Pressing On!

“I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14

The sisters of the South Region rejoice with Terry – their first baptism!
The sisters of the South Region rejoice with Terry – their first baptism!

The Latin and English Ministries met together for an incredible Sunday Service on August 30, 2009! Carlos Diaz – with his guitar playing – and the other Latin song leaders put a little extra “spice” into the service from the beginning! The restorations of Ricardo and Sonia were so moving! Equally so, was the official welcoming by the “Sisters of Encouragement” of Son, Tanya, Zoe and Sydney Tran, who sold everything to move from San Francisco to be in a church of only sold-out disciples! Sal Velasco – who recently made the decision to return to the full-time ministry – stirred our hearts with a powerful communion, and the service closed with the first two baptisms from our new South Region – Terry and John!

The English and Latin Ministries had one worship service, so that the new Persecution Study could be presented. I have recently modified the Church Study in my original First Principles Series from 1980 and have written a five lesson Follow-Up Series for new Christians – the fifth one being the Persecution Study. Since several of the people with whom we set up personal Bible studies receive persecution, many times this lesson should be presented during the First Principles Series to the non-Christian. This protects the non-Christian’s heart, so that they do not give into fear and stop studying. Therefore, I am asking all the City of Angels Church Bible Talk Leaders to memorize this lesson.

The introduction for the Persecution Study is 2 Timothy 3:12“Everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” The four major points of the study are: Jesus Was Persecuted, The First Century Church Was Persecuted, The Causes of Persecution – Life and Doctrine, and Our Attitude Towards Persecution. During the study, I shared about intense persecution accounts in different nations. I also shared my personal trials from my fraternity days as a new Christian in college during the early 70’s, to the death threats as a preacher in Boston, Cairo, Moscow and Los Angeles. To close the sermon, I shared the account of Lee Ming, a doctoral candidate at Harvard University in the mid-80’s. As a foreign exchange student from China, Lee was a very driven, yet social young man, with a passion for Clint Eastwood movies! In counting the costs about Lee’s imminent return to Communist China, the ultimate question was asked to him, “If you are arrested for your faith and a gun is put to your head and the demand is made, ‘Renounce Christ or you will die!’ What will be your response?” Lee simply replied, “Go ahead, make my day!”

Elena celebrates her 54th birthday!
Elena celebrates her 54th birthday!

At the afternoon Bible Talk Leaders Meeting, I addressed a very daunting subject: Sexual Sin. 1 Corinthians 6 admonishes the church, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God. Do not be deceived: neither the sexual immoral, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexual offenders… will inherit the kingdom of God and that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God… Therefore, honor God with your body.” Barraged by the media and the world around us, disciples must fight for their purity. At the meeting, I reminded all the disciples that every sin can be overcome – “that is what some of you were” – yet we must continually guard our own purity, the purity of our families, and the purity of the church. (Sadly, this past week we had to bring a brother before the church, because he refused to repent of pornography.) In addition, addressed was the need for family devotionals that inform and guard our children’s hearts from pornography, masturbation, dating non-Christians, immorality, homosexuality, molestation and even incest. We also talked about being careful in choosing babysitters and not allowing children to spend the night at non-Christians’ homes.

Since it was such a victorious day with the restoration of Sonia Gonzalez – the daughter of Victor Sr. and Sonia – I also spoke specifically about the challenges of converting, restoring and spiritually sustaining “Kingdom Kids.” Children raised in the church, who – for whatever reason – are not drawn to spiritual things in their teen years, often become rebellious and bitter, since they did not “choose” to be born into a Christian family. Therefore, we need to love them when they are unlovable, but not tolerate sin in our Pre-Teen and Teen Ministries. Though it was a sobering Bible Talk Leaders Meeting, all the disciples were fired-up about the call from the Scriptures for transparency, confession, accountability and forgiveness concerning sexual sins.

In the book of Philippians, Paul urges us to “[forget] what is behind and [strain] towards what is ahead!” So what lies ahead for us in the City of Angels Church? Well, today on September 6th, Sasha and Luiza Kostenko and their two children arrive from Russia! The plan is that they will train full-time in the ministry for two years. Then in 2011, prayerfully, the Spirit will send them back to Moscow with a mission team! Then, tomorrow September 7th, is our annual Congregational Labor Day Play Day and Picnic! Wednesday begins First Principles for all the new members of our congregation – baptisms, restorations and placed memberships. September 26-27 is our Singles Retreat at a beautiful hotel near the ocean in San Diego! October 10-11 is our Marrieds Retreat to be held in a romantic setting in Palm Springs. And October 24-25 is our Campus Retreat!

Let’s welcome Zoe, Tanya, Son and Sydney Tran into the fellowship!
Let’s welcome Zoe, Tanya, Son and Sydney Tran into the fellowship!

Personally, I am looking forward to returning to London in mid-October for The Gathering III, simply entitled, Harvest. Elena and I will be traveling with Michael and Michele Williamson, who will lead a mission team to London next summer, which will be joined by the London Remnant Group! The Gathering will be a time for the London Remnant Group to get to know the Williamsons, as well as a time for Michael and Michele to become more acquainted with London. After the seminar, Elena and I will take a two hour train ride to Paris with Tim and Lianne Kernan. When the Williamsons arrive in London in the summer of 2010, the Kernans will then come to LA to train. After Tim is appointed an Evangelist and Lianne is appointed a Women’s Ministry Leader – and since the Kernans are Canadian and fluent in French – they will lead the Paris Mission Team!

Elena and Megan celebrate Sonia’s restoration to the Lord!
Elena and Megan celebrate Sonia’s restoration to the Lord!

Lord willing, sometime during the fall, Joe and Kerry Willis and their twins will join us from Brisbane, Australia to train to lead the Sydney Mission Team! They are selling their possessions to sustain themselves during their first year of training, and the City of Angels will provide the finances for their second year of training, as well as raising all the expenses for the Sydney Mission Team. December 13, we will have the MERCYworldwide Toy Drive. That will be the last Sunday for Carlos and Lucy Mejia – who presently lead the North Region – as they will be sent out to lead the Washington DC Church, becoming full-time again! This will allow Andrew and Patrique Smellie to move to Los Angeles before the end of the year. The Smellies will further their training, and in the summer of 2011, plant a church of sold-out disciples in Johannesburg, South Africa! This church will be the pillar church for all of our movement’s efforts in Africa, as the Smellies have been given the charge to evangelize the 50 nations of Africa!

Though we have accomplished so much for the Lord thus far in 2009, as the Scriptures teach, it is time to “forget what lies behind and … press on!” From a human point of view, our greatest challenge is the finances to accomplish all of our dreams for this fall. Therefore, to help every disciple with their personal righteousness and to help build a character of integrity, on September 20 we will begin to give our weekly pledges in envelopes. We need to become and “[honor] those who fear the Lord, who [keep their] oath even when it hurts… for [those] who do these things will never be shaken.” (Psalm 15:4-5) Prayerfully, this accountability will eliminate the inconsistency in our weekly giving, leading us to give as much as we have pledged, so that all of our plans that we have committed to the Lord will become a reality.

City of Angels Church, let me commend you for your love for God expressed in your tireless efforts to win souls, your daily but gentle discipling of one another, and your building of godly families and households. Now, let’s “strain toward what is ahead [pressing] on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus.” And to God be the glory!