Monday, October 31, 2011

Pastor Appreciation Day at Church

Yesterday was Pastor Appreciation Day at The Vision Plus Church, but let's start with our trip to the Pumpkin Patch last Friday.

Crystal and Shawn asked us (me, Sondra and David) to meet them at the sprawling Pumpkin Patch farm in Yucaipa (30 miles from our house) last Friday morning.  There were hundreds of children on school field trips, so it was rather busy but fun.  There was a petting zoo, a display of thousands of pumpkins of different varieties, and a castle made of hay bales.  It was a very nice outing, with great sunny weather and all.

After spending a few hours at the Pumpkin Patch, we drove up to Oak Glen (about 15 miles north of Yucaipa in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains) to the apple farms there.  We ate at Apple Annie's and had some delicious apple turnovers (David had an apple empanada!).  Before leaving the area, Sondra went inside at the Los Rios Rancho apple farm store to buy some apple butter and pumpkin butter.

Sunday was indeed set aside for Pastor Appreciation Day.  One of the ladies in the church (Lynn Peters) coordinated a thoughtful time of presentations, not only to the pastors on staff (all volunteer) but also to the ministry teams that serve faithfully throughout the year.  I was given a gift basket with "goodies" in addition to a couple of beautiful cards.  One card had a gift certificate for Black Angus Restaurant and the other had a gift certificate for a local Mexican restaurant.

My message was on the topic of the Pastor -- the call (personal and divine), the work (encouraging, equipping, evangelizing, praying), the risks (burnout, not feeling worthy or qualified or appreciated, low pay, misunderstandings), and the rewards (joy, peace, satisfaction, treasured friendships).  At the end of my sermon, I proclaimed my joy in my calling and my joy in pastoring this very church in Glen Avon.  Spontaneously, members began to stand and give a rousing time of applause.  It was special and heartwarming.  I feel so blessed.

Following the worship hour, we all gathered at the nearby Heritage Park for a church picnic.  There was so much food, it was unbelievable.  One person even commented aloud about the amazing spread of food we were able to share.  It was a bright, sunshiny day with a awesome time of fellowship with everyone.

Today (Monday), Sondra's brother Alden had his hernia surgery.  We got up around 4 am to get him to the VA hospital in Loma Linda by 5:45 am, which they scheduled for his check-in.  All went well with his surgery and he was back in his room resting comfortably by 10:30 am.  Around 11:30 am, he was ready to be discharged, so I went down to get the car to bring around to the entrance to pick him and Sondra up.  While at the entrance, there was a crowd gathered.  In the middle of a group was none other than Colin Powell!  I quickly got my cell phone and took a photo.  I was about 5 feet away from him and got a great picture.  It was rather exciting.

That's it for now.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Day in San Francisco

As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, two days ago (Wednesday) we took some time to have a day of sight-seeing in San Francisco and some surrounding areas.

Sondra and I lived in the Bay Area for almost 8 years -- going to school at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley (just north of S.F. across the Golden Gate Bridge), pastoring a mission church which evolved into a constituted church (Community Baptist Church of Hercules), working for Bechtel Petroleum in San Pablo and Rodeo, pastoring the First Baptist Church of Rodeo later, and Sondra working as a driver/courier in the entire Bay Area (San Francisco/Oakland).  This was during the years 1979 - 1986.  Crystal was born while I was a student at Seminary.  So, we have many wonderful memories of those days.

Sondra and I took on the role of tour guides for Pastor George Nelson and Pastor Abel Galvan for this little one-day jaunt this past Wednesday.  We got up early and had breakfast at the hotel.  Then we set off for Hercules, a little town just south of Vallejo in the East Bay.  We drove up Redwood Road to the house we lived in.  It has a little cul-de-sac court where the kids (Jason, Evan and Crystal) used to ride their bikes and play.

We then drove over the San Rafael-Richmond Bridge (past the San Quentin Prison) and down to the Seminary in Mill Valley.  Our good friend, Don Nason, works there as the Maintenance Supervisor and we got to spend a few moments with him.

We drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and parked at the visitor parking area, as we wanted to walk on the bridge to see the breath-taking view over the waters of the Pacific.  We drove through the Presidio and came up to the steep hills of the city.  We could see the famous Coit Tower and the Ghiradelli Chocolate Factory as we parked in the lot at the Wharf.  We looked over to Alcatraz, took some pictures and then had lunch at a restaurant on the Wharf -- shrimp, fish and chips, cole slaw and their famous sourdough bread!

After eeating, we drove through the Embarcadero area of downtown, seeing the Occupy San Francisco protests going on there.  We then crossed the Bay Bridge back to the Oakland side and headed home.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Back from Annual State Convention

Sondra and I returned late last night from a trip to the Bay Area.  The annual California Southern Baptist Convention was held Tuesday and Wednesday in Fremont, just south of Oakland.

But first, let me share about last week.  A week ago yesterday (Wednesday, October 19), we picked up my brother David from the local Ontario airport.  He flew back from Seattle, after spending a week there with his daughter Lisa.  It was a wonderful trip for him, especially since he has his passport in hand and is getting ready to move back to Chiapas, Mexico.

Last Thursday evening was a special night of fellowship with old friends.  Jim and Sandy Woolard, friends from our church days at First Baptist Church Rialto in the 1970s, live in San Bernardino and came over for dinner.  We had a great time of memories and laughter.

On Friday night, we drove over to Highland (about 20 minutes away) to visit our old friends Bobby and Torie Anderson..  They are both college friends when we attended California Baptist College, where I started my freshman year in 1968.  Bob truly has been one of my best friends over the years.  We did a great many things together, including a six-week backpacking trip across Europe in the summer of 1970.

Bobby's parents (Bob and Velma Anderson) live down the street from Bobby and Torie, so we went to their house to visit.  There were two times I lived with Bob and Velma (the parents).  The first time was for the month of December 1969 when I dropped out of school.  The second time was when Sondra and I returned from Germany in 1973, after I was honorably discharged from the Army.  We lived with the Andersons until we bought our first home in Rialto.  They are sweet and loving people.  Bob (the dad) now has Alzheimer's and has great difficulty with his memory.  We were saddened by his condition but delighted to share an evening with all four Andersons!

Saturday was the annual meeting of our Inland Empire Southern Baptist Association.  Our Pastor to the Homeless, "Big Jim" Ward, was there with his grand-daughter Hailey to sit at our booth for the Missions Fair.  I went to help and sat for a while, sharing with many about our ministry to the poor and disadvantaged homeless at Fairmount Park in Riverside.

                                                    "Big Jim" Ward at our Missions Fair booth

Sunday was a busy day with church.  There were quite a few who were sick with the flu and some out of town, but we had a good gathering with a great spirit of worship.  In the afternoon, Sondra and I took off to pick up Pastor George Nelson in Chatsworth (one of our mission churches in the Los Angeles area).  We picked him up and drove to Bakersfield for the evening.

We spent the night with Sondra's brother and his wife (Danny and Marci Langdon).  We had a relaxed evening catching up on family news and going to dinner for Chinese food (Great Castle Restaurant on Union Avenue).  We woke up early to head out for the Bay Area, as the annual Pastors' Conference began that day (Monday).  Pastor George had spent the night at the home of our other mission pastor, Pastor Michael Dotson.  Michael is starting the Vision Plus Church of Bakersfield.  So, we picked him up and got on Interstate 5, headed north.

After checking into our hotel in Hayward (just a few miles north of Fremont), we ate and then went to the Pastors' Conference.  Listening to the preaching and seeing old friends was a delight.  Tuesday morning the Pastors' Conference concluded.

The annual State Convention began on Tuesday at 1 pm.  It was interesting to see what issues were raised and how the convention continues to move forward to reach people and build churches.  The main reason we went was to see the Church Planter Recognition Service at the evening session.  There were around 80 pastors of new church starts that were presented one by one.  We had several to be proud of -- Pastor Michael Dotson of Bakersfield and Pastor George Nelson of Chatsworth.  In addition, Kirk Overstreet (son of my sister Marti) was there as he is starting a new church called Paradigm in Yucaipa, which meets on Saturday evenings.  Also, a man (Pastor Abel Galvan) who served with me in two of my churches (29 Palms and San Diego) as a Youth Pastor has begun a new mission church in Anaheim, and he was part of the special ceremony that night.

                                                   Pastor Kirk Overstreet of Paradigm, Yucaipa

                                                   Pastor Michael Dotson of The Vision Plus Church, Bakersfield

                                                   Pastor George Nelson of The Vision Plus Church2, Chatsworth

                                                   Galen and Pastor Abel Galvan of Elevation Church, Anaheim

Some long-time friends were there and we spent some time reminiscing the "old days" -- Rick Cunningham from Cal Baptist years, Tom Jones from both Cal Baptist and Golden Gate Seminary days, Robert Hendricks Sr. who is a former pastor of the Rialto church where I was licensed to the ministry. These and many other friends from college and seminary days made the trip special as it brought back special memories of the past years of ministry and education.

On Wednesday (yesterday), I played hooky from the convention (which was to close out at noon).  We took Pastor George and Pastor Abel into San Francisco for a sight-seeing day.  I will write about it in my next blog.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fun and Sun

Friday was a day at the races.  There are some men in the church who love to go out and have fun at outside events.  I was invited to go to the Santa Anita Racetrack with a group of three other men.  We are all older and love to have fun.  One of the men ("Big Jim") is a painter by trade, and he had some free tickets to the track given by the Vista Paint company.  It was the annual gathering of paint vendors and sponsorship of a "day at the races."  So, we got in free and also enjoyed a free lunch buffet.

On Saturday, I helped with a move for a couple in our church.  I asked a few of the guys in the Sober Living Program if they would help with the heavy lifting for the move and they were great.  We borrowed a medium-sized stake bed truck from Coronado Stone, and all the boxes and couches and tables fit!  It was actually a very smooth transition from a house in Ontario to Corona.  We got it all done fairly quickly and then took the guys to lunch.  I got a lot of sun that day!

Yesterday, our Sunday worship was a morning of music.  We hosted a concert by a small singing group called JOY from California Baptist University in Riverside.  These young people were enthusiastic, energetic, and spiritually-minded.  They expressed a love for the Lord both in song and in testimony.  They blessed us richly.

After the morning service, I was asked to go to the Southern California Fair in Perris (about 30 minutes away) to watch a Motorhome Demolition Derby at the dirt track there at the fairgrounds.  I had never heard of such a thing!  I agreed and went.  It was such an enjoyable evening, with perfect weather and good friends and an exciting time at the Fair.

First, they had a motorhome "jump."  A driver sped down the middle of the infield track at 60 mph and drove his mini-motorhome through two long motorhomes that were set up sideways.

Next, they had an Extreme Car Race (as they called it).  They had some old junkers drive down the straightaway backstretch of the track, driving around K-rail barriers on a water-soaked dirt track.  Cars crashed into each other as they wound through the maze of the barriers,  flats caused tires to come flying off, and they slid through the U-turns.  The race was six laps long.  It was fun to watch.

To close out the evening, they had the Motorhome Demolition Derby.  It was the first one ever.  They had six motorhomes.  They lined up three at one end and three at the other end.  They were to crash into each other by only driving backwards.  Those motorhomes did surely get beat up and tore up.  It's interesting how people are fascinated by destruction!  No one was hurt and it was very different, that's for sure!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fun Celebration at Giovanni's Pizza

This has been a special week.  My brother David completed his parole this last Tuesday.  We went to a little pizza joint in Upland and had a wonderful night of pizza, relaxation and celebration.  Sondra and I were joined by Crystal's family (Shawn, Bailey and little Brynnlee), Evan and his girlfriend Callie, and also Julie (Roger was getting some work done on their sailboat).

Earlier in the day, David submitted his paperwork for a passport and will be waiting anxiously for that to come.  Yesterday (Wednesday), he got on a flight to Seattle to see his daughter.  What a great reunion that will be!

Sondra is not looking forward to this morning (Thursday).  She has been summoned for jury duty.  She is hoping she is not chosen to serve this time, as she has served before.  We took care of the two grand-daughters yesterday afternoon as Shawn and Crystal both had dentist appointments.  Little Brynlee is only two weeks old and is great fun to hold.  Bailey continues to be a sweet older sister and is very helpful.

Last Sunday we had the Darren Ridings family in concert.  They were to be with us a couple of weeks ago, but it didnt'work out.  They are a fun family and enjoy our church immensely.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Movie "Courageous" and Religion

The movie "Courageous" just came out last Friday.  I had heard much about it through previews and interviews online and on some TV shows.  I even got some mail with some information about it, as I am a local pastor.  Last Sunday, a man in my church shared with me that he had seen it and encouraged me to watch it as well.  My mom and sister in Oklahoma went to see it and had great reports too.  I was going to see the movie anyway, so last night (Thursday) I took Sondra to the movie theater to see this new film.

The acting and the film-making aspects are quite good.  It was not top notch as Hollywood's blockbuster hits are concerned, but this movie was done extremely well.  In the past, Christian-based movied were terrible in the areas of acting and film sequence and dialogue.  This had a good script, and the movie was very entertaining as well as sobering in its content.  I won't tell the story, but the film dealt with issues of life and death, God's sovereignty, ethics and integrity, and (most importantly) the issue of faith.  It had you laughing at life, crying in the emotional scenes and then thoughtful in the challenge to a deeper faith.

After watching the movie, I was reminded of the "faith" issue as I read a friend's blog about Pascal's Wager.  This friend does not hold to the Christian faith, and rejects the the notion that we can have "evidence" to prove our religious beliefs.  The blog set my mind in motion about theology and logic and rational thinking.  In the theology of Pascal's Wager, there is a logic that Blaise Pascal wrote about in his famous book Pensees.  Pascal was a French philosopher and mathematician in the 1600s who formulated the suggestion that everyone should live as though they had faith, which would dismiss any irrational passions and would therefore lead them to genuine faith.  He specifically was talking about a faith in Jesus Christ.

Here is the logic:

1.  Either God is, or He is not.
2.  We are living life.  Because life is like a game, we can know that either heads or tails will turn up.
3.  According to rational reasoning and intellect, neither of these propositions can be defended.
4.  You have to make a choice, a wager, on what you will follow.  There are no other options than these two.
5.  The result of the wager (betting on your eternity) is to find that by gain (trusting there is a God), you gain all.  If you lose (because there is a God that you have not followed), you lose all.
6.  Therefore, you must wager without hesitation that God is.  If there is a God, you win.  You gain an eternity of joy.  If you lose (in the sense that there is no God), you have lost nothing because you have had the benefit of living with joyful purpose.

Trusting God, you cannot lose.  Even thinking in the rational mode, this makes sense.

If you wager on God's existence, and He win.
If you wager on God's existence, and He is do not lose.
     This is a win-win.  You cannot lose.

If you wager there is no God, and He lose.
If you wager there is no God, and He is do not lose. 
     This is a 50-50 chance of losing, by betting against God.  Is one willing to bet an eternity on this choice?

In my friend's blog, he quoted a former missionary who has turned from faith in God.  This former missionary looks at Pascal with disdain, saying that Christians need irrefutable evidence to follow the teachings of the faith.  The logic of this non-believer concludes that the ideas of heaven and hell are mere mechanisms to keep believers enslaved to the religious system.  How odd.  The atheist position keeps one enslaved to a life that is meaningless for eternity.  I am not willing to make that wager against my God who has given me irrefutable evidence of His love and grace.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Celebration Sunday in Chatsworth

We had a good service at our Vision Plus Church worship hour in Riverside yesterday (Sunday) morning.  The Spirit of God seemed to be very present again as several felt a peace and renewed hope in some very desperate situations of their lives.  It was a joy to see some back in church after surgeries and hospitalization.

The afternoon was an exciting time of celebration for The Vision Plus Church2 of Chatsworth, held on the grounds of the Sunrise Senior Center in West Hills (the city adjacent to Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles).  Pastor George Nelson, a church planter sent out from our church two years ago, not only holds a worship service every Sunday afternoon in Chatsworth but also preaches at the Sunrise Center every Sunday morning.  Basically, he pastors two church fellowships at the same time.  We are so proud of his efforts and dedication.

So, yesterday we drove down to the Celebration Service, in which the focus was on the Second Year Anniversary of the church start in Chatsworth.  The director of the Chatsworth Chamber of Commerce was there, as well as the the Director of the Sunrise Senior Center, and several other churches in the area were represented as well.  With great music and special songs and various presentations, the day went smooth with sunshine and clear skies.  George had asked me to be the keynote speaker for the afternoon, so I preached a short sermon on the topic of "We Have A Mission To Accomplish."  The day ended with refreshments and a good time of fellowship.

                                                    A sign was made to give a message of "congratulations" for the celebration

                                                    Pastor George Nelson gave a warm welcome to all in attendance

                                                   The senior center residents enjoyed the day, even bringing their pets

                                                    Pastor George's oldest brother sang a couple of songs

                                                   Pastor Galen brought the day's message for the celebration

                                                   Sondra is standing outside the back entrance to the Sunrise Center

                                                    David and George are enjoying the day

The drive back takes almost two hours and we had given a ride to a church member from the church, therefore we did not get home until almost 8 pm. We were tired but filled with joy. It was a wonderful day.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Getting Ready for the Weekend

I will be going to an Associational meeting this morning (Saturday) in downtown Riverside.  It is the monthly gathering of the church planters in the area.  There are usually about 15 pastors, old and young, who have been called and are serving in ministry to start brand new church congregations in the Inland Empire.  Since I have several from my church who are in the beginning stages of new Bible study groups and new church starts, I attend and encourage them.  My nephew, Kirk Overstreet, is usually in attendance as well.  (I got a text from him yesterday saying that little baby Ezekiel was finally going home, being Set Free from the hospital and all.....ha ha.....a play on words as he serves at a church named Set Free in Yucaipa.)  His dad, Don Overstreet, leads this monthly gathering of pastors and church planters.

This past week was full and exciting.

Monday, thankfully, was a nice day of rest and relaxation.

On Tuesday, Pastor George Nelson (our mission pastor who is starting a church in the Chatsworth/Los Angeles area) came by, and we went to the local Christian bookstore to purchase some needed items.  This Sunday he is holding his Second Annual Celebration for the start of his new ministry there in Chatsworth as he felt led to start a church.  So, this past Tuesday he came over and we discussed the events being planned, including a baptism on Friday.  George leads out in our Celebrate Recovery (12-step Christian based) program here in the Riverside area for a Clean and Sober Living Home.  It is where I am the director on a volunteer basis, in connection with the Coronado Stone manufacturing company in Fontana.  I attended the Celebrate Recovery meeting on Tuesday night with George.  I was greatly blessed as I listened to testimonies of those recently-released parolees talk about how our program and our church was helping them get their lives turned around, both in daily lives and in their spiritual lives.

Wednesday was a day in which we helped a very dear friend, K.L. Freeman.  He and his wife (who passed away several years ago) were like parents to us when we first moved to Rialto back in 1973, when I worked at Kaiser Steel.  We attended the local Southern Baptist church and the Freemans became family to us.  K.L. is now 80 and having a lot of health problems.  He needed a ride to the VA Hospital for an appointment and we spent most of the day just being there for him.  In between, we had lunch with his son, Greg, who owns a business in Chino.  In addition, we made some phone calls to a mom in our church who has a teenager attending the local Patriot High School (just a few blocks from our church).  The school was on lockdown that day (Wednesday) as a man came on campus in the parking lot, shot his ex-wife and then shot himself.  They both died.  It was a traumatic day for the school, understandably, and for all the parents!

On Thursday, I got up at 4 am, got ready and headed for Los Angeles.  It was a two-hour commute to meet a couple (Wayne and Lynn Peters) who had a 7:30 am appointment for Wayne's surgery that morning.  I stayed with them until 10:30 am, then came back and did some errands for the church on the way home.  We had made plans to go up to 29 Palms and visit friends that day, as some had built a relationship with my brother David over the years through letters and prayer.  So, David and Sondra and I headed up to 29 Palms (a two hour drive to the High Desert) around 1 pm to go spend time with these former church members.  We had a great time of fellowship and food (at a local Mexican restaurant) with Curt and Eva Compton, Doris Robinson and her nephew Michael, Jeanette Payne, and Gene and Pam Ressler.  We stayed until 9 pm, having a wonderful time of sharing memories and laughter.  We got home around 11 pm.

                                                       Curt and Eva Compton with David as he presents his book to them

                                                       Galen and Sondra at the Compton's house in 29 Palms

                                                       Curt and Eva Compton at the Mexican restaurant

                                                      Gene and Pam Ressler with us at the restaurant

                                                       Eva Compton and Doris Robinson at the close of dinner

                                                      Jeanette Payne sitting next to Doris Robinson's nephew, Michael

                                                       Pam, Sondra, Doris, Eva, Jeanette

                                                       Sondra, Jeanette, Doris, David, Galen

Yesterday was Friday.  I left early again to go back to Los Angeles for Pastor George's very first baptism!  This lady who was being baptized was a worker at the Sunrise Senior Center where George holds a weekly worship service for the elderly residents of the facility.  The baptism was being held in the swimming pool of the apartment complex where the lady lives!  It was awesome.  After that I went by the hospital close by to see Wayne Peters again, where he was staying after his surgery the previous day.  While all that was going on with me, David and Sondra were taking her brother Alden into the VA Loma Linda hospital for what they diagnosed as a hernia.  They were there most of the day, as Alden was seeing doctors and surgeons in preparation and planning for hernia surgery to be set on the calendar later.  We were all dragging and went to bed early last night!

                                                       Pastor George Nelson of The Vision Plus Church2 of Chatsworth

                                                      Pastor George and Jerrilynn getting ready for the baptism

                                                       Pastor George's very first baptism

                                                       Pastor George, Jerrilyn and Pastor Galen

Sleep is good.