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Coach’s Corner

Change and communication

As I write this we have all just woken up to a different country or at least a country we didn’t think quite existed.  The decision made by the electorate also colors our mission as a multicultural congregation.  Can we increasingly become “intercultural,” i.e. a congregation in which people from different ethnic groups connect and engage with one another with openness.  Our country may be multicultural, but to what degree it is intercultural remains to be seen.  At Parkview we have gone through changes with our residency program and the remodeling of the Kansha house.  More change will come as we are bound to lose our parking lot.  Whenever you do something new, there is always a chance of miscommunication. The session and I have made and are making efforts to communicate clearly about the change with the result that you as a congregation supported the session’s decisions.

However, I have noticed that miscommunication can occur despite our best efforts.  Sometimes well-intentioned people can get a piece of information wrong or draw lines between one thing or another where no line can be found.  The session, Donna and I realize full well that it is our job to inform while it is the congregation’s job to inquire and confirm. The first is on us, the second isn’t.  Let me give some concrete examples of questions that members of the Parkview family might entertain and give you the answer:

  1. Does the residency cost us money? No, so far all the cost has been covered by Presbytery donations.  If we pay anything, it will be from the mission budget we always pledge to the Presbytery.  The Kansha remodeling was paid for by a number of above and beyond special donations by certain generous individuals.
  2. Are the residents here to take the pastor’s place? No, the residents are under the pastor’s supervision.
  3. Do the residents reduce the pastor’s tasks? No, they increase them. There is considerable time spent by the pastor meeting with the resident to discuss and plan assignments and tasks.
  4. Is the pastor gone a little more this year? Yes. Why? Because he has a huge amount of unused vacation time.
  5. When are we losing our parking lot? We don’t know. We will let you know as soon as we do.
  6. Why do we have residents? So we can bring new energy and perspective and so we can do more, like develop a Sunday School curriculum, connect with neighborhood groups and address issues that impact our church.
  7. How can we find out about our church finances? Contact Betsy Eskridge our treasurer. Also Donna has copies of the financial reports.
  8. Who are our session members: Carol Sakai, Maurine Huang, May Lee, Cathy Nishizaki, Christine Umeda and Gary Younglove.

So, friends, if you hear something that troubles you or confuses you about what we are doing at our church, don’t be bashful and please contact us.  It’s our job to explain.  Thanks for all you do!  May God bless our ministry together.  Aart

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Reflection October 30

Published on November 19, 2016 by in Reflections

Habakkuk 2: 1-2; Luke 19:4.

Scanning the horizon

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where everything seemed to be going badly and you wished you could catch a break, but it just wouldn’t come?  Perhaps you found yourself no longer looking at the problems that were piling up, but you were looking around, scanning the horizon, for some sign of good news, some silver lining, some guarantee that things would be okay in the time to come.  Will the wind turn, will the rain come or will the clouds dissipate?   To many people on earth, scanning the horizon for something to save them, for a better day maybe all they can do.  Many of them will have learned to live on grace alone.

I am sure you would agree with me that doing things online can be very frustrating. This includes paying your bills or getting technical support.  You always found yourself longing for a human being to talk to. That is slowly changing. Online support may be so good in the future that we don’t want to talk to a human assistant.  Now that may be good, but it is always bad. It means that all those people who speak to us will disappear. They will no longer have jobs. Now why am I talking about this? It is because this is the reality we face.  We may be looking at long term unemployment for many Americans, a reality that no one may be able to change.  As columnist Tom Friedman said a number of years ago, the people who will do well in the future society will be “creative servers” (anyone from teachers to pastors to retail and restaurants) and “creative creators,” (anyone who can create more attractive and efficient ways of doing things).   No one may be able to create jobs for everyone and anyone who says so is lying.  Many Americans feel lost in this new reality and they are scanning the horizon for someone who can solve the problem.  All any politician many be able to do is tinker until there are new ways of helping all our people live and thrive.  On the bright side there is grace. There is always grace. Somehow God is at work in our world and in our lives.  It may come in the form of helping hands or in the form of a new vision. To help the people in need may take a lot of money, a lot of commitment and significant sacrifice. That grace may not come with a bang or even visibly.

Zacchaeus, a man, with a profession hated by his people is looking for a way out.  His intuition tells him it is Jesus.  Because he is not tall, he gets up in a tree and scans the street for Jesus.  He is a man spiritually bankrupt, a man in need of love, acceptance and redemption.  He doesn’t know it but he is looking for grace. It comes in the words of Jesus who says to him:”I want to come to your house.” In that culture wanting to come to someone’s house is a huge honor and a sign of one’s approval.”

The Yao people whom the Iu Mien people are related to believe they come from  a place called Qianjiadong.  It is a place they left centuries ago for the hills of Indochina.  Qianjiadong is  a symbol of affluence or the Bible would say: a land flowing with milk and honey, a Shangrilah of the Yao people.  It is supposed to be a valley with a stream or river running through it, accessible only through a cavern.  Qianjiadong does exist in Guangxi province in southern China, in a region of beautiful limestone formations.  But is that the land.  Spiritually the Yao and Mien people have always been looking over the horizon for the place where they belong.  They haven’t found it and they have been living on grace.  But the Yao are still looking for Qianjiadong.

Friends, when the Old Testament finally gets to the book of Habakkuk, the people of Israel have known very little but despair and exile.  They have known oppression and have become accustomed to injustice.  But they are still, speaking metaphorically, sitting in a tree looking for a better day. The major theme of Habakkuk is trying to grow from a faith of perplexity and doubt to the height of absolute trust in God. Habakkuk is unique among the prophets in that he openly questions the wisdom of God. In the first part of the first chapter, the Prophet sees the injustice among his people and asks why God does not take action. “1:2 God, how long will I cry, and you will not hear? I cry out to you “Violence!” and will you not save?” God answers: “ for I am working a work in your days, which you will not believe though it is told you.”  The people face despair but they are reminded y the prophet of God’s grace.  “I am working a work in your days.”  That is grace right there, friends.  God is always doing something in our lives. God is always at work.  It may be small to us. It may be big to us. It may be in between.  It may be barely enough to us at times. But grace is always there and time will show its working .  Thanks be to God.

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Reflection October 23

Published on November 19, 2016 by in Reflections

Luke 18: 10,13,14; 2 Timothy 4:7

Our best for the world

Friends, in the lectionary readings for today there are lessons for how to live life spiritually.  First we have the parable Jesus tells of the Pharisee and the tax collector who is more like a loan shark.  Jesus gives us the lesson of humility, a theme that comes back time and time in the Bible.  Lao Tzu wrote: “there are three treasures that I keep and cherish. The first is love, the second is simplicity, the third humility. Those full of compassion may be generous. Those who are humble may govern others. “ He also wrote:”He who stands on tiptoe will quickly lose his balance, he who takes too many steps will not last the distance. He who wants to shine will shed no light. He who wants to be valued will go unnoticed.”   The second passage is about running the race of life.   That too is a well-known theme to us. But what if we put the two together?  What if we combine humility with running a race.  To run a race to us a competitive thing.  We would tell people what was our number or rank. “She came in tenth. Pretty good!”  But what if running the race had nothing to do with people being the best or close to the best.  What  if the mere fact of the race was all that mattered?

You think we are competitive in this country. In many countries in Asia they tend to rank children in class according to their grades and other accomplishments. Imagine being the last in the class. That’ll do your self-confidence a lot of good wouldn’t it?  But in Asia the winner in a race may be more humble than in the West.   We have trouble keeping “becoming the best” separate from “doing the best you can.”

Recently I talked to you about a talk at Presbytery by Dewitt Jones, a former National Geographic photographer and some of his life lessons.  Here is another one.  Jones says that we should not be the “best in the world;” we should be the “best for the world.”  One word makes all the difference and creates a huge perspective shift. Just move from “in” to “for.”

For a century or so the Chicago Cubs have been the team that every loved just for being there and competing. Winning wasn’t there thing and that sort of added to their fame.  Supporting became about loyalty and longsuffering.

Pep Guardiola is a well known soccer coach. He has won two European trophies with Barcelona, has coached Bayern Munich, the best team in Germany, and is now coaching one of the best teams in England.  In a recent interview he talked about his mentor, the famous footballer and coach Johan Cruijff who passed away recently and who taught Guardiola ever since he was a teenager. Cruijff is known for being kind of a soccer philosopher who would say things like: “soccer is a simple game but is very difficult to play it simply” or “there is only one ball so you have to make sure you have it.” Guardiola said that “when I am losing a game, when I am doubting myself, ‘he comes to me.’”  He says that at such moments he remembers Cruijff’s words.  One thing he always said to Guardiola was: “you have to do what you believe or it will not work out.”  Another thing he said was: “if you do not enjoy what you are doing, you will not be very good.” That is great advice for the church.  It has a tie-in to the bonus passage in your program from Luke 8. People who do not hear God’s word because they are distracted by life are like seed that falls between the rocks. It cannot grow.  The word does not speak to them. Their heart isn’t in it.

Friends, can we live life not comparing ourselves to others? Can we not ask who our parents’ favorite child is? Can we not ask who the smartest is? Can we not ask who the best looking is? Can we not ask who the richest is? Can we not ask who the most influential is or the most powerful or the greatest is?  Can we just ask: are we the best for the world?  Are we the best for God? Are we the best for our family? Are we the best for our friends? Are we the best for our community?  Are we finding that niche that we must fill in our time? Is our heart in it? Do we believe in what we’re doing?

I think this is key for a congregation such as this, to ask: are we the best for the world, the best  we can be? Not more, not less.  Are we going to believe in what we’re doing? Is our heart going to be in it?

Friends, comparing ourselves to others is a waste of time and a burden for the heart.  No one’s task on earth is the same. No congregation’s task is the same either.  Finding that path to walk that is only ours is the challenge we must accept. There is only one race to run: our own.  There is no reason to be ashamed of that and apparently no reason to brag about it either. May God give us strength.

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Reflection October 16

Published on November 19, 2016 by in Reflections

Jeremiah 31: 34; 2 Timothy 3: 14; 4: 4,5; Luke 18: 5

Wandering into myths

There is a pervasive myth in Northern Ireland that part of it is a land of giants. There is even a rocky part of the Atlantic coastline that looks like a stepping stones which is known as the Giant’s Causeway.  Actually the myth and some truth to it.  Part of the population of Northern Ireland carries a gene that leads to Giantism with people as tall as “7 ft 1” last century.  In Hawaii there is the myth of the Menehune, pigmy type people who used live there and whenever something goes wrong, like a car that doesn’t start or lost keys, the locals sometimes quip: ”The Menehune did it.”  Who knows, perhaps there is truth that the first to arrive in the islands from the South Seas vanquished a group of very small people.  But probably not.

Friends, you and I “wander into myths” or as the text in 2 Timothy says “wander away

into myths.”  The text also says that people will have “itching ears.”  We humans get impatient with old stories and when things don’t go well, we get “itching ears” and we reach for myths.  Our love affair with myth is as old as time. We could even say it is essential part of being human.  Presidential campaigns are long drawn out struggles for myth.  It is not so much which myth turns out to be true, but often what myth people are most attracted to or as in this election which myth is particularly horrifying.   One definition of myth is: “a widely held but false belief or idea.”  So myth can we dangerous.  History has shown us what the myth of Aryan Supremacy can do in its description of Nazi Germany.  Myth and the fear of shattering the myth of the Kim family has made North Korea a frightening country.  So humans crave myths but at the same time myths can be dangerous.

Friends, there are all kinds of myths we create to make life manageable or bearable.  We create myths about our own abilities and value. Even resumes, including when they are full of facts, attempt to create a kind of myth that makes the applicant look supremely skilled in a particular area. Research shows that successful people are often skilled at creating a myth that inspires them to deny their limitations.  It drives them to achieve beyond what even they believed was possible.  But we also use myth to push ourselves down, creating the idea of failure when we’ve had a bad week.   I have whispered to myself when I could seem to do things right:” Aart, you’re just totally a inept.”  That is a kind of myth (although I hope it is not widely held) that doesn’t hold water, for I have been known to do some things right.   But I think you have all felt that way.

Friends, we have a habit of wandering off, of losing our way, of disregarding our compass.  It is easy for us to follow some leader, some great attractive philosophy or to come up with views that feel good at the moment.  But in the end whatever thing we believe in must be rooted in the greater story of God’s love and faithfulness.  If it is incompatible with that, the myth is a threat.

The fundamental issue is that we want stories to pay off for us. If stories don’t educate us or challenge and inspire us to do great new things, we don’t want it. That is the story of the Old Testament: when the story of the Israelites with their God did not seem to pay off, they got itching ears and they went looking for other stories.  This is what 2 Timothy warns about.

Now there is a problem that the mythological elements have made it into certain parts of the Bible.  And we have to see those elements, however inspiring they may be, for what they are.  Nevertheless the text in 2 Timothy reminds us that we must hold fast to the truth we have received.  There is a central truth in the Biblical story that moves us and gives us hope: that God does not give up when we wander off.  God is always ready for a new covenant, ready to bond again with God’s wayward people. But God wants us to be persistent too, like the poor widow who keeps on demanding justice from the judge (Luke 18).   As 2 Timothy reminds us: hold on to what you learned. God wants us to hang on and hang in there.     Jeremiah clearly brings out God’s faithfulness as the text says: “No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

Friends, myths do not love us, myths do not forgive our sins. God does. Time and time again; over and over again.  Not only does God forgive sin, but forgets its: “I will remember sin no more.” And this comes out of a deep and faithful love.  God is a committed relationship with us. Thanks be to God.

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Reflection October 9

Published on November 19, 2016 by in Reflections

Psalm 66:12; Jeremiah 29:5 & 7; Luke 17:18

Strangers in the City

About three weeks ago, Eddie Fong and some of his friends from our church helped prepare a meal for the visiting health care workers from Indonesia. It smelled so good that soon we heard a knock on the kitchen door.  A homeless man had stepped out of his wheel chair from the parking lot driven by the smell of Eddie’s delicious chicken.  He asked if he and his friend could get some of that food that had been beckoning him.  I asked Eddie if there was enough and he communicated that he feared there wasn’t.  So I offered him a box of cereal from the cabinet by the door where we stock some food for the hungry.  He declined.  Frankly I felt annoyed.  I have thought a lot about that moment since then.  What was the annoyance about?  Was it that we couldn’t give him the food our Parkview folks were preparing for our guests from the other side of the world?  Was it because he picked and chose the food he wanted while the truly hungry might not?  There is truth in that too.  It so happens that last Tuesday we met a young homeless man who was very cheerful and who told us about his own private religion. He asked for some food and he was more than happy with the box of cereal we had offered the other man.

Friends, we have had homeless sleep around the church for decades now.  For years there was even one living under the floor boards of my office. They have slept behind the bamboo bush, outside the window of Donna’s office, next to the Heiwa, on the veranda of the Kansha and  in the courtyard garden.  I expect one or two are not too happy the courtyard is mostly closed off now the Kansha is a residence.  Jeremiah speaks of exile and of the strange city where people must find a place and he channels the words of God Who says:” seek the welfare of the city.”   The city is a place of exile, but the people are not asked to shun it or to fear it but to seek its welfare.  Sometimes even cities can provide us with “a spacious place” as Psalm 66 verse 12 says.  But this spacious place is not necessarily a house with three acres, it is a place where we can experience a sense of spiritual space.

The Presbytery held its meeting away from the city at Zephyr Point Lake Tahoe last Wednesday and Thursday.  Wednesday evening they had a speaker named Dewitt Jones, a former National Geographic photographer.  He gave an inspirational talk and he reminded us that what National Geographic has always done is “celebrate the best of life.”  Their photographs show the world in its greatest beauty.  In a sense this is what God asks the Hebrew exiles to:” to celebrate the best of the life they now have. “They are to accept what good there is.  They are told in so many words that the foreigner can bring wisdom and blessing to the locals just like the leper in the healing story in Luke is able to show his full gratitude and appreciation to Jesus even though he is the Samaritan and the others are not.  The foreigner can bring blessing.  We forget that and we certainly forget that in this election season.  The foreigners just need a chance.

Friends, but what about that homeless fellow who was picky about the food?   He too lives in the city.  He too is kind of a foreigner like we were all foreigners in this city or in other cities at one point. The text is Jeremiah says:”for the welfare of the city is your welfare?” What I think that means is that that welfare cannot be separate from the welfare others, including the discerning homeless man in search of Eddie’s haute cuisine.  Their lot is linked to our lot, practically but also spiritually.  “For the welfare of the city is your welfare.”  We can “celebrate what is good in life” as the text also seems to imply, but we must allow and empower others to do so always.  When it comes to the homeless we have found that is not so easy and we never seem to feel fulfilled.  But maybe something should be gnawing at us.  For the situation isn’t right.

One pastor at the Presbytery retreat said that:”the church should do two-thirds of its work for others, not for itself.  Another person said: but many churches are just struggling to survive.  This angered the pastor who was still stewing about when the meeting ended.  Yet once again the text says:” the welfare of the city is our welfare.” This is where we hope our residency program will start bearing fruit as we try to look outward more.

Rob Watkins, the Interim Presbytery Executive said that research shows most churches wait for visitors to come and he said:”they aren’t going to come.” We have to go out and engage with people.  That is the only way to do things in this day and age.  Friends, may we celebrate what is right with the city and pursue not only our welfare but all who dwell in it.  May God bless our efforts.

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Coach’s Corner

Published on October 10, 2016 by in Coach's Corner

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Reflection September 25

Published on October 10, 2016 by in Reflections

Jeremiah 32:14,15; I Timothy 6: 18,19

The future inside the present

After Lyndon Johnson signed the voting rights bill, something strange happened.  During the summer the ghettoes of America’s big cities exploded in violence.   Johnson took it personally. Why was this happening? He had made more progress in racial equality than all presidents excluding Abraham Lincoln.  It was a personal affront to him.  It was as if the nation had woken up out of a slumber of complacency about race.

What is going on in today’s cities, seems similar but it isn’t or is it.  With an African American president much of the nation was in a kind of illusion that racism was almost gone in America.  But as the evil it is in popped up in strange places, including in some of the nation’s police departments.  What makes this year different is that people are recording what happens.  So the cities are once again in turmoil.

Friends, perhaps the answer to Johnson’s question about why this was happening is that the past is always a part of the present.   The present carries traces of the past.  America is what it is because of its history and we never fully seem to deal with our history.  So it keeps coming back to haunt us.  This is not just true of our society, but of you and I also.  The fact that we have iron in our blood is very likely a remnant of the iron in the earth we emerged from.  So physically we carry traces of a distant past.  But the way we behave is also   It is also true of our values and In Jeremiah the people face the consequences of the past.  Things look bleak.  The past has poisoned the present.   How do you live in the present in a country that has no hope?  In our day and age we could ask: how do you live in Aleppo, in Syria, and see anything but smoke?  That is one lesson here, friends, we must deal with the past or it will haunt the present in our lives.

Yet at the same time, we must live in the present. We have to deal with the past, but we cannot live in it.  That’s just not healthy.  And as the Colombian writer Juan Gabriel Vazquez says: “the past in unreliable, because our memory is unreliable.” (NPR September 2016).  We also cannot live in the future, for we would be a ball of anxiety and worry.  Yet 1Timothy tells us we must lay “a foundation for the future.”  We do so by trying to be good.  Then the text goes on to say:”so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”

In other words living in the present must be real and worthwhile and meaningful, a life of engagement with others.   But inside the present we must live, lie the seeds of the future.

I have just told you about the visit of Indonesian health care workers. I told you how important it is to take a remnant of what was built in the past, strengthen in the present so that the depth of knowledge and quality of care will go up in the future.

Friends, as a congregation we too must live in the present.   As a congregation we too have to recognize the past and lay a foundation for the future, but we have to live in the present, living “a life that  really is life.”  It is a delicate balancing act isn’t it: dealing with the past, living the present and laying a foundation for the future?  Yet we must do all of them.  I think we do that pretty well however.

We could decide to live in the past, to think of a time in the fifties when churches were full and located in the center of society. Now we are more at the fringes.  We could decide to live in the future, thinking about our life without a parking lot and wonder what that will mean for the decades to come. But we are not doing that. I believe we are living in the present, for that is the only place we can live.

Nevertheless, sometimes the future needs a little push.  That was the point of the Indonesian  program.  The future does not come by itself or at least not in the shape we like it to come.  This is why we have our residency program, as a way of shaping and trying out the future, bringing in new personalities, new perspectives, new ways of serving God and new energy.   In Jeremiah a deed is purchased and put in a pot.  Land will be bought and sold. It is a promise that it is right to invest in the future.

For us personally the same questions are valid.  Are you living in the past instead of dealing with it?  Are you just existing in the present or are you fully living it? Are you pushing the future, to see where it might take you?  Do you have a dream in an earthen pot or have you given up on dreams altogether?  What is the task ahead of you for which you are laying the foundation today?  Only you can answer that question.   But let us be reminded that God’s grace guarantees us that the One of days goes by is with us now and will be in the days to come.  Thanks be to God!

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Multicultural Ministry Resident Sermon September 18

Published on October 10, 2016 by in Reflections

Matthew 11:28-30, 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10

The Paradox of Our Faith

By Chakrita M. Saulina

Psychologist Barry Schwartz in his TED talk, presents what he calls the paradox of choice. He takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice.

He says that there is an official dogma in all Western industrial societies, and it runs like this: “if we are interested in maximizing the welfare of our citizens, the way to do that is to maximize individual freedom. The reason for this is both that freedom is in and of itself good, valuable, worthwhile, essential to being human and because if people have freedom, then each one of us can act on our own to do the things that will maximize our welfare, and no one has to decide on our behalf. The way to maximize freedom is to maximize choice.”

In other words, the more choice people have, the more freedom they have, and the more freedom they have, the more welfare they have (It sounds very reasonable, doesn’t?).  In his TED talk, however, he argues that this dogma is wrong! In Schwartz’s estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied. And of course, this is counterintuitive and something that probably we never have thought before! (If you want to learn more about his full arguments, I really recommend to watch his 20 mins TED Talk which I think the Dr. Schwartz’s presentation is really an eye opening one.

Similar to the case that Dr. Schwartz tries to prove in his paradox of choice theory, we find a paradox when there is a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.

A poet named Gunilla Norris, however, once says, “Our minds do not like paradoxes. We want to things to be clear, so we can maintain our illusions of safety. Certainty breeds tremendous smugness.“ For me, as an ISTJ personality in the Myers Brigg test, what Norris states is certainly true. Clarity and/or certainty about certain situation gives me some level of power and confident. In contrast, any paradox might lead me into a puzzling situation, with more questions to ask, or even into a mystery to be solved.

Schwartz’s paradox of choice is actually one of the thousands or perhaps millions of paradoxes that we can find in our everyday life… and guess what?  This is including our journey in following Jesus. This is what I call the paradox of our faith.

The more I study the Bible and theology as a subject both in and outside schools, the more I feel that I know very little about these two things. The more I learn about the Bible, the more mysteries I find. The more I learn about ministry and the more my involvement in many different kinds of ministries, the more I find more and more theological questions and problems in ministry that still perplex me and I don’t know how to answers these things. At the end of my first theological degree in 2013, I had come to realize that “God is much bigger than my theology.” This statement is still true even after I have finished my second theological degree, and even until now.

In our journey as Christians, there are situations where we find ourselves puzzled by many things that lead us to pounder and ask God so many questions: “God, why this thing happens in my life? I don’t get it. I follow all the rules, I always try to be a good persons, but why there are so many things went wrong? They were not supposed to be like this.”

If you feel that in your journey as a Christian you have many more questions than answers, don’t be discouraged. If you wonder the reason why God brought you in certain direction, hang on there… I am actually in such a situation right now. So many things in my life right now seem very puzzling and confusing. As I prayed about what I need to share to you this morning, God gave me confidence to choose the verses that we have just read together. It seems that God wants me to live my own sermon. Friends, let’s walk together in this journey and let’s God’s words shed some light on our path…

Today’s passages are actually some of the many verses in the Bible that show us about the paradox of our faith. The things that seem contradictory with each other and seem illogical. The things that force us to sit, pounder, think about them thoroughly because they bring out some mysteries and lead to us many questions. These verses regarding the paradox of our faith, however, can help us to see many things from a different perspective, move us from our usual perceptions, and principles that are might have been heavily shaped by this world. These verses also show us how to experience God’s power. The paradox in these verses help us to see that God will not so much as let us be puzzled, confused, and defeated by our problems or situations, but they will actually challenge us to take a step of faith and to walk with a strong confidence in God.

In his letters to the Corinthians, Paul claims that when he is weak, he is strong. This is what I call the Strengths of Our Weaknesses. How can someone say that he is strong when he is weak so he can boast about all of his weaknesses? People don’t like to talk about their weaknesses, do they?

We live in this world and in this generation that edifies power, strength, and wealth. This condition forces people to hide their weaknesses, to cover up many of their imperfections and frailties, or to pretend that they are strong. People don’t want to show their weaknesses because they do not want to look vulnerable on other people’s eyes.

It is very interesting if we know a little bit of the context of 2 Corinthians 12. In this part, Paul tries to defend himself from accusations that are made by the false teachers; that he is not a good teacher, and they are superior to him in many ways. Interestingly, instead of emphasizing all of his gifts and his credentials, which he certainly can boast about all of those things, Paul rather highlights about his own weaknesses.

Paul knows fully that his life and his ministry was, is, and, will never be easy. Earlier in verses 7-8, Paul mentions there are internal challenges and external threats that he has to deal with every day. First, he mentions about a thorn in his flesh (we don’t know for sure what Paul means by this. many scholars agree that this is about a health problem and is related to his eyesight) and a messenger of Satan who is sent to torment him (it is also unclear about what he means by this, but for me this messenger of Satan might symbolize the external treats toward him; such as a lot of oppositions towards his ministry). Many times he asked God to take away this thorn, but God says to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

For Paul, God’s grace and power are the secrets of his ministry. The secret to being content in any situations and to bounce back from any harsh situations in his ministry (insults, persecutions, and calamities). On his journey, Paul had fully experienced that his weaknesses become the portal to the unlimited Power of God.

Dear friends, do you have any “thorns” that you have been praying about for a long time? Perhaps you are thinking that God has not heard your prayer since the thorn is still there… Perhaps, God is giving you the same answer to your prayer, saying, “My grace is sufficient for you…”

But then you might also say: “Do you know that it is easier to say it than to experience what you just said?” “Do you know that this ‘thorn’ is so sharp and it is often unbearable?” Dear friends, although I know that my story and my thorn perhaps different from yours, yes I know it is not easy to walk with constant pain, with “attacks” from inside and outside ourselves.

My thorn is my health, my body. When I was still a teenager, 15 years ago, a doctor diagnosed me with a chronic disease that is incurable. I was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, also known as Lupus. Since then, my life has changed. My parents began treating me like a vulnerable vessel, and they have since been overprotected towards me. This disease almost took my life last year. I prayed many times to God for healing… On the other hand, as years have gone by, some parts of me do not want this to disease to be cured. It sounds weird, doesn’t it? God has always given me the same answer: “My Grace is sufficient for you…” Because in the last 15 years, I have experienced how God’s power heals, sustains, and works within me. I have also learned so many things that I would not have learned otherwise.

Friends, if the pain and the wounds caused by the thorn in our flesh and the attack from outside is real, today God’s word remind us that: God’s power and help is real too… and God’s power is much bigger than our problems, and it is accessible to everyone. God’s word is here to help us see our sufferings, pain, and problems differently and also show us that every weakness you have is an opportunity for God to show his strength in your life. The puzzling and troubling situation that you have to face right now, that you feel like “thorns” for you, perhaps something that God allow to happen so that you can learn and grow in certain areas in your life. Perhaps the reason why God has not taken away those thorns because God wants you to learn something and it could be something that will be very useful for your future life and your calling, or even someday they no longer become your weaknesses but strengths in doing ministry and service to God’s people. Since it is also a paradox of the Christian faith that the more obstacles we overcome, the stronger we grow and the more fervent is our witness for the love and power of God.

One of my professors from my seminary in Canada just passed away three days go. She died in the age of 37 because of Neurofibromatosis Type 2. She worked as a Chaplain in various hospitals in Halifax, for the United Nations in New York and Afghanistan, and was the Founding coordinator of for Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care in my previous school. I knew her as a very sweet professor, I called her Dr. Demmons. She was a very bright young woman too. I will always remember her smile, and her presence that always brought a peaceful atmosphere in class…

While I was still at Acadia, I knew that she struggled a lot with her health. In fact, I remember when she was supposed to teach one of my pastoral care classes, but because she got sick and had to go for a surgery, so the class later on was taken over by someone else.

My friend shared this quote of Dr. Demmons in her Facebook page, (I think the quote is very appropriate for today’s message): we don’t live easy, but we can live well.” And her life has become a testimony of how God’s hands help her to live well in the midst of her difficult life, and lived well with God until the end. Despite her health condition she always tried to be a blessing for other as a Chaplain. Perhaps, she was able to do this because she let God’s power dwell in her life and allowed every weakness that she had to be an opportunity for God to show God’s power in her life. Perhaps, a few minutes before she died she could claim what Paul also claim in his letter to Timothy: ”I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith.”

From, the first paradox of faith that we learn from Paul, we know that there is a different way to see our weaknesses. In fact, our weaknesses, problems, and hardship can be the place for us to experience God’s power, mercy, and grace. Those problems, weaknesses, and hardship can also be an opportunity to find and appreciate the true rest from Jesus. To those who are weary and carry heavy burdens, Jesus says, I will give you rest. Jesus further says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” This is another paradox that I find in the Bible. I call it “the yoke that gives us rest.” Many of us might say, “Why Jesus does not take away all our burdens? Instead, he gives us a ‘yoke’?” That seems strange, doesn’t it? But remember that Jesus promises that our burden will be lighter and we will find our rest.

Just like Dr. Demmons’s quote, it is true that our journey as Christians is not a burden free life. I always try to remind myself and others, God never promises that our days will always be sunny days, or that our road will always be a smooth and straight road… But Jesus promises that he will always be with us… Jesus carries our burden with us and we will never walk alone…

This second paradox teaches us that even though there are still many challenges and troubling situation that we need to face, God will not let us be defeated by our problems or situations. Jesus promises that he will never let you carry your burden alone. It means there will be always hope! You will find your rest when you let Jesus to walk with you and take the lead.

Dan B. Allender says, “Strength is found in weakness, control is found in dependency, and power if found in surrender.” What he says is actually a good explanation for another paradox written on the cover page of our program, “Blessed is the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I call this The Richness of the Poverty.

This sentence is the beginning of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 that is also the foundation of the whole Beatitudes. The Beatitudes and whole part of the sermon of the mount are the most profound and at the same time paradoxical teaching on true happiness. But it’s not just a subject among many, it’s foundational to all His teaching and it’s foundational to entrance into His kingdom.

As Timothy Smith rightly put: God wants us happy. Psalm 144:15 says, “Happy are the people whose God is the Lord.” God wants our lives filled with joy. God wants to bless us. He wants us to experience bliss, a deep inner happiness, not produced and not affected by emotion or by changing circumstance, a kind of blessedness and a kind of joy, a kind of bliss, a kind of happiness that is not subject to outside forces but only inside ones produced by God in the heart. And that’s the subject of the Beatitudes and that’s the subject of the Sermon on the Mount which the Beatitudes begin. And the question is…how do you find happiness? And the Beatitudes indicate to us that it really is opposite what the world would assume. Blessed are the poor…the world would say blessed are the rich. Blessed are those who mourn…the world would say blessed are those who laugh. Blessed are the gentle, or the meek…the world would say blessed are the proud and the confident. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst…the world would say blessed are those who don’t hunger and don’t thirst because they have everything.

So, what does it mean to be “poor in spirit?” It simply means to be totally dependent on God. It is like you need air to breathe every single second in your live. As long as you are with God you will find your true happiness! You will find your peace even in the midst of storm. With God in your side, you will fill content in any circumstances and you will always find hope!

Friends, at the end of this sermon, allow me to ask some questions:

Are you carrying heavy burdens right now? Are you feeling confused by your situation and don’t know what to do? Are you feeling hurt by the “thorn” that is in your flesh for years and years? Have you let God to show his power through your weaknesses instead of being defeated by the problem, burdens, and hardship that you have to face these many years? Do you hear that Jesus is calling you and invites you to come to him? Perhaps, Jesus has been waiting for a long time to say to you, “Let me carry this burden with you… I will make your burden light, and have some rest…” What is your answer to him?


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Reflection September 4

Published on October 10, 2016 by in Reflections

Psalm 139: 13; Jeremiah:4:18 ; Luke 14: 27

Out of alignment

Louise Foxcoft has written a book entitled “calories and corsets,” a history of dieting over 2000 years.  In a radio interview, she describes women around the turn of the last century, pushing themselves into corsets that pressed their upper torso up and tightened their waists while the bottom half of the dress became huge.  Women were allowing  themselves to be shaped in ways that were considered attractive then.  This all changed after World War I.  One-fifth of all young men in Britain alone were killed in the Great War. There was a shortage of men. Foxcroft claims that as a result fashion wound up going for the boyish look all the way into the roaring twenties.  Fashion molded a whole new image of women.

When I wore a harness-like leather and metal brace in my teens that kind of had a corset shape, it was about shaping my back before the spine and vertebrae would harden permanently.  In a way this is what the potter does.  The potter shapes the clay before it gets hardened in the oven.  This is not easy. It requires steady hands and the right pressure on the pedal and also a sense of direction to create the desired shape. Jeremiah speaks of God as a potter.  The potter is the Creator Who molds each person physically (as in Psalm 139), but more important, spiritually.  There is to be balance, and the right pressure and a vision for the shape.

When I spoke about this text in the past I emphasized the idea of the potter, of the shaper, but this time I want to look at the person who is shaped spiritually. This is the direction Luke is taking us into.  A disciple is not born overnight, a disciple is molded through the pressure of sacrifice and servant hood.  It is a kind of

A number of weeks ago I was talking to a young man who said he was a chiropractor.  I told him about my very limited experience with chiropractors and asked them about the way they make joints and the spine pop.  He really drove home the point that “this is not all we do.” He explained that the molding they hep the body do is lot about stretching muscles these days.  Chakrita said what jumped out to her in this text was a kind of “chiropractic moment.” We need to be aligned to the will and action of God.  But how is that done?

To answer that I would like to stay with the idea of alignments that is so important in chiropractic treatment.  Our bodies are out of alignment so easily, the more as we get older.  It could be because of too much weight behind a kick in soccer or football or too forceful a throw in baseball. It can happen when we sleep and we toss and turn. It can happen when we bend over and pick up something heavy without thinking. It can be because of a sudden jolt to our bodies we don’t expect.  The same is true of our emotional and our spiritual state. We get misaligned because of obstacles we face or bitter disappointment or traumatic experiences.  Sometimes it is just because little mishaps are just piling up one top of the other.  So we go out of whack, get pushed of balance, despite our attempts at being prepared and in spite our best intentions. Nothing meditation or yoga or even morning devotions can do much about some times.  Friends, after reflecting on this I think there are three things that can help us stay aligned both physically and spiritually.

First, we have to be loose. We cannot come back into alignment physically, emotionally spiritually when we are all tightened up, when we are resisting, when our muscles are pulling us in the opposite direction of where we need to go.  We all know what that feels like.  There has to be a moment of relaxation, of letting go of control, when we trust the process and trust God’s grace.

Second, we have to be committed.  Those of us with questionable backs can tell you that you cannot adjust over night or in half an hour.  Even if we understand what we need to do, we are still going to fall back into our old patterns.  We have to exercise ourselves over time over a long period.  The real change will only take place with consistent discipline.

Finally,  friends, we have to be vigilant.  We cannot expect things to go smoothly all the time. Just because we are well-intentioned, it does it mean there won’t be glitches.  We cannot let up.  We have to be aware of the challenges that can knock us off course.  I think these lessons of the body can teach us about how we handle not only our personal growth, but also how we act in the cause of changing the world to become sustainable, just and compassionate.  There is hope. Thanks be to God.

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Coach’s Corner

Teaching is learning

Dear friends,

Parkview features prominently these days within the bounds of the Presbytery of Sacramento, our local church district.  One reason is our multicultural residency program. The second is our involvement in the planning of a two week training event for fourteen Indonesian Christian health care professionals, among them nurses, physicians, hospital administrators and chaplains from across that large country.  Both the residency program and training are about practical education. The first is about how to minister and communicate to a diverse congregation.  The second is about sharing insights and new developments in the care of traumatized, marginalized and vulnerable populations (e.g. the homeless, victims of PTSD, domestic abuse, injustice, human trafficking, ethnic and racial discrimination, Alzheimer’s).

Over the years when my primary vocation was teaching, I became aware that you learn a lot when you teach.  This is never truer than when you are starting something new. One thing you learn is that you need the support of others. I am grateful for the support of Kansha building donors and workers, our resident selection committee (Maurine Huang, Carol Sakai, Titus Toyama and Jennifer Nishizaki) and our supervisory committee (Irene Uno, Lois Van Beers and Maurine Huang) in making our journey systematic and responsible. I am grateful to Hach Yasumura for his faithful membership of the training organizing committee, to Herning Grissom for hosting and meal organization, to drivers Tak Fukuman, Jonathan Sakakibara and Hach Yasumura and to Eddie and Yvonne Fong and their Parkview crew for preparing a meal for the visitors.  It is amazing that because of these volunteers, the presenters who teach pro bono and the many volunteers around the Presbytery this group of visitors can learn so much on a small budget of only $5000 provided by the same Mission support committee that so generously supports our residency program.  We have learned a lot already in this process.  And when the participants arrive on Monday in San Francisco, the learning curve is bound to rise.

Chakrita Saulina, our first resident, has also become a teacher among you, teaching and learning through her four week New Testament class. You have also seen her creatively take on the task of sharing the Bible stories with our youth.  She has learned that this takes specific skills, especially when you don’t know who will come up to that table. She is also bridging the residency program and the training program in the administering of the visit of her fellow Indonesians. The timing of her presence here has been providential!

But we are learning more all the time.  Thanks to the diligent work of Maurine Huang we have just submitted the enormous religious worker visa application packet (with a mind boggling 27 attachments) for our second resident, Rola Al Askar, who is currently back in her home country of Lebanon.  The packet is now in the hands of the USCIS, the immigration agency and we do not know what they will decide.  In any case the process will take 3 to 8 months. We have learned about the challenge of handling the residency application and safeguarding the privacy of a seminary graduate who is already in our midst. As a result we are happy to announce that Ontonio Christie has been received as our third resident and he will start his one year term in October 1 of this year! You will have seen him, his wife and three children in their adopted pew on the east side of the sanctuary.  If you have not welcomed them yet, this is your chance!

Please join me in praying that our efforts as a small but compassionate and committed community will have great and lasting impact. Thank you all for you consistent caring and interest in being a congregation that seeks to teach and learn simultaneously. May God bless our ministry. Aart

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