Friday, January 31, 2014


I was studying Acts 1-2 and noting the dynamic of the believers in the early Church. I couldn't help comparing the Believers of that day with the Believer of today.

My Youth Group of about thirty all claimed to be believing Christians. They were for the most part Believers. I was eager to develop a lesson by which I could show the difference in Believers. But how, that was the question.

In thinking it over I came to the conclusion that there were "academic or intellectual" believers and "dynamic" Believers! Believers about Christ and Believers in Christ! When it comes to Belief it seems there are many degrees .

Now for a lesson to show the difference.

Being a youth director, I found several firecrackers I had stashed away. Nice juicy big red firecrackers. I took the fuse out of one and worked all the gun-powder out, then I stuck the fuse back in and lit the firecracker in my sink. Well, the fuse sputtered away and on down into the Firecracker and of course nothing happened. This neutered firecracker was going to be my object lesson for my teen Bible study.

Stuffing a new fuse into my neutered firecracker, I put the firecracker into my pocket along with a book of matches; I picked up my Bible and left for the meeting.

I recall I had about thirty kids in the room when I started the study on what it is to be a Believer. Most of them listened patiently while I tried to explain what it was to be a true Believer, like those in the New Testament. Men of action!

I said "Here, let me show you!" and I pulled the neutered firecracker from my pocket. Just seeing this big firecracker sparked the interest of all especially the boys. Boys love firecrackers! I talked a little on how powerful they are and how dangerous they could be.

Then I pulled the book of matches from my pocket! At that point here was a lot of thinking going on. Small room, thirty kids ... most of all; what's this guy going to do?

With one hand I held the firecracker while I lit the match with the other. All eyes riveted on the match and fuse. The group was clearly frustrated, scared yet fascinated ... what is this guy doing?

Well to their horror I lit the fuse!

While it was sputtering I threw it into the center of the group! As I expected there was a big reaction! A dynamic reaction! Boys in the back stood up! The girls screamed. Where the firecracker landed, the girl fell over in her chair. Movement, action, screaming! Chaos reigned!

But oddly nothing happened.

Now the setting was perfect to explain the difference in academic belief and dynamic Belief! All the commotion. All the action was brought about by what they believed was going to happen. They all believed the firecracker was going to explode, they all acted on their belief. A good example of real and dynamic belief.

No one just sat there intelligently thinking "this firecracker is going to explode, consequently I should do something."

You get the point. Just one good use of a firecracker laying around. (I was going to light it and stick it in my ear just to watch their expressions ... but the lesson proved of greater value.)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


In driving past Churches I notice the titles of the "sermon next week" ... some are quite catchy! After all, the pastor wants his sanctuary full Sunday Morning. Some of the titles are relevant and creative while others are losers.

Let me tell you the title that will bring them in!

This is a true story. Some years ago, as youth pastor, I was given an opportunity to preach. I was encouraged to announce my topic the Sunday before.

I went to the podium and casually announced that I was going to talk on hell, and name three people in our congregation that I wanted to see go to hell, and who they were.

You could almost hear a collective gasp! I don't think many listened to my pastors sermon that followed. The audacity of their youth pastor wanting people to go to hell was all they could think of! And of course, who were the three?

After the service ended I was swamped with people questioning me. Some even accusing me! It was as if I had committed blasphemy. I kept my cool and just replied simply that next week I would mention who I wanted to got to hell and why. You'll want to be there, I assured them.

Well, the following week the church was full!

Even people who didn't normally come; they were there too. The nagging question was "who" and "why".

My point was simple! I felt that if the pastor, myself, and the Sunday-School director were to go to hell for three minutes we would return different people! With a desire and passion we had never known to reach the lost!

It was just a jump-starter to speak on what it was to be a real Believer indeed. (I might mention that hell is full of believers ... simply those who believed too late.. ! )

Pastors, try that title and your church will be full the next Sunday.

Friday, January 24, 2014


Trusting His Word when it tells us to do the "wrong" thing, like bless and pray for our enemies! ... or turn the other cheek.

I was planning on teaching trust to my Youth Group!

I thought long and hard about how to demonstrate "trust". Then I got my answer.

I bought two big rat traps and fixed one so that it would not snap shut. The bate tag would function but would not trip the trap. The trap was wired open! Both traps looked identical.

At the proper time I took the two traps and a ten-dollar bill to the meeting. I was early and found a podium in which I set the two traps. No one noticed the two traps.

I started the meeting right off showing the kids the working rat trap. I snapped it loudly. I carefully set it and touched the bait lever with a pencil. Snap! The trap broke the pencil ... and everyone knew it would break fingers. I had everyone's attention, they were on the edge of their seats wondering what I was going to do with this trap.

While talking I put the working trap back down in the podium while picking up the second trap that was wired open. Behind the podium I pretended a struggle to set it and placed the folded ten-dollar bill in the bait lever.

I asked a question to the group. Do any of you want ten dollars? The answer was a qualified yes. (That was when $10. Was ten dollars!)

Then I asked how many trusted me? They all raised their hands. "Do you believe me?" I asked. "Yes" they said!

"Listen kids!" I held out the trap with the $10 in the bait slot, saying "Here's your ten dollars ... you just have to take it, I promise you the trap will not hurt you."

No one moved. "What's wrong?" I asked. No one moved as I tried to get them to take the money they wanted so bad.

Then I took the trap with the $10. To a small boy I knew that was sitting on the floor in front.

"Billy, do you think I would ever do anything to hurt you?" "No," he replied. "Would you like $10. Dollars?" He nodded his head. "Well, believe me Billy, just take the ten dollars off the trap, I promise you the trap will not hurt you." With that he looked at me, and then simply reached up and took the $10. Off the trap ... no snap. It was easy. It was his.

My audience was having mixed emotions, and now they just groaned.

I looked at them all. "You said you trusted me, but you proved you didn't!" We say we trust God ... but do we? "Just think you could have had $10. If you had just believed me."

Then I started the lesson on "Trust" and trusting God even when He asks us to do the impossible.

Yep! All the boys came up to see how I rigged the one trap. And how they were fooled ... and they still remember the lesson.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


I can honestly say that I was born dirt poor. I was born in the Los Angeles general hospital in the year 1929; the start of the depression years. There aren't many around that can remember those years, where Americans actually stood in line for food. We patched our clothing, repaired our shoes and watermelons was a penny a pound.

My parents lived in a small studio apartment in Hollywood. Mother told me, years later, that they didn't expect me to live, worse they had little milk to feed me. My first bed was my father's suitcase; my second was a drawer in their dresser. My bed mattress was newspapers and my blankets were towels and whatever cloth they could get hold of. Note the photo above of my mother putting me to bed.

I grew up poor, like most of the kids in those depression years. My father, an artist, couldn't make money and my parents couldn't make a go of it so they divorced when I was about eight. Father left for San Francisco and we remained in Los Angeles.

With no income my mother, sister and I ended up on the State and Government Welfare. I remember those embarrassing days well. Second-hand clothing, few toys, small size meals.  Most of the kids at school got a little bit of spending money each week. My sister and I had little to no spending money. In those days a dime was a dollar, so pennies had to do.

We couldn't pay rent, so we moved a lot and lived in many places in Los Angeles and San Francisco. I remember living in a garage at one point. That meant changing schools often, too often. Making friends than losing them. Summers were bare-feet time. No shoes time. Sidewalks weren't bad, but the streets were really hot!

In a sense for the past half-century I've been working in the same economic strata in which I lived. I can actually say I understand living in poverty. I remember what ‘poor' feels like. I remember a strong mother who made do with what she had and a father who felt guilty for being a poor father.

Born poor, dirt poor and I don't regret it.

Indeed God prepared me for my ministry.

Friday, January 03, 2014


Every year, the day before Christmas, I spend the whole day cruising Tijuana, visiting families we know and visiting a variety of barrios giving toys out to the kids on the road.

Christmas Eve is a special time reserved for a meal with the kids at an orphanage.

Christmas Eve this year was no exception. We were invited to join the festivities at a large orphanage. Tamales and Turkey were on the menu. In Mexico Christmas Eve and New Years can be rather late ... at my age I just wanted to make a show, grab a tamale and head home ... it was another cold Christmas Eve!

We got there in the late afternoon, there were about fifteen teen tired boys. No sign of food or festivities. The afternoon moved into night-time then continued into late night and still no sign of any action. It looked like it wasn't going to be a Ho, Ho, Ho Christmas Eve, at least for these teens.

The kids mentioned they were hungry! I asked one kid when they ate last. "In the morning," he replied. "Well what did you have to eat?" "Cornflakes," another kid replied.

We waited, the kids were cold, hungry, tired and quiet. Then I got an idea. There was a small Chinese restaurant down the road. I asked a boy, "do you think that the Chinese restaurant is open tonight?" "Sure," he said, with a big smile! Others joined the idea.

So I said, "let's have Chinese tonight" Yeah! They all like Chinese food. A few of them jumped into my car and we headed down the dirt road hoping for Chinese Take-Out! Would the restaurant be open Christmas Eve?

Sure enough it was open! I ordered five big boxes of food! While we were waiting the kids came to me and said "Thank you von, we're so hungry!"

Indeed It was a Chinese Christmas this year!