Venice Beach

Denise and the girls are travelling to Lake Tahoe tomorrow, so we decided to take a family afternoon out at the beach.  We had not yet been to the famous Venice Beach, which is only a forty-five minute drive from our house, so after church, we headed there.

Venice Beach is famous for many reasons. One such reason is the bodybuilding era of the early 1970’s where people such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and many other famous bodybuilders used to regularly work out at the area known as ‘Muscle Beach Venice’.

We arrived at Venice beach but once we saw the twenty-five dollar charge to park near the beach, we decided a walk would be nice, so we drove a few miles away from the beach until we found a free park on the side of the road.  This took some time as Venice beach is obviously a popular place to spend Sunday afternoon as there were cars and people everywhere.  Almost every possible parking space was taken and many more were trying to find a space to park.

After grabbing some lunch at the beach and taking in some outdoor basketball, we walked a few miles up and down the Ocean Front Walk, which was interesting.  The atmosphere was definitely carnival-like and packed with a broad variety of stores, street performers, artists and musicians.  While the experience was interesting, there were some elements along the promenade that made my girls a little uncomfortable.  One such element was the existence of several ‘clinics’ where you could legally buy marijuana for medicinal purposes.  From what I could understand, you would visit one of the clinics, pay a fee to get a consultation with one of the Venice Beach marijuana doctors in order to get approval to buy some marijuana as treatment for whatever ailment or chronic condition you might have.  Like I said, some of what we saw was interesting.

After taking in the sights along the Ocean Front Walk, we spent some time on the beach before heading home.

Magic Mountain

Earlier, I wrote briefly about my recent ‘battle’ with New Testament Greek grammar.  Before I took this class, I promised my girls we would go to Magic Mountain after the class was done to celebrate. So, two days after Gladiator Greek was finished, I took my girls and two of their cousins to Magic Mountain.

Magic Mountain is a predominately roller coaster theme park located in Valencia, CA, a very handy five mile drive from our house.  By all accounts, it has the most roller coasters out of any park in the world.  Some of the rides are of the very extreme variety, so if you are into fast and down-right frightening thrill rides, then Magic Mountain is the place for you.  Certainly, the roller coasters at Magic Mountain elicit superlatives, such as: fastest, tallest, biggest and freakiest.

We chose a good late afternoon/evening because even though the day was still warm (approx 100 degrees Fahrenheit), the local schools had just returned back from their summer break which meant that the park was not crowded and the lines were minimal.  Having said that, I am a bit indifferent about very short lines as while I don’t like to wait an hour for a ride, the waiting allows an enforced break between rides.

The rides at Magic Mountain are classified by ‘thrill’, so we warmed up on a couple of the ‘moderate thrill’ rides before jumping on the ‘maximum thrill’ rides. We started on ‘Ninja’ before heading to ‘Colossus’ and ‘Goliath’, which features a 255 feet drop and several steep banking turns. Next was ‘Scream!’, a maximum-thrill ride which has seven inversions at a very fast pace.  We then headed to the DC Comics area (my favorite comics brand as a kid, as I found Marvel just too far-reaching) and onto ‘Batman’ which had several steep banking turns and five inversions.  Next was ‘Riddler’s Revenge’ which features six upside-down turns – but in the standing position.

All the time we were at the park, I checked on the health of the kids and encouraged them to let me know if they wanted to sit a ride out.  While my concern for them was genuine, at this point of the day, it was also under the guise of my own self-preservation and dignity.

We then moved on to two of the easier paced rides, ‘Gold Rusher’ and ‘Jet Stream’, before ending the day with ‘Superman’ and ‘Tatsu’.  ‘Superman’ was a very short ride but quite thrilling as we were suddenly thrust backwards over 100 miles per hour then up a height of 415 feet, and back down again.  To get an idea, check out this video.  All the kids were nervous about this ride, but enjoyed it immensely.

As we were driving to the park, my nephew Caleb was apprehensive and excited at the same time.  He commented that the day at Magic Mountain was either going to be the best day of his life or the worst day of his life.  In the end, it turned out to be close to one of his best days and I am glad that my girls could share the day with him and Erin.  It was a fun day out, but very exhausting.

Gladiator Greek

Over the past six weeks, I have been engaged in battle – learning Biblical Greek grammar in just six weeks.  This was very intense because we learned in just six weeks what is normally taught over one year.  I now know why this class is called, ‘Gladiator Greek’.

The amount of memorization required in this class in such a short period of time was particularly taxing and difficult.  We not only had to memorize a lot of vocab but also umpteen charts and paradigms covering most aspects of New Testament Greek including the verb conjugations, noun declensions, participles and participle parts, adjectives, periphrastics, pronouns, infinitives and much more.

The exciting part of this class, however, was the thrill of translating all of 1 John straight from the Greek New Testament bible.  Going through the translation process brought all of what we learned in class together and being able to translate straight from the Word of God was a thrill.

I am so thankful to the Lord who is using classes like Gladiator Greek to batter me and shape me into a person who can be useful to Him.
Solio Deo Gloria!

A Week in San Francisco – Part Deux

Alcatraz Island was perhaps the highlight of our week in San Francisco.  I’m quite certain that prior to 1963, the year the penitentiary was closed, Alcatraz was not a popular destination, but today, it is one of the biggest attractions in the San Francisco area.  Over the years, much has been said about the lives of the inmates in Alcatraz.  The movies that have been made and the stories of the various escape attempts have all added to the legend and mystique that is Alcatraz.

One of the great things about the trip to Alcatraz, was that even though there is only one operator, there are multiple sailings each day, so once we got there, we were free to spend as much time as we wanted, then catch any one of the various sailings back to the mainland.  We opted for the earliest ferry in order for us to make the most of the day.  The weather was beautiful so we had a nice, slow cruise across the bay to the island.

It was a thrill to finally set foot on ‘The Rock’.  It served as a federal maximum security prison from 1934 until it’s closure in 1963 due the age of the buildings and also a change in philosophy in the way prisoners were handled, i.e from punishment to rehabilitation.  Alcatraz housed some of the most notorious criminals of the day, including a certain Al Capone but perhaps the most famous prisoners were the one’s who escaped in 1962: Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers. The story of the escape is captured well in this Clint Eastwood movie, but it was thrilling to see the actual cells in which they lived and the holes that the men dug to get out.  Very cool!

The walk around the cell house was greatly enhanced by the audio tour.  With our own listening device and headphones, we were guided through a fascinating tour of the cell house, narrated by actual former inmates and wardens.  The Alcatraz experience was really brought to life.  We highly recommend this.
However, one of the things that struck me, was the size of the cells – a very small 5 x 9 feet!

When he got back to the mainland, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf.  Pier 39 is a bustling area of shops and activity. It really does take a whole afternoon to make your way around and it is  fascinating to visit.

On our final day, we were hoping to visit some of the gardens around the city, such as the Golden Gate Gardens, the Botanical Gardens, the Japanese Tea Garden and Muir Woods, but they all cost $7 for each person to enter.  Instead of paying $30 for the privilege of looking at trees and flowers at each garden, we decided to head back across the Golden Gate Bridge and drive to Mill Valley, which is a thriving artistic community about 14 miles north of the city.

On the way there, we visited the very eclectic and psychedelic Haight-Ashbury district which was known for it’s hippie culture and rock’n’roll lifetsyle in the late 1960’s.  In fact, well-known artists such as Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead all resided, and I guess partied hard, in this area.

Relaxing in Mill Valley for the afternoon was a fantastic way to finish our short stay in San Francisco.  The next day, we spent 8 hours traveling back L.A. via the very scenic 101 freeway.

A Week in San Francisco – Part One

After two hectic weeks in summer school, we headed to the Bay Area in Northern
California to spend a few days in San Francisco. It was an 800 mile round trip, but one which we enjoyed immensely.  Personally, I have long held a slight fascination for San Francisco: the 60’s music scene, the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz prison.  But perhaps my interest was initially tweaked as a child growing up on a diet of Steve McQueen movies and those memorable car-chase scenes featuring ‘The king of Cool’ tearing around the streets of San Francisco in a 1968 Mustang in the movie ‘Bullitt‘.

One of the things we were advised to pre-book well in advance was the day-trip to Alcatraz Island.  There is only one company that is allowed to land on Alcatraz Island and it is impossible to turn up on the day and expect to get on the boat unless you have pre-booked at least one week ahead.  So, with accommodation organized (we decided to stay in San Bruno which is only a twelve mile drive to the city center) and the alcatraz trip already booked, we headed up the 5 freeway for the six-hour drive to San Francisco.

Our immediate impression of San Francisco was it was a lot like our home city Wellington.  A city built around a harbor, the all-too familiar cool sea-breeze (at times the wind was really cold) and the Victorian-style housing built very close to each other.  Certainly the climate was noticeably cooler than what we have been experiencing over the last couple of months: late 80’s degrees fahrenheit in L.A compared to the early to mid-60’s in San Francisco.
The first thing we did was drive across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge then walked around Sausalito, browsing through the dozens of unique boutique stores in the main area and taking in the fantastic views of San Francisco city from across the harbor.  Apparently, Otis Redding was staying in Sausalito at the time he composed “Dock of the Bay” and we can understand why.  It is a very picturesque part of the San Francisco Bay area and a nice relaxing way to end the day.

The next day was spent in the city itself as there were many things we wanted to see there. We managed to find some really cheap parking in the city near Pier 39 where if you got there before 9AM, you could park all day until 11:59PM for only $10.  After checking out the sea lions camped out at the West Marina at Pier 39, we headed towards the cable cars. Our plan was to catch the cable car to Chinatown, then hike back to the top of Lombard Street, walk down Lombard toward the Marina area, then make our way around the piers.  This involved a lot of walking so I was very grateful that the Lord kept any gout attacks at bay.

Being from Wellington, we are not completely unfamiliar with cable cars, but it was fun to ride on the famous cable cars of San Francisco through the city center.  We took the Powell-Mason car to Chinatown and for a while I could ride the cable car standing on the side running boards. What fun.  Even though Chinatown in San Francisco is a relatively short eight blocks long and a couple of blocks wide, it is the largest Chinatown outside of China itself.  I think we got there a little too early in the day, as most of the stores were still closed (or were in the process of opening up as we wandered through), so we mainly looked through the stores that were open and snapped a few pictures of the area.

After Chinatown, we headed uphill toward the top of Lombard Street, known as one of the crookedest streets in the world. The crooked section of Lombard is about a block long but very well decorated with colorful plants and flowers.  Once we got to the top, there were bus loads of people stopping and taking pictures of the street, but at times, the sight-seers hindered residents and other car traffic by refusing to step off the road to left them through. Pretty rude if you ask me.

After we walked down Lombard Street, we wandered down to the waterfront and then to Ghirardelli Square, which is a pleasant shopping area (but full of mainly souvenir-type stores) based in what used to be an old woolen mill from the mid-1860’s.  Ghiradelli is the name of a chocolate brand and in the square, among others, there is a Ghiradelli chocolate store and an ice cream shop.

At the end of the day, we were exhausted having completed so much walking but we did get to see a lot of the city. We were very much looking forward to the next day which was our trip to Alcatraz Island and a tour around the famous prison.

Santa Barbara

This week is Spring break and is normally a week set aside by students to catch-up on assignments before heading into the mad rush of the final four weeks of the semester.  I am in that same position, but we were determined to spend a day or two out as a family.  Yesterday, we went out to Santa Barbara for the day.

Santa Barbara is situated on the coast and approximately an hour and a half drive from our house.  Known as the ‘Riviera of the West’, Santa Barbara is famous for it’s wide beaches, great shopping and good year-round weather (although, it turned a bit drizzly in the afternoon).  Another notable feature of Santa Barbara  is it’s stunning Californian ‘mission-style’ architecture where the early Spanish
founders attempted to emulate the architecture of their Spanish homeland.

Upon arrival, we parked at the West Beach (good luck finding a free parking space in the middle of summer!) where we sat on the wide beach, ate our bagged lunch and enjoyed the sun while watching some of the locals playing beach volleyball.

We then headed to Sterns Wharf.  Built in 1872, Sterns Wharf has survived the odd fire and remains one of the central landmarks of the harbor and beach area.  There are a dozen or so stores and restaurants on the wharf (although I couldn’t be persuaded to buy four of the $8 single-scoop ice creams despite it being nice and sunny) and also had nice views up and down the beach.

From the wharf, we drove down State Street, which is the main street where most of the shopping and cafes are situated.  We found a cheap parking building (first 75 minutes free and $1.50 per hour thereafter) near the Santa Barbara courthouse, which was where we were headed.  At 2PM each day (Monday through Saturday), you can take a free guided tour of the courthouse, which is a magnificent Spanish building built in 1929, surrounded by lawns and a sunken garden and the building itself features hand-painted ceilings, giant murals and decorated with imported tiles.  Once the tour had concluded, we went up the tower of the courthouse where we could enjoy 360-degree views of Santa Barbara, the beach and surrounding mountains.

After the courthouse, we wandered around the old part of Santa Barbara, looked through the different stores (Mark even spotted a record store that was loaded with heaps of second-hand vinyl, but way to expensive to be tempted to buy anything) and ended the day by having ‘authentic’ British fish ‘n chips for dinner.

Happy Birthday, Maddy

Maddy celebrated her twelve birthday a few days ago, but because it fell on the first day of the Shepherds’ Conference, we couldn’t do much on the day.  Tonight, we celebrated her birthday by going out for dinner at a place of her choice – now that we are students, long gone are the days of extravagant birthday celebrations.

So we headed to Wahoo’s for dinner.  Maddy loves this place and when you can buy a kid’s meal for $2.99, I tend to like it as well.  Besides, the  blackened fish burrito is pretty good and the salsa has a real bite to it.

After eating at Wahoo’s, we headed across the road to Menchie’s for dessert.  Menchie’s has been a very regular thing for us since we discovered it in our third week in the United States.  Back in New Zealand, we maintained a Family night every Friday evening and we have continued that tradition here where Menchie’s frozen yogurt has become a regular feature every week since.  It is quite an inexpensive night out, and the girls still look forward to it week after week before we head back home for episodes of ‘Little House on the Prairie’.  The thing that I like about Menchie’s is that they usually have at least one new flavor each week despite the fact that the girls tend to go for the most sickly-sweet toppings in contrast to my very tried and true (and classic) vanilla, nuts and chocolate fudge.

We enjoyed our night out which served as another reminder of how grateful to the Lord we are for the way He has  richly blessed us with Maddy.  She brings us much joy  (as well as a few challenges) and we love what she adds to our family. Happy birthday, Maddy.

Shepherds’ Conference 2012

For many, the Shepherds’ Conference, which is hosted by Grace Community Church is the premier event for all pastors and church ministry leaders.  Men from all over the United States and the world travel to Sun Valley, California each March to spend three days being taught, encouraged, refreshed, enlivened and invigorated by some of the foremost evangelical preachers of our time.  It is not every week, you can sit under the preaching of men such as Dr. John MacArthur, Dr. Steve Lawson and Dr. R. Albert Mohler under the same roof and in the same day.  But at the Shepherds’ Conference, you can.

As a student at The Master’s Seminary  (which is based on the campus of Grace Community Church), we don’t have any classes during the week, but we are required to attend much of the conference.  It is the highlight of the year for most students and I can assure you, it is hardly a chore to attend.  Even though Shepherds’ Conference week is considered a week of catching up on classes or papers, most students forego the catchup to soak in the atmosphere, meet new people and revel in the teaching from the pulpit.  And there is a lot of teaching, from early morning to late evening, there is session after session.  It is like drinking from a fire hose.

As is customary at every Shepherds’ Conference, the entire student body of The Master’s Seminary opens the first session by singing two hymns.  This is the first time that I have been involved in any sort of choir and I found the occasion thrilling. For the week leading up to the conference, we rehearsed for the event and were led carefully through the hymns by Clayton Erb who was very patient and gracious as he taught us.  I managed to end up in the bass section of the choir which suited me perfectly as I knew I couldn’t match those tenors.  Boy, some of those guys can go really high.

Once our duties were done opening the first session, we were free to find seats somewhere to hear Dr. John MacArthur preach the first of the three general sessions that day.  Apparently at this years conference, they was a record number of attendees – somewhere in excess of 3500 men.  Wow! As a result, there were other buildings set up as an ‘overflow’ with a large screen, so you could catch each general session if you couldn’t find a seat in the main sanctuary.

Over the three days, there was three general sessions each day preached by one of the six keynote speakers, and in between, there were break-out sessions held all over the campus where you could sit and listen to your favorite preacher or hear a topic or issue that you were particularly interested in. Throughout the day, a wide range of beverages, food, snacks and other refreshments were available and served to you by one of the very friendly helpers from Grace Church.  If you wish, you could get your shoes shined, get a haircut or spend the fifty dollar gift voucher at one of the bookstores or the Shepherds’ Shoppe or even ask one of the TMS faculty manning the Scholars Desk a very challenging question.  All three main meals were served and I was especially pleased to enjoy on of my favorites, IN-N-Out Burger for lunch on Day Two.

The Shepherds’ Conference, for me was a great experience.  I listened to some great preaching, met men from all over the world and was given no less than nineteen free books and resources as well as the books that I bought with my gift voucher.

I am grateful to The Master’s Seminary and Grace Community Church for their wonderful generosity and servanthood over the past three days.  But, I am especially thankful to God, that despite my constant failure to obey Him fully, He is so gracious and good in that He has given me the privilege of attending this event and given my family the experience of a lifetime over the next few years.
“For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised”: Psalm 48:1a.

Living Waters

This morning, I had the great pleasure of accepting an invitation, along with a  few  of my fellow seminary students to meet the men behind the Living Waters ministry at their base in Bellflower, California. It was a thrill for me especially, as the founder of Living Waters (and another prominent ministry, ‘The Way of the Master‘) is Ray Comfort – a fellow New Zealander, who since 1989, has almost single-handedly changed the landscape of evangelism in the United States. I can remember as a kid, poring over a Ray Comfort book that my parents owned:  ‘My Friends are Dying’ and being captivated by the book’s vivid illustrations and powerful messages. So, I was very excited to meet Ray and his ministry team.

The morning started off with a tour around the ‘Living Waters’ offices and studio.  It was fascinating to see from where the radio shows are broadcast, where they film the various Living Waters and The Way of the Master TV programs and to see and understand the background processes that are involved in producing the programs. We were also shown the customer service center, bookstore, packing room and other aspects of the ministry.

After the tour, we were able to sit and watch a live broadcast of today’s program (March 6, 2012) of the TV program ‘In the Box’ where the hosts, Ray Comfort, Tony Miano and Mark Spence responded to some questions and objections to The Way of the Master. We even got mentioned on the show as being guests (I am mentioned at 22:27 and 22:34)! The show was great to watch and I was surprised at how relaxed they all were and how much fun they were having during the show.

We ended the morning by having lunch with the whole Living Waters team, spending some time with them and gleaning what we could, especially regarding evangelism. I am especially interested in their open air preaching as I would like to do some open air preaching at some stage and learn how to effectively share the gospel in this context.

What a great way to spend a morning. Tomorrow, Shepherd’s Conference. It just gets better.

Sons of Korah

This weekend, the Sons of Korah are playing two free concerts at Santa Clarita Baptist Church up in Canyon Country and tonight we were blessed to get front row seats to the first of the two concerts.

Sons of Korah are a four-piece Australian band who put the Psalms to largely acoustic music. They have a great deal of variety and creativity in their music which has an alternative folk sound influenced by different ethnic and world beats. As Sons of Korah put it, they present ‘a musical journey into the spiritual drama of the Psalms’. And their concert was exactly that: it was a thrilling ride from the anguish of the lament Psalms to the praise laden Psalm 146 and Psalm 148.

We are thankful to Pastor Scott Basolo for helping to make this concert possible and for the wonderful hospitality of the members at SCBC.

Sons of Korah have one more free concert at SCBC this weekend (Sunday night at 6PM) and if you love the Psalms and love music, I would strongly recommend you get along and catch this wonderful band play live.