Sharing is Caring

Lawry’s Prime Rib is the BEST prime rib on the planet.

Hands down.  And I’ve looked around.  Some places are good, some are even great, but the overall experience at Lawry’s is absolutely the best.  Now, if you want ribs, Lawry’s isn’t the place.  If you want great pasta, I wouldn’t go there.  But if you want the most tasty, drip-worthy, explode-in-your-mouth-with-flavor prime rib in the universe, Lawry’s is where you want to be.  Not only is their prime rib an event by itself, but they have the most amazing sides to heighten your flavor parade.  From the spinning bowl salad to the Yorkshire pudding to the creamed spinach, it’s all spectacular.  And the service?  It is beyond top notch. To be fair, it’s more of a special occasion kind of place.  Most of us couldn’t afford to eat there every night, but if my family lived closer, we’d be tempted just because it’s so good.  When you find something so amazing, whether it’s your favorite restaurant, your favorite grocery store, your favorite ice cream parlor, you can’t help but want to tell people about it, because half the fun is sharing it.  When you see people you care about discover for themselves what you’ve already known, it warms your heart.  Who wouldn’t want to change someone’s life for the better?

Now if you asked me how they make the prime rib so good, I couldn’t tell you.

If you wanted to know why the spinning bowl salad has that perfect blend of flavors, it would be as much a mystery to me as it was to you, although I would guess “beets” or maybe the dressing.  And if you wanted the secret to their raspberry English trifle, I have no idea.  I’m not a chef.  I don’t have any culinary training and I never went to cooking school, but I do know what I like and why I think it’s special and I’m pretty sure I’ve already convinced some of you to give it a try.  My testimony about how great it tasted, my enthusiasm for the service and the atmosphere, the fact that I’ve returned again and again would probably weigh heavily in your decision to come with me next time I went (and if any of you ever want to go, just let me know).  Just because I don’t know some of the details or that I might not understand how it all works wouldn’t bother you in the slightest.  So why is it we don’t feel equipped to share our faith as easily as we would our favorite places to eat?

Seminary was my path but it doesn’t have to be yours. Anyone can share God’s love.

We have this crazy idea we have to be seminary graduates to share our faith.

That somehow we have to be experts in theology to tell other people why Jesus is so great.  We get intimidated because we think if we try talking about why Jesus makes a difference to us, people are going to expect us to have all the answers, but that isn’t true.  They might be skeptical, they might be fearful, they might even have questions you can’t answer, but that doesn’t take away from the power of your story.  No one expects you or anybody else to know any more about religion than they do about a restaurant.  Think about the number of things you talk to people about to convince them to do or try something new – the schools we attended, our favorite vacation, our favorite sports teams.  I was born and raised in LA, so my favorite team is the Dodgers and serving in the Bay Area can be quite a challenge for a Dodgers fan, but I told a friend of mine I was looking at it as simply a new mission field.  Once people discover the beauty of being True Blue, they’ll see the error of their ways.  Sharing your faith should be no harder than sharing your favorite baseball team – even in the Bay Area.  It’s simply sharing what you know.  In church we use the word “witness” but all that is is sharing what you know.  You don’t have to be an expert or have any special training because it’s a personal account of things that have happened to YOU.  And who could be a better witness to what has happened in your life than you?

A Bay Area Dodgers fan…a tough spot to be in

But don’t take my word for it.

Let’s listen to God’s Word instead.  This is the passage right before Jesus leaves Earth to return to Heaven and he’s speaking with the disciples one last time.  Over the last forty days, Jesus has proven himself over and over again, but now his time is done and he’s about to leave when he shares with them this one last command. 

4On 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. 5For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

6So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  

7He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8But 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.” – Acts 1:4-8

You will be my witnesses.

Most of us probably would have thought Jesus would go to the rabbis or other leaders of Israel to share his message of love, salvation, and forgiveness.  I mean, they would be most likely to recognize him for who he was right?  They had the credentials.  And as far as we know, none of Jesus’ core disciples were religious leaders of any kind.  They were fishermen and tax collectors and whatever else.  The Bible isn’t clear on what they all did for a living, but we know most of them were regular folk like us.  They didn’t have any training in the books of the Torah any more than a child would have learned.  They didn’t have special knowledge of God’s Word before meeting Jesus. But that’s all they needed; their own personal experience with Christ.  Jesus didn’t single out the really smart people or the really rich people or the really powerful people and say “you will be my witnesses.”  He says to everyone who can hear – poor or rich, powerful or weak – “you will be my witnesses,” because all of us have the ability to share our faith.  Book knowledge alone isn’t going to change the world, it’s each one of us connecting to the people around us in our own unique way.  It’s our personal testimony to Jesus that will make a difference.  Christ knows the most effective witness is a personal witness.  And that’s why he encourages everyone to bear witness to their faith.  Nearly 2000 years before the Internet, Jesus knew the best way to spread the Word wasn’t going to be with billboards along the Roman road or publishing an editorial in the Roman Times, or sending out a Holy e-blast; it was going to be through people like you and me.  He knew the best way to get people to believe in him was through personal connections. We have far more influence in our own social circles than anyone else, and that’s what is going to make the most difference, when friends and family hear from us the impact Christ has made on our lives. 

Sharing our faith isn’t an imposition.

Far from it.  Sharing our faith is like throwing a lifeline to some drowning in the water.  If you really feel Christ has made a difference in your life, why wouldn’t you want others to experience that, too?  People have said to me, “I don’t want to push my religion on other people.”  And I have to ask “Why not?”  We feel completely fine pushing everything else from our favorite spatula to our favorite brand of eggs – why not our favorite religion?  Your favorite spatula isn’t going to be of any use when you die, but preparing for your eternal life in comparison seems pretty important.  Why is it so hard to talk about then?  Maybe because it is such a sensitive subject. Like politics, it seems near impossible to change someone’s mind about religion once they’ve made a choice.  But does that mean we shouldn’t try? Before you say “no,” I want you to consider something else – silence is a form of communication.  Silence is a form of communication.  Saying nothing is as much of a choice as it is to say something.  Saying nothing conveys the idea that we don’t care or we don’t have an opinion or it’s not important enough for us to share our thoughts.  And is that the message we really want to get across?  Are we so scared to share our thoughts about Christ that we would rather sit idly by while others make choices that lead them away from God? 

I think what happens is people get confused about what it means to share their faith. 

I hear the excuse quite often that “faith is personal.”  I completely agree with that.  So does Jesus.  But while faith is personal, it is not private.  Faith is personal, not private.  Meaning that your faith is a personal journey and a story only you can share.  And only you are the expert on faith in your life.  But faith was never meant to be hidden away like some secret treasure or worse like something we are embarrassed by.  Christ makes it abundantly clear in the Great Commission that our primary goal as Christians is to share our faith – “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).”  And he told us in our reading this morning, “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth (Acts 1:8).”  We must not be afraid to share our faith.  Too much is at stake.  How you share your faith is as personal as your faith journey.  You have to discover for yourself how you can best do that and it’s different for everyone.  Let us commit to praying about one person who could really benefit from being closer to Christ.  Think of one family member, one friend who is far from God who you might invite to church to experience God the way you do.  And then pray for God to open a door for you to share what you already know.  Let God use you to share his love, you never know where it may lead. 

First Impressions

I really didn’t know much about art.

Growing up it wasn’t part of our household, that is until my French teacher, Ms. Stein introduced me to the impressionists.  Something about that style of art really spoke to me.  The colors, the stroke patterns, the movement in the painting that made it seem to come alive.  My favorite by far was Monet.  I am always in awe of things that are clever with multiple dimensions and in every painting he did, you could almost see the people moving through the city or feel the steam of the train in the station or watch the ripples in the water.  But what really got me – what impressed me the most – was the way he constructed each picture.  Each brush stroke was carefully and meticulously placed, one after another.  Up close, the colors sort of melded together and you’d have greens and pinks and blues all mixed in so tightly that it didn’t look like much of anything. 

The image from a greater distance – one of Monet’s famous haystacks

But when you pulled away from the painting, each element became more and more clear.  The people, the city, the water, the sun…all of it was brought together into one beautiful image.  And as Ms. Stein was telling me about Monet, I could picture him sitting in front of a canvas delicately and intricately placing each brush stroke, each one having a purpose in creating this larger picture.  She told me that was the gift of the impressionists and particularly Monet. They were able to keep in mind the finished product while concentrating on each detailed stroke of the brush so that it turned out exactly the way they wanted it.  To me, that is downright miraculous and so when I look at a Monet, I imagine this is what it must be like for God when he looks at our lives – a symphony of color that individually night seem out of place or without meaning, but when you look at the whole picture becomes alive and beautiful.   If you have a Bible, would you please turn to the Gospel of Mark, chapter 9, beginning with verse 14.  If you have a Bible app on your cell phone, feel free to pull it out and go that same place: Mark 9:14.  In a minute we’ll be reading from this passage.

For us, I think we’re too close to the canvas to see the whole picture.

We are not the artist and so for us, sometimes life doesn’t make sense.  We see glimpses… streaks… instead of the whole thing.  And at times that can make it difficult for us to have the kind of faith that the writer in Hebrews 11:1 referred to when he wrote about a “faith in what we hope for and certainty in what we cannot see.”  There are times we cannot see the forest for the trees.  And especially in difficult, troubling, or trying times in our lives it can make us feel distant from God.  Most of us have felt that at one point in our lives or another.  It’s like being at a party or going out with friends, and still feeling like the loneliest person in the world.  You’re so isolated that you begin to wonder where God is in all of this.  It’s those times, and those times especially when we need to turn toward God. 

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 “O 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 him who believes.”

24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” – Mark 9:14-24

It is hard to put our faith in things unseen.

We have a hard enough time trusting in the things that we CAN see let alone in those things we cannot.  And our culture reinforces our sense of distrust.  So having faith is at times hard, especially when it comes to the health and well-being of loved ones.  This dad in our reading is a great example of that.  We’ve probably all had moments of doubt like he had.  He wasn’t completely without faith.  He had enough faith to bring his son this far, but he has doubts, too.  He wonders if Jesus can really do this thing.  He has a seed of doubt that tingles in his mind.  “…[I]f you can do anything…” he says.  And I imagine Jesus gives him both a penetrating and a loving look at the same time.  He looks at him and says, “IF you can? …Everything is possible for him who believes.”  And instead of denying his feelings, instead of trying to convince Jesus that he really does believe, he does what we all should do in times of doubt.  He turns to Jesus and he admits, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”  I do believe.  BUT help me overcome my unbelief. 

I have struggled with this in my own life.

I am not afraid to admit it.  We are human after all and we have been trained so well in the ways of the world that we believe we can do anything!  But as it says in Phillipians 4:13, “I can do all this through HIM who gives me strength.  It is through the grace of God that we are able to achieve anything.  Whether by divine intervention or by the gracing of our gifts or by the support of family and friends, it is because of God that all things are possible.  I take that with me wherever I go and it helps me to have faith when it seems like every road is blocked and I have not been disappointed.  I may not always understand at first where the road is going, but I have faith that God can see the bigger picture, even when I can only see the brush strokes.  For me, that describes my journey in ministry.  Every time I felt a bump in the road, it was God who led me out of it.  Even in the difficult parts, I look back and feel that God not only helped me through it but nurtured me to grow and learn in ways I never thought possible. 

Candler School of Theology as it is today – they constructed new buildings AFTER I graduated

Once I heard my call, I immediately began having doubts.

Was this the right move?  Did I really hear God correctly?  Because in order for me to pursue this calling, I’d have to give up my career in marketing – and I was making good money.  It also meant going back to school. And the only approved Methodist seminary near us was at Emory University. I had been out of school for nearly a decade and wondered if I could even get in.  There were other schools around the country, but with Cassie being the only one employed while I was in school, I couldn’t ask my family to move. So I applied to this one school and prayed, “Okay, God. If this is REALLY the path you put me on, I’ll get accepted.”  And I did.  I was so happy!  That lasted for about one week when I received the letter telling me how much it would cost.  Cassie told me not to worry and that somehow we would find the money, but I didn’t want my family to suffer or struggle for something I was still trying to work out so again, I prayed to God.  I didn’t tell Cassie this, but I told God that this was my path and I didn’t want them to struggle because of it.  If this was really what he wanted me to do, somehow I’d get a scholarship.  And again, I did.  Not only did I get a scholarship, but I ended up with a full ride plus money for books. When I got the scholarship letter, I looked up to God and said, “I guess this is a ‘yes’.”

The churches I’ve served before EVUMC – (L to R) UJCC, Little River Charge, Roswell UMC, Palm UMC, Berkeley Methodist United Church

My whole journey in ministry has been that way.

From the time I served three wonderful rural churches in Georgia to today with all of you at EVUMC, my whole journey has been one of God’s continuing grace and revelation.  Every time I ran into bumps or obstacles, doubts or concerns, EVENTUALLY I would surrender my pride and go to God in prayer.  I’d place my faith in him.  And when I did, my prayers were answered although almost never in the way I thought it would.  It was always better.  God’s ways are not our ways.  His vision is much bigger than ours.  And I’m sure that is the case with us going on this journey together.  Because I know God brought us here in this place and in this time for a reason.  I don’t know what that reason is like I didn’t know why God brought me to any of the other churches when it happened.  But I have faith that God’s vision is far better than my own.  I can say one thing.  I am grateful for this opportunity.  I am grateful to God for being here with all of you.  I hope you will allow me to journey with you, to get to know you, and to find out more about God through you.  I think God will take us on an amazing journey together.

God works in our lives in different ways.

And it’s not always obvious to us how our struggles, our pains, and our triumphs enter into this greater tapestry. But even when we can’t fathom how these things fit into the world, we can trust that God does.  So when we have questions and when we have doubts, I urge you to turn to God and ask him to help you in your unbelief.  There is no sin in admitting that there are things we don’t understand.  There is no sin in hoping for more faith, to trust more fully in our Lord.  I urge you to move toward that place where you are able to proclaim as the psalmist did, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.” May we all continually move toward Christian perfection, knowing that we have a God who loves us more completely than we can ever know.  And even if we can only see the brushstrokes of our lives, we can trust that God has the vision to see the whole painting. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

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.

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.

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!

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.

Keto Craig’s Continuing Chronicles

We’re a match!

I’ve always known Cassie and I were a match, but now I have biological proof. Our blood typing test came back positive. We are compatible for the kidney transplant! *BIG CELEBRATORY SOUNDS* But now what? Cassie is onto the next phase of being a living donor. They’ll do even more extensive blood testing as well as interviews with both a social worker and a dietician before seeing a doctoral team that will go over with her what the surgery will entail. At first it seemed weird when they asked her to come to the interview alone, but it soon dawned on both of us, that was done for her protection – in case she was being coerced or tricked into doing this. They just want to make sure she is doing this willingly and of her own volition. It’s sad they need to take that precaution but at the same time I’m glad they are. Sometimes we need protection.

Recent pic of Cassie and I at the Magic Kingdom

As for me, even more testing, too. But mostly, they are waiting for me to lose enough weight for the surgery. Only about 12 more pounds to go. So how have I been losing weight? Lots of support from family and friends – especially Cassie who has been cheerleader, advocate, and strategist all rolled up into one. But on the nuts and bolts side, I’m focusing hard on limiting my carb intake, replacing sweet snacks and carb-loaded sides with something more nutritional. A lot more salads. And a lot more veggies in general. Even there, you still have to watch your carb intake, so I focus on the things I like that are relatively low carb like mushrooms and zucchini, and will still have some onions and tomatoes thrown in for added flavor. Instead of sugar, I rely a lot more on salt, fat (like butter and good mayo), spices – things on the more savory side to whet my appetite. For me, this works because my sodium and potassium levels have remained normal throughout my CKD. If they were elevated, I’d have to restrict myself further to avoid speeding up the kidney damage. My phosphorous levels have started to go up and that’s mostly because I replaced sugars and sweets with cheese and nuts – two things that are high in phosphorous which can have a dangerous effect on your body (if you’re curious, here’s a great article on phosphorous and why it’s important to monitor it). Knowing that, I’m working on dialing back my reliance on dairy and peanut butter and trying to find alternatives for quick snacks that will help me keep it under control.

Eating keto can be both healthy AND super delicious as this carnitas will tell you

Overall, I’m trying to keep my carb intake to between 30g to 50g per day. Generally, doing so will put my body into a state of ketosis where I’m burning fat and not sugar. To give you some perspective, I would typically have about 1.5 to 2 cups of rice PER MEAL. And that’s just the rice. That doesn’t include breading on my meat or croutons in my salad. ONE cup of rice is about 52g of carbs by itself, so I was having about twice as many carbs in one meal as I eat all day now. It’s hard for me to give up rice, so for a while I was having 1/4 cup of rice at lunch and dinner and just trying HARD not to have any other carbs, but eventually I started having just 1/4 cup of rice once a day and it gave me more flexibility to add in things like onions and tomatoes or other foods with limited carbs. That gave my meals more texture and more variety and surprisingly over time I haven’t missed it as much as I thought I would. Sometimes I don’t have any rice at all!

On the protein side, I’m trying to keep it below 80g per day although if I go a little above this I don’t worry as much. Too much protein CAN throw you out of ketosis, but 80g is still below normal so I haven’t worried a lot considering that it’s been working for weight loss and my numbers have been holding steady (Thank God!). It’s all about providing as little stress on my kidneys as possible. Thankfully, there are a LOT of things I DO like to eat that are keto friendly. Omelettes are something I’ve always enjoyed, but now create a lot more often. Eggs are a wonder food and incredibly good for you. I eat much more salmon (which is fine because I love salmon) and have found a number of creative ways to do it. And there’s this wonderful chicken dish that I’ve been making I was able to adapt to a keto lifestyle. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share with you some of these delicious recipes so you can make them yourself and taste the yumminess.

Overall, I’m down to 239.2 lbs – only 3.2 pounds away from my goal. Stanford wants me to get down to 236, and I feel really confident about it. Like I said, I’m not a doctor so this shouldn’t be construed as medical advice. As always, go talk to your doctor about what works best for your lifestyle. But I’ve been frustrated for so long losing weight and this has been working great for me. It might work great for you, too. So if it helps anyone in their journey or just inspires you to keep trying, then I’m happy to share my journey with you.

Greg Suzuki Day!

Today in worship we did something different. We conducted a Celebration of Life service. Normally, a Celebration of Life is a euphemism for a memorial service, but we decided to flip the script and instead really make it a celebration of somebody’s life! In this case, Greg Suzuki. In every church I’ve served, there is a Greg Suzuki. They are the ones who truly exhibit the love of Christ – not just at church but in every facet of their life. They are unselfish and genuine people who constantly give of themselves one way or another. And shouldn’t we tell those people how much they mean to us? Why are we so quick to criticize people but slow to compliment them? It’s the opposite of what God wants us to do as we discuss in today’s message…

A reading from Paul’s writing to the church in Philippi.  Please rise for the reading of the Word of God.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:4-9

When I think of Greg Suzuki, this is the image that comes to my mind.

A person with a gentle soul and the peace of Christ evident to all who know him.  He is humble enough to tell you he struggles at times, too.  That his soul isn’t always at peace.  That he needs to guard his heart like the rest of us.  And while that may be true, few people walk in Christ the way Greg does.  It isn’t a pious act.  Greg’s love of God is genuine and he constantly strives toward Christian perfection in true Wesleyan manner.  As the chairperson for the Staff Parish Relations Committee, Greg’s patience, perseverance, and kindness have been put to the test time and time again and he continues to exhibit grace and forgiveness in even the most difficult of circumstances.  And to top it off – he’s a Star Trek fan.

Just a smidgen of the things Greg does around the church…

When we were thinking of people we wanted to honor today, it was easy to pick Greg. 

Everyone agreed.  Not only would Greg be kind enough to be the subject of such attention, but he is also equally deserving of it.  He is always giving of himself for God’s kingdom and has a strong desire to help others know the love of Christ.  He volunteers to help, not for his own glory but for God’s.  You might find him at a Council meeting or putting up Christmas lights or cleaning the church or passing out candy on Halloween or singing in the choir or doing anything that might help others know God loves them.  And his genuineness comes out in the way he conducts himself with each and every person who walks through those doors.  Greg tries hard to see the good in each situation.  So to honor him, we created this entire service as a surprise and have a few small tokens of appreciation.  Greg if you would come up?

A few gifts for Greg to show our appreciation – he’s a big Star Trek fan!

This is a celebration of life. 

We talk about memorial services using those same words, and they are, but why do we wait?  Why do we wait until the people we love are gone before we share with the world why they mean so much to us?  Why do we celebrate life only in death?  One of the things I like about funerals at a JA church is our tradition of “final tribute.”  That’s where people come up and pay final respects to the departed and their family.  What I like about it are the revelations shared as people come forward and talk to the family.  There’s always some new story the family hadn’t heard, some detail about who that person was and why they meant so much to them no one else ever knew.  Stories from the past come out of their hiding places to be revealed and the family walks out realizing their loved one made an even deeper impact than they realized.  And I guarantee you, for every story told, there are five more that haven’t seen the light of day. 

The reason we are here today isn’t just to honor Greg as deserving as he is. 

It’s to remind us not to let an opportunity pass us by to share the good in life with those around us.  We live in a culture of negativity.  We’re fine ripping each other to shreds when we disagree.  We spew hate when someone does something we don’t like.  But how many of you are willing to take equal time to share how much you appreciate someone?  Before I became a pastor, I did market research analysis and one of the most important factors in market research is knowing your biases, specifically negativity bias.  People are more apt to remember something bad that happened to them than something good.  According to one guy the Golden Ratio is 40:1.[1]  It takes 40 positive experiences to overcome 1 negative one.  Imagine that.  We tend to focus on the things that go wrong instead of all the things that go right.  It’s why we so easily discount people who don’t agree with us instead of realizing we have much more in common than we do different.

The best way for us to turn that around is by recognizing the good in people.

Very Biblical by the way.  We’re supposed to lift each other up instead of tear each other down.  Ephesians 4:29,  “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  And of course 1 Thessalonians 5:11-13, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.”  The truth couldn’t be more clear.  We need to build one another up.  And it all goes back to Jesus’ final command, “…(L)ove one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34-35).” 

Who are the Greg Suzuki’s in your life?  Who are the people who make you feel loved, needed, wanted, useful, helpful, or important?  Who has made a difference?  Tell them that.  Write them a letter or give them a call or tell them face-to-face, “You make a difference.” The world is so quick to judge us and tell us when we got it wrong.  Let’s flip the script and lift each other up by telling those around us that they matter. 


Who Are You?

Who ARE you?

I don’t know why that line from Alice in Wonderland always sticks with me, but it’s a good one to ponder.  Who ARE you?  When we are on the path to becoming clergy, we have to take the Myers-Briggs Personality Test.  Actually, we have to take a series of tests on ethics and personality and go through a psychological evaluation before we can become an elder.  It’s a whole day of testing.  Literally eight hours of exams and questions and probes to discover who we are.  And I discovered, according to Myers-Briggs, I am an ENFP.  Extroversion, Intuition, Feeling, and Perceiving kind of guy.  When I attended the year-long new church start cohort, they had us take a DISC assessment where it was discovered I was a high “D” person meaning I am outgoing and task oriented.  Taking the assessment again for the conference, I was suddenly a high “I” meaning I was outgoing and a people person.  Consistently I was definitely not reserved or compliant.  A bunch of clergy in our conference are really into the Enneagram and love to be junior detectives trying to figure out “what you are.”  I’ve been told I’m a 7 (The Enthusiast), a 2 (The Helper), a 3 (The Achiever), and even an 8 (The Challenger).  My test results were all over the place.  But after all of that, something Ian Morgan Cron said really spoke to me.  He said, “Don’t let anyone tell you what they think you are.  Don’t let the test tell you what it thinks you are.  If you believe yourself to be a certain type of person, then you ARE that person.”[1] 

Does this test define who I am?

YOU are unique.

YOU are a child of God and are fearfully and wonderfully made.  And no one can take that away from you.  But people will try.  Your entire life there will be people who try and tell you what you are and what you’re worth, but we need to remember THEY do not define us.  Only God does that.  And God thinks you’re wonderful.  In Psalm 139, we find David singing a song about God’s hand in our creation and taking comfort in knowing God did not make us by mistake but instead his hand was in it from the beginning.  We read in another section of the Bible that God SEES us for who we are and not what the world sees.  When the prophet Samuel is looking for the next leader of Israel, Samuel sees Eliab who must have been tall, good-looking, and had the presence of a leader and he says to himself “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord (1 Samuel 16:6), but God warns him and says, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)”  Your value does not rest on what other people think of you, but instead only what God thinks of you.  As long as you make God proud, the world’s opinion means nothing.  God knew what he was doing when he made you.  You are a person of sacred worth. 

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

We need to be reminded of our self-worth because the most vulnerable among us are being attacked.

Not for something they’ve done.  Not for a crime they’ve committed.  But for simply BEING.  The issue of the day seems to be gender identity or more specifically denying people the opportunity to be the person God created them to be.  We have such narrow definitions of “man” and “woman” as if those labels actually mattered.  The obsessive need to define who we are by gender identity is more a statement about our own insecurities than it is about how we were created.  Why do we need labels anyway?  What difference does it make other than to force us into black and white boxes?  But life isn’t so simple is it?  As much as we would like to make the world black and white, there are many shades of grey.  While we read in Genesis that God made the day and the night we are not so naïve as to think it’s one or the other.  There is dawn and dusk and twilight and solar eclipses.  We read God created the land and the sea but what about icebergs or tundra or marshes?  Are they land or sea or something in-between?  God created plants and animals, but we know that microscopic organisms exist that qualify as neither one.[2]  I like the way Brenda Walker sums it up, “It is my conviction that God has created us male and female and everything in between, mirroring the diversity and variance that exists in all of creation.”

Response to the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation in Florida

I’m confused about whether or not the political right believes parents have rights.

On the one hand, they claim they are protecting parent’s rights by enacting the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation in Florida.  Somehow banning the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity is protecting parents’ rights?  But then you’ve got Texas Gov. Greg Abbott directing the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate for child abuse any family supporting a child who receives gender-affirming medical care.[3]  So parents have the right NOT to teach their kids about gender identity, but do NOT have the right to help them with it?  With two swift kicks, the government is telling our transgendered kids they are not okay.  To score political points, two governors are willing to sacrifice the well-being of transgendered kids and their families.  What gigantic threat is being posed by transgendered children that we need to enact directives and legislation to stop it?  With so many other problems going on where we can make a real difference – voting rights, gender equality, gun control, vaccination disinformation – we don’t need to invent problems that don’t exist.  As a community of faith, we need to stand up for those without a voice.  We need to be more proactive in our advocacy in support of other communities that are being attacked.  We cannot call ourselves Christian and stand idly by while people around us are being persecuted and attacked simply for being who they are. 

You do you.

Just be the person God created you to be.  If with all your heart you try to do only two things – love God and love your neighbor – you are fulfilling the will of God.  And that’s what matters.  Eventually, the world will catch up, but don’t let that stop you from being YOU.  The world will catch up.  There was a time when you could not be a pastor if you were a woman.  Because the Bible said so.  Well, it took centuries, but we finally understood the Bible never said so and today many wonderful women have led people to faith in Christ.  The idea that only a man could properly teach about faith in Christ is ludicrous.  Sadly, there are still denominations out there that hold onto that antiquated belief.  Today the same is true for the LGBTQ community.  There are those even within the United Methodist Church with closed hearts and closed minds and closed doors toward the idea people in the LGBTQ community can be called to service in pastoral ministry.  They claim it’s because the Bible said so.  Once again they will find out they are wrong.  In the meantime, we cannot allow other people to define our sense of self-worth.  It halts us from being exactly who God created us to be.

Enjoying a roller coaster ride together on Balboa Pier

Cassie and I are perfect for each other.

We aren’t perfect.  Not by any means.  But we are a good match.  One of us likes to get our hands dirty and fix things.  One of us likes to cook.  One of us loves to work in the yard or change the garbage disposal.  One of us likes to be the caretaker in the family.  But it’s not the one society says it “should be.”  And I love that.  I love that Cassie enjoys being the fixer-upper around the house.  I love to be the one who cooks the family meals.  I love that Cassie is the one who likes to work in the yard.  And I love that I had the chance to be a stay-at-home dad for the first few years of Emma’s life.  A more amazing gift, I could never dream of.  What I love most about Cassie is she has always been supportive of ME.  Not who she wants me to be, but who I am.  She challenges me to grow and improve, but still loves me both despite and because of my quirks.  I hope I do the same.  And I hope you do the same for those in your life, too.  It reminds me of a poem from the show Free to Be, You and Me.  It was my favorite poem growing up and I loved it so much I’ve memorized it.

My Dog Is A Plumber from Free to Be, You and Me

My dog is a plumber, so he must be a boy,
Although I must tell you his favorite toy
Is a little play stove with pans and with pots
Which he really must like ‘cause he plays with it lots.

So perhaps he’s a girl, which kind of makes sense
Since he can’t throw a ball and he can’t climb a fence
But neither can dad and I know he’s a man
And mom is a woman and she drives a van!

Maybe the problem is trying to tell
Just what someone is by what he does well?

You are a person of sacred worth and my prayer for you during this time of Lent is that you reflect on that idea and take it to heart and recognize that those around you are also persons of sacred worth, too.  Let’s treat each other like we matter.  Because we do.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] I don’t know if that’s a direct quote or a paraphrase, but something along those lines. 

[2] From Brenda Walker’s blog: