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I haven’t been back to the Hill Country Senior Citizens Activity Center since being unceremoniously booted out by the manager three weeks ago. (Read what happened by clicking here.)

But today, I returned.

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After getting yelled at and having the door slammed on me by the Center’s manager for talking to her about Jesus I thought it would be wise to wait a week to see what would happen. In the meantime, I tried to arrange a mediation with a common friend, but that never materialized.

I considered my legal options, and thought about having a lawyer send a letter, but changed my mind. A good friend told me, “This is Texas. We try not to use lawyers if we don’t have to. We deal with one another one-on-one.”

So, that was my plan: One-on-one.

I waited one week.

The next week I was on vacation, so I couldn’t make it.

The following week I was sick.

After a 21 day hiatus, (Hey! Didn’t Daniel wrestle in prayer for three weeks before his request was answered?), I arrived at the Seniors Center with two of my friends—as witnesses, just in case.

The whole issue revolved around my handing out Gospel tracts or displaying them for all to see on the table. Should I bring them in? That’s what I’ve always done.

I did.

I put some trillion dollar bills in my vest pocket, and, after sitting down at the table, put a few “Are you a good person?” tracts on my bible—like always.

Then I waited.

There was no hushed silence. No dramatic music swelled in the background. No conspiratorial whispers could be heard. No one averted their eyes.

secret___whisper1

Spotting the manager, I smiled; it was not returned.

I engulfed my hot chicken-fried chicken and endured a cold shoulder.

An uneasy peace. Detente.

Romans 12:8 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

And that I will do. But I will not be silent about my Savior.

Ever.

My Commitment

March 24th, 2015 | Posted by Steve Sanchez in Hope Chapel Hill Country | TRACTS - (1 Comments)

I started my commitment today to invite ten people a day, five days a week, to Hope Chapel Hill Country​. Also, to engage in one Gospel-centered conversation each day as well.

I do this primarily by handing out a Gospel tract, (usually a trillion dollar bill or a Giant $100), along with a flyer containing our church info on it. I got a little out of the habit because, frankly, it is labor, at times humiliating, and, well, sometimes I just didn’t want to do it. The interesting thing is, more people visited when I handed out the invitations.

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Now, before you say, “Duh!” let me explain:

The vast majority of the visitors we have had–over 140 of them since opening January 5, 2013–did not come as a result of my inviting them. I believe that they came because God was sending them independent of my actions. I did the inviting, but God brought those He wanted. When I slowed down, he did, too.

Coincidence? I don’t think so. Christ said that He will build His church.

I just want to do my part.

STRANGE COINCIDENCE? The task of planting Hope Chapel Hill Country is an impossible one.

impossibleHave you noticed that people aren’t exactly clamoring to get into church? I invite them, evangelize regularly, have conversations and take people to lunch, but it’s hard soil.

I have been shut down from sharing my faith in three places in Dripping Springs: the east side, the west side and in the middle. An impossible task.

Then I read this quote: “When God wants to do an impossible task, He takes an impossible man and crushes him.”

That was meant for me. I can relate. I’m an impossible man. This is an impossible task.What sealed the “coincidence” for me though, was this was said in 1959…the year I was born, which really drove this truth home.

(Quote from Chuck Swindoll’s book, “Laugh Again,” as he heard it in Chapel from Dr. Alan Redpath, during his days at Dallas Theological Seminary.)
Image credit: Marvel Comics
activity-center

It was bound to happen: the showdown.

I lost. For now.

It had been brewing for some time because the manager never liked me.

Here’s a re-cap of what led to my getting the boot today:

On Wednesdays for over a year now, I head down to the Hill Country Senior Citizens Activity Center and mix it up with the old timers. These septo-, octo- and nonagenarians are firmly entrenched in their various denominations, but it doesn’t mean they are saved…and there isn’t much time left for many of them. I get to learn about their lives, their personal histories and the history of Dripping Springs itself, the place where I’m planting a church. One man said he’s a third generation Drippin’ man. “My family’s been here since 1880!”

activity-centerWhen I first visited I was introduced as the new pastor in town by the Center’s manager, but she forgot to mention our church. I noticed that all these old folks had to buss their own lunch dishes, so I started clearing their tables for them. At that point they started asking, “So, where is your church?”

There is a method to my madness: By meeting with the seniors, I hope after weeks and months to earn their trust. Perhaps they may even attend Hope Chapel Hill Country someday or recommend us to a friend or grand kid.

But one week I was called aside by the Center’s 76-year-old manager and warned that I couldn’t preach the Gospel there. She took me aside and told me that three people complained about my “preaching.”

“You see,” she explained, “even in a private conversation someone might overhear you and get offended.” She further explained that the Center gets government money and my preaching may put that in jeopardy.

I actually wasn’t preaching; just conversing about what I teach at our church, and then inviting them to come visit.

old folks

The next Wednesday a lady whispered to me, “I’m surprised that you are back here after what you were told last week. I overheard your conversation with the manager,” as we scraped the after-lunch dishes together.

“So, you are on my side?” I asked, conspiratorially.

“Yes I am,” she assured.

“Why do you think she said that to me?”

She looked around and spoke in a whisper. “I can’t really talk about it, but, let’s just say that some people are nicer than others.”

elderly

In the ensuing weeks, I was called into the manager’s office and forbidden to pray and help people, too. “But I’m a pastor,” I protested, “that’s what I do!”

The manager replied, “Well, you can continue to do that, just don’t do it here!”

The next week, I brought herflowers flowers. I hid them behind my back and presented them. “Let’s start all over now that I know the rules,” I cheerfully said. She thanked me politely and stored them in her office.

I sat down to eat with the other seniors like I did every week, but this time there was a visitor. He was a forty-year-old man who had been saved for six months and was on fire. What could I do? I had to encourage him in the Lord. We talked and shared Scripture while keeping a wary eye on the manager. I told the young believer that I’d like to pray for him.

Outside.

I bussed the tables and after nearly everyone left, I approached the manager. “How’d I do?”

“So far so good,” she replied. “But the day’s not over yet.”

Every week, before lunch begins, someone is invited up front to give the blessing. This time, it was Pastor Cody.

I had heard good things about him. He’s a lay pastor at the local Methodist church where the manager attends. He was the “resident minister” at the Senior Center before I came. In fact, I arrived at the Center the very week he stopped going.

Thankfully, he was a true man of God.

cody

Here’s the rub: Before he prayed, he spoke in the microphone about the necessity of belonging to Jesus Christ and urged people to live for him. He preached out of John chapter 4, explaining that Jesus had Living Water for all, then prayed a God-glorifying prayer. In short, it was an out-and-out evangelical message, the type of message I was warned not to talk about.

I spoke with Cody briefly afterward, and it turns out before he went to the Methodist church, he went to a fellowship that met…at the same location where Hope Chapel Hill Country meets!!!

But why am I forbidden to speak in the name of Jesus privately while he’s able to publicly proclaim him loudly?

I don’t know, but as long as Christ was preached, I was happy.

After lunch, a little old lady asked if I could help her move a TV set for a legally blind man. I said yes. I’m there to help. Then, I prayed for a young woman who had an early onset of Alzheimer’s.

At the gym, another elderly lady recognized me and offered this encouragement: “It’s not what you say, it’s what you are doing.” She assured me that she knew what was going on.

Six visitors have visited our church since I’ve been going there. Two attend regularly. One man has become a good friend. Progress….

I offered to pray for one of these attenders at the Senior Center but she stopped me from doing so. “We better go outside.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I’ve been reading your blog.”

“How did you know about my blog?”

“It was on the back of the bulletin you gave us last Sunday; seems like you cause trouble everywhere you go,” she said with a smile. “Jesus caused trouble, too.”

Before I prayed for her, another woman stopped me to say how God healed her of a cancerous tumor after I prayed for her several weeks before. “They were going to cut me open, but when the doctor checked me, he said everything was gone. I want to give God all the glory after you prayed for me.”garth

It’s now been over seven months since I’ve written about the Senior Center because all has been calm. I have employed a strategy where I keep Gospel tracts in my vest pocket and when people see them, I invite them to take one.

They do.

Even better, my friend Garth keeps them in his pocket and is more than happy to hand them out. Boo-Yah!

Then, today, a skirmish turned into an all-out war.

I usually like to keep a Bible with my Gospel tracts on top of the lunch table while we eat. But this day, manager noticed them, pulled me aside and said that I couldn’t have them displayed like that. “Why not? You told me I can’t hand them out and I haven’t,” I graciously replied. “I don’t have to put them away, you know. Yet, for you, I will.” I smiled at her.

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But it burned my bucket.

I was resolved to ask her why she was so against me, my tracts, and even the Gospel, before I left.

Lunch ended. I waited for the people to clear out, then headed for her office. “Why don’t you like these Gospel tracts? There are people in here that are headed for Hell, many don’t have much time left, and they need to hear the Good News.”

“Everyone in here is a Christian,” the manager replied.

“Jesus said that the road is very narrow and few find it,” I countered.

“I hate those things. They do no good. They are phony and people get irritated at you for handing them out.”

“People always get irritated at me. And Billy Graham himself said that nothing sows the seed of the Gospel like a good tract.”

“Still, I don’t want you handing them out. Since I met you I knew there was just something wrong about you. You are the only pastor who has ever handed those things out.”

“That’s why I do it!” I then made a transition to her spiritual condition: “Where are you going when you die?”

“Heaven,” she replied.

“Why?”

“Because I’m me!”

“Because you are you? Are you a good person?”

“Nobody can be good enough. You need Jesus.”

I did not think that she really believed that, what with her comment that everyone is going to Heaven and her constant suppression of my attempts to talk to people about the Savior.

“Yes, we all need Jesus. Still, I’m concerned for you.” (I was, too. I love this lady.) Then I trespassed on her holy ground by very gently saying, “I’m concerned for you because it doesn’t seem like you are walking with the Lord.”

That done it, y’all.

“GET OUT! GET OUT OF HERE!” she shouted. “AND NEVER COME BACK HERE!!!

I scurried out of her office.

BAM! The door slammed shut behind me.

The cafeteria workers were silent as they shot me a knowing look. The few stragglers in the lunch room remained quiet and averted their eyes.

I sheepishly walked out vowing to myself to return the next week.

And I will, you bet. I will.

(I returned three weeks later to this unexpected reception. Read it by clicking here.)

Why I Enjoyed Harry Potter

February 23rd, 2015 | Posted by Steve Sanchez in Culture - (5 Comments)

I just finished reading my first Harry Potter book last night…and loved it!

harryIt’s whimsical, creative, fun, witty, well-written, and has some neat, unexpected twists with no sex or bad language and is a classic story of good versus evil, with good triumphing in the end.

no potterThe downside? It’s about good witches and wizards versus bad witches and wizards. And that, many Christians will say, is the reason no professing believer should read it.

I didn’t for many years because of the witch/wizard (which wizard?) factor.

I didn’t because of the Christian anti-Potter hype.

I didn’t, because, well, did I really want to participate in…in…evil and sorcery and magic spells?

Then I thought about how much I enjoyed Star Wars. A fun, creative, well-written tale with some unexpected twists, a classic story of good versus evil, with good triumphing in the end. It didn’t have good and bad witches and wizards; it had good and bad forces. And magic! There wasn’t much in the way of a Christian message either. In fact, the main point of the movie was about trusting in our feelings, not faith in the One True God.

Was there an outpouring of wrath from the Christian community about this film? Possibly, but I missed it. I do know this: Almost everyone who has watched the Star Wars series loved it, except for the latter three films, of course. (And if there was ever a hell-bent minion, you couldn’t find a more depraved specimen than Jar Jar Binks.)

jarThen I thought about The Wizard of Oz. Fun, creative. But… magic and witches and midgets, Oh my!

I won’t even mention The Lord of the Rings, with it’s over the top PG-13-pushing violence,aragorn1 decapitations and blood-thirsty orcs, another classic tale of good versus evil, without much wit or fun—with a Christian message in the books—but altogether scrubbed from the films (unless you look really hard and show lots of grace to writer/director Peter Jackson).

I believe the Christian community embraced those films, didn’t they?

But Harry Potter? Now, that’s a  whole ‘nother ball game….

Or is it?

It is now considered a modern classic, beloved by millions around the world. Is it Christian? No.

Are their Christian themes? Yes: Courage. Selflessness. Sacrifice. Even a happy ending!

We do have freedom in Christ. If Harry Potter is not for you, then simply do not read it. But please, don’t judge me by your standards; I hope to not judge you.

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. (Romans 14:1-4, NIV)

I consider myself mature. I am discerning. I do know right from wrong. I love the Bible, Jesus, and am still sold-out for Him, even after reading—and enjoying—the first Harry Potter novel.

Believe it or not I do not feel inclined at all to buy a black hat and preach in a long, black robe. I won’t engage in magic, but will continue to pray, trust God, do good…and check out the second Harry Potter novel at my local library.

For another perspective on why the  Harry Potter series are “good” books, versus “great” books, click here to read “Harry Potter and the Attack of the Critics.”

The Meat Guy

February 4th, 2015 | Posted by Steve Sanchez in Bits 'n Preaches - (1 Comments)
Meat cow

A MEAT GUY dropped into Hope Chapel Hill Country  while I was in my office and wanted to sell me some “extra cuts” he had on hand. I declined because my wife and youngest daughter are vegetarians, and, besides, I had no freezer to store the “extra cuts.” (I was severely tempted at $3.00 a cut for Filet Mignon, though).

MEAAAT In return, I gave him the “meat” of the Gospel and explained that I used to sell “extra stereos” out of the back of my car before I gave my life to Jesus. Of course, he said he was a Christian, and, of course, he wasn’t involved in any church, and so, of course, I invited him to ours.

Perhaps someday he’ll stop by and we can chew the fat.

My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.
(John 4:34 KJV)

Why I Cried

January 29th, 2015 | Posted by Steve Sanchez in 50 Million+ - (0 Comments)
wesley baby

I got an email the other day from Ray Comfort and his ministry Way of the Master reminding me of the 42nd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that has allowed over 56 million babies to be murdered.

When I read it I was conscience-stricken. Why?

abortWhile living in L.A. I was very active in Pro-Life ministry on the campuses, at our local abortuary, handing out 180 Movies (www.180Movie.com), and even starting a class called “Abortion is About God: Reframing a Moral Issue” by John Piper, with the end-view of having a thriving Pro-Life activism ministry formed at my former church.

babies2But then I was called to Texas to plant Hope Chapel Hill Country and my whole focus changed.

At the time that I moved here there were only six abortion clinics operating in the entire state due to anti-abortion legislation that was passed here. Since it’s appeal, there are now about 19. But my focus was on our church plant. When I got the email  my heart was struck and I repented of my inaction.

Now, I’m back in the saddle.

I may not be active physically these days in front of the murder-mills, but I will renew my ministry of reminding: Abortion is murder, yet God forgives murderers through His Son, Jesus.

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You can read a short overview of the abortion issue from a sermon I preached on January 25, 2015, by clicking here.

Saving President Obama

January 8th, 2015 | Posted by Steve Sanchez in TRACTS - (0 Comments)

One of my favorite Gospel tracts while living in liberal L. A. was The Presidential Trillion featuring Barack Obama (now out of print). I still have a quantity of them, but in Texas, where I currently reside, they aren’t so easy to give away unless I go to Austin. Still, I found a new use for them: as bookmarks! Now, as I read my Bible daily, instead of kvetching about Mr. Obama’s policies, I am reminded to pray for our President instead.obamaThat’s why I’m personally saving Obama…the tract, that is.

Since I’ve moved to Texas to plant Hope Chapel Hill Country, many people have asked how it’s going. The answer is best summed up by two devotionals I read on December 20 & December 21. Please read these and pray for me and my family accordingly. But understand, I am rejoicing in Christ my Savior and am in a position where I have to trust more than ever before.

alone

Streams in the Desert, December 20:

Look, a time is coming – and has come – when you will be scattered, each one to his own home, and I will be left alone. Yet I am not alone, because my Father is with me. —John 16:32

It need not be said that to carry out conviction into action is a costly sacrifice. It may make necessary renunciations and separations which leave one to feel a strange sense of both  deprivation and loneliness. But he who will fly, as an eagle does, into the higher levels where cloudless day abides, and live in the sunshine of God, must be content to live a comparatively lonely life.

No bird is so solitary as the eagle. Eagles never fly in flocks; one, or at most two, ever being seen at once. But the life that is lived for God, however it forfeits human companionship, knows Divine fellowship.

God seeks eagle-men. No man ever comes into a realization of the best things of God, who does not, upon the Godward side of his life, learn to walk alone with God. We find Abraham alone in Horeb upon the heights, but Lot, dwelling in Sodom. Moses, skilled in all the wisdom of Egypt must go forty years into the desert alone with God. Paul, who was filled with Greek learning and had also sat at the feet of Gamaliel, must go into Arabia and learn the desert life with God.

Let God isolate us. I do not mean the isolation of a monastery. In this isolating experience He develops an independence of faith and life so that the soul needs no longer the constant help, prayer, faith or attention of his friends and family. Such assistance and inspiration from others are necessary and have their place in the Christian’s development, but there comes a time when they act as a direct hindrance to the individual’s faith and welfare. God knows how to change the circumstances in order to give us an isolating experience. We yield to God and He takes us through something, and when it is over, those about us, who are no less loved than before, are no longer depended upon. We realize that He has wrought some things in us, and that the wings of our souls have learned to beat the upper air.

We must dare to be alone. Jacob must be left alone if the Angel of God is to whisper in his ear the mystic name of Shiloh; Daniel must be left alone if he is to see celestial visions; John must be banished to Patmos if he is deeply to take and firmly to keep “the print of heaven.”

He treads the wine-press alone. Are we prepared for a “splendid isolation” rather than fail Him?

So has it been hard? Yes. Lonely? Yes. Has God been faithful in the midst of it? Yes. He has me in this place so that he will demonstrate that he can be trusted. And I was reminded of this as I read from the same devotional the following day.

Streams in the Desert, December 21:

“…I will give him and his descendants the territory on which he has walked, because he has wholeheartedly followed me.” -Deuteronomy 1:36

Every hard duty that lies in your path, that you would rather not do, that it will cost you pain and struggle or sore effort to do, has a blessing in it. Not to do it, at whatever cost, is to miss the blessing.

Every hard piece of road on which you see the Master’s shoe-prints and along which He bids you follow Him, surely leads to blessing, which you cannot get if you cannot go over the steep, thorny path.

Every point of battle to which you come, where you must draw your sword and fight the enemy, has a possible victory which will prove a rich blessing to your life. Every heavy load that you are called to lift hides in itself some strange secret of strength. —J. R. Miller

scam

“HELP! I’M STUCK IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY AND NEED MONEY!”

I just received one those cheesy messages from a friend’s hacked email account. But, instead of deleting it, I redeemed it. This is how….

FIRST, HERE’S THE MESSAGE: “I Hope you get this on time, I made a trip to (Turkey) and had my bag stolen from me with my passport and personal effects therein. The embassy has just issued me a temporary passport but I have to pay for a ticket and settle my hotel bills with the Manager.

“I have made contact with my bank but it would take me 3-5 working days to access funds in my account, the bad news is my flight will be leaving very soon but I am having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won’t let me leave until I settle the bills, I need your help/LOAN financially and I promise to make the refund once I get back home, you are my last resort and hope, Please let me know if I can count on you and I need you to keep checking your email because it’s the only way I can reach you.”

spammer

HERE IS HOW I RESPONDED: “Oh no! What can I do? How much do you need? Can I send it to you tomorrow? That is such a bummer.”

THE SCAMMER’S REPLY: “I’m so glad to read from you, thanks so much for your concern,All i need is ($2,750).You can have the money wired to me via Western Union.Have it wired to my name and present location, here are the details you need to have it wired to me..”

“Name : W________ S________
Address: Ebusuud Street 18 Sirkeci, Fatih, Istanbul
Country: Turkey
Amount : $2,750

“Kindly visit any Western Union outlet or Walmart close to you and go ahead with the wire transfer and show them the address you and present location you are sending the money.

“Once you are done kindly e-mail me the Confirmation details (MTCN) for the pick up of the funds.

“Let me know as soon as you are heading out to the Western Union Outlet.”

MY RESPONSE: “Is that all you need? Would $5,000.00 be better, to give you a little extra cash if you need it? Please let me know soon. I sure hope you are okay. What a tragedy! Nothing worse than being stranded in a foreign country. Wow!”

SCAMMER’S REPLY: “Glad you willing to help…that all i need at the moment keep me posted as soon you have it done email the transfer details. I owe you alot.”

HERE’S MY COUP DE GRACE RESPONSE: “That’s what friends are for. First, though, please click this link and tell me what you think.Then I will proceed. I know I’ve given this test to you before, W________, and you’ve passed, but I want to make sure. I will let you know! Blessings! (And hang in there. Help is on its way!)”

WHAT I DID: The link I provided was for www.NeedGod.com, but I hid it from the Scammer. Will they answer these questions honestly? 1. Have you ever told a lie? 4. Have you ever stolen anything (no matter how small)?

THE SCAMMER’S RESPONSE: None. That was the end of the email exchange.

But, good news! As I am writing this post, I just received another email from a friend stuck in…Manila!

******

Now learn how to deal with telemarketers by clicking  “Telemarketer Payback Time.”

Images courtesy of MediaBistro.com, Seagirtpd.net
unbroke

I had the opportunity to attend a preview of director Angelina Jolie’s film “Unbroken.” I say Jolie’s film, because she made sure that Louis Zamperini’s faith, which was featured prominently in Laura Hillenbrand’s excellent book, was reduced to an inoffensive, feel-good type of belief.

Though well-made and interesting as a Prisoner-of War film, it was ultimately a disappointment as “a true story.”

unbroken 2As the Religion News Service reported:

Angelina Jolie’s highly anticipated film “Unbroken” features the true story of an Olympian and World War II veteran who was only able to extend forgiveness to his captors after he encountered Christianity.

The problem? The Christianity that is central to Louis Zamperini’s life is almost entirely absent from the film.

“Unbroken” features the real-life story of Zamperini, whose plane crashed in the Pacific during World War II. After spending 47 days adrift at sea, he spent two years as a Japanese prisoner of war.

Louis_Zamperini_at_announcement_of_2015_Tournament_of_Roses_Grand_MarshalAfter the war, he wrestled with addiction and his marriage nearly ended in divorce. All that changed in 1949, when he attended a Los Angeles crusade by an up-and-coming evangelist named Billy Graham. The two would team up together during later crusades.

louiszThe film doesn’t ignore faith, but it includes no mention of Jesus or Graham. Faith is portrayed more generically — unlike the 2010 book by Hillenbrand (she also wrote the best-selling “Seabiscuit”), which was praised by Christian readers for capturing the drama of Zamperini’s conversion.

And no wonder that Jesus is not mentioned, (except as a curse word), in the film. Here’s Jolie’s view of faith and God:Jolie

There doesn’t need to be a God for me. There’s something in people that’s spiritual, that’s godlike. I don’t feel like doing things just because people say things, but I also don’t really know if it’s better to just not believe in anything, either. (From Celebatheist)

Her hubby, Brad Pitt, essentially has the same view as well:Brad_Pitt_PF

When I got untethered from the comfort of religion, it wasn’t a loss of faith for me, it was a discovery of self,” he says. “I had faith that I’m capable enough to handle any situation. There’s peace in understanding that I have only one life, here and now, and I’m responsible.” (From Parade magazine, October 2, 2007)

He told the Daily News, “I’m probably 20 percent atheist and 80 percent agnostic.”

So, it’s no wonder that “Unbroken” is more of a movie about one man’s perseverance against adversity, a pull-yourself-up-by your-bootstraps film, than it is about the real test of courage: to live for Jesus in a God-hating world.

So what did Jolie leave out? WORLD magazine reported this in an interview with Zamperini earlier this year:

…Zamperini talked about Billy Graham. The veteran’s appearance at the Billy Graham Library that morning carried special significance for Zamperini: He became a Christian during a Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles in 1949.

A huge, black-and-white photo of a young Graham preaching to thousands hung on the wall as Zamperini remembered his conversion to Christianity. He had returned from the war traumatized and depressed from the extreme abuse he endured, and he had turned to alcohol for relief. He initially resisted his wife’s suggestions that the pair attend Graham’s tent meeting, but he eventually relented.

Hillenbrand located the sermon Graham preached that October evening in 1949, (listen to it here), and included the scene in Unbroken. As Zamperini battled anger and bitter memories of the hellish ordeal of war, Graham preached: “Here tonight, there’s a drowning man, a drowning boy, a drowning girl that is out lost in the sea of life.”

RNS-GRAHAM-LA bThe next night, Zamperini returned to the tent, and Graham again preached the gospel of salvation from sin through faith in Christ. This time Zamperini responded. He and his wife both embraced Christ.

Zamperini said he was thankful for Graham’s ministry, and thrilled that Hillenbrand included the account in her book.

EVANGELIST BILLY GRAHAM CRUSADETo not have included Zamperini’s faith in Christ, is to deny the true reality of why he had to go through what he went through.

It’s a coup de without grace; an hors minus d’oeuvres; a concerto forgetting the finale.

It’s a fairy tale with the last page torn out, a marathon without a finish line, the crucifixion without a resurrection.

Without an understanding that Zamperini saw himself as a sinner, one who had broken all of God’s Commandments and was therefore guilty and condemned to Hell, reduces his life to just entertainment, another survivor’s tale, the triumph of the will without triumph of the Spirit.

Everyone needs to know how they have fallen short of God’s glory. All must understand that if they have told one lie, that makes them a liar, one theft, a thief, one utterance of God’s name as a curse word is blasphemy, and one lustful look, one hateful thought convicts them as an adulterer and murderer. On Judgment Day, God will find them guilty and send them to Hell for all eternity.

The truly great news that was left out of “Unbroken”, is that God forgives. When Louis Zamperini put his faith in Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, who died on a cross, was buried for three days and rose again, when Zamperini turned away from his sins to demonstrate how he trusted Christ, he was a new creation: the old is gone, the new had come.

Because he was forgiven, he had the power to forgive his Japanese captors. That was how he was able to “make peace” as the movie said in the end credits, with his enemies. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. When we were God’s enemies, Christ died for us. Because Louis Zamperini was forgiven, he was now able to forgive.

What Angelina Jolie did with her film was unforgivable.

WORLD magazine reporter Jamie Dean concluded her interview with Zamperini in this way:

I asked Zamperini—who maintained a devout Christian faith and service throughout the rest of his life—how important it was for the story of his conversion and faith to make it into the book. His reply was simple: “There wouldn’t be a book without it.”

Zamperini saw his conversion as the hinge for all that went before it, and all that followed in his long life. He wanted as many other people as possible to hear about salvation through Christ through his own story: “That’s the message of the book.”

Sadly, this was not the message of the film.

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P.S. When the movie comes out on Christmas day people will Google to find our more about Louis Zamperini. If you’d share this link and ask your friends to click on it, it will show up higher on Google’s search, and the Gospel will be further proclaimed. Thanks.

P.P.S. I grew up in Zamperini’s hometown, Torrance, the first twenty-five years of my life, and, as a pastor, was responsible for the people who lived in that city who attended Hope Chapel, Hermosa Beach. I was always curious as to why Torrance Airport was called Zamperini Field. Now I know.

Should you see the movie? Sure. Just understand that it’s not the whole story. Even better, read the wonderful book.

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Listen and watch “What Hollywood Believes” by clicking here, and discover the personal beliefs of Jim Carrey, Britney Spears, Bruce Willis, Jack Nicholson and over 100 top celebrities. Buy the book for 4 bucks by clicking here.

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Now, watch HOLLYWOOD AND GOD!

*****You can also watch “Captured By Grace,” subtitled “After Unbroken: The Rest of the Louis Zamperini Story,” put out by The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Click here to get the DVD.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons, The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

This is the incredible story of Mitsuo Fuchida, lead pilot of the December 7, 1941, raid on Pearl Harbor. Fuchida was the one who shouted the war cry, “Tora, Tora, Tora!”

Mitsuo Fuchida fought the United States throughout WWII and was intimately involved in the planning and leadership of the Japanese war effort as flight commander and later as a senior operations officer.

After the war, Fuchida was a defeated warrior in occupied Japan, farming to meet the needs of his family. He was also the only one to return to Japan after the bombing.

In 1950, Fuchida miraculously came to know Jesus Christ as Savior through a tract handed to him while exiting a train in Tokyo. The tract was entitled, “I Was a Prisoner of Japan,” written by Jacob DeShazer who was one of the famous Doolittle Raiders. DeShazer trusted Christ as his Savior while held captive by Japan for 40 months. DeShazer went to Japan in 1948 as a missionary and preached to the nation who held him captive.

Fuchida faithfully served Jesus Christ as an evangelist until his death in 1976. “From Pearl Harbor to Golgotha” is Fuchida’s testimony of salvation. Here it is in his own words:

I must admit I was more excited than usual as I awoke that morning at 3:00 a.m., Hawaii time, four days past my thirty-ninth birthday. Our six aircraft carriers were positioned 230 miles north of Oahu Island. As general commander of the air squadron, I made last-minute checks on the intelligence information reports in the operations room before going to warm up my single-engine, three-seater “97-type” plane used for level bombing and torpedo flying.

The sunrise in the east was magnificent above the white clouds as I led 360 planes towards Hawaii at an altitude of 3,000 meters. I knew my objective: to surprise and cripple the American naval force in the Pacific. But I fretted about being thwarted should some of the U.S. battleships not be there. I gave no thought of the possibility of this attack breaking open a mortal confrontation with the United States. I was only concerned about making a military success.  (more…)

Here’s a touching excerpt about how Pearl Harbor survivor Joe Morgan forgave the Japanese after the naval commander, Mitsuo Fuchida, who led the attack on Pearl Harbor, spoke on the island of Maui ten years after the war:

Shortly after the attack, Joe was transferred to another unit on Maui while his previous unit was sent to the South Pacific where it suffered heavy casualties. Joe felt God had a reason for protecting him, and the only wound he carried from the war was his hatred turned animosity for the Japanese.

He never hated Japanese Americans who abound in Hawaii, just those from Japan. Two years into his Wailuku pastorate, Joe heard that Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese naval commander who led the attack on Pearl Harbor, was speaking on Maui.

“He was flying high above my head that day, giving orders to his pilots over the radio,” Joe recalls in his written account.

Fuchida, however, had become a Christian after meeting a former prisoner of war who had returned to post-war Japan as a missionary. Joe felt the animosity resurface and didn’t know “whether to shake Fuchida’s hand or shoot him” if they ever met. (more…)

On December 1, 1990, I was still dead in my sins, thinking I was a good person. I was right with the Man upstairs and I had no fears because I knew I was living my life the way I was supposed to: as a drug-abusing, womanizing, gambling thief.

But everything changed the next day when I looked up, knelt down and bowed my head in submission to Jesus Christ.

broken-chains-manIt’s a good thing He didn’t tell me what was going to happen over the ensuing 24 years because I may not have chosen this path. Thank God He chose me. I can, like the Apostle Paul, say this whole-heartedly:

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

My story before I became a Christian is a crazy one. I was a meth addict who sold stereos out of the back of my car in the desert. I was robbed at shotgun point by dealers. I had my face smashed against a steering wheel…and I ultimately challenged the devil to show himself in a field at midnight. I guarantee you that you will not be bored when you listen.

Please listen to my very eventful and entertaining testimony as shared on KDRP Radio by clicking here.

Image Credit: DBO4

Church Planting 101

November 12th, 2014 | Posted by Steve Sanchez in Hope Chapel Hill Country - (2 Comments)

One of the things I’m learning to do is to do everything, (and in a church plant, I pretty much have to do everything), to the glory of God…including the mopping of Hope Chapel Hill Country’s church floor.

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THIS IS THE STORY OF THE JOEL AND VICTORIA OSTEEN BIBLE and why I offered a $100 to buy it.

osteen4I asked a new friend of mine what Bible he was reading. He went out to his truck and showed me the “Hope for Today Bible” by the Osteens.

I think I overreacted.

I told him to give it to me right then and there so I could throw it away because the Osteens do not teach in accordance with the truth. I actually used stronger language and included the word “heretical”. (See a 60 second example below.)

He was reluctant to give it to me because he paid a hundred greenbacks for it in response to one of their money-osteen3grubbing pleas. So, I offered to buy it from him for the same amount and give him a solid Study Bible to replace it.

He hemmed and hawed.

“Tell you what. Think about it until Sunday, then you can decide what to do,” I requested.

Sunday came and he gave it to me, no charge. I gave him the Study Bible and a reading assignment: Read one chapter a day in the New Testament. When he finished, I would buy him a brand new leather bound edition.

I’m going to place the “Osteen” in my Bible collection next to the Robert Schuller “Possibilty Thinkers Bible” and the Book of Mormon.

1 Timothy 4:1-2: The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.

Pastor Steve Died

October 9th, 2014 | Posted by Steve Sanchez in News - (0 Comments)

From a Facebook post: “Still doesn’t feel real that Pastor Steve has passed away so suddenly…but God knows the span of our life. It was his day to go home.”grave

My friend’s wife panicked when she read this on Facebook. She told her husband who was also shocked. He wondered why I hadn’t shown up for a Chamber of Commerce luncheon and now knew the reason: I died.

Needless to say, reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

Still, a very influential pastor did die: Pastor Steve Mays of Calvary Chapel South Bay. I used to listen to his broadcast, “Light of the Word” on the radio, and many of my friends went to his church, which was just about twenty minutes from where I used to live in L.A.

It was a sudden death. Pastor Steve went in for back surgery, a blood clot formed, then he went to meet Jesus.

Bittersweet.

Bitter for those who loved him, sweet for him because he gets to rest in the everlasting arms forever. This is the hope that all have, no matter their background, no matter their skeletons, no matter their sins.

CroppedFocusedImage695364-steve-mays-finalBefore he became one of the original founding pastors of the Calvary Chapel Movement in the 70s, Pastor Steve had a multitude of skeletons and sins in his closet. Read this short article about his life from a blog called “God Running.” I cried and thanked God for his mercy. Perhaps, you will, too. Here’s an excerpt:

“Steve’s life was often heavy with suffering. He battled drug addiction as a teenager which led to a series of strange and destructive events while he was still living at home with his father and mother. One time when Steve’s parents came home, as they opened their front door, water gushed out. Steve turned their house into a swimming pool by stuffing towels under the exterior doors and filling the place up with water. They found him in the living room smoking a pencil. He was completely oblivious. Instead of acknowledging the damage he’d done, he talked to them about the show he was watching on TV–but the TV was turned off.

“Another time Steve’s parents arrived home to find him fixing a meal for a friend who lived inside the clock hanging on the kitchen wall.

“Another time he terrorized his parents by angrily pacing around the house while swinging a machete.

“The bewildering thing about Steve’s behavior was that he was a normal kid until junior high school. His parents didn’t know it but during that time in junior high he was….Click here to read the rest of the article.

I have a new Pentecostal friend who has proven to me that he walks with the Lord.

I met Amalio a few weeks ago when I was searching for a contractor to help put in new flooring in our church building due to a flood from a neighboring business. Also, I needed some minor remodeling done.

The first contractor I met gave me a quote of $12,000.00,  a bit more than I could afford. The second man surveyed the space, wrote down some figures but never got back to me. The third also had a quote that was too high.

Cost of house constructionI did not know what to do so I called a former congregant who was a handyman and he suggested Amalio. When I met him he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: He would provide me with two days’ free labor if I purchased the materials at Home Depot.

DEAL!

“But why would you do this, Amalio, you don’t even know me!”

He looked at the walls of Hope Chapel Hill Country, smiled, and said, “It’s for God’s Kingdom!”

“Let me pay you, though; what is your daily rate?”

“No, I can’t,” Amalio insisted, “I believe God wants me to do this for free.”

And he did. Top notch high quality work! I bought Amalio and his co-worker lunch each day and he could not stop talking about Jesus. His eyes would light up; he was enthusiastic; he had joy, joy, joy, joy, down in his heart—that bubbled up to his face.

Yes. Amalio was a Christian anomaly.

I instantly felt a bond with this brother and we spent so much time encouraging each other that week, I had to work extra hours on Saturday to get my sermon done for Sunday.

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:25)

He said he would pray for our little congregation, then asked, “Do you ever get dreams and visions?”

800px-Michael_Lukas_Leopold_Willmann_001“Not really,” I replied. “I hardly even remember my dreams. I believe God speaks primarily through his Word and I just try and obey what I read. I’m not opposed to dreams or visions, it’s just that God doesn’t work that way with me.”

He told me I should pray for a dream. I shrugged silently to myself.

That night I dreamt: I was at Hope Chapel Hill Country’s building, but it looked very different, you know how dreams can be. There were about forty or fifty people having a good time, some had guitars and were playing them; moms had happy babies, it was a mixed age group and everyone was joy-filled. My daughter DD was in our sound booth trying to get everyone to settle down so we could start worship. I was in front trying to get everyone’s attention so I could preach.

Then I awoke.

I was encouraged. I was hopeful. I so wanted this dream to be true.

But was this dream from God?

Only time will tell.

In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
(Acts 2:17)

Image: schoenbergconstruction.com

You’ve heard about the Challenge. People from all walks of life, from George Bush to Dolly Parton, from Donald Trump to Bill Gates in (a slow-mo reverse intro). Heck, even Tom Cruise and John Travolta broke away from their Scientology commitments to take it up! Sadly, President Obama couldn’t find the time between golf games, fund-raising parties and fighting terrorists to do it. (But wait! It appears that he did do it! Click here.

ice 3Though it’s for a good cause, I do have an issue with the ALS Foundation’s use of embryonic stem cells for its research, so I decided to do a very different type of Challenge. If you are a believer, perhaps you will challenge yourself!

I found this video to be very inspirational, encouraging and downright useful when challenging those who say we were never a Christian nation.