Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Great Couch Debacle

In the past two years a number of Isla Vista buildings have undergone extensive renovation. Featuring gated access, swimming pools, tropical foliage and elegantly painted exteriors, these apartment "communities" feature on-site property managers and lush lawns free of discarded red cups.

It is to one of these apartment complexes that I found myself on a hot Sunday afternoon. My husband had found a large desk in the free section on Craigslist. He knew it would be perfect for a spot under our front window. That space was currently the home of a large green couch we didn't need so I quickly threw an ad online to see if it would sell.

Within twenty minutes we had a buyer and were headed into Isla Vista to deliver the couch, pick up the desk in Goleta and return to Isla Vista for church.

A happy trio of roommates met us at the curb of their snazzy apartment complex. My husband and I hefted the couch off the truck, through the gate, past the pool, and up the stairs. 

To my horror and dismay, the door to their apartment was in a corner of the stairwell triangulated with two others. There was no way this high-backed, deep-seated beast was going through that opening.

My husband and I angled and lifted and tilted the couch every which way and then some over and over again--all the while attempting to politely convince the girls that it was simply too large.

Call it optimism, call it naivete, call it desperation—whatever it was, they would not be daunted.

“How about if we tilt it up higher?" one suggested. "Let's beat off the wooden feet with a hammer!" said another. "We really, really want it" said the third.

My arms were screaming. We had spent 20 minutes lifting and turning and hoisting, unable to set the couch down between attempts because of an inconveniently located puddle of water. 

When the neighbors arrived and announced that they would be carrying up “a lot of groceries” [and we were obviously in their way] we carried the couch over the puddle and away from the apartment doors.

I set my end down and pushed the hair back from my face. I was sweating, hungry, anxious about being so late to meet the desk guy, and frustrated that we were making no progress. I was tempted to be rude, to verbalize my frustration and to let everyone know that I had been inconvenienced. 

Any hopes I had of reaching out to the students and perhaps inviting them to church was quickly lost. Now the best I could do was self-control my inner grump into a believable smile and try to keep my mouth shut. 

In the end, the girls insisted that they wanted the couch badly enough to have us saw off the back legs. I wish I was joking. My husband accomplished the task with a saw-obtaining errand, a servant-hearted smile, and a feat of superhuman stamina.

Fast-forward to church the following Sunday. I feel a tap on my shoulder and turn to see a young student smiling up at me.

“Hey--you sold us our couch!” she exclaims.

I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!

You see, something inside had told me I would run into them again. I was very thankful that we went out of our way to help this girl and her roommates. Now I could face her with a clear conscience.

“Hi! How are you? How is it working out for you?”

“Oh, it's great—everyone loves it!” she piped.

I heaved an inward sigh of relief. Thank the Lord for working it out and helping me be a good witness even when I was feeling anything but.

And my husband got his desk.

---

"You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather serve one another in love."  { Galatians 5:13 }

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Choosing To Love

"I think I may have lost my salvation."

Alcohol. Drugs. Illicit sex. Spending sprees. And those were just the outward transgressions. Lying. Jealousy. Selfishness. Gossip. 

It was not good.

He had called me and started playing Hi-how-are-you?-I'm-great but I could hear the alcohol in his voice and the hollowness behind the words.

He was timid, barely touching his toe to the water, checking my temperature to see if I was going to judge him. To see if I was boiling mad at his "wickedness."

The truth is, my friend had cause to be afraid. Raised in a Christian home, he had spent the last several years serving at the altar of hedonism.

Of course he had heard a lifetime of Jesus-Loves-Yous but he didn't even love himself.

The religion of his youth was a distant memory in light of the life--and the walls--he had built since leaving Mom and Dad. And he certainly wasn't ready to submit mind, body and will to a God who would take away the control he so desperately needed.

The Bible says that God is near to the brokenhearted, that he saves those who are crushed in Spirit (Ps. 34:18). He wants to reason with us (Is. 1:18), to show us the sinfulness of our actions and the great freedom and forgiveness that is available if we would only receive it.

Jesus desires our love and devotion. He desires my friend's love and devotion. He is not measuring the depth of emotion he displays during worship or the consistency of his church attendance. He asks for a real love that leads to humble, faithful obedience to his life-giving teachings.


John 14:23 (NIV)
"Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching."

Pretty clear, huh?

Yes, we know that Jesus loves us. So the question remains...

Do we love him?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

When Shots Were Fired


We were assembled in the prayer shed listening to Scott share on the mic. Out of nowhere, seven loud gunshots cut through the night. Scott paused, cocked his head and continued speaking. I heard a few people verbally dismiss the noise as “just a firecracker.” A few went out to the street to investigate and the rest stayed seated.

It was strange to me that no one had stopped the meeting. What if it wasn't just fireworks?

My husband and I were sitting on a couch with our backs to the window. I wanted very much to crouch down on the floor and wait until we knew for sure what was happening outside. I was now hyper-alert but unable to focus on the sermon. 

What if there was a shooter nearby and he decided to duck into our alley? To my shame I resisted the urge to climb across the group of seated college students and close the large sets of double doors. It was a good lesson for me about responding wisely in times of crisis!

Only after the sermon ended (about five minutes later) did the atmosphere fully change. First we were told that a hit-and-run had occurred just outside. A few minutes later we received confirmation that shots had indeed been fired. It was not clear if the crimes were connected.

The pastors and others left the prayer room to go home to their families or go into the ministry house. A group of about 15 of us shut ourselves in and began to call out to the Lord. 

Victoria and Nicole did a fantastic job of calmly and efficiently leading our time of intercessory prayer. Our hearts were bare before Yahweh and the time was passionate, powerful, and raw.

Part way through, the side door opened and Marissa came inside. She had witnessed a black BMW (driven by the gunman) slam into a bicyclist who was ahead of her in the road. She ran to the victim's side and tried to get him to lay still until emergency responders arrived to address his mangled leg and other severe injuries.

As we finished interceding, our group in the prayer shed received unconfirmed word that the shooter(s) were in custody. Jesus Burgers was obviously cancelled, so we packed up the worship equipment and decided how to get the remaining groups of friends and roommates safely home. 

The block next to our car had been taped off as a crime scene (one of the many) and my group of four had to take a different route to reach it.

In the end, our fellowship received no injuries or loss of life. The Isla Vista community was not so fortunate. Today news outlets across the country scream headlines of six killed, multiple wounded, and a dead shooter.

We are shocked and devastated by this tragedy. Having the phrase "mass murder" applied to our community is too painful for words.

Please join us in prayer for Isla Vista, the victims receiving care at Cottage Hospital, and the families of the slain.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Why Deltopia Is Overrated

Isla Vista's annual Deltopia block party was back this year, highlighted by the beautiful location, scantily clad co-eds and general revelry.


Despite the social media buzz and pre-event build-up, many visitors found Isla Vista's Deltopia less of a paradise than advertised.

Here are some possible reasons:

1)  Parking
Finding a spot in Isla Vista is challenging on a normal day, let alone a weekend like Deltopia. Endless driving in circles and having to walk long distances is no fun... Especially since you'll be walking for the next 12+ hours straight.   

2)  Closed Beaches
Due to the public health and safety nightmare that was Floatopia, the powers-that-be closed the beaches for this year's event. The party did not stop but it did put a damper on those who had hoped to swim on such a warm spring day.

3) Locals-only Parties
Showing up to Deltopia doesn't mean IV residents are opening up their private parties. Out-of-towners are denied access to apartments, even to use the restroom, and generally have no place to "be" for the entire day and night. (This makes the ministry of the Jesus Burgers house that much more significant.)



4) Surveillance
As if being recorded by a thousand strangers on iPhones and GoPros wasn't enough, now partiers are also being watched and recorded by these tall dandies lining Del Playa Drive.


5) Health Risks
Alcohol poisoning, assault, rape, sexually transmitted diseases, meningitis, drug overdoses, stabbings--you name it, Isla Vista's got it. These dangers can exist anywhere, but with thousands of young people in such a confined area, the possibility of needing emergency medical attention is very real.





Once the sun went down, the Deltopia street party unraveled into a riotous (and dare I say, pointless) nightmare that included two stabbings, assaults on police officers, vandalism and a declaration of an unlawful assembly. (Watch the CNN report here.) Obviously next year's Deltopia will need an overhaul. 

A high value for friends, fun and community celebrations is one of the wonderful characteristics of Isla Vista.

Let's pray that the deceitfulness of sin does not pull young men and women into the dark side of the party life.

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life and have it to the full."  { John 10:10 }

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Jesus Burgers

"Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased."   { Hebrews 13:16 }



Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Testimony From Jesus Burgers

Have you ever tried to witness to someone and walked away discouraged and drained?  I sure have!

But there are other times where I feel such grace and favor in the conversation that afterwards I'm filled with praise to God.

Encounters like these are so precious to me. (And so energizing!)  I don't consider myself to have a special gifting for evangelism.  In fact, my own insecurities often hold me back. But I can say that many of my experiences in street evangelism are when I've felt closest to God.

Last week God brought a young man back to Jesus Burgers that I hadn't seen in a long time.

He remembered me from a Friday night in 2011 when I prayed for him.  Annalisa and I talked with him about his life, the choices he'd made and the struggles he's had following Christ.

He hugged me over and over, incredulous that we were listening, accepting and supporting him. His receptive heart was such a blessing to us.

These are some of the encouraging signs I saw:
  • He called a previous arrest in Isla Vista (for underage drinking) a "good thing" because it helped him in the long run
  • He has given up smoking
  • He takes responsibility for his own actions--good and bad--placing no blame on his drug-addicted parents and rocky upbringing
  • He is HONEST, freely confessing to us his shortcomings and sins
  • He listened carefully to our Biblical counsel
  • He said he preferred our company to that of his own unbelieving friends
  • Since the arrest he has earned his GED, is working full-time, and is learning to take initiative and responsibility for his life
  • He asked us to share some Scriptures with him and received a Bible from Annalisa
And there's more!

When he heard pastor Jason was at home because he and his family had been sick, he said, "I don't mean to impose, but can we pray for him right now?" 

Um, YES WE CAN!  

Praise the Lord--God is moving in this young man's life!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Jesus Burgers Are Back

Friday night marked the beginning of a new season of Jesus Burgers ministry.

As hundreds of students poured in and out of our Del Playa house front yard, we (believers from Isla Vista Church) kept our commitment to offering free hamburgers, a fire pit, and a welcoming place to hang out.


One student I met was Brock, a freshman from San Francisco.  He seemed distracted by the scene (or the girls) and answered my get-to-know-you questions only half-heatedly.  

He told me he doesn't like Isla Vista or Santa Barbara and only came to school here because it was the best university he'd been accepted to.  

"What are you studying?" I asked, smiling.

"Bio-psych."  

After a little more prodding, Brock told me that he had plans for a graduate degree in neuroscience. 

I shared the only thing I know about the brain: 

Every thought pattern we have creates a tangible set of neurons that takes up space in our brains.  Negative/destructive thoughts look like ugly-looking neuron "trees" and positive/healthy ones look strong and vibrant.  

Brock nodded in agreement.

"You know what's cool?" I said.  "Before neuroscience even existed, the Bible points to this very concept."  

"For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he..."  { Proverbs 23:7 }

"...Be transformed by the renewing of your mind."  { Romans 12:2 }

"Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ."  { II Corinthians 10:5 }

Pray for Brock and students like him, that their studies in the sciences would point them to the Creator.

-----
To read more about neuroscience from a Christian perspective, visit the website of Dr. Caroline Leaf.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

First Love

Recently I was reflecting on ahavah/ahab, the Hebrew words for love.  I've heard that the first time a concept is mentioned in Scripture is an indicator of how we should interpret that concept later on.  (For more background, see this article on The Law of First Mention.)

Most of us are familiar with Jesus' teachings on the greatest commandment (Matthew 22) and Paul's beautiful discourse in I Corinthians 13.  But when is love introduced?

I could not remember by heart so I began to skim the opening chapters of Genesis.  Creation, fall, the first family, floods, judgement, and so on.  I found mercy and covenant, but no love.

And then... 


The story of Abraham.  There it was in chapter 22:

Then God said, "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." { Genesis 22:2 NKJV}

His son?  His only son?  

Whom he loves?  

Does that sound familiar to anyone else?  Like John 3:16?  Matthew 3:17?

The first discussion of love in all the scriptures is in the same verse where a father is called to sacrifice his son.

[ Selah ]

No wonder they call it the Holy Bible.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Repent and Be Baptized


“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”

Those who accepted his message were baptized..."


{ Acts 2:38-41 }





09  /  22  /  13

Friday, June 7, 2013

Sidewalk Prayers

In the early days of evangelism in Isla Vista, we prayed not because we should or could, but because there was no other option when faced with such great darkness.

Today, the Christian students on Del Playa can walk straighter, laugh louder, and rejoice more openly than ever before.  God has answered the prayers of men and women long graduated and gone.  

But, Isla Vista is not yet a "praise in the earth." Students still drink themselves to black, fist fight in the street, and search aimlessly for acceptance from their peers.

T
housands have yet to hear that Jesus died for them, he was buried, and raised to life again on the third day.

LORD, keep us praying, believing, and serving with humble hearts full of faith, hope and love. Amen.


"Go where your best prayers take you."
--Frederick Buechner

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Open Meeting

Isla Vista Church's Sunday service is back at the Sueno Tabernacle (that's Jason and Holly's backyard if you didn't know).

Some of the local colleges are finished for the year and the university will be joining them in a few short weeks.

Sunday's service was an open meeting with the theme "Jesus Pursues Us." 

"When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up."  { I Corinthians 14:26 }


At open meetings we hear different people of all ages share their faith, hope and love in the Lord Jesus Christ. We have so much to learn from one another! 


"We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ." { I John 1:3 }


"Let us consider how we may spur one another on to love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another..." { Hebrews 10:24,25 }



Many thanks to Jason and Holly for opening up their home in this way and to the helpers who make it possible each week.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Video Glory

Many of you read my post about the ocean baptism back in February.  I thought you might like to watch the accompanying video.  Enjoy!



{ Video by Nate Sims }

Monday, May 20, 2013

Ocean Baptism

How wonderful it is when believers partake in the ancient rite of baptism!  

This public identification with the death and resurrection of Jesus is one of the first and most important steps in becoming a disciple.

As most of you know, the triumphant, risen Jesus declared on the Mount of Olives, "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me..."


". . .and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age."   { Matthew 28:19,20 NIV }








Have you been baptized?  Are you interested in learning more about Jesus and his life-giving teachings? 

Study the Bible with another believer who can walk you through the New and Old Testaments.  Obey what you read, pray with expectation, and be faithful to Jesus, no matter what comes your way.

"Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial, because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him."  { James 1:12 NIV }

Sunday, March 3, 2013

All Chewed Up



Despite temperatures dipping into the mid-forties, the streets of Isla Vista were jumping with party-goers last Friday night.

Hamburgers ran out early so Nate and I left the Jesus Burgers house to check out a party on the corner.  A student with a cigarette asked me to take a picture of him and his friend.

One thing led to another and in the span of twenty minutes the dark-haired friend had shared a decade of life experience and lessons learned.  Chase (not his real name) was actually in his early thirties.  He had much to share on topics ranging from surfing and sex to education and immigration.

Despite making lots of money after high school, Chase never felt the meaning of life more deeply than when he went to a third world country to hand out toys and teach kids to read English.

He chose to leave behind a successful business partnership to get a master of education; a six-year commitment that led to his enrollment in UC Santa Barbara.

After college Chase hopes to return to Central and South America to help children with language skills. Kids he said would soon be coming across our border and could use a "head start" on their education.

Before we had a chance to respond, he switched topics, clearly distracted by the party scene whirling around us.

"Look at all these beautiful women," he said, gesturing towards the sea of girls in tight skirts and barely-there shorts.  "I can have a hooker a night."

"Friends and family from other states think I'm such a cool California guy but I tell them not to move here--especially the girls."  

He leaned forward, eyes narrowing as he looked into my face.


"They will chew you up and spit you out," he said, pantomiming the motion with his fingers.

Chase straightened, turned towards the street, maintaining only a sideways angle to us so he could observe the crowds.

"My cousin came here. She's gorgeous and lives in San Diego. All my friends hit on her.  And what happened?  Chewed up and spit out, chewed up and spit out."
He rubbed his fingers each time he said it.

Chase's spiritual blindness was obvious. If a Spanish-speaking child successfully makes it to college in California, getting "chewed up and spit out" in Isla Vista is still a terrible way to waste her life--and her soul.

When he was done, Chase he thanked us for listening (with a tinge of self-consciousness) and went to find his friend.

The Bible says "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." (Proverbs 14:12 NIV)

No matter how noble their intentions or how vibrant their zest for life, without following in the steps of Jesus, students will not find the life that is truly Life.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Son of Abraham

Besides the power outage, my favorite part of Friday night's Jesus Burgers was meeting Josh, a Jewish student who was passing by on the street.

He only had a few minutes to talk, but I told him I wanted to apologize for the negative way Jews had been treated by Christians and Catholics.  I asked Josh for his forgiveness.

He granted it to me and said, "I have read a lot about that subject."


I had his attention so I kept going, knowing he would be leaving any minute.  

"I want to affirm that the Jewish people play a very important and special role in history.  I honor you as a descendant of Abraham."

A huge smile spread across his face.

I told him that Jesus willingly gave his life on the cross and that the Jewish race was not condemned to hell for the crucifixion.

"Jesus deeply valued the Jewish Scriptures and was faithful to the God of Abraham.  He and the original disciples were all God-fearing Jews. I encourage you to study his life and see for yourself what he taught and did."

Josh thanked me, said goodbye and disappeared into the crowd.  May God bless him and guide him to a saving faith in Jesus of Nazareth.




"The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
     
     I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;
     I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
     I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
     and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

{ Genesis 12:1-3 NIV }