A Whole New World… Why I Love Disney

I have to admit my love of Disney is intense. 

It peppers my life in ways even my wife doesn’t understand.  It’s not the kind of intense that’s chaotic or obsessive, but intense in the way that it holds deep meaning in my life.  The theme parks especially have a special place in my heart.  A Disney theme park was the place I got my first job, was the place I met my first girlfriend, and was the place I bought my wife a Minnie Mouse ring and promised one day I would marry her.  I came through on that promise by the way.

From one of our first Daddy / Daughter Days at Disneyland

I love Disney because it hearkens back to an idealism about the world we are sorely missing.  With reality TV everywhere we turn, we seldom get to imagine the way life COULD be.  Today even our sit-coms are based “in reality.”  When I was growing up, we watched shows like Brady Bunch, Happy Days, Family Ties and The Cosby Show. The reason these shows were so popular were not because anybody actually lived like that, but because they showed us the kind of life we aspired to have.  The kind where parents make the right decisions in raising their kids.  The kind where love and understanding triumph over selfishness and self-centeredness.  And it brought hope we could rise above it all.

Dedication plaque replica from Disneyland

If you want reality TV, you simply have to turn on the news to see the worst in one another.  But where is the counterbalance?  Where are the images and examples that we can look up to and live for?  They seem to be disappearing these days.  One of the reasons I became a pastor was because I fully and whole-heartedly believe God offers us hope for a better life if we only reached out and took it.  And I don’t mean in a blind faith kind of way either, but if we embraced what God has to teach us – to love one another – we could reshape the world!  And that’s the kind of hope I want to share with others..

To me Disney offers that kind of hope.  In a world filled with horrible realities, Disney often offers us a better way.  One of the things I loved about working in the parks was the concept of the “berm.”  The berm was a big wall that shut out the outside world.  Beyond the berm was every trouble and worry that dotted our lives. But for a brief instant in time, when you walked beneath that sign that said, “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy” you did just that.  You lived in a place where magic exists and dreams do come true.  Is it the reality of our world today?  No, but it could be.  And it should be.

Our family on a recent trip to the park

We often take vacations at a Disney theme park, not just because they are fun and family-friendly, but because I want my family to have this hope in their lives.  I want them to know that for an instant and maybe right now only in this place, does this kind of idealism exist in the world.  But it does exist!  Other theme parks may offer more thrilling rides or more dangerous rides, but none of them offer you a better way to live.  We see this idealism in the animated movies Disney creates and we watch them come to life in the parks and we can hope at least for the day this idealism remains alive and well and can inspire us to make the world a better place.  That’s why I’m a Disney Dad, because I want to make this world a better place for my children.  Every child deserves to have hope, happiness, and love in their lives.  Don’t you think?

Let It Be

Hi, ho! Kermit the Frog here.

Today I’m going to tell you why YOU should be a frog.  Frogs are cool.  We help clean the water.  We eat all those bugs that bother you humans so much.  We help important scientific research (not always by choice – but that’s another topic for discussion).  And we are a very important part of the Circle of Life (talk to my friend Simba about that).[1]  A few of us have even become famous.  Thor, God of Thunder, he became a frog – the first frog superhero.  Disney made a whole movie about us – The Princess and the Frog.  I’m told they are going to make that into a ride even.  Finally, Mr. Toad won’t be the only amphibian represented at Disneyland.  And of course, there’s Jeremiah.  He was a good friend of mine.  Never understood a single word he said, but I would help him to drink his wine.  Frogs are great!  And if you ever get the chance to become one, I highly recommend it. 

Thanks, Kermit.

I appreciate you for sharing your unique perspective on life as a frog.  But what if I told you, we could all become frogs without kissing a princess or anything like that?  (Kermit: I’d say you’re missing the best part of it all).  Be that as it may, Kermit’s right.  We should all want to be frogs and we can and we should.  Says so right in the Bible.  If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, would you please find the Gospel of Matthew beginning with chapter 6, verse 25.  Matthew 6:25.  Now we’re not talking about turning green or eating insects.  We’re talking about frogs of another sort.  People who Fully Rely On God.  Or FROG for short.  This idea that we should learn to trust in God wholeheartedly is a theme that runs through the heart of the Bible.  The foundation of our faith rests on our ability to be a FROG. It’s also one of the hardest things for us to do.  For most of us, it’s something we will be working on for the rest of our lives, but the pursuit of it is worthwhile because even if we don’t fully succeed, the more we are able to trust in God, the more we are able to be our best selves.  The more we are free to be how God created us.  And the more confidence we gain in who are.

It’s easy for us to lose ourselves in the world around us.

We sometimes lose sight of our hopes and dreams, we become out of touch with God and God’s creation.  Instead, it’s easier to focus on getting your Wordle done each morning than it is to live up to the potential of who God created you to be.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love Wordle.  I’m still waiting for the word “about” to be the word of the day so I can win it in 1.  But we enjoy these things because they are easily obtainable (okay sometimes Wordle isn’t all that easy either – but you get the point).  They don’t require us to work on ourselves and improve bit by bit.  They don’t require us to have faith in the unseen.  BAM! They’re done.  And in a world filled with so many unsolvable problems, sometimes we just want to feel life’s tiny triumphs to get us through the day.  Just think of the MASSIVE events happening around us right now.  There’s a war going on in the Ukraine.  People are dying, are jumping in front of tanks, are holding back an invading force who attacked without provocation, and for what?  Power? Greed? Self-interest?  Things are finally lightening up again with COVID-19 and people are removing their masks and acting as if everything is back to normal.  Of course, this is what it looked like before the Delta and Omicron waves moved in.  Even though it’s MUCH better than it was even a couple of months ago, about 50,000 people are being admitted to hospitals around the country daily and still around 2,000 are dying.[2]  Meanwhile, we have to deal with voting rights becoming MORE restrictive instead of less.  People being MORE polarized in their beliefs than before.  And MORE acts of racism happening on our streets.  It’s hard not to dwell on these things and not worry.  It can be tough to fully rely on God. 

But then I’m reminded of a lesson Jesus shared with his disciples.

During his most famous sermon, what scholars call the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shares this with his followers.  This is from Matthew’s version of the story, an excerpt from Matthew 6:25-3425 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?… 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

It’s natural to worry.

But if we let it stop us from doing what’s needed or doing what’s right, then it works against us.  Excessive worrying can become all-consuming, and when that happens it also has some serious effects on our well-being.  Worrying can lead to panic attacks, depression, headaches, breathing problems, loss of libido, upset stomach, extreme fatigue, increase blood pressure, and more.[3] Which of course, gives us even more to worry about.  But notice what Jesus tells us here?  “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”  Worrying is unproductive.  It takes away precious time from doing things that are meaningful and fulfilling in life.  It robs you of the joy God wants for you.  Jesus isn’t saying we shouldn’t prepare.  In fact, he’s big on preparing (i.e. the Parable of the Ten Virgins).  Jesus wants us to worry less, not be careless.  We should be prepared.  We should do all we can to get out of a bad situation or do a good job on a test or prepare for an interview.  But once we’ve done all we can, dwelling on it becomes counter-productive.  You and I know we can pretty much talk ourselves into or out of anything given enough time and worry.  And Jesus tells us, “…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  There are enough problems for us to deal with TODAY that we don’t need to add to it by worrying about what MIGHT come tomorrow.  Instead, focus on the here and now, on what you can accomplish in front of you, on the people in your life who need you in this moment, and let tomorrow be tomorrow.  Or as in the words of Paul McCartney, “let it be.”

When Paul wrote the song, it was a time of stress in his life.

The Beatles were nearing the end of their career together and it was a time of change in both the lives of the band and in their personal lives as well.  As Paul wrote, “…I’d been doing too much of everything, was run ragged, and this was all taking its toll.  The band, me – we were all going through times of trouble, as the song goes, and there didn’t seem to be any way out of the mess.  I fell asleep exhausted one day and had a dream in which my mum…did in fact come to me… (S)eeing my mom’s beautiful, kind face and being with her in a peaceful place was very comforting.  I immediately felt at ease, and loved and protected… She seemed to realise I was worried about what was going on in my life and what would happen, and she said to me, ‘Everything will be all right. Let it be.’ … So, this song becomes a prayer, or mini-prayer.  There’s a yearning somewhere at its heart.  And the word ‘amen’ itself means ‘so be it’ – or ‘let it be.’”[4]

There is something powerful about releasing your cares and your worries to Christ.

It frees us to be our best selves.  It’s hard to do our best or be our best when we are weighed down by doubt, anxiety, or fear – and that’s what worry is.  It’s the cumulation of all those things.  And if there is a way in which the devil becomes manifest in our lives, it’s from stopping us from being all God created us to be, by preying on our those fears and doubts.  It’s one of the reasons why God wants us to learn to be more like Kermit in our lives and embrace our inner FROG.  We need to all more fully rely on God to help us and guide us through life because with all that is going on around us, it can be tough to deal with, and if we’re not careful we can become overwhelmed.  I know at times prayer seems counterproductive, especially for those of you who aren’t used to praying.  It seems like we’re spending time just talking with God, who supposedly already knows what’s going on in our lives.  So why are we wasting time just reciting again what God already knows?  But that’s not the purpose of prayer.  Prayer isn’t just sharing a wish list with God.  It’s about communicating with God, it’s about focusing on God, and through that relationship strengthening our reliance on God. Of laying it down at his feet.  It may not seem like it at the time, but learning to go to God and giving God the load is helping to train us to trust in the Lord and to let go of those things that are beyond our control.  It’s an acknowledgement that we are not in this alone.  Listen to the words of Jesus as he shares with us these words of wisdom, 27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Lent is a time of reflection, a time to focus on our relationship with the Lord.  So as we move toward that day of celebration where we sing praise and joy for God’s grace and mercy, let us spend time in prayer to draw closer to Christ in our lives.  Let us all embrace our inner Kermit and become more FROG like every day.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Let it be.

[1] Frog facts from the website Save the Frogs

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/us/covid-cases.html

[3] https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/effects-on-body#The-effects-of-anxiety-on-the-body

[4] Paul McCartney, The Lyrics, pp. 413-414

Good Men Do Nothing

Eighty years have passed.

Eight years since President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, an order that would send to concentration camps nearly 120,000 innocent civilians out of fear and ignorance.  That order would wreak havoc on the lives of those people, forcing them to lose untold millions of dollars in property and belongings while told they had to pack their lives up into one suitcase each.  A lifetime in one suitcase.  This was the culmination of decades of prejudice and violence against anyone of Asian descent.  Alien Land Laws in California and across the country prohibited Asians from owning land.[1]  A ruling in the California Supreme Court (People v. Hall) found Chinese people could not testify against white people because they were “a race of people whom nature has marked as inferior, and who are incapable of progress or intellectual development beyond a certain point” and presented a “clear and present danger” because they might one day “see them at the polls, in the jury box, upon the bench, and in our legislative halls.”[2]  Those were racist quotes from the case used to justify setting free a murderer.  The press did nothing to mitigate the hate.  In fact, they stoked it with headlines shouting about a Yellow Peril and stoking the fires of hatred with claims that Asians were here to take over the minds of white people.  So it came as no surprise when Congress did nothing to prevent this blatant act of racism.  And while there were certainly people who stepped forward to do what’s right, the vast majority of Americans either openly supported or did nothing to stop it.

The excuse I often hear for this atrocity is that people were justifiably scared.

Without knowing if the threat was real and with actual violence against Japanese-Americans just for existing, maybe it was better to herd them off somewhere safe.  But that argument has no legs to support it.  Otherwise, our country would have locked up Germans and Italians also “for their safety.”  This was despite absolutely no evidence that Japanese or Japanese-Americans were planning on rebelling against the government or its people.  In fact two different studies came to the same conclusion, and yet the Japanese population on the mainland was herded off to camps in the most remote areas of the country under poor conditions and with no regard to their personal lives. It reminds me of a quote from Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

One of the gifts we have to offer as an historically Japanese church is the gift of this memory.

We keep alive this Day of Remembrance, not to dwell on the past, but to right the wrongs in the present.  We, more than most, have a responsibility to keep alive those memories as a reminder to us all not to repeat the mistakes of the past.  When fear and ignorance come creeping up to our door, we need to be on alert and do what we can to fight it.  The Good Samaritan is an example of how we can act.  There was this guy, who was left on the side of the road, stripped naked (literally), beaten and wounded.  When a priest saw the man, he purposefully went to the other side of the road and left him to die.  When a Levite (also a priestly man) saw the man lying there brutally beaten, he too crossed the street and left him on the road to die.  It was only the Samaritan, a man despised by both the priests and the Levites, who chose to do the right thing.  Too often Christians have acted more like the priest and the Levite than the Samaritan.  Which is not to say there aren’t plenty of good Christians doing good works in the world for the sake of Jesus.  But it is to say that often Christians have often stood on the sidelines while bad things happened.  Take for example the reading from Scripture this morning. 

15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him. 19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” 20But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.

21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered.22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” 23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” 25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”

26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.– Matthew 27:15-26

Whose crime was worse?

The people who asked for Jesus’ blood or Pilate who didn’t have the courage to do what he KNEW was right?  Failure to act is an act in itself.  When we fail to stand up to prejudice or hatred or fear we are tacitly allowing it to happen. We are part of the problem instead of part of the solution.  Complicity is as much a crime as doing the act itself.  During the era after the Civil War, preachers, pastors, and other church leaders took to the pulpit to defend slavery and slave owners.[3]  They would cite the Bible as part of their defense and it took over a century for them to be silenced.  When the Japanese were locked up in camps, while there were definitely some who stood up against this overt act of racism and prejudice, the church largely remained silent.  Christian leaders who didn’t speak out or who justified the act were the same people who said it was a “necessary evil” like slavery in the South.  We cannot be the type of people who look the other way or perpetuate hatred and prejudice in any form.  In an article for America, The Jesuit Review, Meghan Clark wrote a piece focused on white Americans, but something I think is apt for ALL Americans.  She wrote, “We live in a culture that idolizes personal choice. This has obstructed our ability to recognize, confront and dismantle racism. Our narrow focus on the individual has deluded us into thinking that as long as we do not personally malign, attack or discriminate against persons of color, we can claim to be non-racist. Non-racism is a supposed third option, beyond racism and anti-racism, where politeness and civility are paramount. It recognizes the evil of white supremacy but, like Pontius Pilate, washes its hands of responsibility. As such, it is a rejection of racism that is also a passive acceptance of white supremacy. It allows white Christians to acknowledge racism is a sin while continuing to reap the benefits of white supremacy.[4]  Meghan, herself Caucasian, wrote this as a call to all white Christians.  But none of us, white or otherwise, can afford to simply stand by while the culture of racial hatred continues to stand.

We need to do more.

For each of us, that might be different.  You don’t have to march in a protest rally to be considered “doing something.”  Sometimes, it’s as simple as being kind and decent human beings when others are fueled by fear and bigotry.  Sometimes, it’s as easy as inviting your neighbor over for dinner or bringing them a meal in a time of need.  Sometimes, it’s donating to a worthy cause that helps those in need.  There are as many different ways to show support as there are people.  You just need to find the ways you feel can do the most good.  But we have to do something.  We have to stand up and denounce racism.  We cannot afford to sit idly by, hoping someone else will do it.  Dr. King wrote about this in his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  He wrote, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”[5]

Just last weekend, another form of hatred reared its ugly head – antisemitism.

Hundreds of plastic bags filled with rice and antisemitic messages were strewn randomly around Berkeley, claiming Jewish people were to blame for COVID.  Even though there has been no link to COVID and Judaism this small group of hatemongers have decided to put the blame for our current pandemic squarely on one people.  I guess they are conveniently forgetting about the hundreds of thousands of Christians who have rejected the vaccine, claiming God will protect them.  Or the pastors in their pulpits claiming you lack faith if you get the vaccine.  Instead, they place the blame on the Jewish community.  It makes no sense whatsoever, but then again, racism and prejudice never do.  As members of a community that understands this kind of irrational hatred, we have to first be inoculated against it by keeping an open mind and remembering the lessons of the past.  Then we have to find ways to stand in support of those being persecuted.  I hope in these times we remember the words of Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” We cannot afford to be complicit when injustice happens around us or we might very well be the evil we hope to root out. 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alien_land_laws

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People_v._Hall

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/22/christian-confederate-slavery_n_7638676.html

[4] https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2017/08/16/white-christians-non-racism-not-enough?utm_content=bufferf6f1b&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

[5] https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

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.”  It wasn’t a secret code.  Those words, “As you wish,” were Westley’s way of submitting to Buttercup.  That 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 cultural standards today.  And it’s understandable.  We have often been victims of abuse by those we submit to.  Whether it’s our spouse or our boss or the government, it feels like over time we have been betrayed by the people we trust the most.  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 this concept for centuries.  I wish it were otherwise, but passages in the Bible telling wives to submit to their husbands have given permission for men to abuse their wives for hundreds if not thousands of years.  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 out 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 “Wives, submit to your own husbands.”

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 up 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.

Jesus washing the feet of the disciples (copyright churchofjesuschrist.org)

Sacrifice is at the heart of love.

All we have to do is look to Jesus to see that was 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 at his right and his left when he finally claimed his kingdom.  Jesus told them that was a decision for God alone to decide.  But just the audacity to ask the question made the other disciples mad and that’s when Jesus shared with them all this piece of wisdom. 

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. 

My everyday Valentine!

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.  Like people who don’t like Star Wars.  I don’t get that.  I just don’t.  Or worse.  People who have never SEEN Star Wars!  Gasp!  Seriously, though, it isn’t always easy for us to do. Take for example the first and last time I bought Cassie flowers for Valentine’s Day (to be fair, I may have done it one other time in the 16 years we’ve been together but can’t say for sure).  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!”  So 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 some book somewhere.  But what I didn’t realize was that wasn’t the way to Cassie’s heart. 

What is your primary love language?

It turns out she and I didn’t speak the same “love language.”

Gary Chapman wrote this great book called The 5 Love Languages which I’ve shared about in worship before.  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 “love 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. 

A Valentine’s gift from Cassie to me and Emma – she knows my Love Language is Gift Giving

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 you will see 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 not truer love than that of God for us, his children.  Trust at least in that and see where that leads you.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Keto Craig’s Campaign Continues

The journey to 236 is on the way…

My keto journey started on November 4, 2021. I remember the date clearly because I had gone on a carb binge the week before, wanting one last taste of those things I love before giving them up. Pizza, french fries, burritos, and I had to have my mom’s Tagliarini Casserole (recipe here)! Of course, it caused me to gain some weight, but I was confident my new lifestyle would help me shed those pounds pretty quickly. Maybe not the best way to start my journey to healthy living, but I was in this for the long haul and wanted to say “good bye” for now. I was provisionally accepted into the Kidney Transplant Program at Stanford University. I weighed in at 274 which put me RIGHT at 40.6 BMI and typically they only take patients with a BMI of 40 or lower – JUST right on the edge. But because I had been losing weight on my own and because it was SO close, they took a chance on me and I was placed on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) national transplant list. I had 38 pounds to lose. It sure seemed like a lot, but we had a plan.

One last farewell dish – Mom’s Tagliarini Casserole

Consulting with my doctor and my family, I decided I wouldn’t go full carnivore like my wife Cassie – that much dependence on protein could negatively affect my kidney health. But curbing carb consumption was going to be the key to my success. After all the articles my wife sent me about how the body turns carbs into sugar, about glucose intolerance, and about how prevalent sugar is in our food, I finally woke up to how much inadvertent damage I was doing to my body. Sure, I had cut back on my sugar consumption – but not really. When you consider the rice, bread, chips, and other foods I ate instead, it was the equivalent of eating four or five candy bars a day. Which is not to say you should ditch other carbs and eat candy bars all day. Wrong message.

Going keto doesn’t mean giving up going out, it just means adjusting to a different lifestyle

It was really a matter of getting my body to work FOR me instead of AGAINST me. I wanted to find a way to eat happy AND healthy without feeling like I was eating like a mouse. You don’t know how often I’ve heard the idea of “calories in, calories out” as the key to losing weight. But what they don’t tell you is that the TYPE of calories matter far more than what they measure. Calories are simply a number. You and I both know that 2000 calories a day of meat and veggies is very different than 2000 calories of soda, candy, and cookies. Fiber, nutrients, complex carbs, saturated fats – they all play a part in keeping your body healthy. If you only care about “calories in, calories out” you can still gain weight and/or do harm to your body.

By focusing on a keto lifestyle, I’m taking away those excess sugars and giving my body a chance to really work on the stores of fat. And so far it’s working! As of today, I’m below 250 for the first time probably since college. I only have about 15 more pounds to go before I’m at the right BMI for a transplant. I feel great. I feel healthier than I have for a while. And it is SO nice to feel the weight dropping off. In about 3 months, I’ve been able to steadily lose about 25 pounds and its made a huge difference. I’m hoping it’s only 2-3 more months before hitting that goal! But if it takes a little longer, that’s okay. As long as I keep making steady progress and doing it in a healthy way. Next time I’ll talk more about exactly what I’ve been doing and where we are in the process.

Life Is Pain…

Anyone who says differently is selling something.

The Dread Pirate Roberts shared that pearl of wisdom in The Princess Bride and it’s a reality we don’t always like to face.  Pain is a part of life.  That doesn’t mean life isn’t good overall or that there aren’t incredibly bright moments we hold onto.  But we can’t avoid the pain that comes with living.  However, we don’t have to go through it alone.  And that is the great promise of Christ, we are not in this alone.  The prophet Isaiah even referred to Jesus as “Immanuel” meaning “God with us.”  And when Jesus left, he sent in his wake the Holy Spirit to guide us and be with us as we continue in this life. 

As you wish…

All of which SOUNDS great, but why is it so hard to see Jesus in our pain?

It’s the strange dichotomy of life that in our pain we are most likely to both turn to and away from Jesus.  It’s in our pain that we are most likely to find him there or be completely absent.  But is he?  Is he really absent or do we just not have eyes to see and ears to hear?  Most of the time, I think it’s the latter.  I have found most people who turn away from Christ after a tragedy never had a clear understanding of God’s promises in the first place.  Their faith was built on a false belief God would protect them from this kind of harm (whatever it is) and when that belief crumbled in front of them, their faith crumbled along with it.  If we don’t have a strong foundation of trust in Christ, it’s easy to be swept away by the tidal wave of fear, grief, pain, and anxiety that engulfs us in times of trouble.  It’s the reason why it is so important to build your faith in times of tranquility, in the times when the storms are not about to drown you so that when they DO come (and they will come), you can hold on fast to your faith to see you through.  That’s a lot of metaphors, but I hope it paints a picture that is easy to relate to.  Trusting in Christ in the deepest parts of our pain is what will see us through when life gets rough, and it WILL get rough.  Even the most faithful of God’s followers, even the most rock steady of Jesus’ apostles suffered in their lives.  Believing in God didn’t protect them from the pain of life.  But it gave them peace and comfort even in the midst of their most horrible moments. 

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Joseph’s story in particular is one of hardship and extraordinary faith.

If you haven’t read it for yourself (or seen the “amazing” Broadway musical), Joseph suffered through trials that would test anyone’s faith no matter how strong they were.  His brothers plotted to murder him, they sold him into slavery and told their dad he was killed.  Then he was framed for a crime that never happened, and was left to rot in jail.  But despite all of this, he remained unmoved in his faith.  He still believed God had plans for him beyond this jail and over time, he was released from prison and ended up becoming the second most powerful person in all the land.  It’s a rags-to-riches story, Bible-style!  And what got Joseph through it all was his faith in God.  It gave him the ability to see blessings where others would see only despair, and to be a blessing to others despite everything going so wrong.  Faith has that kind of power.  Not to take away the pain, but to protect us from despair and hopelessness. 

Not everyone gets the happy ending Joseph got despite their faith.

Stephen, one of Jesus’ followers, was stoned to death for his belief.  Moses wandered forty years in the desert and never saw the promised land.  And Jesus prayed to God in the Garden of Gethsemane to avoid the pain he was about to go through but still had to endure it. Even Jesus.  So what does it mean to say “God with us” in the midst of our pain?  I think this very concept of “what to do in the midst of pain” is exactly what Paul was trying to address in his letter to the church at Thessalonica.  He was trying to address our vigilance in faith.  And even though he was talking about the time when Jesus would return, he was addressing how we should lead our lives while he is away. 

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

From his famous work The Problem of Pain

Putting on faith and love as a breastplate and the hope of salvation as a helmet.

The very things which draw us closer to God also protect us in times of trouble.  Faith, love, and hope are our protection against the desolation and onslaught of despair.  Because it’s easy to despair when we think of the evil that surrounds us.  It’s easy to despair when we lose loved ones, when our bodies are wracked with pain, when we watch others deteriorate in front of us – it’s so easy to give in to despair.  But it is our faith, love, and hope that can sustain us through it all. It is in the midst of pain when we have the greatest opportunity to lean on our God.  As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Peter Wehner, a columnist for The New York Times wrote a really well-written piece about faith.  As I was searching for inspiration on how best to answer this difficult question, these words appeared and I thought it best just to share them with you.  “In the midst of hardships and heartaches” what does Christianity have to offer?  He writes, “Consolation…people who walk alongside us as we journey through grief, offering not pieties but tenderness and grace, encouragement and empathy, and when necessary, practical help.”[1]  Not that non-Christians can’t offer this, too, but hopefully in a healthy Christian community we are characterized by such things.  He also writes we have consolation in hope, that this life is not all there is and our home is not actually here but with God in Heaven.  And even though these words said at the wrong time or in the wrong way can seem shallow and empty, the hope that God offers is real.  There is something more.  But what he closed with is what really summed it up for me. 

“There is also, for me at least, consolation in the conviction that we are part of an unfolding drama with a purpose. At any particular moment in time I may not have a clue as to what that precise purpose is, but I believe, as a matter of faith, that the story has an author, that difficult chapters need not be defining chapters and that even the broken areas of our lives can be redeemed. The book of Isaiah, in prophesying the messiah, describes him as ‘man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.’ We’re told ‘by his wounds we are healed.’ For those of the Christian faith, God is a God of wounds, where the road to redemption passes directly through suffering. There is some solace in knowing that while at times life is not easy for us, it was also hard for the God of the New Testament. And from suffering, compassion can emerge, meaning to suffer with another — that disposition, in turn, often leads to acts of mercy. I have seen enough of life to know that grief will leave its mark. But I have also seen enough of life to know that so, too, will love.[2]

I have seen enough of life to know that grief will leave its mark. But I have also seen enough of life to know that so, too, will love.[2]

– Peter Wehner, The New York Times

In the film, The Princess Bride, Westley and Buttercup are finally reunited.

For a time, they were separated. Westley decided to leave his true love to seek his fame and fortune in the world. But while he was away, Buttercup received the news that Westley’s ship was captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts and all aboard were killed.  When Prince Humperdinck comes to court her, she agrees to marry him even though she doesn’t love him.  But Westley rescues her from Vizzini and both of them are overcome with joy.  Westley asks her, “Why didn’t you wait for me?” And Buttercup looks up at him bewildered. “Well, because you were dead.”  Westley smiles and says, “Death cannot stop true love. The best it can do is delay it for a little while.”  God wants us to look at our own pain in the same way – with hope instead of despair. To hold on to love, to know there is something more, to believe that God will be true to his promise even if we can’t possibly understand how.  Westley wanted Buttercup to believe in the love they had for each other, that their love could overcome even death.  God has given us his Son Jesus Christ so we can believe in his love for us. 

I’m not into Christian platitudes. 

I think they do more harm than good.  And one that makes me wince is “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” First, it implies God is the one causing you pain or sorrow or fear or anxiety or whatever your current nightmare is.  God gave that to you.  Thanks, God.  Second, it puts the blame on the person going through the pain.  It says to them surreptitiously that if they can’t handle it, it’s because they don’t have enough faith.  God might be shouting in our pain, but the pain itself is so intense sometimes we just cannot hear.  There isn’t an easy answer to the question of pain, but I do believe that in the end, love wins out.  Trust that God has not left you in the midst of pain.  We may not be able to hear him or see him or know what is going on, but he is there.  If this seems confusing to you, don’t worry.  This is a problem Christians have been grappling with for centuries.  But I want to encourage you to stay connected to a community of faith, one that knows you and one that you know.  I want to encourage you to say daily prayers and study your Bible and do good deeds and stay steeped in the knowledge and love of God.  By doing so we are building brick by brick the foundation of our faith that will sustain us in the storm. 

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/25/opinion/sunday/after-great-pain-where-is-god.html

[2] Ibid.



“You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”  If you’re a fan of The Princess Bride, you already know what we’re talking about, but for those of you who missed this gem of a movie let me fill you in.  Vizzini is the brains behind a motley crew of three mercenaries, along with Inigo Montoya and Fezzik the Giant, who have just kidnapped Princess Buttercup.  As they are taking her to her impending doom, Inigo suspects they are being followed, but Viziini declares that would be “inconceivable.”  When they land in the country of Florin and are scaling the Cliffs of Insanity, there is a Man in Black following them up the sheer cliff face…and gaining on them!  Vizzini sees this and declares, “Inconceivable!”  When they get to the top of the cliffs and cut the rope that guided them up to the top, the Man in Black is hanging by his bare hands on the cliff wall to which Vizzini again declares that to be “Inconceivable!” At which point, Inigo turns to him and says, “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.” 


Literally means “not being capable of being imagined or grasped mentally; unbelievable.”[1]  Like a mental roadblock, even when it’s happening before us, our mind cannot comprehend it in its entirety.  That’s what was happening to Vizzini.  His own mind could not accept the reality of what he was seeing before his eyes.  What, to him, was unimaginable was happening right in front of him and he could not wrap his mind around it.  Unfortunately, that happens to us outside of the silver screen, too.  Throughout history we have often had a closed mind on the possibilities in God’s world.  On the lightbulb, the British Parliamentary Committtee remarked back in 1878 “… good enough for our transatlantic friends … but unworthy of the attention of practical or scientific men.”  On the automobile, Literary Digest wrote in 1899, “The ordinary ‘horseless carriage’ is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and although its price will probably fall in the future, it will never, of course, come into as common use as the bicycle.” On the television, American radio pioneer Lee DeForest said, “While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming.” And on the computer, John Von Neumann wrote in 1949, “We have reached the limits of what is possible to achieve with computer technology.”[2]  In 1949.  I wonder what he would say today.  Maybe, “Inconceivable!”

All of these things were once thought to be worthless ideas

I imagine Peter said the same thing to Jesus – “Inconceivable!”

The disciples are sitting around the table at the Last Supper when in the middle of their talk, Jesus turns to Peter and says in Luke 22, 31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  Peter (who was also called Simon), must have been confused.  He probably considered himself to be the most loyal disciple.  After all, he was the one who first recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah and he’s been with Jesus right from the beginning. So he tells Jesus, 33 …“Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”  Peter doesn’t respond, but you can imagine that in his head, he was saying, “Inconceivable!” and yet he does exactly that very thing.  It’s because Peter couldn’t imagine a time when he would ever deny Jesus.  But he also probably couldn’t imagine the true Messiah being duped by someone like Judas.  He couldn’t imagine the Lord and Savior of the Israeli people being captured by the Roman guards and being led away like some commoner.  He probably counted on Jesus to protect him and all the other disciples from the wrath of the high priests.  But then everything seemed to crumble away, and in just a few short hours, too.  Suddenly, Peter did the very thing Jesus predicted and denied him three times. 

The Transfiguration of Christ

There’s another story in the Bible, similar but with a different ending.

It happens right after Jesus takes Peter, John, and James with him to a high mountain top and the three disciples see Jesus not as a human, but truly as the Son of God.  They see him talking with Moses and Elijah, two great leaders of the Jewish people long dead, and they hear the voice of God himself saying, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”  Can you imagine being there and experiencing for yourself the awesome spectacle in front of you?  Watching the dead talk to the living and hearing the very voice of God?  After this, Jesus and the three disciples are coming down from the mountain and this is where we begin our story. 

14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” 20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. 28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” – Mark 9:14-29

“Help me overcome my unbelief.”

Christ wants us to be open to possibilities that seem impossible.  He wants us to be willing to stretch our minds and embrace the unimaginable.  Napoleon Hill is best known as the self-help author who coined the saying, “Whatever the mind… can conceive and believe it can achieve.”  We are the first stumbling block.  Our own preconceptions get in the way of what’s possible.  Yoda was trying to teach Luke this lesson in the swamps of Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back.  Yoda, no bigger than the size of a backpack, mentally lifted out Luke’s X-Wing out of the swamp and carried this starship made of tons of metal over to dry land, Luke whispered, “I don’t believe it.”  And Yoda responded, “That is why you fail.”  The father of the sick young boy in our story this morning gets it.  He’s open to the possibility there’s something MORE even if he can’t imagine it for himself and he turns to Jesus for help. “I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief!”  Opening your mind to new possibilities and recognizing we are sometimes limited by our own preconceptions is how we overcome the inconceivable. 

1980 Lake Placid Miracle on Ice from the Sports Illustrated photo vault

The world’s greatest achievements are great because they seemed insurmountable.

But then someone found a way to overcome them.  Whatever the problem, whatever the challenge, there were people who found a way to achieve what no one thought they could.  I can remember watching the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid and the Miracle on Ice.  Nobody thought the USA had a chance in ice hockey.  We barely fielded a team. But they just kept beating the odds and counting down those final seconds as the US held on to a 4-3 lead over the Soviet Union was nothing short of amazing.  Or watching Kirk Gibson hit a home run in the 1988 World Series against the world’s best closer, Dennis Eckersley.  With literally almost no leg to stand on after being injured, he came up to the plate after telling manager Tommy Lasorda, “I think I have one good swing left in me,” and cranked it over the fence to give the Dodgers the win.[3]  Humanity is able to do some pretty amazing things.  Sports are filled with stories of triumph but the most amazing stories often happen outside of an arena.  Whether it’s landing on the moon or watching the Berlin Wall come crumbling down or creating a vaccine to save millions of lives in under a year, we can find a way to triumph in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.  But it starts with hope.  It starts with being able to conceive the inconceivable.   I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes of all time.  Robert Kennedy once said, “Some men see things as they are and say ‘Why’? I dream things that never were and say ‘Why not’?”[4]  In these tumultuous times, let us not lose hope.  Let us keep our minds open to possibilities we can’t even imagine.  Let us approach each problem with an open mind and an open heart and see where God is leading us.  After all, we follow a God who is used to doing the inconceivable. 

[1] According to Yahoo! 2022-01-25 powered by Oxford Dictionaries

[2] https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/articles/10-inventions-no-one-thought-would-be-a-success/

[3] From Baseball Inning 9 by Ken Burns

[4] Quoting George Bernard Shaw. https://www.forbes.com/sites/joanmichelson2/2018/06/07/dream-things-that-never-were-and-say-why-not-what-innovators-can-learn-robert-f-kennedy/?sh=5573261226cf

Slingshot 2.0

The most successful people in the world are those unafraid of change.

To be fair, they may have been afraid, but they overcame their fear in the hopes of something better!  They dared to be different.  To do things outside of what others considered “normal.”  By the way, “normal” is overrated.  Different isn’t always popular.  Different can be risky.  Different means going against the status quo.  But it also means looking at a situation in a new way.  It means approaching a problem with a fresh attitude.  And often that’s what it takes to make the next big step, to evolve into something MORE.  Because when the old tried and true methods no longer work, we need the courage to do something different.  Take for example, Billy Beane. Billy Beane was different.  As the general manager of the Oakland A’s, he threw nearly a century of “baseball wisdom” out the window and recruited a group of players using sabermetrics which relied more heavily on data than on traditional scouting techniques.  He was ridiculed, criticized, and belittled in the press, by the fans, by other baseball owners, and even his own scouts.  People said it would never work. But under his leadership the Oakland A’s have been able to field a tough, competitive team every year with comparatively very little money. In 2002, the year they implemented the system, the A’s had the third lowest payroll in all of baseball with only $39.7 million.[1]  Yet they won an American League record 20 consecutive games and tied for most wins in all of baseball with a record of 103-59.  The only team with their number of wins was the New York Yankees whose payroll was more than three times that of the A’s.[2]  What Billy Beane did changed the face of baseball so much, they even made a movie about it.  I can only hope when they make a movie of my career, Brad Pitt will play me, too.  There are still some who cling to the old ways of scouting, but most teams today incorporate at least some of the principles Beane adopted nearly 20 years ago. It even helped the Boston Red Sox break the Curse of the Bambino in 2004 to win its first World Series in 86 years.  Billy Beane did things differently and it worked.

Today, in our reading, we’re going to look at another person who did things differently.

That would be King David.  Or David as he is simply known at this part of his story. This is a story you are familiar with.  Even if you’ve never read the Bible, you probably know about this event in David’s life.  We’re going to read a portion of the story of David and Goliath.  At the beginning of the story, the Israelites and the Philistines are gathering for war.  The Israelites are on the top of one hill and the Philistines on another.  And in the midst of this, a man named Goliath comes forward from the Philistine’s camp and issues a challenge to the Israelites.  If one of them can best him in one-on-one combat, the Philistines will become the willful servants of the Israelites.  But in turn if Goliath can beat the Israelites’ champion then they must become the willful servants of the Philistines.  Probably neither side would just give up that easily, but Goliath’s taunt did exactly what he hoped for.  It created fear in the hearts of the Israelites.  Not a one of them thought they could go toe-to-toe with Goliath.  As you know Goliath was one of the Philistine’s champions and he was HUGE!  Guinness Book of World Records huge.  Early manuscripts have him at about seven feet tall, but the Bible says he stood at 9’ 9” which would beat any other record by about a foot!  For forty days, Goliath came out and waited for someone from the Israelites to come challenge him.  That’s where David comes in.  Jesse sent David to the front lines to bring supplies to King Saul and to see how his sons were doing.  When David gets there, he sees the Israelites in fear of Goliath and when he is brought before the king, David volunteers to fight Goliath.  Saul tells David he doesn’t stand a chance and that’s where we pick up our story today. 

VeggieTales version of David and Goliath

34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”

38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. “I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. 51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword. When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. – 1 Samuel 17:34-40 and 50-51

Knights of old would stand and swing at each other until one fell. They couldn’t do much else.

David did what was different.

But maybe not the way you’re used to looking at it.  We see this story as an incredible testament to the faith that David had in God, and it is.  It’s a story of great faith.  Here is this young man with basically no training whatsoever who comes to the battlefield and decides to take on this nearly ten foot giant because he insulted the people of God.  Now, everyone else in Saul’s army heard these same insults, but only David was moved enough to go out there and face Goliath.  In all honesty, Saul probably thought this might be what was needed to motivate the troops, the death of a young Israelite at the hands of this giant.  That maybe it would be enough to shame them into action and to find the bravery to face the Philistines.  Or maybe he really did believe in David and that the hand of God was upon this young man.  But either way, it was a testimony to David’s faith in God.  But David did something else that is a lesson we need to hear.  Probably a lesson many of our churches need to hear and really take to heart.  To make a difference, we have to do things differently.  Take a look at this passage we just read and you can see that’s exactly what David did.  David finally convinces Saul to let him face Goliath and after giving him his blessing, Saul gives David his very own tunic.  Being the king, it was probably the best protection money could buy.  He gave him armor and a helmet, but David told him, “I cannot go in these because I am not used to them.”  Saul’s probably wondering what kind of protection David was going to wear then since he didn’t come into camp with any.  As it is, David would NEED some kind of protection if he hoped to survive even the first blow that Goliath took at him.  But David shed the armor and instead picked up a few stones and his slingshot and went into battle.  And that’s it.  Stones and a slingshot.  Traditionally, men in one-on-one combat would bear down on each other in their armor and weapons and trade blows until one of them fell.  It would be slow.  Like two tree trunks swinging wildly at each other.  Which is why David should have needed armor.  But the weight of the sword and the weight of the armor wouldn’t allow him to duck or dodge his enemies blows.  He would need to withstand them.  Instead David it differently.  No armor meant he was extremely agile which he used to his advantage.  He ran at his opponent, fired a stone at his head, the only part of Goliath’s body not likely covered with some sort of protection, and killed the giant.  Had he been wearing armor, he likely would have been so slow Goliath could easily have defended himself and then killed David with a single blow.  But David did it differently.

Ecclesiastes says “there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

The trick is realizing when that time is up and when it’s time to do something different.  Because as the world around us changes, we need to change, too.  We need to adapt.  We need to adjust to new circumstances.  That’s not always easy, but sometimes it’s necessary.  Look at the example of David.  Had he fought Goliath in the traditional way, he almost surely would have been killed.  But because he did things differently, he found a way to beat the odds.  Businesses do this all the time.  They are always trying to find something even BETTER.  It’s not that there’s anything wrong with what they’ve got, but in the competitive marketplace, failure to adapt causes you to fail.  Odds are its difficult to find any product the same way it was when you were a child.  Even if the name is the same, it’s probably “new and improved.”  Take for instance, the Oreo cookie or should I say the Oreo Chocolate Sandwich Cookie – its official name since 1974.[3]  The Oreo cookie has saturated the market.  Today they are the number one selling cookie in the world selling over 3 BILLION dollars worth per year – more than three times the amount of the next leading brand (Gamesa if you’re wondering).[4]  But never one to rest on their laurels, Oreo has branched out and done any number of varieties of Oreo cookies.  Double Stuf was the earliest variation coming out in 1974, Oreo Minis came out in 1991, and since then the flavors and varieties have kept on coming.  They even released Gluten Free Oreos in 2021!  Why bother when you are the number one cookie in the world?  Because they want to stay that way.

In the same way, we need to examine where it is in our lives we might need to do things differently.

What isn’t working the way you hoped it would?  And what do you need to do differently to make it work?  Maybe it’s something simple like our food choices.  Maybe it’s in how we relate to people.  Maybe it’s the path that our career is taking us.  Or maybe it’s where you feel God is calling you.  Are you doing all you can to follow where God is leading you in your life, or do you hide behind the comfort and security of the familiar?  God is the ultimate “doing something different” type of person.  Jesus took death on the cross and turned it into new life.  He took the symbol of utter despair and hopelessness and turned it into a symbol for life and hope instead.  When Jesus was resurrected, he showed the disciples and ultimately the world that death was only a new beginning.  The Israelites thought that the savior of the world would come in triumph to destroy their enemies and lead them into a new existence.  And he did.  But not in the way they imagined.  Jesus, like David, did something different.  What will you do differently?  This is a question we need to ask ourselves personally and as a church.  As we see our congregations growing smaller we should challenge ourselves to ask this question – what will we do differently?  Because it’s not a matter of failure.  Even if our church closed tomorrow, our ministry here at BMUC would still have been considered a success.  But we might ask instead, are we changing with the times?  Are we changing as our community changes?  What can we do to make a difference for God’s kingdom TODAY?  Our challenge then is to leave this place committed to trying something different both in our personal lives and the life of our church.  Consider what it may be that we might need to do personally or together to make a difference in our church.  Will that be inviting a friend or even a stranger to church?  Will that be giving more of your time, talents, gifts, service, and witness?  Will it be having an open mind about what the future may bring?  Pray on those questions and then act on them.  And then personally, do one thing different this week.  Try a new vegetable.  Exercise more.  Eat a new food.  It may make little difference or it may make a lot.  But you won’t know unless you try something different.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] http://www.baseballchronology.com/Baseball/Years/2002/Payroll.asp

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2002_Major_League_Baseball_season

[3] https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-the-oreo-cookie-1779206

[4] https://www.statista.com/statistics/420561/global-cookie-market-sales-of-the-leading-brands/

Call Me…Keto Craig

Trying to live a keto lifestyle while fighting chronic kidney disease.

For over 12 years, I’ve had chronic kidney disease (CKD). How I got to that point is a long story on its own, but I’ve been able to maintain reasonable kidney function for a long time. Then at the end of 2019, the day after Christmas, I landed in the hospital with acute kidney failure. The same thing that caused my condition in the first place reared its ugly head once more and my kidney function (eGFR) plummeted. Suddenly, my kidneys had gone from about 40% to 14%. After some good care by my team of doctors, I was stable and my kidneys rebounded a little, but quickly dropped back down again. I’ve been hovering around 10-15% for about five months. Definitely have dropped to Stage 5.

The view from my hospital room the day after Christmas 2019…

Which means I’m at the end stage of CKD. We’ve been exploring dialysis options, but long-term my best option is a kidney transplant. There are a lot of requirements to be eligible for one. Thankfully, my wife helped me get over the biggest hurdle when she volunteered to be a living donor. (Small plug for anyone considering helping to save a life – give a kidney if you can! God gave you two and you only need one healthy one to live a full life. Ask Cassie grandfather who’s now in his 90’s and has had only one for about 70 years). That means my wait for a kidney will be reduced by years! And although I’m very fortunate to have had few other complications, there’s one I’ve struggled with my entire adult life – being overweight. To be eligible for the transplant, the team at Stanford wants me to be at a BMI lower than 35. To do that, I needed to lose about 35 more pounds!

Emma with Cassie’s grandparents at Thanksgiving 2018. Cassie’s grandfather has been living on just one kidney for over 70 years (lost his other one in his 20’s).

I’ve been overweight for as long as I can remember. It was never easy to deal with, and I feel like I’ve tried nearly everything. I’ve done Weight Watchers (where I did lose a lot at first, but I can find a way to break any system), I’ve gone gluten-free, I’ve done intense workouts, I’ve even been on Dr. Phil! But there’s one change in lifestyle I’ve avoided for so long – keto. Living a keto lifestyle just seemed a hill too steep to climb. I love my carbs! And as a lifelong Japanese-American, rice has been a staple of my diet as much as water and air. Plus, everything I’ve heard about keto was “high protein, high fat!” And if there’s one thing every nephrologist (kidney specialist) and every dietician will tell you – too much protein is a fast track to kidney failure.

But my wife went on a form of keto about two years ago at the beginning of 2020 (called carnivore which is not just low carb but zero carb) and she has lost a TON of weight! Over 125 pounds! And most of that was in the first year. Not only was she not suffering, she was even happier than before while losing weight. So I read up on this whole keto thing – and even keto people are constantly saying “high protein, high fat!” and there was no way I could make THAT work…or could I? As my kidney function kept getting progressively worse and dialysis more and more around the corner, I kept wondering “Could I make it work?”

So proud of Cassie and so happy for her weight loss success!

The key, it seemed, WASN’T “eat a whole lot of protein.” It was really about reducing your carb intake and replacing it with healthy fat content. I read this great article by The New York Times which summarizes the benefits (and drawbacks) of living a keto lifestyle in a fair and measured way far better than I can do here. Bottom line for me, trying this wasn’t out of my reach. I could reduce my carbs without increasing my protein by replacing carbs with more veggies – something my doctors have wanted me to do anyway. And because keto relies on fats to replace carbs, I can have things like salad dressing (not every kind) to make those veggies taste even better. So far, the results are very promising.

I’m telling you all this because it was so hard to find any information on following a keto diet while dealing with CKD. And while keto has certainly helped those with diabetes and other health conditions, I couldn’t find anything for people going through what I was going through. Yet the benefits seemed so clear. Of course, I talked about all of this with my doctor first and because I’m in Stage 5, I get blood drawn every month which helps me monitor things like protein levels, phosphorous, cholesterol, etc. I’m not a doctor and as every website on earth will tell you, don’t try changing your lifestyle without professional medical consultation. But if documenting this journey can help anyone out there dealing with chronic kidney disease and hoping to lose weight and be healthier, then if nothing else this will all be worth it. Be well and keep following for updates!

Being Christian in a Secular World

Every year, Cassie has given the message in worship the Sunday following Christmas. Not only is this an awesome Christmas gift to me, but a wonderful opportunity to show the congregation that we are all messengers of Christ with our own stories to tell. I’m always proud of Cassie for being willing to let God use her as his messenger in this way. I know it’s been an inspiration to others that they too can tell their own stories.

A few decades ago I didn’t even know what ‘Secular’ meant. It is defined as “denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis.” All of us can identify with being in the secular world. The grocery store, most businesses, television shows, and many of our hobbies are secular.

I attended a Christian workshop one time and they asked me to chart my faith journey on my life timeline. I’m 52 and growing up in the 70’s and 80’s there was often a reminder of Christianity in TV shows. I remember learning different things from Little House on the Prairie, the Waltons, and always the Snoopy Christmas cartoons. I wasn’t raised Christian so at the time I had limited knowledge except for a few Sundays at church with my grandparents.  When we moved to Kentucky I was 9 years old and thus saw nothing unusual when my 4th grade teacher would read to us from the bible.

The Faith Building chart was essentially a flat line until age 21 and then it spiked really high. This happened because I was engaged to a Catholic and had to go through RCIA (Rites for Christian Initiation for Adults) if we were to marry. I spent a year working with the Catholic deacons and priests to learn about Christ and the Catholic church. It was an intense study to make sure you can truly accept the faith and the church doctrines. I’ve always said I know more about the Catholic church than the millions of average Catholics. On my 22nd birthday I was baptized and confirmed a Catholic.

I didn’t marry the Catholic, but I continued my Catholicism throughout my twenties. My older daughter, Evelyn, was baptized Catholic. It wasn’t until my 30s, when I was dating Craig, that we decided together to become Methodists but that is a different story.

Cassie’s Christian Focus Chart

Let’s come back to the here and now. This is what my Christian Focus chart would look like if I charted it today. In my first decade, I had little hills that would show up when I would watch those TV shows, experience church, or go through the Christmas season. The chart has peaks and valleys. In my mid-30s you can see another peak when I spent the year doing the intensive Discipleship course with a group at church and then my Emmaus weekend.

But this is only one of two charts: the first chart being Christian Focus and the second chart being Faith. Christian focus doesn’t mean you have faith. And faith doesn’t require Christian focus.

In today’s earlier reading, we hear one point that there is a relationship between Faith and Deeds. I challenge back that we can absolutely have Faith without deeds, just as we can have Faith without being fully focused on Christian topics.

My reasoning is found in the entire chapter of Ephesians 3: “God’s Marvelous Plan for the Gentiles”. We’re going to separate the chapter into three parts: Part (A) Christ is also for the Gentiles; Part (B) Paul’s duty to bring it to the Gentiles; and Part (C) is a beautiful prayer to bring Christ and faith to ourselves and others.

Let’s start with Verses 1-6:

1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I imagine Paul sitting in a dirty jail cell writing to these non-Jewish Ephesians. The other Apostles didn’t want the Gentiles to hear about Christ and didn’t believe that Gentiles (that’s us) were also redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice. Imagine in today’s world if certain websites or cable channels had information about Christianity that we aren’t allowed to see.  But that’s not the case! Paul was the first to bring Christianity into the secular world. He didn’t require everyone to become Jewish or a rabbi. He wanted Christ to be everywhere, in everything, in everyone.

Which brings us to Part (B) versus 7-13 where Paul brings this message to the Gentiles:

7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

“And to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery” is exactly the point! It doesn’t say here to “make disciples of Christ”… which is also a great thing. It says to “make plain to everyone”. He’s not telling us to become biblical scholars. I’m sure I have some statements wrong already in the sermon but that’s OK. This sermon is not to teach you biblical history. It’s telling us to get up and bring Christ into the normal things we do. It’s to be Christian because we made that choice when we accept Christ as our Savior. It’s to have faith because we love our God and Savior!

Most of you know that I’ve been working 6 days a week for the last year. In prior years I had time to read the entire bible over the year, listen to meditations, and participate in the work of the church. My time in the secular world is now 99% consumed with things that are not Christian. I wake up most days between 4:45am – 5:45am to get on work conference calls starting at 5 or 6 a.m. I don’t have breakfast and when I do get a lunch it can be anytime between 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. If I barely have time to eat, where is God going to fit in?

So I go back to my timeline charts. My “Christian Focus” chart is definitely in a valley at the moment. I will keep trying to read my Upper Room booklet but I fail frequently when I don’t have a consistent routine and schedule. I attend church when I’m not traveling. I receive daily Christian emails as a reminder to focus for a few minutes (or at least a minute!). I will keep working to include Christ but it’s not easy.

Cassie’s Christian Faith Chart

Now let’s go to the Faith chart. I’ve been doing the first sermon in January for a number of years as one of my Christmas gifts to Craig. A few years back I gave a sermon about death and how I used to be terrified at the thought of death. If I look at my faith chart, it is more of a stair step. There’s a large step which was a leap of faith with my baptism at age 22. For two more decades I had small steps in my faith chart. Then when I was 40 years old and my dad passed, I had a large leap of faith. I had to believe in the salvation of Christ if I was going to be with my dad in heaven. I had to stop fearing death and trust in Christ’s heavenly kingdom and his gift of salvation.

Putting the two charts in perspective. Just because there are times in our lives when our focus isn’t what we would like it to be doesn’t mean we can’t keep growing in faith.

So you see in my Faith Journey it’s not always the Christian activities that bring us to where we are in our Faith. In 15 years when I reach my mid-60s and retire, I will love having the time to spend with God. I look forward to it. But until then, I’ve got to not feel guilty when I’m not devoting time to his word. I tell Jesus that I am a Christian out in the secular world. Representing him. Representing us.

Let us close with Part (C) versus 14-21 of Ephesians: the prayer. Please bow your heads.

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.