. He came to bring together those who are far off a and those who are near, to allow everyone a love lasting and true, offering family to “whosoever will” and save a place at the table for us.

This is the call of the church, to be as Jesus: “Those whom the Lord gave Him, He loved until the end.”

Loneliness

Old faces light with joy, wrinkled visages are wreathed with smiles, gnarled hands tentatively reach out. Gifts are proferred- Graham crackers, withered apples, spotted bananas, and the kids receive them. The fog of pain, loneliness, and confusion is penetrated, if only fleetingly.

Mother Teresa has said that loneliness is the greatest poverty, and we believe she is right. Weekly visits to the convalescent home are our attempt to break down those gates of Hell. One of many advantages of homeschooling is the flexibility to schedule regular visits to lonely folks, to remind the kids to be thankful, and to focus their attention on others besides themselves.

Long-term faithfulness and consistency really do matter; we celebrate more than five years of the privilege and honor of bringing the touch of Jesus into lives in desperate need. And we are richly blessed in turn.

How Jesus makes all things new!

butterfly

Our friend who babysits for us was having a conversation with me about how people who didn’t know her before she was a Christian can’t imagine was she was like. When she told them how she had gotten in the pastor’s face and yelled at him, they were shocked and aghast. “And they let you watch their kids?”

But she is really not the same person, and it is hard to remember who she used to be. God is gracious to give us second, third, and so many more chances, the power to be reconciled in a falling apart world, and the grace to transform us from who we once were so that others can’t even imagine it. And for this we give thanks-that he can do”far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!” Eph. 3:20. He can even make gifts out of miserable sinners.

Expressing oneness

a banquet table

A Banquet Anniversary

Saturday night we served a banquet to 240 people who came to support a vital inner-city ministry. We realized this was something of an anniversary as we had been serving this group for 25 years; this also marked the inception of our banquet ministry. The first time we were asked to come and help at one of their early fundraisers, we quickly ascertained that it was a rather chaotic event. The people who were actually the leaders, teachers, and ministers were in the kitchen with us, frantically trying to serve the guests!

To say there was a drastic lack of leadership and direction would be a mild understatement. Everyone was pitching in and trying to help but there was no way for the hosts to visit, explain, or answer questions about their ministry, much less enjoy a meal. And voila! A seed was planted in us and we realized that we could offer our hands in service.

Though we are few in number, we have a vision for unity in the body of Christ. Currently we are blessed to serve many banquets each year, Some are gourmet, catered affairs, and some we cook ourselves. This service is offered up free of charge, asking only for out of pocket expenses such as food or decorations as well as covering our gas money. We have learned to be very economical, saving considerable money. We cook pretty well, and we clean up too!

Some put in their reservations as soon as their banquet is over for their next year’s event. A few years ago we served a banquet where the late Frank Pastore was the speaker. “What a neat ministry,” he said. “Come on my radio show and I will gladly promote your services!” While we appreciated his enthusiasm, we weren’t sure we could handle the outcome, so we never pursued the opportunity.

But we gladly promote the need for brothers and sisters to get creative and use whatever gifts you have to support, encourage, and edify the bigger body of Christ. This may help fulfill our Lord’ s last prayers, “…that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me…” John17:23

Wineskins Conference, May 2-4, 2014

Co-Workers in the Kingdom:

We would like to tell you about Wineskins, a gathering of Jesus’ disciples who desire to dialogue about significant Kingdom issues and establish and maintain networks of koinonia within the Body of Christ. We’ve met twice a year (Spring and Fall) to fellowship and reason together since 1974.

There is a limit of 44 (forty-four) participants to give all attending a chance to become involved. The conference is not a time for relaxation. We are hard at it with little time provided for leisure. Issues are merely opened up and hammered out with no view of sending everyone home with “THE ANSWER”. Wineskins is an ecumenical gathering; many different expressions of our faith will be represented, such as Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Mennonites, Baptists, Episcopalians, etc.

Everyone attending participates in paying for the conference. The speakers are not paid for their participation at the conferences; they are there because they want to be.

Such is the Wineskins fellowship. It is our hope that the Lord will add His particular kind of success to our gathering; that we will not only enjoy the dialogue and information, but also real community and transformation.

NOTE:​ Participants are asked to be present for the entire conference (usually a Friday evening through a Sunday afternoon.) We have found that the objectives of koinonia and dialogue are undermined when participants arrive late or leave early. Therefore, we deem it a must for you to be there for the duration of this fellowship.

Please let us know as soon as possible if you would like to become a part of this fellowship. If you have any questions, please call Pastor Rich Read (310.350.9906) or Scott Kjos (310.678.7831).

Spring Break

El Segundo Christian Church fireplace

El Segundo Christian Church fireplace

You won’t find this on MTV’s “Spring Break”! Today a busload of teenagers and adults from Texas is arriving in El Segundo, California, donating time off work and school to improve a church building desperately in need of help. New lighting will be installed and new coats of paint will “cover a multitude” of scars, bumps, and bruises. New ramps will be installed for easy wheelchair access.

There will be hauling, scraping, prepping, digging, cleaning, and no doubt some complaining too. But there will be joy and laughter, and probably some drama and tears, as well. This is a far cry from Cabo San Lucas, wet t-shirt contests, and endless drinking competitions! Christians rolling up their sleeves and helping other Christians, and finding joy and purpose in doing so, is just what this me-first world needs to see.

Donating time and energy on behalf of others which in no way benefits oneself is the love of Christ made manifest.  These “girls gone wild” will be outdoing one another in helpfulness and servant-hood. What a concept! And there will be no hangover in the morning.

Angels unaware

“Be ready with a meal or bed when it’s needed. Why, some have extended hospitality to angels without ever knowing it.”

Hebrews 13:1-2 from The Message. For spring break we were blessed to entertain some angels from Concordia University in Irvine. Five college girls partook of our hospitality, building what we hope are lasting memories and relationships.We enjoyed hosting students from as far away as South Africa and South Korea, experiencing the love of Christ reaching around the globe. Midnight doughnut runs, lunch with the homeschool gang, favorite restaurant lunches and dinners, and a trip to the beach were a few of the events planned for our guests.

Of course there was time to sleep in (catching up on the usual college sleep deficit), as well as sharing in our typical events and traditions: Lord’s Supper, Bible study, convalescent home visits and letter writing. We are hoping this will not be their last visit. We do take our hospitality seriously and have had countless priceless encounters as a result. There is never a dull moment, and seldom an empty room, thank God!

We look forward to many more opportunities to entertain angels, giving thanks to the One who welcomed us when we were strangers and gives us the wherewithal to extend hospitality in His name.