Saying Goodbye

It isn’t easy to say goodbye.

I still remember leaving behind my friends Derek and Brian when I was all of four years old.  My family was moving from our apartment in Los Angeles to our house in Cerritos where my parents still live.  At the time, I was too young to know this was truly goodbye or it might have been harder.  These were the only friends I had ever known, but I was young and my adventures in life were only beginning.  There have been many other “goodbyes” along the way, some intentional and others were like Derek and Brian – I didn’t know were goodbyes after all.  But maybe the one that affected me the most was the passing of my grandmother.  It was the first time I experienced someone I knew dying and the idea of never getting the chance to see her again was something new and strange and sad.  It wasn’t like all the other goodbyes where you could convince yourself you’ll see them again.  This was final.  At least in this life.  Things end. 

My “obachan” giving me those famous cookies

But goodbyes are also new hellos.

We tend to look at goodbye in light of “what could have been” – missed opportunities, things we didn’t get to do.  But it’s important to look forward to what life still has in store for you instead of holding on to the past.  It’s not that we can’t reflect on the past and certainly holding on to what we’ve learned from the past helps us to grow into better people, but instead of mourning what we are missing we should instead look forward to the future. In our passage today, we read about an ending, but also a new beginning.  Now for those of you who don’t know, most scholars believe Luke, the same guy who wrote the Gospel of Luke, also wrote the Book of Acts and in fact, Acts is almost like a sequel to the Gospels.  It tells about what happened AFTER the resurrection and recounts the history of the early church. The words we’re about to read mark Jesus’ final ascension into Heaven and the moments that happen right after.

The Beatles take our message to heart in the song “Hello Goodbye” from Magical Mystery Tour

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” – Acts 1:1-11

My first Sunday at BMUC

I want to challenge you today to think of goodbyes in a different way. 

To think of them not as endings, but as new beginnings.  Our culture has over the centuries turned goodbyes into moments of ending, but that’s not how the origin of the word.  In fact, the word “goodbye” comes from the phrase “God be with you.”[1]  It was meant as a prayer and a blessing for God’s continued grace, a call for God to bless your journey!  It was a salutation to the future!  Not a tie to the past.  And holding on to the past can be dangerous if we never allow ourselves the opportunity to live into the present, to fully embrace the opportunities God has before us.  So instead I want to challenge you to look at endings as new beginnings. 

Still one of my favorite moments at BMUC

If you look again at our passage, you see Jesus doesn’t spend a lot of time saying “goodbye.” 

In fact, he spends no time at all.  Peter doesn’t give him a hug, John doesn’t give him a going away present, James didn’t bake him a cake. Jesus just leaves.  In fact, it’s probably the complete opposite of what the disciples were expecting.  I mean, here is Jesus, risen from the dead, resurrected into new life.  He’s spent the last forty days performing miracles, proving he was alive, and speaking about the coming Kingdom, and the Apostles must have said to each other, “Wow!  This is AWESOME!  Not even DEATH can stop him!  Did we ever hitch our wagon to the right guy!  He’s talking about the coming Kingdom!  Soon we’re going to be FREE!”  And I don’t know if it was one of them or all of them or if they all just had the same thing on their minds because the Bible doesn’t tell us specifically, but I guess they figure the Kingdom of Israel is coming and somebody asks, “Is this the time, Lord?  Is this when it’s going to happen?  Because, we noticed you haven’t done it yet and it’s been like over a month and we just figured that if you could come back from the dead, you could pretty much restore Israel whenever you wanted.”  He tells them not to worry about “when” it’s going to happen.  Instead he says, “… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  He lays it out for them.  The Holy Spirit is going to come and you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth!  And then he just vanishes up into the sky.

How can you not be excited by baptism? What a blessing for all of us!

The Apostles must have been dumbstruck. 

Like they just got hit by a Mack truck.  I imagine the disciples were staring up into the clouds much like a child watches a balloon floating away.  You watch it float higher and higher until it floats so high you can no longer see it, but in your mind, you picture it continuing to go higher still.  That’s probably what the disciples were doing – looking up, even when they could no longer see him.  They’re just fixated in that moment, the way a lot of us get when we say goodbye to someone or something we love, especially if it happens suddenly the way it did for the Apostles.  But there’s new opportunities waiting for them and so God sends two men, two ANGELS down to bring them out of it.  “’Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky?  This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’”  These two men, these two angels, sort of tap them on the shoulders and say, “Don’t worry about it.  God has a plan for you.” 

Jesus LEAVING brought about a new BEGINNING. 

He left so that the Holy Spirit could come down and bless them and empower them to spread his word.  He left because the Apostles needed to start a new chapter in their lives.  And Jesus did what any wise parent, wise teacher, or sage guide would do – he trained them, he helped them, he gave them the tools to succeed, but then he left them on their own.  And it’s in those moments we are tested.  Do we cling to the past and become afraid to step out on our own?  Or do we embrace the future? 

My family on our last Easter with BMUC

Embracing the future doesn’t mean forgetting the past.

It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t honor the past.  But it does mean we can’t let the past hold us back from the future.  A wise minister once said, “The last seven words heard from a church are ‘We’ve never done it that way before.’”[2]  Don’t be afraid of change.  Not in your life and not in this church.  Every ending marks a new beginning and even though I won’t be with you any longer, that doesn’t mean the work we’ve been doing together is over.  In fact it’s just beginning.  It might look differently than it does today, but as long as you keep looking forward instead of looking back, this church will continue to progress into the future and reach new people for Christ.  As our United Church of Christ friends are fond of saying, “God is still speaking.”  Let him speak through you.  He tells us as clearly as he did in the Great Commission, “…you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.”  So it’s up to you.  It’s up to you to find new ways and new ideas to help people understand the love of Jesus Christ.  It’s up to you to invite and encourage people into a deeper relationship with God.  And it’s up to you to pursue that for yourselves.

I challenge you in the days to come to embrace this mission and find ways to be witnesses for Christ in your daily lives.  I challenge you to go and invite friends and family and neighbors to come with you to church and experience for themselves the kindness that comes from being in a community dedicated to loving one another.  I challenge you to lead such transformed lives that those around you will long to find out what secret it is you’ve discovered that brings you such happiness, joy, and contentment.  And then I hope you lean over, and whisper in their ear.  “Jesus loves even me.” 

The inspiration for our message today – and who doesn’t love the Muppets?

It’s not easy to say “goodbye.” 

Not just to each other, but to old habits, to comfortable ways of living, to things we need to leave in the past.  It’s hard.  But sometimes necessary as Jesus showed us this morning.  But like I said earlier, the word “goodbye” actually means “God be with you.”  It is a hope and a promise for the future.  So when we say “goodbye” to each other this morning, let it be with that spirit.  That the mighty God who sacrificed himself on the cross for us remains within each of us and supports us as we embrace life in a different way.  I leave you today with these words from a song by the Muppets.  “Somehow I know, we’ll meet again.  Not sure quite where and I don’t know just when.  You’re in my heart.  So until then.  It’s time for saying goodbye.”  God be with you!


[2] I’m pretty sure it was David R. Ray from one of his wonderful books on small churches, but I could be misquoting here.

Top 10 Moments at BMUC

Reflecting on our ministry together the past four years.

Any time you leave a place, especially one where you journey together with a group of people, it’s natural to do some reflecting on the past. As I’ve shared a number of times, as long as we don’t get trapped by the past, it can be worthwhile and even healthy to look back now and again. Even more so if it helps us to move forward. So to bring closure to our time together – with one more Sunday to go, here are my top 10 moments at BMUC:

10. 90th anniversary celebration – It was wonderful to be able to celebrate 90 years of ministry together and invite back our former ministers and those who served here at BMUC. Bishop Grant Hagiya came to deliver the message and it was so appropriate since BMUC was the place he received his first appointment. We got to visit with friends and family, those who had been gone from the church for a while, and special guests who participated in the festivities. Manju from (now closed) Benkyo-do and bento box lunches from Sumo Sushi made for an amazing meal. Everyone got a gift from the church as a reminder of the legacy that is BMUC.

Communion with Bishop Carcano and Deacon Mike

9. Bishop Carcano’s visit – It was the first time a sitting Bishop had come to BMUC and was a treat for our congregants who were able to break bread with her and experience a real connection to our wider legacy in the UMC. Bishop Carcano wasn’t able to be with us during the 90th anniversary celebration but definitely wanted to be present at our church to share in the good news of nine decades serving God. Not only were we blessed to hear a message from her, but also took communion together.

8. 12 Days of Christmas – I LOVED this! During our pandemic Cookies and Carols in 2020, Naomi Sanchez, our Music Director, planned a coordinated Twelve Days of Christmas sing-a-long and asked everyone to hold up a paper or poster of your “day” on the screen. Lee Marrs was the “partridge in a pear tree,” but instead of having one image, she created TWELVE DIFFERENT IMAGES which was amazing by itself, but as we realized what was happening, people were just overjoyed – especially Naomi whose face just lit up in disbelief.

7. Cookies and Carols – Speaking of which, Cookies and Carols was something new our Outreach Committee hosted to bring in people from the community during the Christmas season. The first year we did it, we called it Cocoa and Carols (although cookies were involved) and it was a big success with many people from the community coming and singing with us. In 2020, we were in the midst of the pandemic so we shifted and did online cookie decorating and then singing together which were great to lift our spirits and keep our community focused on the season. In 2021, we did both in-person and online which was a ton of fun.

6. Day of Remembrance – This was memorable for two reasons: 1. We did our first (and sadly only) Spam Musubi cook off (to honor the creativity of camp life under harsh conditions) and 2. We joined with other historically Japanese-American churches across the country to reflect on what the day meant to us. It was the first time I can recall where we did a joint service and it was such a blessing to work with the other pastors and especially Bishop Sano who gave the message for our time together. It was also an opportunity to again connect with other churches and realize we share something in common that makes us stronger.

Our annual staff Christmas luncheon at Bette’s Oceanside Diner

5. Creativity in worship – I can’t say enough how blessed I am to work with such talented (and good-hearted) people like Naomi, Jill and Tak. Together, we’ve been able to push the boundaries in worship and hold the congregation together even in the midst of the pandemic. We did hybrid worship, we introduced online giving, we found new ways to creatively sing and stream and do communion, and we were able to at the same time minimize our risk of COVID. Nearly every highlight on this list is due in part or more to these awesome people who deserve a big shout out!

4. Black Lives Matter – I was so honored to serve at a place that took seriously the Black Lives Matter movement and took to heart DS Rev. Staci’s message to churches to DO something, not just talk about what was going on. During the summer of 2020 when racial tensions reached new highs, the Black Lives Matter movement sprang into being. Instead of paying lip service to that time, our folks donated money to support the Black community both here and nationally. We ended up raising over $8000 to give to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and to OCCUR which supports Black-owned businesses in the Bay Area.

3. Easter Outreach 2021 – Our Outreach Committee came through again with an innovative way to do Easter for the community. We did a Safe and Socially Distant Easter Egg Hunt which drew nearly 50 kids from not just our neighborhood but from around the Bay. Almost none of them were from BMUC! At the same time we decorated the cross with flowers, sticking to our tradition, but changing it up a bit to give people the chance to visit and it was a huge success. The stories about Jesus were inspiring.

2. Kazumi’s Baptism – Baptism is ALWAYS a highlight for me and I was so honored to be able to take part in Kazumi’s. Not only is Kazumi (and now her brother Akira) one of the first babies born to the congregation in a while, but her parents are such wonderful people. It’s always special to be part of a person’s journey of faith and baptism is one of those milestones along the way. It was also the first one I’ve had the chance to do while here at BMUC so it was even more exciting!

1.Faith and Family Trip to Disneyland – These Faith and Family trips are so special to me because it gives me a chance to take time and really get to know people, but it also is an opportunity to share something I’m passionate about – bringing faith into the real world. And Disney. These trips are an opportunity for me to put into action what I earnestly believe: we have to make faith real and tangible for others to follow Christ. Disney does hospitality exceptionally well, and it’s a great real world example of something we can do in our own churches to bring faith alive.

There were many wonderful moments we’ve had together at BMUC and these are just a snippet of them. I really believe in this place and the people here. Although I’ll be leaving, I hope if you’re in the Berkeley area, you’ll pop by and spend some time getting to know them. If you’re looking for a church home, this is a place to put on your list! May God continue to bless this church and the people in it. And praise Jesus for the chance to serve here and journey in faith with these people.

Love Without End, Amen

This is the song that inspired our message today. It is filled with God’s unconditional love and expressed in a way that always touches my heart. Enjoy this masterpiece by George Strait.

Imagine a world where everyone knew they were loved unconditionally.

In that kind of a world, many of the problems we have today would probably disappear.  Not all of them to be sure, but many of the demons that plague us would vanish.  Unconditional love is the greatest gift in the world.  It gives you a sense of self-worth, confidence, and assurance that nothing else can give you. People spend their whole lives looking for it.  By its very definition, you can’t buy it, you can’t earn it, you can’t do anything to get it.  It’s the one great equalizer in society because everyone wants it and whether you get it has nothing to do with wealth, fame, or power.  In fact, it’s probably the one thing that’s harder to get the more successful you become because you can’t help but wonder if people love you because of who you are or for what you have.  But God loves us unconditionally, no matter how much we have or don’t have, no matter how much we do or don’t do – God loves us anyway.  Our passage this morning shares that message with us.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. – 1 John 4:7-12; 19-21

Being a dad; the greatest joy in my life

We love because he first loved us.

As parents, we experience the kind of love God has for us most strongly with our children.  We feel it right from the moment of their birth. Or even before then.  When Cassie was pregnant with Emma, I used to talk to Emma everyday.  Before bed each night, I’d put my head next to Cassie’s stomach and talk to my little unborn baby girl, telling her about my day, about how I can’t wait for her to come out, and saying “good night.”  Sometimes I’d randomly just go up to Cassie’s stomach and just for fun say “Helloooooo in there.”  It was probably a bit embarrassing for Cassie, because I’d do it whenever the mood struck – at home, at the mall, in the car – just whenever.  One night, Cassie started getting some unusual pains and we rushed to the hospital, worried that something had gone wrong.  We sat in this cold, sterile intake room waiting for Cassie to get some kind of medical scan done, and I remember holding her hand and just feeling completely helpless.  The worst part was when they wheeled Cassie away.  They wouldn’t even let me go with her and I sat in this little, tiny waiting room all by myself with Law & Order on the television above me.  I remember thinking about how much I loved my little girl who I hadn’t even seen yet except on some fuzzy sonogram, and praying everything would be alright.  I hadn’t ever felt that anxious before.  Thankfully, it was just a scare and about seven months later, Emma would come out just fine, but I felt like just for a moment I had a glimpse of God’s unconditional love for us – that deep love of God that reaches out to us even before we realize we need it.

One of many awesome Daddy/Daughter Days spent with Emma

It’s that kind of love that John is talking about in this letter. 

It’s the love that comes before we even realize we ARE loved.  In Methodism we call this prevenient grace – the unmerited, undeserved, unasked-for love of God that comes before we even know there IS a God.  And it’s this unconditional love that motivates God to send Jesus on our behalf.  Not because we behaved particularly well.  Not because we did some great deed for God.  But because he knew it was what we needed.  It’s what we do for those we love.  That’s why John writes, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  When John tells us that we need to love one another in the same way that God loves us, this is the kind of love he’s talking about – the unconditional, self-sacrificing, put-yourself-out-there kind of love.  We don’t do this because we need to “pay God back” or to balance some kind of cosmic debt.  It isn’t love if it requires payment.  We don’t do it to store up God’s good will.  Again, that isn’t love.  Look at what it says in the Gospel of Luke.  In Luke 6, Jesus tells the crowd to love their enemies.  He says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners love those who love them.”  It doesn’t take any effort to love those who already love you because you expect love in return.  Real love is being able to offer it without any expectation, to love the way God loves us.  When we are able to love like that, we have a deeper understanding of God’s love for us.

Love is essential.  When we are loved, we do better in life.

As a father, there is a unique role we play in the lives of our children and a reason God created us to be fathers in the first place.  It’s not only a duty, but an honor to be a father.  As more research is done, it becomes clearer and clearer that fathers are an important part of a child’s development not just because they are a “second parent” but men specifically interact and behave in ways that help their children become more well-rounded, well-developed people.[1] Studies have shown that having a loving, involved father increases a child’s chance of getting A’s in school by 43% and children are 33% less likely to repeat a grade.[2]  43% more likely to get A’s.  Children with fathers who play with them on average have higher IQs “as well as better linguistic and cognitive capabilities,” meaning they tend to be more sophisticated in both speech and thinking.[3]   Children with involved fathers tend to be more sociable, exhibit better self-control, and tend to be more popular.  They were less likely to lie, experience depression, and more likely to engage in pro-social behavior.  The more we learn about fathers, the more we realize how important they are.  Not that mothers are any less important, but too often in society the job of raising children has fallen on mothers.  The well-being and welfare of a child rests solely on her shoulders when it should be shared by both parents.  Fathers have a deeper responsibility than society gives them credit for or often expects of them, but not less than what God expects.  In Ephesians we hear from Paul that fathers are responsible for bringing up their children in the “training and instruction of the Lord” and are called not to exasperate them.  In the letter to the Colossians, Paul writes that fathers should not embitter their children, or they will become discouraged.  God places upon fathers an expectation of love and encouragement that is important in how they grow up. 

Love is a choice.

Love isn’t just a feeling.  Love is a choice.  We shouldn’t love our children just when we feel like loving them.  We shouldn’t love them when they deserve it.  We shouldn’t make them earn our love.  We should love them simply because they are our children.  But what we SHOULD do and what we DO do are not always the same.  Ultimately, love is still a choice as evidenced by the unfortunate number of fathers out there who are not involved in their children’s lives. One in three children live in a fatherless household.[4]  48% of those see their children less than once a month.  31% say they don’t even call or email once a month.[5]  We choose what’s important in our lives.  We choose who to love and how to love even if it’s only ourselves.  It is a choice we make moment by moment just as God constantly chooses to love us despite our rebelliousness.  And just as we are loved by God, we must also choose to love our children so that when they explore faith for themselves, they have an idea of what it means to have a loving God in Heaven.  It’s hard to imagine a loving Father above when right here ours is absent.  Love is a choice.  And God chooses to love us everyday.   We must choose to love also. 

Being parents is an important role we play in the lives of our children, each one important

We don’t always realize the importance of the role we play in the lives of our children.

Academically, socially, and spiritually, too.  How involved a father is in the faith life of their children influences greatly the future faith of their children as well.  Fathers who go to church regularly have a greater impact on the future of their children being in church than their mothers.  In fact, if a father goes to church regularly with their mother, 75% of their children will still be in church either regularly or irregularly as adults.  If a father doesn’t go to church but the mother does only 39% of their children will go to church at all, with only 2% being regular attenders.[6]  As a father, we have a greater responsibility to our children’s well-being than we often think.  We influence not just their life here, but their eternal life as well.  On this Father’s Day, I want to encourage you to show your unconditional love to the people important in your life.  Encourage, embolden, and love your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren so that they may know not only your love but the model of love God has for them.   







Rejection Protection

The surgery was only the beginning.

Granted, it’s a huge part of it and the most important, but the first month following the operation is intense. Mostly, the transplant team is concerned with rejection. And rejection, if it happens, can be a very quiet thing so there are a lot of indicators the team is watching to see how the kidney is doing. Body temperature, blood pressure, weight, and blood sugar are the things I have to measure multiple times a day. Then there are the blood tests. For the first month, we’re going over to the hospital twice a week and each time they take multiple samples of my blood and run it through a series of tests. They look at everything – my creatinine levels, BUN, eGFR, phosphorous, red blood cell count, white blood cell count, glucose, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Based on all of this information, they adjust my medications regularly.

Just some of the medication I started taking the day I was released

And I do mean regularly. Nearly each time I’ve gone in they have adjusted my meds. And with 17 different medications, I am SO grateful they take such care managing them all. I have to tell you, it’s overwhelming. When I was in the hospital, the pharmacy team came in to go over everything with me. They allowed me to play with the instruments I would need to take all the measurements. They were willing to spend whatever time I needed to make sure I could do it myself when I got home. Even still, I felt lost and overwhelmed. It was just so much to learn in such a short amount of time. Thankfully, Tiffany (one of the social workers on the team) sat with me and helped me talk through it and helped me come up with a plan to not only make me feel more at ease but have a sense of control over the process. Plus, it was reassuring to know one slip up wasn’t going to kill me. I feel like I have a good routine down after the first week and it all seems pretty manageable. I do push myself probably harder than I should but it’s hard for me to feel so helpless. Still my family has been awesome. Emma has helped out a ton and Cassie has taken it upon herself to do all the shopping and transportation. Both of them have been such a blessing.

One last sushi feast before the operation!

Today, it’s been a month since the surgery. Thankfully, I’m recovering well and things are progressing nicely. I’ve been ahead of the curve so far, but nothing like Cassie who went home THE NEXT DAY from the hospital. She was off pain meds soon after that. Her recovery has been miraculous! She was cleared to drive by the time I went home from the hospital and was able to pick me up. You can believe it was a relief to see her doing so well and welcoming me home. There have been some changes in my life as a result of the surgery. I have to be more careful because I am immunocompromised – especially the first few months when they are adjusting my rejection medication. They’re trying to find the right balance to make sure my body doesn’t reject Three while at the same time protecting me as much as possible from other infections. I can’t eat grapefruit or have anything with grapefruit juice (not a big loss). I also can’t eat anything raw or half-cooked – which means no sashimi or raw fish sushi (that IS a big loss). But it’s a small price to pay for new lease on life.

20 years of marriage and it keeps getting better

We celebrated our 20th anniversary during this month of recovery and I’ve got to say, it was not what I expected. It was better. In more ways than one, Cassie is a part of me in a way we never imagined. There couldn’t have been a more unimaginable show of love than what Cassie was willing to do for me. We’re both recovering well and I’m back to work at the church for my final month before moving on to a new adventure. In the meantime, keep us in your prayers for continued strength and healing and I will continue to keep you updated on our progress.

What You Leave Behind

What is the legacy you will leave behind?

There is a deep-seated need in each of us to know we matter, to know that our lives make a difference. We want to feel we contributed something to this great tapestry of life and we want to leave the world a better place than we found it.  That’s a noble sentiment and definitely in line with what God wants for us.  But in our need to leave some kind of lasting legacy, sometimes we get confused as to what that legacy should be.  Sometimes we forget what is truly important and we focus on the wrong things or pursue our legacy in ultimately meaningless ways.  Many people think fame or even infamy is the key to a lasting legacy.  One only has to look at the spate of mass shootings to see that reality.  There’s the erroneous belief that if somehow your name gets written down in some history book no matter the reason, we will live on forever.  But I have news for you.  Your eternal destiny isn’t determined by having your name in some book other than the Book of Life.  If you’ve never heard the term before, the Book of Life is a metaphor for the people who make it into Heaven.  That’s the only “book” that matters if your name is in it.  If you believe in an afterlife, and if you’re here you probably do or at least you’re thinking about it, then the key to success isn’t your fame here on Earth, or your wealth, or your power.  When Matthew encouraged us to store up treasures in Heaven instead of down here, this is what he was writing about.  To leave a legacy that matters isn’t about building up ourselves but building up the Kingdom of God by making a lasting impact on the lives of others.

Leif Erikson – often forgotten “discoverer” of America

History is fickle.

If we’re relying on history to make us immortal, we need something better.  What actually happens in the world and what becomes “fact” are sometimes very different things. And the “facts” can change rapidly.  In my own lifetime, I found out Christopher Columbus did NOT discover America despite being told that was the case for many, many years.  In fact, Columbus wasn’t even the first European to land in North America. That distinction goes to Leif Erikson and the Viking people who came sometime in the 10th century, fully five hundred years earlier.[1]  But even Erikson didn’t “discover” America. Long before either one of them came, the ancestors of what we know today as Native Americans had migrated at least 10 to 13,000 years before.  It’s only a Euro-centric view of the world that has us believe America didn’t exist before Europeans came to colonize it.  Here’s something interesting. The names of the boats Columbus used were NOT the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.  Nina was actually a nickname for his boat called the Santa Clara.[2]  But I guess that doesn’t roll off the tongue as well.  Next thing you know, someone will tell me that Pluto is not a planet.  If we’re looking to leave a legacy that matters, we have to consider what that might be because the answer doesn’t lie in recorded history, but on the work that we do to make a difference.  Ultimately, our biggest impact is far more personal.

Jesus tried to tell his followers that through a parable.

If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, would you please turn to Luke 12 beginning with verse 16.  Luke 12:16.  In this story, there are literally thousands of people trying to listen to what Jesus has to say.  Luke doesn’t tell us and he probably didn’t know how many of those people were actually followers of Christ and how many were just there to be with the “in crowd.”  Jesus is the greatest show in town!  This guy is performing downright miracles!  At any time, he might heal a sick child or turn water into wine or bring someone back from the dead.  Who knows what might happen next?  So there are thousands crowded around and hoping to be part of history and from out of the crowd, one guy shouts, “Jesus, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  Back in Jesus’ time, if you were the firstborn male, you received a double portion of the inheritance and in all likelihood this guy wasn’t the firstborn.[3]  So instead of answering him directly, Jesus tells him this parable. 

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” – Luke 12

When problems are NOT problems…

First world problems.

That’s what my friend John would call this.  These are problems of abundance instead of scarcity.  This guy’s big problem is not starvation or homelessness.  His big problem is he doesn’t have enough room for all the grain he has.  “What shall I do?” he says, “I have no place to store my crops.”  He has an embarrassment of riches, but he THINKS he has problems.  If only he opened his eyes to the blessing he already has. It’s like that scene from Friends where Ross is torn between Julie and Rachel and he says, “What am I gonna do?  This is a complete nightmare.”  And Chandler responds, “Oh, I know.  This must be so hard.  Oh, no! Two women love me.  They’re both gorgeous and sexy.  My wallet’s too small for my fifties and my diamond shoes are too tight!”  Which is essentially what God says to the guy in the parable.  “You think you have a problem?  Tonight, you’re going to die and then what will you do with all of your wealth?”  With all of that food, he could have feed the hungry or helped the poor but instead he’s worried about how he can hoard his wealth so he can kick back and relax for the rest of his life.  The same is true to a lesser degree to the guy who wanted Jesus to tell his brother to share his inheritance.  Instead of bemoaning his father’s death, instead of being grateful for this sudden windfall in his life, he looks to what his brother has and decides to ruin his relationship with him instead.  He is focused on the wrong things.  Jesus wants us to spend more time on what’s really important and let go of what the world tells us is important. The Greek statesman Pericles said it best when he said, “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”[4] 

Dr. Thom and Dr. Crehen were my pediatricians growing up.

Neither one of them has a building named after them or a school or a temple, but both of them made an indelible mark on my life.  I used to go to the doctor’s office every other week because of my tonsils.  I had tonsilitis all the time.  So much so that at five years old I had to have them taken out. But something in their demeanor, in their care for me, and the way they helped me made such a difference in my life that for the longest time I wanted to be a pediatrician.  Helping others like they helped me was such a life changer that it shaped who I was and what I wanted to become.  Ultimately, I didn’t go that way thanks to Chem 11A at UCLA, but it still ended up directing me to where I am today.  I’m still in the business of helping others, just in a different way.  Now, they may not be famous by the world’s standards, but they are everyday heroes to me.  And there are others, too.  Ms. Stein-A who believed in me, encouraged me, and gave me opportunities to succeed.  Lisa Starr who stood up for me against the crowd as a freshman in high school.  Steve from Alpharetta First who shared his wisdom with me when I was going through a tough time.  And too many more to name.   That doesn’t even include my family and friends who have stood by me and been there for me my entire life.  Those are the people whose legacy endures in me. 

What will be your legacy?

How will you make a difference in the lives of those around you?  Each of us has the ability to make a life changing impact for the people around us.  Our names may not be remembered in a history book.  We might be like Leif Erikson and be largely forgotten.  We may not have a statue raised in our honor or a building named after us.  But ultimately those things are impermanent.  As Jesus told the disciples in Luke 21:6 as they were marveling at the beauty of the temple, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”  And yet the impact of what we do and of who we are might be felt for generations to come.  We can and do make a difference.  What kind of difference you make, the legacy you leave, is largely up to you.  There’s a song by Randy Travis, the country singer, called “Three Wooden Crosses” and in it he sings a line that particular rings home for me.  He sings, “I guess it’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you.  It’s what you leave behind you when you go.”  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.





Joined at the Kidney, Part 2

I woke up and suddenly I had a new kidney.

Feels like I skipped some vital parts of the story, right? But that’s the difference between one day and the next. One day, you’re functioning at about 9% and the next, you have a new kidney. Your wife’s kidney. Who just happens to be a match. And who’s love and selflessness was so great she gave it up for me. Wow.

Cassie before the surgery

After I heard Cassie came through with flying colors, it was my turn. They transported me to the prep room where they had me answer more questions and went over the procedure with me. When they brought me in the nurses there told the attendant to put me over in the same corner where Cassie had been earlier. I can’t say enough about the medical teams and nursing staff at Stanford. They are truly top notch and worth every penny. The level of care we both received was beyond our expectations. The entire team came in to introduce themselves and to make sure I knew what was about to happen and to give me a chance to ask any questions. Then it was just the waiting as they prepped the room. The lone nurse left with me sat there and asked about our story, so I told her. I told her how amazing it was to find out we were a match. How more amazing it was Cassie was willing to do this for me. And how seemingly miraculous it was that it all came together the way it did. She listened intently with a smile on her face as I recalled our story.

Then it was time.

They wheeled me in and transferred me to the table. Pretty soon, I was out like a light. I don’t even remember going under anesthesia, but I do remember waking up. Suddenly, I was in a completely different room. I was hooked up to multiple IVs and had two tubes in my arm and three in my neck. I had monitors on my body and I had to lie still for twelve hours following the surgery, but they let Cassie come in and sit with me for a while. They escorted her into my room, and pulled up a chair for her next to my bed so we could hold hands. Then they quietly left and gave us time to ourselves. I told her how much I loved her and she said the same and we just sat quietly in the room holding hands with the night sky as our back drop.

I was drifting in and out of sleep those twelve hours. The nursing staff would come in frequently to check my vitals and see how I was doing. I wasn’t allowed to have water or anything right away (apparently the anesthesia can make you quite nauseous and some people react badly – that’s the last thing you want after major surgery to your body). But after those twelve hours, they let me have a liquid diet meal for breakfast to see how I would do. After that went well, they bumped me up to real food. Everything seemed to be going well for my recovery. Three (the new kidney) started working right away. Like Cassie, Three is a no nonsense kind of kidney and wanted to get right to the job. Pretty soon I was pumping out liquids and things were moving along.

Cassie, one day after surgery!

Cassie’s recovery was quite miraculous. It hasn’t even been a week and she’s already off the pain meds they gave us (not me though – it’s going to take a bit longer for me). She left the hospital the next day! Leading a carnivore lifestyle has really helped Cassie’s body to become much more fit and healthy and she was the talk of the floor. Everyone who came in to see me commented how extraordinary her recovery was. I was so happy for her. The only sad part was I would be alone in the hospital, but it was great to see her get better so soon.

And it wasn’t bad for me at all. My recovery was going better than expected. They had originally projected I would be in the hospital until at least Sunday if not Monday, but as the week progressed, they decided I would be well enough to go home on Saturday! Again, I can’t say enough about the nursing staff at Stanford. They deserve every penny they were asking for. They were there for me and Cassie 24 hours a day. They always had a great attitude and a positive demeanor. They helped us without question. They offered to do things for us without us even asking. And they made sure we were well taken care of. And they were so polite on top of it all! Just an outstanding experience. If you need quality medical care, being at Stanford would be a blessing.

I’ll still be seeing this place in the future, but now with a new kidney!

Saturday came and after getting two more doses of anti-rejection medication, I was sent on my way. The pharmacy staff came by and trained me on how to use my new medication. They also gave me a care package of medical goodies to help me and make sure I had everything I needed to succeed. Tiffany, the social worker came by and when I needed to talk (feeling a bit overwhelmed with the care I would need post-surgery), she came without question and sat with me as we worked on solutions together. I felt a whole lot better. Alex, my dietician called to give me support and to answer any questions, and the doctors came by whenever there was a question the nurses couldn’t answer right away. Even though I didn’t have my family in the room with me, I never felt alone and always felt much love and support. When it was finally time to leave, a bunch of the nurses and staff came to see me off. As I got wheeled off the floor, I felt ready for the next phase in my kidney journey. The road to recovery…

Joined at the Kidney, Part 1

I named it Three.

Cassie’s kidney now lives inside of me and I decided to name it Three. Three is such a powerful number. Three is the number of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three makes a family. And of course, three…is a magic number (any Schoolhouse Rock fans?). I’ve already told One and Two to make Three feel right at home and to play nice and so far it’s been going well.

But I’ve skipped quite a bit ahead in the story. When last we left I said over the next few weeks I would share some yummy recipes with you – and I will. But the next few weeks ended up in a blur of activity which led up to us having the transplant surgery. It was a tenacious few weeks, too. Full of anxiety and uncertainty along the way. We went in for our final evaluations on April 12, the day after I posted the last article and like I imagined, the weigh in was VERY close. I was at 237.4. Only a little over a pound away from the goal. Would that be enough?

The doctors were really impressed with my effort and ability to lose the weight naturally and everyone asked how I had done it (I should have just referred them to the blog). I shared my story with them and it made the biggest impression on the doctor who would be my actual surgeon, Dr. Busque, because at the evaluation meeting he was telling them all about it and how much it showed I was a good candidate for the surgery. Still, we had to wait a week for the results. In the meantime, the situation between the hospital and the nurses came to a head and the Stanford nurses union, CRONA, announced that they would be going on strike.

We waited.

The next week came and we were told we were approved! And then came the BUT…. But if the nurses went on strike it could be postponed indefinitely. They would of course fit us in as soon as they could. My surgery was what they called a preemptive transplant which would put us ahead of those already on dialysis, but for how long would it get delayed? In the middle of all of this we were getting ready for a move to a new church (more on that later) and we had to plan around that as well. It just seemed like our whole lives were in chaos! The strike happened and it looked more and more like they would pull the plug and reschedule us for some time in the future. We checked in constantly for any news, none of it good, and updates were few and far between. But thank God, the two sides came together before the end of the month and agreed on a new work package, literally the day our team was meeting to decide our fate. They approved our surgery and we had to check in the next morning!!!

Us checking in to our rooms

My mother-in-law, Carol, bless her heart, flew on the latest possible flight on a moment’s notice to be here for us. We picked her up at the airport, came back to the house, got in a quick sleep, and headed out the next morning. It was exciting and at the same time a bit nerve-wracking. After all, we were about to go under the knife for major surgery. The success rate was very high. For Cassie, only 1 in 3000 ended up in fatality. Mine wasn’t as high, but still at over 99% you can’t really complain. Plus, we were in very good hands. The odds were as good as they were going to get. When we got to the hospital, it was time for even more tests. More blood work. Another COVID test. An EKG and chest x-ray. Thankfully, we passed all of those, too. Cassie and I were taken to separate rooms on the same floor – just two doors away. But with so many tests and other things going on we didn’t see much of each other until night time. She would be going in first at around 6am and I would follow some time around noon.

We went to bed. I didn’t sleep much. I was too excited and nervous and wanted to be sure to be up to see Cassie off to her surgery. I watched as she went down the hall, and then just waited to hear how it went. I knew her medical team was one of the best, but it was still a relief to know she came through with flying colors. Our post-op recovery would be in the main hospital so I would just have to wait until mine was done to see her. Wow…soon I would start life with a new kidney!

It Takes A Village

Who would make your list?

One day I plan to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for my film “A Kidney Between Us” so I need to be ready to give one of those fancy acceptance speeches.  Winners only have 45 seconds unless you win one of the big four (Actor, Actress, Director, Film) so it has to be quick and precise.  Of course, you have to thank the Academy since they voted for you in the first place.  And the fans for getting your film recognized.  But who else?  Forty-five seconds is a terribly short time to squeeze in every single person who made a difference in your life, so who would be “Oscar worthy?”  Because let’s face it.  None of us achieves anything in life on our own.  As much as the idea of the “self-made man” is part of American society, it’s the ultimate in hubris to think we really didn’t have help.  I know people who are fantastic writers who have never had a book published or a script produced; wonderful singers who have never been signed to a record label; artists who haven’t had their work published or put in a gallery and it’s not because they lack talent.  On the other hand, there are movies like John Carter.  Someone was convinced to spend over $250 million dollars on a film that ended up losing $200 million.[1]  No one becomes a success in a vacuum.  We are the product of so many different variables and all of them are important. 

My Oscar moment from the Academy museum

Successfully raising a child is a lot like being a success at anything.

You can’t do it alone.  And I don’t mean being a single parent.  Having both parents around doesn’t guarantee success.  I knew a couple with two kids.  Same parents.  Same household.  Same schools.  One of them grew up to be a model student.  Helped out with the family, got good grades, never got in trouble.  The other one was always getting in fights; got sent to the principal’s office time and time again; and started doing drugs and breaking the law.  If it was just about good parenting, it wouldn’t make any sense!  But it’s not. A child doesn’t grow up in a bubble.  They have different friends.  They have different teachers.  They get involved in different things.  All of it adds up to the person they become.  As a church, we have to make sure to do our part, to help build up children in faith, to give them a solid foundation, to help them see God at work in their lives.  Because if we don’t, they will drift away to find themselves in other things. 

From Lifeway Research

And most of them do drift away.

Studies show about two-thirds of kids who regularly attended church before college or careers took off from the church once they left high school.  Two-thirds![2]  And the numbers don’t get better as they get older.  They get worse.  Once kids reach their 20’s only about 33% still attend church regularly.  Some of them come back, but a lot of them don’t.  According to the Pew Research Center, the number of unaffiliated people (meaning people with no religious affiliation) stands at 29% of the population, up 13% since 2007 when these stats started being tracked.[3]  The group that has become unaffiliated the most?  Millennials.[4]  They find God elsewhere.  They feel the church is irrelevant.  Or church is just plain boring.[5]  And they aren’t wrong.  Every church says they want kids and young families but do little to prepare for them or meet their needs.  Try modernizing worship or doing something new or innovative often gets resounding resistance from the pews.  Most kids I know and speak to want the same answers their parents do.  They want to know why they are here, if there’s a God, if there’s a purpose to life, and what that purpose might be. 

Why Millennials do and don’t connect with church

We need to help them answer these questions.

If you would open up your Bible or your Bible app to Deuteromony 6:4-8, I want to share this passage with you today.  The key isn’t to be a Biblical scholar, but to be the kind of person who exemplifies God’s love.  And that means being willing to do what’s necessary to reach kids with that love.  We need to do that with more than just money, but by our presence, our service, our witness, and our time.  Kids are smart.  They are far more intuitive than we often give them credit for.  And they know when we truly mean what we say and when we’re just offering lip service.  Too often children and youth are undervalued in church.  Ask yourself, is that what Christ would want?  We read so often how much Christ valued children and their perspective on life.  He even said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. (Matthew 18:2-5)”  Then he followed that up with a warning, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)”  What are YOU doing to help our children know the love of Christ? 

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6:4-8

It really does take a village to raise a child

It really does take a village to raise a child.

Parents are the most important ingredient to be sure, but parents alone can’t do all of the work.  We are products of more than just our biology.  Friends, church, community, our nation, and our world all contribute to making us who we are.  When then First Lady Hillary Clinton wrote her best-selling book with the title It Takes A Village, it’s purpose was to drive home this point and to inspire us to collectively take responsibility for the welfare of the children in our lives and in our world.  In the passage we just read, Moses is talking not just to parents, but to the entire nation of Israel.  “Impress (God’s commandments) on your children…  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”  That word “impress” is more than just “teach.”  The dictionary defines the word as “to apply with pressure so as to imprint.”[6]  Teaching is the transfer of information, but impression is making it part of the person’s character.  In this passage, Moses is telling the people of Israel that it is our responsibility to find a way to impress upon the children the lessons of Christ and to live them out as a reminder at all times of what it means to be Christian. 

From The Untouchables – “What are you prepared to do?”

Wouldn’t it be great if you ended up in someone’s “thank you” speech?

What an honor to be placed in that rare category of influential people upon a person’s life.  If we take seriously Christ’s call not to hinder the little children, we also have to take seriously Moses’ call to impress upon the children the lessons of Christ.  Pray about how you can support the children of our church.  When we join, we offer our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.  How can you do that for our kids?  Our Outreach Team is working hard to be inviting, but the question we keep coming back to is this, “What are we inviting them to?”  Are we ready to be a family church?  Can we truly make a commitment to helping kids grow in faith?  That will be the next challenge we have to face.  I’m reminded of a scene from The Untouchable when Eliot Ness and Jimmy Malone are talking in the church and Jimmy says to Eliot, “What are you prepared to do?”  And Eliot responds with “Everything within the law.”  Jimmy responds with “And then what are you prepared to do?”  That is our challenge.  Eliot was willing to do whatever he could within the boundaries he was comfortable with, but Jimmy knew that to achieve results they would have to think out of the box.  They would have to dare to be different and find solutions that hadn’t been tried yet.  Do we have that kind of commitment to our children?  It takes a village to impact the life of a child and YOU are part of their village.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 







Seven Last Words

Note: If this seems familiar, it’s because it is. It’s one of the most enduring messages I’ve heard and one I feel I need to share in each place I serve. It’s always one of the most memorable sermons I give and even years later people remember those seven last words, because it rings true for us all. I wanted to share the message again as I’m about to leave BMUC and pave the road for the next person coming in, because if there’s one thing for sure during a pastoral change is the change! Change happens whether we want it or not. The best we can do is be prepared for it.

The countdown to climate crisis started decades ago.

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.  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. 

This looks so much like Space Cruiser Yamato!

Climate change isn’t the only change we are resistant to doing something about.

As human beings, we typically don’t like change no matter what, even when it’s better for us.  People have a tendency toward the status quo. You may have heard of your body having a “set point,” meaning that your body gets used to the size and shape that it is in and any attempt to alter it is met with a LOT of resistance.  That’s true not just physically but mentally, too.  I remember taking a psych class at UCLA where we talked about how your brain gets used to certain patterns of behavior. The brain 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 if they are not good for us or the most efficient way of doing something.  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.”[1] At times, we almost take pride in being stubborn.  We call it “grit” or “perseverance.”  But those are different than being stubborn.  Grit and perseverance are qualities of being steadfast in the face of adversity.  Stubborn is being so unwilling to change that even when all the evidence points to the need to do so, you don’t.  This is something we all struggle with and have apparently for at least 2000 years.  If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, please go to the Gospel of Matthew chapter 19 beginning with verse 16.  Matthew 19:16. 

At the time I worked there it was called McDonnell Douglas West Federal Credit Union

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 using 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’d like to say that’s an isolated incident.  But it’s not.

And we all know it.  You and I have both 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 that man.

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 that he had grown accustomed to.  That was holding him back.  He had accomplished pretty much everything else he wanted to in life, like a young 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 had been saying 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.  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 you’ve made in your own life.  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.  Jerk.  Or your buddy told you that girl was only using you for what you gave to her, but you didn’t believe them.  What a user.  The list just goes on and on. 

What we need to do is recognize we are all like this to some degree.

And then do our best to overcome it.  We can’t afford to sit by and hope things will change.  Be the change you want to see.  Don’t wait until it’s too late to do something about it, 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 the results.  The same is true for our church as it is in our personal lives.  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 stubborn, rooted, and unwilling to change.  It doesn’t seem that way to us because we like what we do.  For us, it works.  But does it really?  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 be done 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 a book by a pastor and he shared something I will never forget, “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.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


Seeing Is Believing

How many of you took a shower this morning?

Raise your hand if you took a shower either this morning or last night.  How many of you brushed your teeth?  How many of you put on clothes this morning?  No matter what steps you take or what order you do them, each of us has a certain routine.  We get up, we brush our teeth, take a shower, comb our hair if we have any, and put on our clothes.  You probably have your own routine, but whatever order you do it in or whatever your routine is, skipping one of these steps would probably make you uncomfortable all day long.  It’s like you feel incomplete.  We get this anxiety when we skip something that is part of “what we do.”  It’s like something is WRONG WITH THE UNIVERSE!  It’s probably happened to you at one time or another.  I know it’s happened to me.  I remember it distinctly.  When I was serving at Roswell UMC, I was in rush to get out the door and get to church.  I had a lot of my mind that day.  I remember having my head just filled with a list of things I had to get done that day.  The list was long and it made me preoccupied with how I would get it all done in one day.  I took a quick shower, got my clothes on, brushed my hair and took off.  And about 30 minutes into my drive to the church, I realized I never brushed my teeth.  All of a sudden it was like I could feel the bacteria in my mouth.  I was sure people could smell it on my breath.  I avoided talking directly to people all day, afraid I’d be found out. 

Now imagine if you NEVER brushed your teeth.

Or rarely took a shower.  What if you didn’t own a comb?  Other than being smelly with no teeth and matted hair, would you even notice?  YOU might notice because these things are part of our everyday lives, but to someone who never does these things, would they?  Probably not.  If something isn’t part of your everyday routine, you might never pay attention to how important it is or how it could benefit you. And it does benefit us.  We take a shower and brush our teeth and change our clothes not just to avoid scaring away the people we love, but because it’s good for us.  We understand the impact of good hygiene for ourselves and our community, so we do these things to take care of ourselves and those around us.  Now ask yourself this…do you feel the same way about your spiritual life as you do about your physical body?  Do you feel the same way about your spiritual life as you do about your physical body?  Because if we believe in Jesus and we believe in what he said, then our soul should be at least as important as our bodies.  And yet, so many of us fail to make Jesus part of our everyday life. Like the guy who doesn’t take a shower, we are disconnected from Jesus enough that we just don’t notice how distant we are.

Thanks to and Dave Coverly for this illustration

The coolest thing about living in Biblical times is they often encountered God.

It must have made believing in him even easier.  Moses got to talk to God a few times.  Elijah heard the voice of God even before he understood what was happening.  Job got God to answer his questions directly.  I think most of us wish that would happen.  We wish God would answer us directly.  I have a mental list of questions I’m just waiting to ask God when it’s time for my one-on-one.  Even Larry King, the famous reporter from CNN, once said if he got to interview anyone he wanted it would be Jesus Christ and he would ask him one question, “Were you virgin born?”  He said, “The answer to that question would define history for me.”[1]  But would it?  Thousands of people who lived during the time of Jesus often didn’t believe he was really the Chosen One.  Even those people who encountered Jesus directly often didn’t believe.  The Pharisees, the Herodians, the Sadducees, the teachers of the law actively rejected him despite the miracles he performed.  People who even witnessed some of Jesus’ miracles didn’t believe. And we’re going to explore one of those stories of disbelief this morning.  If you have your Bibles or a Bible app on your phones, please turn to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24, verses 1-12.  Luke 24:1-12.  This story takes place after Jesus’ death on the cross.  His body has been taken down and placed in a tomb where Joseph of Arimathea helped to prepare his body for burial with linen cloth.  Apparently, there were extensive burial rituals, but with the Sabbath approaching and the sun nearly set, they didn’t have time to finish the burial properly so they wrapped his body with 75 pounds of spices “to help mask the smell of decay.”[2]  A group of women including his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Joanna decide to come after the Sabbath to finish what Joseph had started, but they find quite a surprise.  If you would please rise as we share from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24:1-12.  Hear now the Word of God.

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

The Word of God for the people of God and the people said, “Thanks be to God.”  Please be seated.

These were Jesus’ closest friends and disciples, and even THEY didn’t believe.

Jesus told them, “…everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.  He will be handed over to the Gentiles.  They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him, and kill him.  On the third day he will rise again (Luke 18).”  He spelled out exactly what was going to happen and when it did, they still didn’t believe.  When Mary, Joanna, and Mary Magdelene came and told the disciples about Jesus’ missing body and then having seen him, they didn’t believe them either.  Then Jesus revealed himself to two others who came and reported seeing him to the disciples and they still didn’t believe.  It wasn’t until they experienced Christ for themselves that they knew he had been resurrected.  It wasn’t until they experienced Christ for themselves that they knew he had been resurrected.  Thomas gets a bum rap for not believing, because the truth is that the rest of the disciples didn’t believe either.  But Thomas’ words ring true for many of us, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”  We, like the disciples, want some sort of tangible evidence to help us believe.  And we have it, if we just know where to look.

The answer is in each of us.

The way for us to truly encounter Christ in this world is through one another. Which is why it’s so important as Christians that we work together to make Christ real in the world today – through our love, through our prayers, through our deeds.  Jesus knew people would need real world encounters to come to faith in him.  And we see how Jesus made this a reality through the disciples.  It’s why he often told them to “go and do.”  When he fed the 5,000, Jesus could easily have done the work himself, but instead he tells them “…you give them something to eat.”  And he blesses the bread and the fish and sends the disciples into the crowds.  When he tells the expert in the law the story of the Good Samaritan, he asks him at the end, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  And when the expert answers, “The one who had mercy on him,” Jesus replies, “Go and do likewise.”  There are many examples of Jesus incorporating the community of believers into his ministry.  The sending of the seventy comes to mind, the gathering of the disciples.  Christ comes alive to those around us THROUGH us. Like the disciples in our reading, we need to experience Christ’s presence in our lives for ourselves. It is then the Gospel becomes real for us.  We do that through prayer, through worship, through communion.  We do it when we sing or volunteer or give of ourselves to God.  It’s through these “means of grace” as John Wesley called them we grow deeper in our faith and closer to God. 

We feel like we are missing something in our lives when we skip steps in our morning routine.

We feel like that because our morning routine is so ingrained in us it becomes a part of who we are.  And when Jesus comes alive for us – when we becomes real to us and a part of who we are – we feel the same about missing something spiritually as we do physically.  We miss church when we can’t make it on a Sunday. We miss our small groups when we can’t make it as if something important was sacrificed. We feel disconnected if we didn’t pray that day.  We would feel these things because like brushing our teeth and combing our hair they would simply BE a part of our lives.  And if that is not where you are, I would encourage you to become plugged in to your church community.  Join a small group, pray regularly, come to worship, and see for yourself if it makes a difference in your life.  If you DO feel like that already, then it is our responsibility to help others feel the love of Christ come alive in them.  Like the guy who doesn’t realize why he should take a shower, we can’t expect people to simply KNOW they need Christ in their lives.  We have to help them experience it and realize WHY it’s so important. 

The means of grace – prayer, worship, communion, and the like are part of what draws us closer to God

Easter is a celebration that Christ lives!  And he lives in us. 

As we join together in communion, let us remember Christ is more vital to our lives than simply this bread that we eat.  For it was Jesus who said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  Let us also approach this time in humility and thankfulness for all Christ did for us, remembering that is only in Christ’s sacrifice we are made whole and only in his resurrection that he has conquered death. 


[2] The Jesus of the Bible, Stephen M. Miller, p. 356.