The Awe and Joy of Christmas

A long time ago in a far away land, something happened that changed the course of history.

Before I continue, answer this. When was the last time you felt a sense of awe, wonder, or pure joy?

Was it at the birth of a child? Was it when you found out your brother was coming home safely from overseas? Was it at the news of your acceptance into the master’s program? Was it upon opening a hand written letter from your dearest love? Was it seeing the sun rise from the peak of Mt. Everest?

Have you noticed that as you get older, it takes more and more to produce a sense of awe and joy?

We are bored with the usual. We’ve seen that one already. We’ve heard that joke before. We got that promotion five years ago, and it didn’t satisfy us as we thought. We tried that drug, and it doesn’t produce the same high anymore. We’ve been let down by people we trusted. We’ve shot for the stars except we didn’t end up on the moon, but in the mud.

Disappointment, age, and experience have a tendency to paint life melancholy. The dark night sky looms above us.

Every year around this time, I meditate on the Christmas story. As a child, Christmas meant fun, carols, presents, lights, time off from school, and a little mischief and cheer. Christmas Eve was when we would celebrate and open presents. Collectively as a society it’s a time to think about the story of Christ’s birth. At least when I was growing up, we thought about it. Right before presents, my parents always read the tale of Jesus’ birth from the gospel of Matthew or Luke.

I remember wanting to hurry through the Bible reading to get to the good stuff, the presents. Now however, it’s quite the opposite.

Perhaps, it’s just me but hasn’t the world grown increasingly negative and weary? It’s rare to hear good news on any major media channel these days. People live in an unspoken state of panic, anxiety, and discontentment. Society hangs by a thread. Without a doubt, there is plenty to be concerned about.

But that’s just it. At the time when life seems darkest, there appears a distant star. This is what happened all those years ago in the small country of Israel, the birth that changed history.

As I was reading through the first and second chapters of Luke this year, I was struck by the repeated mention of the words “awe” and “joy.”

The word awe conjures up wide eyes, a gaping mouth, a loss for words, a sense of wonder, a breathless pause. Life has just taken you by surprise. Your senses have been overwhelmed.

The word joy is different than happiness. Here’s why. Happiness comes from the root word “Hap” which means “chance, fortune” or “to suit, fit” or “favorable, convenient.” In other words, a state of favorable or pleasant circumstances. Everything is going your way; it fits.

Happiness comes from without. Joy comes from within.

It’s possible to radiate joy in the midst of loss or pain. It’s possible to feel joy with few material possessions or without the need for the acceptance of others. Joy tells us everything is going to be all right, better than all right. It lifts us and consequently anyone around us. It is a gift from God.

As I read through the familiar Christmas story again this year, I couldn’t find a single person who didn’t experience awe and joy. Everyone from shepherds to Mary and Elizabeth to people in Jerusalem and the countryside were overcome at the news.

In Luke 1:1-2:40, awe and joy are mentioned equally at five times each for a total of ten instances! They are probably mentioned more than any other emotion or reaction to the news the angel spoke that,

Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)

What about you? Where do you stand? Are you a Christian who has allowed the storms of life to beat you down? Are you a non-believer who can’t help but wish that something in this world would bring you a sense of purpose, joy, and awe again like when you were a child?

It’s easy for the innocent to rejoice. It’s easy for a child to scream with delight. God did not choose to reveal Jesus on that cold morning to kings and princes. He chose to reveal him to lowly shepherds, to ordinary people living in Israel. You see God is no respecter of persons.

So often we make Christmas about everything except what it truly is. Forget the twenty errands to Target, Walmart, Amazon.com, and Victoria’s Secret. Forget impressing people with hand made cards. Forget having the perfect holiday party for your friends. Forget Santa Clause and Rudolph.

It’s a time to be overwhelmed with awe and joy. It’s a time to envision yourself on a cold blustery hillside with bleating sheep and all of a sudden, the sky lights up with the radiance of a thousand suns and a voice thunders to you from the angels in heaven declaring the birth of the Son of God!

It’s a time to see yourself beside oxen and donkeys in a damp, dark stable where the glimmering light of the stars flickers on this child laying in a manger. It’s a time to place yourself at the temple of Jerusalem when a man named Simeon says that God spoke to him that this child is going to be the Glory of Israel and the Light of Revelation to the Gentiles.

His name shall be called Jesus because he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21)

You can have joy and awe this day not because you deserve either. Not because you are someone important. But because God chose to demonstrate his love for you by sending his Son into the world. Friends, there is no greater reason to rejoice! There is no greater cause for wonder and amazement.

When life is heavy it’s easy to lose the sense of awe and joy. There are entire industries built on the premise of bringing joy/happiness/wonder into people’s lives. Think about all the entertainment dollars spent, the money spent on counseling, the new cars, the pills or drugs taken… and where are you now?

Do you want lasting peace? Do you want to recover that long lost sense that the world could be new again?

You are in good company. It was found in a lowly place, among ordinary people two thousand years ago. And it is still found in the heart that says, “Yes Lord, I am ready to receive your gift. I can scarcely believe it, but if it be true, I’m all in!”

Won’t you stop your striving and lay down all your excuses? Will you do that today? Will you allow the awe and joy of God to fill your heart? You see Jesus isn’t afraid to be born in dirty and humble places. He was born in a lowly manger, and He is willing to be born inside of you! Will you let him in?

Claim this promise from the prophet Isaiah for yourself today:

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. And the government will be upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

Merry Christmas to you all!

Christmas Outreach to the Poor and Needy

Christmas Outreach 2015

Recently during a time of meditation, I distinctly heard the Lord Jesus say,

“Remember the poor this Christmas.”

Although the majority of my ministry consists of preaching and teaching, this was the perfect opportunity to pour out in a different way, a tangible and intimate expression of the love and message of the gospel.

Here’s what we did. I rounded up the people I’m discipling and invited a few other friends along.

We all pitched in and bought some presents for a variety of families in need. I specifically wanted to bless families that really had little to nothing. The word the Lord gave me is that they are not forgotten by Him.

Here are the stories of the families and pictures from the outreach on December 12, 2015. Thank you to everyone who participated and gave! It was my honor and privilege to lead and minister along side you all.

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Zack Surunis writing Bible verses on the Christmas cards we passed out.

 

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Arjun Thounaojam proudly presents one of the gifts. That he wrapped!

 

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Prayer time before we head out.

 

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The first family we visited was a refugee family from Thailand / Sri Lanka. Their father had wanted to get them out of the country so badly that he had threatened suicide if the government didn’t send them to the USA to have a better life. He tried to reunite with them but was prevented due to an illegitimate passport. He is currently in prison in Thailand.

The mother was so grateful we came that she made us a small meal afterwards with the little food she had. We got to sing them some Christmas carols, pray for each of the children, gave them a Bible, and some gifts. The big hits were the sheriff kit (with handcuffs!) and the whiffle lacrosse set. One of the two young boys prayed to receive Jesus. The names of the family are: Sitta (mother), Thomas (son), Johanna (daughter), Jude, and Paul (younger sons).

Thomas lives in a group home. Please pray for this family to continue to experience the love and growth of God in all their lives.

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Sitta makes us a meal as a measure of her gratitude to us.

 

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“You’ll never get away! I’ve got you now,” says Paul.

Where’s the sheriff to help keep poor Roberto from being kidnapped and turned into a Ninja Turtle?


After we finished with the family in Oakland, we went to Berkeley for a number of stops.

Unfortunately, a couple of the people we had intended to visit weren’t at home as planned… but we made the most of it and went around the neighborhood caroling!

There was a woman named Barbara who was hesitant at first and then as she sat and listened to us sing Joy to the World, and Hark! The Herald Angel’s sing, she began to warm up. Minutes later her husband Alfredo shows up and joins in the caroling! He later thanked us for coming and said that it’s so good that we’re out doing this. He insisted on giving me money to help with the church. 🙂

Next, we met a woman named Eve walking her dog. She saw us and asked if we were carolers. We said yes and she joined in singing along with us. We got to pray for her at the end and invited her to recommit her life to Jesus.

Lastly, in the picture below, there’s an apartment building that Zack thought would be a good idea to go up to. To our delight, both families came out of their apartments, joined us in the caroling, and thanked us. We got to pray for them all at the end before saying good bye.

 

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Us in front of the apartment building where we caroled. From left: Frania Martinez, Erika Alvarez Martinez, Betty Yu, Arjun Thounaojam, me (Zac Linton), Roberto Diaz, Zack Surunis. And the talented Cassandra Lopez was taking the photo!

 

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The last family we visited was a Mexican family. The father’s name was Adolfo and the little grand daughter is Marisol.

 

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Marisol opens her gift.

 

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The other daughter was named Jasmina. She got an Etch-a-Sketch, some Origami, and a Hoola-hoop.

We prayed for them, sang for them, and read them the Christmas story from Luke 2. Frania even got to pray for Adolfo in Spanish! I don’t know exactly what she said… but I’m sure it was good! (I felt the anointing on it.)


Jesus said,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) 

and,

“Whatever you have done unto the least of these my brothers, you have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40)

In all these visits, I could just feel the love and heartbeat of God for the people all over. Some are very broken and struggling. Some rejected the news while others rejoiced at the glad tidings we brought.

Truly, the greatest gift ever given is that of Jesus Christ, God’s Son born into the world. There’s no greater reason to celebrate. Amen!

This concludes our Christmas outreach. We hope you were encouraged and inspired by these testimonies and may God use you also to let people know they are not forgotten this Christmas.

Peace, joy, and love to you and yours this holy season.

~ Zac

(PS Thank you everyone for your participation and also to Jackie and Mario Alvarez Martinez even though you couldn’t make the whole thing!)

Cristo Todo Poderoso Ministry

CTP picture Nov 15 web

We had a great time on November 15th at Cristo Todo Poderoso Church with Pastor Martin and Laura. (In the picture from left: Betty Yu, Zak Surunis, Laura & Martin Diaz, myself, and Roberto Diaz)

This is my second time ministering here. I preached a word that the Lord gave me about relying on his grace. Often, we forget that it is God’s power and purposes working through us and we try to live the Christian life in our own strength.

The apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that Jesus spoke to him after he was going through a trial a “thorn in the flesh.” Jesus says to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you. For my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Hallelujah!

God allows trials in our lives sometimes to bring us back to a fresh place of relying totally on his grace and strength to sustain us. As a matter of fact, some of the more powerful times of ministry in my life have been when I felt the weakest or least capable of preaching a good message.

The end of our rope is the beginning of God’s!

I likened living by God’s grace to the gondolas that people take to get up the mountain when they go skiing or snowboarding (which I love to do). You can either try to climb up the mountain yourself, or you can accept that the mountain is too big for you, too treacherous, and despite the most valiant of efforts, there will be parts of it that are unscalable in your strength. Get into the gondola of God’s grace and give him praise as he lifts you up to places you could never get to alone.

The service was powerful and many people testified at the end after the ministry time at the altars that they felt God’s presence, they were encouraged, and that the message seemed to be specifically for them!

Thank you to everyone at Cristo Todo Poderoso. We look forward to being with you again soon!

Dios les bendiga! Gloria a JesuCristo!

UC Berkeley Evangelism – Raging abortionists, witches, and salvations!

Yesterday I went out to preach the gospel as is my custom each Tuesday on the UC Berkeley campus. I was joined by Andrew Mutana and my disciple Zack Surunis. There were a number of other Christians with us initially worshiping and praying before we began preaching. Pastor Vieng of ICA and others from Living Waters were there.

A short time into the preaching, a group of pro-abortion campaigners clustered on the steps of Sproul Plaza. I quickly realized they were there to stage a “mock protest” against people who believe Planned Parenthood is evil. (which it is) Planned Parenthood has recently been under major fire because of the release of numerous undercover videos exposing their depravity in laughing about ripping babies apart limb by limb and selling their body parts for profit on the black market. (google: center for medical progress) Liberals try to deny all these claims and the main stream media has been outrageously silent on the issue and refuses to expose this atrocity. So there they were… with their mob mostly of old ladies and a few gay men with the camera crews from local new stations. (Why doesn’t the news come out to cover the preaching of the gospel?)

The mob started to heat up as I continued preaching about the mercy of God (my sermon that day). At first they tried to ignore us and then as they began mocking faith and telling us to F*** off and take our Bibles with us. They then started singing a mockery of a gospel song called “We Shall Not Be Moved” and praising abortion. We counter attacked by singing, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus”! This shut them up surprisingly as the demons in them likely shuddered at the mention of that name!

I told the people promoting abortion that it was evil and that if they repented, God would have mercy on them. I told them if they didn’t repent, that the blood of innocent children would be on their hands and judgment would follow. To this, they only continued to heap insults on us.

One woman even exclaimed, “You should be ashamed of yourselves. Get off of this campus!” She blamed us for the fact that she has a gay son who is suicidal. (?) I guess she blames Christianity. We said we’d be happy to pray for her son and she should bring him to us. To this she refused and repeated that we should be ashamed of ourselves.

A small cluster of angry students also began peppering us with questions and accusations. As I stepped down from the stairs, I was met by a demon-possessed man / witch who was mocking us and aggressively in our faces saying, “Ooooh, you guys believe in the invisible man! Get off of this campus! People like you aren’t fit to live!” He didn’t actually do anything.

A group of women from Living Waters kindly asked if they could pray for me and encourage me. As we all began to cluster up and they started praying for me, the mob of abortionists chanted, “We don’t want your prayers! We don’t want your prayers!” But we just prayed on anyway.

Later as I was talking with another student, Andrew Mutana was confronted by the same demon possessed man. He starts threatening Andrew saying, “You’re a fool for believing in the invisible man.” and “I’m going to set you on fire and your Jesus can’t save you.” Andrew very calmly replied with authority, “Greater is he who is in me than he who is in the world!” He kept saying to the demon-possessed man, “Jesus is greater. The one in me is greater!” speaking the name of Jesus. The man turned around and fled.

Then, I met a young man named Dimitri who had been witnessing all these events. I shared the gospel with him and Andrew also had some words of knowledge for him about someone being a strong Christian in his family who was praying for him. (It turns out it was his mother) Dimitri was shocked that God knew the secrets of his heart and gave his life to Christ on the spot. (He had had a nominal background in Christianity but was confused by Jehovah’s Witnesses.)

Dimitri told me later, “Even though all that mob of people was opposing you and mocking you. I could tell that you guys were the ones speaking the true message.”

Dimitri came out to my Bible study later that night. Please keep him in your prayers as he’s a brand new Christian. The picture on the top is myself on the left and Dimitri on the right.

Blood Moon Pictures 2015

These pictures were taken September 27, 2015 from my LG phone camera. We watched this event from the hills of Orinda, CA in the USA. This was the fourth blood moon of a series occurring from 2014-15 and makes up what is called a Tetrad (“Four”). This has only occurred three other times in the past 500 years. Each time it has coincided perfectly with major events for the Jewish people. For a good book outlining the Biblical and historical significance of these events, check out: Four Blood Moons by John Hagee. I personally believe these are signs in the heavens from God to alert us to things he’s about to do on the earth. Blood Moons Video

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UC Berkeley Miracle Crusade Report

It’s Real!

These were the words of a woman named Michelle who was miraculously healed at the crusade of considerable hip and leg pain. She had had multiple surgeries including the insertion of pins in her hip and lived with constant pain for years. Medical science couldn’t cure her. The pain totally vanished after some ministry team members prayed for her at the crusade. She got up and testified with tears in her eyes in front of a sea of student onlookers and passer bys saying, “I’m healed. It’s real.”

There is so much to say about the crusade. Here’s my brief write up. Please add your comments, testimonies, feedback, and anything else regarding this event.

Read more…