Two people: One you know and one you probably don’t.
Frank Lloyd Wright is a world-famous architect whose works have been touted as being genius. Even non-architects like myself have heard of the famous Frank Lloyd Wright who designed the Guggenheim Museum along with hundreds of other buildings. He was named as the “greatest American architect of all time” by the American Institute of Architects. But Wright, as famous as he was, was equally famous for refusing to share the limelight. Even when other architects made brilliant design contributions and in some cases took the lead on a project, he refused to allow them any credit. He even threatened to bring them to court on charges of forgery unless they put his name first and submitted all documents for his approval. Wright was so consumed with his own fame and recognition that he refused to spread it to others. At one point he decided to go it on his own without the help and collaborative effort of others in his field. He immediately went on a nine-year slump where he only completed two projects. It wasn’t until he invited people back into his creative process that he again flourished, but still didn’t credit anyone with his work. Ed de St. Aubin, a psychologist who studied Wright’s work, said, “It is amazing that few of the hundreds” of Wright’s “apprentices went on to achieve significant, independent careers as practicing architects.”
George Meyer on the other hand is definitely NOT a household name.
But much of what he has done with his life is known by many. He is a writer who has worked on shows like Late Night with David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, and most famously for George, The Simpsons. Many of the most famous lines from that show are credited to him, and even the ones that are not, most writers on the staff say have been influenced by him. George is a giver. He likes to give credit where credit is due. Sometimes even when it’s not. There have been times, George could easily have pushed for more prominence (and deservedly so) on many episodes of The Simpsons but instead would let others have the credit and help develop their careers. He often did the unglamorous work of rewrites because that was where he felt the show needed him the most, although many believe he often had many great ideas. He would put some of his strongest effort into helping out scripts focused not on the prominent guests like Madonna, but on lesser known ones that didn’t get as much attention. He had what they call in the world of mountaineering, expedition behavior.
Expedition behavior is a term for those who are selfless, generous, and put the team ahead of themselves. It’s the kind of quality that defined George. The way George gave of his time and talent helped to cultivate the talent of others. We simply don’t have the time to share all the praise those around him have given toward this man. Unlike Frank Lloyd Wright who took all the credit for himself and didn’t make an effort to cultivate the architects around him, George’s collaborative style has led to the success of many others who have gone on to very successful careers of their own. Some have won Emmy Awards, some have become authors and actors, some have become cartoonists and columnists, one man wrote the famous “Soup Nazi” episode for Seinfeld (who also was an Emmy-nominated writer and producer for the show), and one went on to create the show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air that launched Will Smith’s career. Adam Grant in his book Give and Take calls George a genius-maker. But what if we took these same ideas of selflessness and giving and turned them toward being better disciple-makers instead?
We’re going to delve into that.
This is the story of the man with leprosy. It’s very short but we’re going to look at it in a different way. As we read it, I want you to think about the way in which Jesus approaches his mission on Earth. If he’s come to save the least and the lost, he’s doing it in a weird way – at least by our standards today.
12 While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy.[b] When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
13 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.
14 Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”
15 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.– Luke 5:12-16
Jesus says many times to different people, “Don’t tell.”
He told the man he healed of leprosy, “Don’t tell,” but people knew what happened. We don’t know if the man said something or people just saw what happened, but the news spread and crowds gathered to be healed. In Matthew 9, Jesus healed two blind men and told them, “See that no one knows about this,” but they told anyway. Then he raised a girl from the dead and again Jesus told the parents not to say a word. And when the disciples see Jesus with Moses and Elijah, Jesus says not to tell anyone until after he has gone. Haven’t you ever wondered why he did this? Wouldn’t it make more sense to tell EVERYBODY? I mean, if you knew Jesus could heal the sick and raise the dead and had eyewitness testimony about it, wouldn’t YOU believe? But Jesus was not trying to make a name for himself. He was trying to give the glory to God. He wanted us to have a heavenly perspective instead of an earthly one. If people started fixating only on him, they would start to glorify Jesus, the MAN, create an earthly idol, and fail to see what truly mattered – the grace and love of God.
Christ’s entire life was like this.
He lived a life in service to others, not to elevate himself but to bring people closer to God. At any time, he could have proven his divinity, but instead he embraced his humanity. He came not to conquer but to build community. He came to bring glory to God and not to himself. Had he wanted, he could have ruled the world by force. Instead, he chose to sacrifice himself for the world. Had Jesus become the leader the Israelites were looking for, Jesus would have been lord over a temporary kingdom, but the kingdom he built and is continuing to build is one that will last an eternity. And that is the difference between givers and takers. Givers are looking at the long haul. They are looking to make the world a better place. And even if that means sacrificing personal glory, they know the contribution they make will long outlast anything else they could achieve.
One of my favorite stories is about a man named Cliff Gardner.
Like George Meyers, you probably don’t know him unless you watched the television show Sports Night back in the 90’s. There was a scene where Sam, the Sports Night consultant, is explaining exactly who Cliff Gardner is to the studio execs. He starts out by asking, “Do you know who Philo Farnsworth was? He invented the television. I don’t mean he invented television like Uncle Milty, I mean he invented the television in a little house in Provo, Utah. But the one I really admire is his brother-in-law, Cliff Gardner. He said to Philo, ‘I know everyone thinks you’re crazy, but I want to be a part of this. I don’t have your head for science…but it sounds like in order to do your testing, you’re gonna need glass tubes.’ See Philo was inventing the cathode receptor, and even though Cliff didn’t know what that meant or how that worked, he’d seen Philo’s drawings and he knew they were gonna need glass tubes and since television hadn’t been invented yet, it wasn’t like they could get them at the local TV repair shop. ‘I want to be a part of this,’ Cliff said, ‘and I don’t have your head for science. How would it be if I taught myself to be a glassblower? And I could set up a little shop in the backyard. And I could make all the tubes you’ll need for testing.’ There oughta be Congressional medals for people like that.” The world needs more Cliff Gardners. The world needs more George Meyers. We don’t need more Frank Lloyd Wright’s. If we want to get the job done that Christ has given us, we need to be in the business of building people up, not taking people down. Life is not a zero-sum game. We don’t have to sacrifice the well-being of other people to get ahead ourselves. Instead, we need to be focused on being disciple builders. We need to focus on the needs and well-being of others and not worry about the credit we receive. Because there is only one person whose approval we should be seeking, and his home is our ultimate destination.
 Details of Frank Lloyd Wright’s career are from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Lloyd_Wright
 Adam Grant, Give and Take, p. 78. Details about Wright’s self-centered actions and Meyer’s selfless ones are all taken from Adam Grant’s book in the chapter The Ripple Effect.
 Grant, p. 74.
 Grant, p. 93.
How much STUFF can a person have?
I teased my parents about being “hoarders” when I was in college because they used to have lots of stuff around the house. At one point, my dad had a whole box of Dennison’s chili in his bedroom closet because there wasn’t room for it in the pantry, or the kitchen, or even the dining room. But after watching the show Hoarders and other shows like it, my parents seem to be the model of cleanliness. Hoarding, otherwise known as disposophobia, is real and some have even postulated it is a result of our obsession with STUFF. I don’t generally watch CSI but there was an episode about hoarding and at the end of the episode, two of the characters, Ray and Nick, are talking. Ray tells Nick that the philosopher Erich Fromm forecasted a society obsessed with possessions. “Fromm said people had two basic orientations, ‘having’ and ‘being.’ A ‘having’ orientation seeks to acquire or possess things, property, even people. But a person with a ‘being’ orientation derives meaning from the experiences in life. Unfortunately, Fromm concluded that a culture driven by commercialism like the one we live in today is doomed to the ‘having’ orientation, which leads to dissatisfaction and emptiness.” Ray continued, “When you consider in 1960 there was no such thing as public storage in America. Today there are over 2 billion square feet dedicated to it. Makes you think he had a point.” Can you imagine that? 2 billion square feet for more of our STUFF. Did you know the word “stuff” literally means “to fill up.” The real question is, “What we are filling up our lives with and why?”
I can’t help but think of the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman.
He meets this woman at the well near where she lives and after getting into a discussion with her, Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks this water (meaning the water from the well) will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” So the question is, are you filling up on well water or living water? We like to think we are filling up on living water, but most of us are probably filling up on well water. We get stuck in the grind of daily living and we become convinced that our problems will be solved with STUFF. Whether that STUFF is money or power or likes on Instagram, we crave the accumulation of things, hoping that it will solve all our problems, but in the end, we are always thirsty for more. Because what Jesus said is true. Only when we drink of the living water, only when we live a life in Christ, and realize the impermanence of this place will our thirst be quenched. What we need to do is change what we drink, not drink more of what we have. We need living water.
We have always struggled with the balance between God and STUFF.
Our reading this morning in one of Paul’s letter to Timothy he talks about this exact issue. Although there are many instances where people write similar stories or letters about the challenge of giving, Paul offers a reason beyond simply telling us “because you should.” He offers a concrete difference between people who make giving a priority and those who don’t. And he explains why it’s better to give. I believe that whenever God tells us to do something it’s always for our benefit and not necessarily for God’s. God doesn’t need anything from us, he wants something FOR us. And when we listen to God, our lives become better, even if we can’t see it at the time. That’s why God wants for us to become detached from STUFF and develop a heart for giving. Sometimes it seems counterintuitive that giving up our abundance will somehow make us more wealthy, but we find out how in Paul’s letter to Timothy.
3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. – 1 Timothy 6:3-9
Paul basically invented the saying, “You can’t take it with you.”
He writes to Timothy, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” No matter how much STUFF we have at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. We can’t take it with us. The guy who wrote the saying, “He who dies with the most toys wins” didn’t know what he was talking about. Paul tells us our goal should be “godliness with contentment”; to live a Christ-like life which brings a peace that only God can give. It’s why he writes, “…godliness with contentment is great gain,” because that peace is not something you can buy, but a gift from God for living the kind of life that honors him. But Paul also warns against people with corrupt minds, the kind that uses “godliness (as) a means to financial gain.” He warns that the person who “acts Christian” to get more money, more possessions, more STUFF is disconnected from the life God wants for us all. We get so focused on these unimportant things we don’t even consider whether or not it will really bring us the joy and peace we all crave.
Let me give you a non-monetary example.
When I was in 4th grade, I had a crush on a girl named Karleen Boyle. I don’t know how it started, but everyday after school I would chase her out the door. Kind of a foolish way to tell a girl you like her. Go and chase her down. Pretty soon it became almost a daily competition. Sometimes her friends would join in. She had this Jabberjaw lunch pail that I got to know real well, because she would swing it at me if I got too close. There was some sort of unwritten rule that if she made it to the parking lot she won. And even though I lost every day, I was undeterred. I would chase her and every day she escaped. Until one day, she swung that Jabberjaw lunch pail and missed. I reached out as it passed by me and grabbed her by the arm. She just looked at me as a triumphant grin spread across my face and she asked, “So what are you going to do now?” Honestly, I didn’t know. So I let her go. I had become so focused on getting her, I never really thought what I would do once I did. Sometimes we’re like that about the material things in our life. We become so focused on it, on more money, more things, more recognition – we become so focused on filling our lives with STUFF, that we don’t often think about what happens after we get it. We’re sure that once we get whatever it is we are after, life will be so great! But there’s always more money to grab, more things to own, and more fame to have. When will it be enough? When we realize the STUFF of this world will never give us the peace we crave.
What holds us back from giving more of our time, talent, and gifts is this obsession with STUFF.
Hoarding is just an extreme example of it, but each of us struggles with letting go. When we do give, we often become focused on what we get out of it. But we forget ultimately giving is about living. We give to live. Because giving is an attitude. Giving is a spiritual discipline. When we remember that it isn’t ours to begin with and that it all belongs to God, we become more grateful for what we have and we become less worried about what happens to our gift. When we have an attitude of giving we draw closer to God. And giving has some lifelong benefits, too. Like the fact that 80% of people who tithe have no credit card debt compared to the national average of 61%. 74% have no car payments compared to the $750 billion in loans out there today. 48% have no mortgage. But as one analyst said, the tither looks at these statistics and says his life got better for giving. The doubter looks at the same stats and says to himself the tither is able to tithe because his life started off better. For all of the evidence I can share with you, it still comes down to a personal decision to do it – to give more. God wants us to give, not because he needs anything, but because when we let go of all the STUFF in our lives, our lives become better. One of my favorite pieces of Scripture is from Malachi. I like to think of it as the God Challenge where God tells the people of Israel, “’Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.’” That image of God telling us, his people, to test him and see the abundance of blessing that will come from your giving. “See if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it!” That’s the kind of life God wants for you. A life of abundance. Abundance in peace. Abundance in life. Abundance of love. The things that are most important. But again, as in all things, this is a choice. You have to eventually trust that God’s system works and try it for yourself. Don’t get me wrong. I like STUFF too. I’m not saying having stuff is a sin. I’m not advocating for living like John the Baptist on honey and locusts. But I am advocating that what Ray told Nick in that CSI episode is true. The trick is to not let the STUFF get in the way. I want to challenge you during this time of Lent to give more. More of your time, more of your talents, more of your gifts. Take the God challenge and see if making this a regular part of your life doesn’t make your entire life better. You would be surprised at the difference it can make. Take a drink of the living water and see how refreshing it can be.
Let me share with you the true story of a guy named Sampson.
Sampson wanted to be the “Clinton of Illinois” and set his sights on winning a Senate seat. No one thought him a likely candidate. But he had a lot of determination. Sampson ran for a seat in the state legislature at only 23 years of age…and lost with a resounding 8th place finish where only the top four won a place. After operating a completely failed business, he tried a second time and took second, this time earning that seat. Serving eight years, he decided to go national and try for that Senate seat he had his eye on. He was up against two very strong opponents – Shields and Trumbull. Both had been State Supreme Court justices and Shields was the incumbent. But in the first poll, Sampson was ahead with 44% support, Shields had 41% and Trumbull only at 5%. But then a fourth candidate entered, Gov. Joel Matteson who quickly took the lead. Shields withdrew and Matteson was on top 44% to Sampson’s 38% with Trumbull holding on at only 9%. It didn’t look good for Sampson, so he did what no other politician would have done – he withdrew from the race and threw his support behind Trumbull. Despite having clearly the larger percentage of the vote, Sampson fell on his sword and gave the race to Trumbull who won 51% to Matteson’s 47%.
But why would Sampson do such a thing?
Why would he sacrifice his own position to another opponent? The thing is that Sampson’s goal once Matteson entered the race was not to win, but to stop Matteson from getting that seat. He had suspicions that Matteson was crooked. Reports about Matteson attempting to bribe influential voters was enough to convince Sampson that Matteson was not going to be good for the country and he and Trumbull, while political opponents shared common ideology about the development of the state. So for the good of Illinois and the good of the country, Sampson withdrew. Good thing, too. A year later, Matteson was indicted for fraud after cashing outdated checks to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. And as for Sampson? After a second failed attempt at the Senate, he finally got a seat with the support of many of those who had originally opposed him. His generosity, his willingness to sacrifice for others, had earned him a great deal of respect. And in 1999, C-SPAN conducted a poll of thousands of people about Sampson and about three dozen other politicians who vied for similar political office and he came out at the very top as having the highest evaluation of any of them. Sampson, or rather Sampson’s Ghost, was a pen name this politician used in letters. His real name was Abraham Lincoln.
Adam Grant, the youngest tenured professor at the Wharton School of Business, used this example.
He wrote about it in his groundbreaking book, Give and Take, and in it, he writes that the best way to succeed in business is to have a giving mentality. He found that there are basically three types of people who inhabit our professional lives – givers, takers, and matchers. As you can probably guess, givers are those whose primary focus is not on themselves but on helping others. Whether it’s co-workers, clients, or random people asking for help, givers love to help other people, not expecting anything in return but because they believe in the philosophy that life is about giving to others. Takers believe in that old maxim by Mark Twain who said, “The principle of give and take… – give one and take ten.” Takers can sometimes act like givers, but generally only in the short run. They are likely to give to people they feel are their superiors while often forgetting about those who helped them make their way to the top. Matchers are status quo type of people. They give but generally to curry favor, bank a future favor, or to repay a favor. They are happy to give, but don’t like being indebted to people or have people too indebted to them. As Walsh noted, there’s a little bit of all three of these in all of us and they come out in different ways at different times, but those whose primary mode of operation is as a giver often end up being very successful. On top of that people who are givers generally have people rooting for them to succeed and will often sacrifice for them to see them move ahead as opposed to takers who are always having people gunning for them.
As you can imagine, giving takes time, energy, and effort.
Often times givers are at the bottom of the workplace success ladder. They often score lower and do not perform as well as takers and matchers. In a study of 600 medical students in Belgium, the students with the lowest grades had unusually high scores on giver statements like “I love to help others” and “I anticipate the needs of others.” They went out of their way to help their peers study, sharing with them what they knew and often filling the gaps in other people’s knowledge. They sacrifice their own time, energy, and effort, sometimes at the cost of their own performance so you’ll often find givers at the bottom of the success ladder. Do you know who you’d find at the top? GIVERS! Givers are generally at the top of the success ladder as well. How can that be? It turns out that over time, givers who are successful learn how to manage their time most effectively to be both true to their core (as a giver) and to succeed. Often times it is BECAUSE of their giving that they achieve the success that they have. People have long thought that raw talent and chance opportunities determined our success, but as more and more studies have been conducted, other factors like hard work and giving have been found to be more influential than chance, luck, or talent.
But this is nothing new to God.
God wrote the playbook on success far earlier than Adam Grant. He even gave us that knowledge in the Bible. This passage takes place right after he chooses the twelve to be his apostles. He begins to teach them immediately and a gathering of his disciples crowd around him while Jesus shares these life lessons with us. He talks about giving right after he talks with them about loving their enemies and this is what he says.
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” – Luke 6:37-38
This is just one of many verses God uses to talk to us about the power of giving.
At first, the verse doesn’t seem to go that way. In fact, the little chapter subtitle is “Judging Others.” At least it is in my Bible. But looking closer at it, both of these verses are really about giving. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged” is just another way of saying that you should give the gift of grace to others because you will need that grace yourself from God. “Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned” is another way of saying that we should give the gift of mercy because we need God’s mercy to get into Heaven. And “Forgive, and you will be forgiven” is along the same lines. There isn’t a one of us that doesn’t need God’s forgiveness. Then Jesus sums it up with verse 38. “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Jesus re-emphasizes here the importance of giving and offers an example people of his day would be familiar with. A person going to market would often bring a cup or bowl to measure the grain he was purchasing. Grain wasn’t sold by weight but by volume so after agreeing on a price, the seller would then fill the bowl to the top. A “good” measure was one where the seller would make sure you got your money’s worth. After filling the bowl, they would press it down, then shake it to settle any loose grain, and then pour more grain until it was running over and then literally pour that into your lap. You would usually come to market with a loose-fitting tunic for just that purpose, to carry things like grain back to your home. Since the seller would fill the bowl to overflowing, it would be too hard to carry without spilling in the bowl. This is the kind of abundance we should be giving to others. “For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
What Adam Grant discovered was something God’s been trying to tell us for centuries.
Give and it will be given back to you in abundance. Don’t you find that this is true? When you get exceptional service at a restaurant, don’t you tend to give a larger tip? Maybe even one that is MORE generous than usual? Sometimes when people give freely without strings attached, we give more in return, not because we feel obligated, but because we feel so loved by their generosity and willingness. There is one caveat. Giving must come from the heart. As Grant describes in the book and I’m sure you’ve experienced in your own life, there are plenty of fakers – people who pretend to give or maybe even convince themselves they are giving out of concern for others, but are really only giving for what they get out of it. When we give in order to receive, if that is our purpose, we will be found out. People can smell authenticity. You may be able to fool them for a while, but eventually people are able to tell. The abundance that comes from genuine giving is because of the goodwill and love that genuine giving generates. Not because of the giving alone, but because we are naturally drawn to people who are so willing to help us and others for no other reason than they want to. And this ties in to the character of God who is the most generous giver, and God is pleased when we behave in ways that mirror him. More than a generous giver, God loves a genuine giver. Because it’s not about the amount you give, but the heart in which you give it. Challenge yourself this week to be more giving in every way, to give more of your time, effort, energy, and gifts. Live a life not of reciprocity but generosity. Don’t worry about being repaid for your generosity or feeling obligated when others are kind to you. Be grateful, be thankful, be generous.
 From the book Give and Take by Adam Grant pp. 11-17.
 Op.Cit., p.1
Lou Green isn’t a household name, but his creation is.
Back in 1962, Lou was the owner of a little fast food place in Cincinnati, Ohio and he was struggling with sales every Friday. Business got to be so bad that he was making only about $75 on that day of the week. See, Lou worked in a neighborhood that was 87% Catholic and back then, Catholics didn’t abstain from meat just on the Fridays during Lent, but on every Friday and Lou only sold hamburgers. A competing restaurant in town, Frisch’s, had been making a good fish sandwich and all Lou’s customers were going over there. Knowing he could come up with something on his own, he created a special batter, made his own tartar sauce, and presented his creation to the head of the company, Ray Kroc. And the Filet-O-Fish sandwich was born. But even then it wasn’t easy. Ray wasn’t convinced it would sell and he had created his own sandwich to combat “meat-free Fridays” – the Hula burger, a cold bun served with a slice of pineapple in the middle. Ray challenged Lou and put the burgers together against each other and said whichever sold better the company would adopt. Needless to say, Ray lost. Today, McDonald’s sells over 300 million Filet-O-Fish sandwiches a year. Lou doesn’t see a penny of it, but don’t worry. When Lou sold his franchise he owned 43 McDonald’s locations across Greater Cincinnati.
What surprised me was to find out at one time Catholics were meat-free EVERY Friday.
Today it’s just during Lent, but before Pope Paul VI loosened the restriction in 1966, it was meat-free every Friday. If you don’t know, Lent is the period Christians observe from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday and represents the forty days Christ spent in the desert. In fact, the Latin word for Lent is “Quadragesima” which means “forty days.”  But why go meat-free in the first place? And why Fridays? Some people jokingly or not speculated the Church mandated the restriction to help the fishing industry. But for us today, we see it as a way to honor Christ and to remember his sacrifice on the cross. Since Christ died on a Friday, Catholics not only skipped red meat but the flesh of any warm-blooded animal. Dr. Michael Foley explained that it seemed theologically fitting to abstain from eating the “meat of an animal whose blood has been shed” on the day in which Christ’s blood was shed. Today, you often hear of Christians, both Catholic and Protestant alike, giving something up for Lent, if not meat them something else. Soda. Sweets. Swearing. But something that’s meant to be challenging in some way to honor and reflect on Christ’s sacrifice for us.
Are you giving something up for Lent?
If you’ve never done it before, I want to encourage you to try it. It’s not a requirement. Nothing bad happens to you if you don’t do it, but this could be something to challenge you to grow in your faith. And if you have done it before, I want to challenge you to do something new. I want to challenge you to “plus it.” We’re going to read from this passage today. “Plus it” is a term Walt Disney used when talking about making something even better. Never one to settle for something that worked, he always challenged himself to find a way to do something better and he called that “plussing it.” One day, early in Disneyland’s history Walt was talking to a group of his accountants who were trying to convince him not to hold this Christmas parade he wanted to do. They ran the numbers and to do everything Walt wanted was going to cost about $350,000, and this was back in the 50’s and early 60’s when the park was still young. They told him not to spend the money, that nobody would complain because they were already going to be there and they wouldn’t be expecting it and he said to them, “That’s just the point…We should do the parade precisely because no one’s expecting it. Our goal at Disneyland is to always give the people more than they expect. As long as we keep surprising them, they’ll keep coming back. But if they ever stop coming, it’ll cost us ten times that much to get them to come back.” That concept of always challenging ourselves to “plus it” is true for our faith also. If we grow complacent in our faith, it will take so much more effort to energize us once again. Instead, we should keep finding new ways to examine our faith, to practice our faith, and to grow our faith. We only have to look to Jesus for an example.
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. – Luke 6:27-36
Christ calls his people to do something radical.
He wants them to “plus” their spiritual life. He challenges his followers to love their enemies and to do good to those who hate them. We take it for granted now that this is the way we are supposed to act, but back then, this was completely against what they had been taught. Instead of “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth,” Jesus was saying to turn the other cheek. Give your shirt to the guy who just stole your coat. But listen carefully to what Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” Jesus is challenging his followers to do more than the status quo. He’s saying to them that it really isn’t much of a stretch to love those who love you. He’s pushing them to do something MORE! And not because it makes us look better in God’s eyes. We aren’t trying to score Brownie points with God. Jesus is challenging us to grow deeper in our faith by taking love of neighbor to a whole new level. What if we did the same? During Lent we traditionally give something up as a way of honoring Christ’s sacrifice and to remind ourselves how much we need God’s forgiveness. But what if we did the unexpected? What if instead of just giving something up, we gave something more? What if we gave more of ourselves to God and to one another? What if we gave more time, more money, more prayer, more of everything to God? What would that look like?
During this Lenten season, I want us to challenge ourselves to do more than just give something up.
But to really give something UP! To INCREASE what we do for God. To really “plus” your Lenten experience this year and make it one to remember. Let’s look at Lent not just a six week period where we give something up, but maybe increase and deepen our faith by doing something meaningful. And if you’ve never given something up? Then try this year to experience what that is like and use the extra time, money, and effort to invest in God. Lent is a time for us to reflect on all that Christ has done for us. Let us use this time to do the unexpected and be the people Christ calls us to be. Prayerfully ask God what he is leading you to give up during this Lenten season. And then ask how God wants you to give more so that you will grow deeper in your faith. Let us pray.
Heavenly Father. As we enter into this Lenten season, help us to grow spiritually in our faith in you as we remember the sacrifices Christ made so that we can enter into a relationship with you. Help us also to be the type of people who do the unexpected that we may shine a light on you with our lives. The Lenten season is only about to begin, but help us look forward to the end when we celebrate the Risen Christ who represents all the hope we have in the world. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Food can trigger fond memories.
Growing up, my dad’s cooking was fun to eat. My mom was the master chef of the house, so eating my dad’s food was special because it didn’t happen often – usually on weekends when he was home from work. He would cook different stuff from my mom, so each meal of his was an adventure. One of his staples was shoyu weenies. He would fry up a package of sliced wieners in a skillet with some soy sauce and it would taste delicious! My dad made a little fried rice to go with it using leftovers from the day before. He would sprinkle a little of this and a little of that (I never knew that this and that was) to make it a perfect side dish and I wondered where in the world my dad would come up with such an idea like this! Literally decades later, I was listening to NPR and heard a story about food in the internment camps during WWII and they mentioned shoyu weenies! With fish and fresh meat not available in the camps, my dad’s family and other’s like his often had to make do with whatever they were given – often hot dogs, spam, and other processed food. Somehow, they used these products in ways that resembled the foods they loved. Shoyu weenies, Weenie Royale, and spam musubi all came from the foods they had available, and now he’s passed them on to me.
The phrase “making lemons into lemonade” comes to mind.
These people who were imprisoned and had everything stripped away from them still found ways to not just endure but thrive. They found ways to make sake, to create art, and build beautiful dressers out of discarded fruit boxes. When my grandfather passed away, we found the side of an old orange crate in his bedroom and wondered why in the world he would have this. But when we turned it over, there was a beautiful carving of a fish flying out of the water. I remember when we found it and wondering how none of us knew about this side of him. It was inspiring. It would have been easy for them to embrace what the Japanese call shigata-ga-nai, a sense of acceptance with resignation; but instead they turned their circumstance into an opportunity to show the worldthat despite the indignation and humiliation they endured, they could rise above it and wouldn’t let this define them. Many Japanese Christian pastors encouraged their congregations to do more than simply suffer in silence, but to show the true heart of Christianity. Rev. Hideo Hashimoto of the Fresno Japanese Methodist Church told his congregation in a sermon he gave on May 10, 1942 – “In the camps, cooperation will not only be highly desirable, it will be the absolute minimal requirement, even to eat and sleep. This is a great opportunity to prove that Christianity works and the Christian spirit alone works. If it doesn’t work in the Centers, it will not work anywhere. For that very reason, Christians are on trial. This is the testing of our faith.” Rev. John Yamazaki of the Japanese Episcopal Church in Los Angeles shared in his Easter message that year, “In a sense, this is our Calvary, and we must be willing to say: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” We must also try, with Him, to say: “Into Thy hands I commit my spirit.” But that is not all. As Jesus the Christ had His resurrection from the dark tomb, so may it be with us. We shall have our Easter and be triumphant.”
It is in that Christian spirit of love and inspiration we share our reading this morning.
In the Bible, light is symbolic of Christ and appears over and over throughout Scripture. We are called to be the “people of the light” (Luke 16:8) and Jesus himself said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). And it is this light that we are to share.
14“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven…” – Mattthew 5:14-16
We are called to be the people of the light.
In EVERY circumstance. No matter how difficult or how daunting, no matter how strenuous or tough, we are the light of the world. But it can be hard to be the light, to be one of those who can turn the other cheek, to forgive not seven times but seventy-seven times. But THIS is the kind of people God wants us to be. When we are wronged, when we are hurt, when we are threatened, we are tempted to react in kind, to give an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but Jesus tells us we need to rise above that. That we need to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” We see examples of this all throughout the Bible. Joseph, the guy with the Technicolor dreamcoat, was sold into slavery by his own brothers and yet his faithfulness to God, his ability to be a light in the darkness, convinced Pharaoh to make him his right-hand man and in turn save his family and the people of God. Daniel and his friends were taken forcibly by King Nebuchadnezzar to serve in the royal courts and were told they must eat the food and wine they were given. But this would violate God’s call on their lives, so Daniel chose instead to follow God. Daniel’s example to be the light in a time of darkness eventually convinced the King that the God Daniel followed was indeed the “God of gods and the Lord of kings” (Daniel 2:47). So many of these stories reflect the Japanese-American experience during the war that we are taught even in captivity, even under the rule of strangers, even when persecuted in our own land, Christians are called upon to be the people of light – to stand out amongst the crowd, not as a way of bringing glory to themselves, but by bringing glory to God by our actions.
We must be the people of the light.
And it doesn’t matter which side of the fence we stand on, this is the call God pours into us. Some of the most amazing and heart-warming stories I have heard over the years have been ABOUT the people on the other side of the barbed wire fences, who stood alongside their Japanese-American brothers and sisters and did whatever they could to help them. People who saw there was a grave injustice being done and decided to do something about it. One of those people was Dr. Frank Herron Smith. He was the superintendent of the Pacific Japanese Provisional Conference of the Methodist church at the time of the war. When I interviewed Rev. Lloyd Wake for my master’s thesis he shared with me Dr. Smith was a great influence on him. That he, “not only preached about justice and love, but he lived it.” Dr. Smith was said to have shishi no koe – the voice of a lion – and he used that voice to speak on behalf of the Japanese people at every turn; writing letters, standing up at conferences, and giving a voice to a people who had no voice. During the war, he tirelessly went from church to church, coordinating the efforts of volunteer missionaries who helped turn many of the churches into storage facilities so that families wouldn’t have to get rid of all of their belongings. He would manage the various properties, maintain the parsonages, and when insurance companies decided to drop their coverage of the churches, Dr. Smith mortgaged his own home to help cover the costs. He was unkindly called “the white Jap” because of his passion and love for the Japanese-Americans under his care, but to those who knew him, they called him “Smith-san,” an honorific for one who gave so much. Bishop Sano, the first Japanese-American bishop in the Methodist Church, shared this story about Dr. Smith. He said, “…Dr. Smith made the rounds visiting us in the camps. He wore himself out. One of the hallowed places in the spread of this nation is a hotel and a bus station…I have visited in Cheyenne, WY. He slept in the lounge of the hotel on a chair because “there was no room for him in the inn.” Next morning, he walked across the street to board a Greyhound bus… When the janitor came early the next morning to clean up the bus station, he found Dr. Smith on the floor. He had suffered a stroke… No matter how much hysteria and hate I experience, it was memories like this that saved my soul.” These are the kind of stories that bring the light of Christ to us and serve as an example of what it means to be a Christian.
My dad was very young when he, my grandparents, my uncle and aunt went to the camps.
But he was old enough to remember what life was like there and I know those experiences have added to the person he is today. I know he grew up having his ethnicity thrown in his face as if it were something he should be ashamed of. And despite the fact that my dad owned nothing but American cars until I was in high school – I mean we drove a huge Buick century that was built like a tank and got about three miles to the gallon. Despite the fact that he served in the United States Navy, despite the fact that his best friends were of all different ethnicities including a bald white man that we knew of as Uncle Dan, he was still called “jap” and “nip” by people who didn’t know him. You know how I found out that those were racist words? We were in the store when I was little and instead of getting the Cheez-Its that we normally buy, I picked up a box of Cheese Nips because I was curious if they tasted any different. They looked the same. So I brought the box over to my dad, and he told me to put them back. He said we would never buy those because of what that word meant. So I put them back. Instead we bought Cheez-Its and Tid Bits and Nacho Cheese Doritos, but never Cheese Nips. And then one day, Cassie, the girls, and I went to visit my parents, and sitting on the kitchen counter was a big ol’ tub of Cheese Nips. The kind you get at Costco. I looked at my mom and said, “What is going on here? I thought Dad said never to buy these things.” And she just shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well, I guess he’s over it.” And it gives me hope that all wounds can be healed no matter how deep. That God is working in all of us to make us one people. But it still takes people like you and me who remember what has happened in the past and prevent it from happening tomorrow. It takes people like you and me to be a light unto the darkness that we may point toward the God that created us and show the world what it means to be a Christian. I pray we have the strength of those who lived through life in the camps. I pray that we have the gaman, the fortitude, to endure as they have. And I pray that we never forget the lessons of those days, that we can become beacons in the community for love and justice and that in the spirit of those who are our inspirations, that we do all we can to honor their past by living a life of honor in the present.
As you wish.
Three simple words that mean so much more. In the film, The Princess Bride, Westley starts out as a farm boy working for Buttercup’s family and those three words were all he ever said to Buttercup. “As you wish.” She would ask him to do the most menial tasks like cleaning the stable or polishing her saddle or fetching her some odd thing and he would simply say to her, “As you wish.” But what he was actually saying was, “I love you.” Saying, “As you wish” was Westley’s way of showing his submission to Buttercup. His trust in her allowed their love to bloom.
We tend to look at “submission” as if it were a dirty word.
At least by our standards today. And it’s understandable. Most of us have been taken advantage of by people we have submitted to. Whether it’s our spouse, our boss, or the government, it feels like over time we have been betrayed by those we put our trust in. And that’s what submission is based on – trust. When that trust is broken, our willingness to submit erodes over time until we no longer are willing to open ourselves to that kind of pain. But when done right, submission is not only loving but freeing as well.
The church has done a poor job of understanding submission for centuries.
I wish it were otherwise, but passages in the Bible talking about submission have been twisted and revised to suit the needs of those in power. How we could get something so simple so wrong is unforgivable and astounding. It takes a blatant disregard of what God is trying to tell us to interpret it this way. It ignores the very premise of the Bible to love one another. In Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, he writes (Ephesians 5:22), “Wives, submit to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” And that’s all well and good, but for thousands of years we’ve ignored the rest of that passage which starts with “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. A good and healthy relationship according to Paul is one of mutual submission. Mutual. Not one-sided. Not uneven. Mutual. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
As if that weren’t enough, we also ignore everything AFTER those words.
If you read the whole passage, Paul spends eight full verses on how husbands are supposed to honor their wives and treat them with more honor and respect than anyone else in the world. Do you know how many verses he takes talking about wives submitting to their husbands? Three. He has to use nearly three times as much space to tell guys the same thing he says to the women in just a few verses. Maybe that says something about men’s capacity to understand? For whatever reason, Paul outlines for the guys what God expects and tells them they are supposed to treat their wives with the same kind of love and sacrifice as Christ did for all of humanity. That’s a pretty high standard to live up to but one which Paul felt women deserved. It’s what we all deserve in a committed, loving relationship – a partner who puts our needs, wants, hopes, and dreams above their own.
Sacrifice is at the heart of love.
All we have to do is look to Jesus to see this to be true. Having the heart of a servant, being willing to submit to those you love, those are attributes Jesus exhibited time and time again. There was that moment when Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. The rest of them were probably confused, but Peter was near horrified. “You shall never wash my feet,” he told Jesus, but Jesus looked up at him and said, “Unless I wash you, you have no part of me.” Finally, Peter relented and after Jesus washed their feet, he told them, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” Then there was the time when James and John asked Jesus if they could sit by his side when he claimed his kingdom. Essentially, they were asking to be in positions of power and when the other disciples heard about this, they got mad. But Jesus shared this with them.
41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man – did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:41-45
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
If we want to look for inspiration for how we should love one another, we only have to look to the cross and witness for ourselves the sacrifice that Christ made for us. He warns us how easily authority can be abused and when we submit ourselves before others, that’s exactly what we are doing – giving them authority over us and trusting that they will do what’s right. But as Jesus points out, so many don’t do what’s right. He talks about the rulers of the Gentiles and the high officials and how they love to boss people around and make them do what they want. But Jesus said that to truly become great is not about who can dominate the most people. That’s just abusing the trust people place in you. Being great is about service and having a spirit of service to others. And that’s what it’s all about – serving others.
To serve others means to be in tune to others’ needs.
In The Princess Bride, Westley does whatever it is Buttercup wants him to do. Not what he FEELS like doing. He doesn’t say to her, “As you wish, except that. I don’t want to do that. What about something else?” He listens to her needs and follows through. But that’s not always easy for us to do. We have a hard time stepping out of our own perspective and trying to see the world through someone else’s eyes. Take for example the first and last time I bought Cassie flowers for Valentine’s Day. It was about 10 months after we had first started dating and I was SO in love with her. I was excited for our first Valentine’s Day together and I did what I thought I was supposed to do. I bought her a dozen red roses. I had them delivered to her work so that the WHOLE WORLD would know how much I loved her. That night she told me how beautiful they were, but said I didn’t need to buy her flowers to show how much I loved her, and I thought, “How sweet of her to say that.” I assumed she was just being humble because what woman doesn’t like getting a dozen red roses on Valentine’s Day? So, a couple of weeks later, I brought her another dozen roses, just to show her I loved her not only on Valentine’s Day but EVERYDAY. She smiled, thanked me again, and told me again I didn’t have to do that. I thought, “What a woman! So humble and considerate!” After the THIRD time I brought her flowers… she dropped the whole humble act and just spit it out. She looked at me and said, “Look, I wish you wouldn’t waste your money like that. I’d rather you saved that money for our honeymoon or our wedding instead of buying me something that’s going to wilt and die in a couple of days.” I didn’t know what to say! This is what you’re supposed to do, right? You buy a girl gifts. She melts in your arms. Happily ever after. That’s what’s supposed to happen. It’s in a book somewhere. But what I didn’t realize was that wasn’t the way to Cassie’s heart.
It turns out she and I didn’t speak the same “love language.”
Gary Chapman wrote this great book called The 5 Love Languages. Cassie and I read it in our Bible study group when we first started going to church together. In it, Gary describes how each of us react differently to love. We have different “languages” and he categorized them as Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts, and Quality Time. Most of us have more than one, but there’s usually one or two that are on the top of our list and for me, “Receiving Gifts” was right near the top followed by “Physical Touch.” For Cassie, there was one language above all she connected with – “Acts of Service.” That was what filled her love tank and still does today. When I cooked dinner for her, helped her by mowing the lawn, take out the trash; when I DID things for her like that, she felt the most loved. Because for her, it was the self-sacrifice of my actions that expressed love to her and made her feel complete. Learning that she spoke a different love language helped me to understand how best to communicate my love for her. I have to admit, there are times I forget and fall back on what feels good for me and I have to resist those temptations. But I try to speak her love language as much as possible.
As we think about this season of love, maybe we can challenge ourselves to think of it in a new way.
Or at least to remember that love means sacrifice. That submission doesn’t have to be a bad thing. And that when we love each other the way God intended it can be amazing. But it takes trust. I know that’s something that seems to be in short supply today, but trust like everything else is a choice. You can choose to live your life without trust and for sure you will be taken advantage of much less frequently. But don’t kid yourself. It will still happen. And the worst part is you’ll never feel quite at ease. Or you can choose to trust, knowing that at times your trust could be broken. But most of the time it won’t be and the life you lead will have a profound difference in your life. It may never happen, but the more we work to creating a world based on trust and love, the better off all of humanity will be. If we become cynical and distrustful of the world, in the long run we will only poison the relationships we have. If I’ve learned anything from The Princess Bride it’s that true love wins out, and there is no truer love than the love God has for us, his children. Trust at least in that and see where it leads you.
Seen and Unseen is a beautiful book that captures the essence of Japanese internment during World War II from three lenses – literally. The photographs of Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams are used throughout to illustrate life in the camps and to tell the story of what happened to those interned. There is actually a fourth and fifth lens through which we view the incarceration – author Elizabeth Partridge, who is the goddaughter of Dorothea Lange and Lauren Tamaki, a yonsei (fourth generation) Japanese Canadian whose grandparents were incarcerated in British Columbia.
Interestingly, this book will appeal to all ages. Older readers will appreciate the detail, the accuracy, and the way life is accurately depicted in the camps. It’s in the little things that accentuate the impact of this book – the typography, the notes in the margin, and the combination of photographs and hand drawn images. Younger readers will appreciate Partridge’s easy-to-read style. An author known for her work for younger readers, the main narrative shows this clearly and it is well done. Tamaki’s illustrations are excellent and her choices in both line work and color capture life in the camps in a different way than the photographs without taking anything away from them. The essays which conclude the book delve deeper into the narrative and enrich the rest of the book.
As a Japanese American myself with parents and grandparents (and aunts and uncles, etc.) who were incarcerated in these concentration camps, I felt I knew a lot about the internment, but even with as much as I know, this book opened my eyes to details I hadn’t considered before. Farmers being told to work until the end so the nation would have the literal fruit of their labor as the Japanese were losing everything, families having to give away their pets, the cloth sacks that served as mattresses – it was in the details again that were even more eye-opening for me.
As we come upon the Day of Remembrance (February 19 – the date FDR signed Executive Order 9066), this book is a meaningful way to share about what happened in our country and to make sure it never happens again. Highly recommended reading, not just for people who aren’t aware of the details of that fateful order, but also for those who know the stories well. The rich illustrations, the quotes from people who lived through it, and the straight-forward way it was framed as an injustice against American citizens make this book a rich resource. It was also incredibly interesting to read about how different Lange and Adams approached their assignment to photograph the camps and the limitations and barriers they came across while doing so. Make sure to pass this resource on to others so that we all remember and insure a better future for our country and our children.
Title: Seen and Unseen
Author: Elizabeth Partridge / Lauren Tamaki
Cost: $21.99 (list) / $19.79 (Amazon)
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Ages: 10 and up
Genre: American History / Children’s Illustrated Book
I still remember our first date.
It was on April 25, 2001. Cassie and I met at a Tex-Mex restaurant called On the Border which was kind of in-between where we both lived at the time. We shared a queso fundido de pollo for an appetizer – this yummy cheesy concoction with grilled chicken and onions and nice warm tortillas where you’d scoop the cheese into the tortilla and form a gooey, cheesy taco. My mouth still waters thinking about it. The chimichanga I ordered for my main course was good, but dessert was to die for. We had this amazing apple crisp! It was warm and buttery with this sweet crumb topping that was delicious. Just the right amount of cinnamon and the apples were nice and tender so they melted as you ate it. Again, mouth-watering anticipation. Since it was our first date, I wanted to impress so I wore my best “date” outfit at the time – a blue button-down oxford from Banana Republic, khaki Dockers, and brown Sperry Topsiders. I even put on cologne – Safari by Ralph Lauren. I know that completely dates me, but it’s true. Cassie looked great! She was dressed in a very alluring black chiffon blouse that I to this day call her pirate shirt because it had this frilly collar like in Seinfeld, except that it looked very nice on her. The whole night, I remember being on my very best behavior – making sure I paid attention without seeming too eager, being polite without being obsequious, making sure I didn’t eat with my mouth open or spit food while we were talking. That kind of thing. The hardest part was not spilling food on my shirt. You might think that would be easy, but I swear I buy shirts with food magnets in them. No matter what I do, it seems like the food just jumps off the fork and right onto my shirt. I wanted to make a good first impression on Cassie because deep down, I was hoping this would last. Twenty years later and we’re still together, so things worked out pretty well.
It’s important to make a good first impression.
It sets the tone for our relationship right from the start. And even though we CAN overcome a BAD first impression, it’s so much easier to get it right the first time. That’s true whenever you’re trying to develop a relationship. Not just in dating, but when you apply for a job, when you’re competing for an award, when you go to a new school, you want to present your best self. Why should it be any different for our church? If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, this morning we’re going to read from 1 Cornithians 9 beginning with verse 19. 1 Cornithians 9:19. Churches are always trying to attract new people, but we often don’t put ourselves in this frame of mind. But the truth is we are dating our community. We’re trying to develop a relationship with the people around us. We want them to come and get to know us. So we should act like every Sunday is a first date. Think of it this way: If you were inviting someone over to your house, someone you wanted to attract, would you pick up your dirty clothes on the floor? Would you wash the dishes in the sink? Would you make your bed? Or would you say to yourself, “Hey, if they can’t accept me for who I am, I don’t want to be with them anyway.” I bet your attitude wouldn’t be the last one. It doesn’t even have to be a date. It could be your boss or your in-laws or friend you haven’t seen in a long time. But we all know how important it is to make a lasting first impression.
To do that we have to adapt to our community.
We’ve got to find a way to adapt to make our church into a place other people would like to stay awhile. If the person you’re dating loves chocolate chip cookies (like I do), then you might bake some chocolate chip cookies. If your boss loves sushi, maybe you bring some to work. If you’re going to a new school, you could wear your new school colors. I mean you wouldn’t go to a Giants game wearing a Dodgers jersey if you wanted to make friends with Giant fans would you? Paul talks about that in our reading this morning (I’m sure Paul was secretly a Dodgers fan). Once Paul was convinced Jesus was exactly who he said he was, Paul was on fire for Christ! He went from being a zealot against Christ to being a zealot FOR Christ and nothing would stop him. Not even his old self. He would do ANYTHING short of selling out the Gospel to help others come to faith in Christ.
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
Paul is speaking directly to each one of us.
His message is clear. It is OUR responsibility to bring the Gospel to others. It is not THEIR responsibility to come and get it. We sometimes act as if it is. We act as if it is the responsibility of other people to come and seek the Gospel. But a person who doesn’t know he’s lost isn’t going to ask for directions. Think about it! Have you asked for directions when you weren’t lost? Nobody does! And even when it becomes evident to everyone else that we ARE in fact lost, we still drive on for 10 miles more before admitting it. Before a person looks for help, they have to be convinced that help is needed. That’s where we come in. There is a whole world out there chock full of people who don’t know Jesus and don’t know why having Christ in your life is important. They don’t know that life could be better on so many levels when you open it up to the movement of the Holy Spirit, and unless we can SHOW them that better life, unless we make it a reality, they’ll go on driving without ever knowing they might be lost.
Paul felt so passionate about Jesus he did whatever he could to bring Jesus to the people.
To his Jewish friends, he practiced all the Jewish customs. He celebrated Jewish festivals. He worshipped with them in synagogues and built trust with them so when the opportunity came to share about Jesus, they would believe him. He obeyed the laws even though he wasn’t restricted by them any more. Jesus had set him free, but in order to reach those who still held to those laws, he followed them so they wouldn’t blame him of being a radical, so that he could speak to them and they would hear. He showed empathy to the weak even though he was emboldened by Christ so that in his weakness, in his vulnerability, he could make a connection with others. As Paul said, he became all things to all people so that he might save some. And that’s important because despite our best efforts, we won’t reach everyone, but it’s important to try. I know in my own life, if it weren’t for people reaching out to me, I wouldn’t be here today.
Let’s date our community.
Let’s find a way to do as Paul invites us to do and become what we need to become. Let’s figure out together what it is our community needs and wants and DO that. We just have to be aware not to mistake what WE want for what the COMMUNITY needs. But with care, prayer, discernment, and patience, we can find a way to reach the heart of our neighborhood and help them to see the loving Christ-centered people we are. It didn’t take me long to realize that our church is filled with loving people. We only need to show that to our community. But for them to know that about us, they need to get to know us. They need to spend time with us to see we are not the stereotypical church they see on TV. That instead we are a people who want to make a difference in the world. To do that, they need to hang around a while and they will see what I see – a place where you can connect to God through the love of Jesus Christ. Let’s ask our community on a date and see what happens!
9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
Whether it’s in our personal lives, our careers, or the life of the church, how much do we believe this? Do we really believe God is with us wherever we go? When we are first starting out in life, in our church, in our careers, we ARE bold. We ARE courageous! Because we feel we have all the time in the world. Because we don’t have much to lose. But the more comfortable we become, the more invested we are, the less likely we are to be so bold or to be as courageous. We play it safe. The thought of losing what we have starts to weigh on us. And we start to balance that with the risk of obtaining more. Is it worth it? Even though we might not be living the life we want, or have the job we hoped, even if our church is slowly growing smaller, still….is it worth risking what we DO have for only the promise of what MIGHT be? And slowly but surely, our resolve, our BOLDNESS fades away.
Jesus knew this would be a problem for us.
And so he told a story to help us see the need to be bold for Christ in every aspect of our lives. Among Biblical scholars it’s called the Parable of the Talents and basically, it’s about these three servants who are each given a bag of gold to take care of for their master while he was gone. When the master returns, the first guy says, “You gave me five bags of gold and now I come back to you with five bags more.” And the master says, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” Then the next guy comes up and says, “You gave me three bags of gold and I come back with three more.” And the master says again, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” And then the last guy comes up and doesn’t have anything to give except the one bag he started with. He confesses he was afraid of what might happen if he lost the one bag and the master is disappointed with him – not because of the money, because he didn’t need the money, but because the last servant wasted what was given to him out of fear and doubt. He would rather keep things the way they were instead of taking a chance on a better outcome. Which servant are you more like? Which servant does God want you to be?
I have heard those three little words more often than I can count.
If I was attracted to a girl and thought there MIGHT be something there, I’d ask her out – only to hear those three words every guy (and every woman, too I imagine) dreads hearing. “Let’s be friends.” In high school, a buddy of mine, Pete, asked me about that one day. He said, “Why do you do it? Why do you ask out these girls when you don’t even know if they like you or not?” And I told him, “I don’t want to live my life with regret. I don’t want to wonder, ‘What if?’ because what if one of them said ‘yes?’” And you know, one did. Our life isn’t perfect (whose is?), but I can tell you, I have no regrets. And I feel blessed for the life I have. But back then, Pete shook his head and responded, “I have to give you a lot of credit. I don’t think I could do that. I’d never ask a girl out unless I knew she would say ‘yes.’” That really surprised me, because by all accounts Pete was a good-looking guy (or so my female friends told me). He was also nice, smart, and pretty well off. In high school, he drove red Porsche 944. Here was this guy with every reason to be confident but wouldn’t ask a girl out unless he knew she’d say yes. But a lot of us are like that, maybe not about dating, but about something. Why put ourselves through the possibility of rejection or failure? And the more we are comfortable with our lives the way they are, the less likely we are to do it; to be bold, to risk giving up what we have for the hope of something more. But think of the possibilities if we succeed! We could do things we’ve never done before. We could achieve goals we never thought possible. We could see our lives change, our careers change, our church change in ways only God could have seen.
My dad had a saying, “You’ve got to spend money to make money.”
As a kid, that didn’t make a lot of sense to me. If I wanted money, shouldn’t I save as much as possible? But my dad explained it like this, “If you want to do something right, you can’t afford to do it half-way. You’ve got to do it right the first time.” And he was right. I didn’t know it at the time because I was only like 10 years old, but what my dad was trying to tell me was also Biblical. Matthew 6:21 says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Whatever we invest in with whatever we have – our time, our money, or our talents – is an indicator of what is truly important to us. And if we are going to invest in something, if we want something to succeed then we need to use whatever resources we have toward that goal, whether that’s our career, our family, or our relationship with God. To see a return, you’ve got to invest, and you’ve got to do it whole-heartedly. “You’ve got to spend money to make money.”
Do you sometimes hold back?
Do you have doubts? Is that because you are not quite sure if things will work out? Sometimes we hedge our bets because we’re not sure of the outcome. We hold stuff in reserve just in case. But God wants us to live lives of boldness! He wants us to go out into the world and love unconditionally. He wants us to be the kind of people who give abundantly. And he wants us to trust in him freely and without reservation. Those things are not easy for us to do. Children do those things easily, but as we grow up, we get hurt by people who take advantage of our unconditional love, of our abundant giving, and our willingness to trust and we start to build walls between us and the person God wants us to be. I’ll never forget this. One time when Emma and I were in LA, we stopped by this place called Milk. They served the best cookies. And as we were walking from our car to the place, we saw a homeless woman who was asking for money. Something about this woman’s plight touched Emma and as we kept walking she reached into her pocket and found 35 cents. She said, “Daddy, I want to give this to her when we go back.” I couldn’t be more proud so as we returned with our cookies in hand, Emma gave this woman all she had. And do you know what that woman did? She turned to my little girl and said, “That’s all you have? Come on! I can’t even buy a cup of coffee with that!” I was livid! Not just for the disrespect she showed my nine-year old daughter, but because she took a little piece away of that unconditional love and trust Emma had in humanity. For what? A cup of coffee? So believe me, I understand how the world chips away at us, but God challenges us to give abundantly as he made clear in this passage.
6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.”
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! – 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Don’t hold back!
Live boldly the life God wants for you to live! In your marriage, in your relationship with your children, in your career, and in your faith. In all of these things, invest of yourself fully. Do not be afraid of what might happen. But love unconditionally, give generously, and trust in God fully and you will know a life filled with abundance in a way you cannot experience otherwise. Living this kind of life not only opens you up to God’s work in your life, but is also an example to those around you of the power of faith. I understand that by living this kind of life, you also open yourself up to failed expectations. I get you might be taken advantage of by someone who isn’t as scrupulous. I know that living the way God asks us to live makes us vulnerable. But it’s the only way to truly open yourself up to the life God has in store for you. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. This is the promise of God. Spend some time in prayer this week asking God to show you where you are being challenged. What areas in your life are you retreating to the safety and comfort of the familiar? And where could you live a life of boldness that would change your life? We all have those seeds of doubt inside of us, but push past them and live boldly! The promise of God is greater than the fear that comes from failure.
The climate crisis started decades ago.
It’s on the top of many people’s minds now, but scientists have been warning us about this for a very long time. Back in 1998 while earning my MA in Poli Sci at Long Beach State, we were watching a video about what we once called “global warming.” Even then humanity was being warned we were on a countdown to disaster. At the time, the guy in the video said we had about 30 years before it was too late and irreparable damage would be done to the earth. That was in 1998. And that video was an old video. The clock has almost run out and when it does we likely won’t even know it because the devastating effects of climate change won’t happen overnight. It happens slowly over decades. So why are scientists all over the world saying we’re running out of time? Because the damage to the environment can’t be stopped on a dime. All the horrible things we’ve done to the planet have taken their toll and after a certain point, there’s no way to reasonably recover. The guy in the video from 1998 explained it like a tanker in the ocean. When you try to turn a tanker it doesn’t immediately start to move in a new direction. It takes a very long time, and in the meantime, the tanker continues to drift in the direction it was already going. To turn the tanker around, you have to anticipate for the drift and start the turn early. By the time you see the shoreline, it’s already too late. The same goes for climate change. We keep thinking we have time to change course and so we put off doing what we know needs to be done. Worse yet, people deny the evidence piling up in front of their eyes because that would mean they would have to change and human beings are notorious for their resistance to change. What we fail to face is that whether we want it to or not, whether we acknowledge it or not, it’s happening anyway.
It says a lot about us that we refuse to change in the face of something as serious as climate change.
But it seems to be part of human nature. We don’t like change no matter what. Even when it’s better for us. We have a tendency toward the status quo. You may have heard that your body has a “set point,” meaning your body gets used to the size and shape it’s in and any attempt to alter it is met with a LOT of resistance. That’s true physically AND mentally. I took a psych class at UCLA where we learned that your brain gets used to certain patterns of behavior. It creates neural pathways to make it easier to process information. But once those pathways are created, we have a hard time drifting away from them, even when we should. There was a study done about how people drive to work, and when presented with a better, quicker alternative, most people didn’t go that route. They were used to the way things were. That’s called being stubborn. Just so we’re clear, Google defines stubborn as “having or showing dogged determination not to change one’s attitude or position on something, especially in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so.” At times, we almost take pride in being stubborn. We call it “grit” or “perseverance.” But those are different. Grit and perseverance are qualities of being steadfast in the face of adversity. Stubborn is being unwilling to change even when all the evidence points to the need to do so. This is something we all struggle with and have apparently for at least 2000 years.
We are a stubborn people.
And that shows up not only in our politics but in our personal lives, in our jobs, in pretty much anything human beings are involved in. About 25 years ago, I was working for a credit union down in Southern California that was considering switching over to debit cards (that’s how long ago 25 years is). Up until then it was still a relatively new technology. Most of the big banks had it, but it was just starting to become affordable for smaller institutions. At the time, I was in the marketing department, and we were given the task of figuring out if it was worth it. My friend Albert did the research and in every analysis, the credit union ended up making a ton of extra money. Our investment was minimal. The risk was almost non-existent. It seemed like the perfect fit. But the CEO and the board turned it down. Turned it down flat. The reason? The CEO said he couldn’t see how anyone would want to use it. He figured he didn’t want to use it so no one would. It didn’t matter that the evidence was overwhelming people were in fact using debit cards. It didn’t matter it presented virtually no risk. It didn’t matter we could make a ton of money. His vision was short-sighted because it would mean changing the way HE did something. Despite the facts, he was too stubborn to see the opportunity before him.
I wish that were an isolated incident, but you and I both know it’s not.
We’ve ALL been victims of other people’s stubbornness, and I’m sure we’ve also been the ones too stubborn to see the obvious. Two-thousand years ago, Jesus encountered the same problem when a young man with all the prospects in the world in front of him asked Jesus what he must do for eternal life. And this is what Jesus told him.
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” – Matthew 19:16-24
What is holding you back?
For the young man, it was the thought of giving up his wealth; giving up the lifestyle he had grown accustomed to. That was holding him back. He had accomplished pretty much everything else he wanted to in life, like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg; wildly successful at a young age. But he still felt this hole inside and wanted to know what he needed to do to fill it. He found Jesus who people said was this incredibly wise man and asked him, “What must I do?” and ended up walking away sad. Because even though he had received the answer he was looking for, it wasn’t something he wanted to do. Now, it would be easy to judge him. After all Jesus promised him eternal life if he would just give up his possessions and give them to the poor. You might think that’s a small price to pay for eternal life, but think about the mistakes we’ve made in our own lives. The things you were told to do differently that you just didn’t do. Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Eat healthier. Your friends all told you, don’t go out with THAT guy, but you did anyway. Or your buddy told you that girl was only using you, but you didn’t believe them. The list goes on and on.
We all have some resistance to change.
But that can be dangerous. We have to recognize this flaw within ourselves and work to do something about it. We have to be the agent of change in our own lives. Don’t wait until it’s too late to do something, because we never know how much time we have left. Like the tanker trying to turn around, even when we decide to change it will take time to see results. The same is true for our church. The reason most churches fail to grow is because we have ceased to be relevant to the next generation. It’s because we have become unwilling to change with the times. It doesn’t SEEM that way to us because for us, it works. But does it? If it worked, wouldn’t we keep reaching new people for Christ? That’s why Thom Rainer said most unhealthy churches have little chance of turning things around. Not because it’s impossible, but because people are unwilling to do what is necessary to make a difference. We become like the young man in our reading and are unwilling to let go of the lifestyle we’ve created, even though it would lead to a better and brighter future. Even though it would lead others to Christ. We become stubborn.
We have to make a choice.
Are we too rooted or too stubborn to change? Or are we willing to do what’s needed to make a difference? And in our church, are we willing to shift our culture in a way that we can reach the next generation? When I was in seminary, we read this book and the pastor who wrote it shared something I will never forget. He said, “the seven last words of any church are, ‘We’ve never done it that way before.’” We have to constantly challenge ourselves as individuals and as a community of believers to never be so comfortable with what WE like and what WE want that we forget the rich tapestry of life that awaits us when we are open to where God is leading. We live in a world of change and sometimes we forget that God is part of that change. Open yourself up and embrace it. And see where God is leading us next.