Notes (5)

I Will Never Tell You....

“I will never tell you who you should vote for.”

It’s election season, the party conventions are finished, and electioneering is in full swing.  If you don’t receive input from the parties and their candidates on a daily basis between now and November, it is probably because you have chosen to spend time off the grid.  Aside from that, in addition to the candidates, there are probably dozens of people wanting to supply you with their two cents worth…. through social media, around the water cooler, at the coffee shop…almost everyone has an opinion and most will let you know that choosing “the other guy” will quickly lead to the end of the world.

In the midst of this, I sometimes feel like the only one who doesn’t push a candidate or a party platform.  Don’t get me wrong, I care about the election and I’m interested in the process.  After all, I was a political science major as an undergrad.  The thing is that over the past 10 years or so, where I find my heart engaged during election season is not in the Who? or What? questions but the How? questions.  I’m less interested in talking about the candidates or even what they stand for and more interested in how we talk to each other about the candidates and the issues.  And as I’ve said before: I find my heart aching at the tone of the political discourse in our nation today. 

Because we’ve stopped being civil towards one another.  We’ve stopped seeing fellow Americans as part of “us”.  If I disagree with you on an issue, we are no longer on the same team.  I’m ready to vote you off the island and revoke your citizenship.  And the things we say to and about each other are things I wouldn’t say to my worst enemy.  Which is how I think we see each other sometimes.

Into all of this, an article in the February 2016 edition of The Banner (the CRC’s monthly magazine) caught my eye.  It is written by Granger Lee and is titled “Joining the Conversation: A Letter to My Son”.  Written as parental advice, it gives guidelines that we would all be wise in following as we engage in highly charged dialogue.  Allow me to share…

  1. If you’re joining a discussion out of motivation to “win”, then you’re not ready to be part of the conversation.
  2. If all your thoughts can be summarized in 140 characters or fewer, then you’re probably not ready to be part of the conversation.
  3. If you’re comfortable only listening to one side of the argument, then you’re not ready to be part of the conversation.
  4. If you think you have an easy or simple solution to a complex issue, then you’re not ready to be part of the conversation.
  5. If you are quick to speak but slow to listen, then you’re not ready to be part of the conversation (check out James 1).
  6. If you haven’t yet considered whether your opinion could possibly be wrong, then you’re not ready to be part of the conversation.
  7. If your heart is not burdened to the point of sacrificial action on behalf of those to whom the “issue” relates, then you’re not ready to be part of the conversation.
  8. If you haven’t yet empathized with multiple perspectives on a given issue or put yourself in the opposing side’s shoes, then you’re not ready to be part of the conversation.
  9. If you don’t yet have love for your enemies or you haven’t yet taken the time to pray for those of an opposing viewpoint—and not just for them to change their minds—then you’re not ready to be part of the conversation (Matt. 5).

As Mr. Lee states, “Hurting human beings are involved on every side of every issue, which means there is no room for cruelty, thoughtlessness, carelessness, or pride in the conversation.  On the contrary, these discussions need to be guided by the Holy Spirit, and so must be founded in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.”

Even conversations about who you should vote for.

- Pastor Lon Wagner


Kobe Bryant

1 Corinthians 9:24-25

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?Runin such a way as to get the prize.Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crownthat will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.


The end has finally arrived. Not only that, but it has come and gone. I don’t think I was prepared for it. Not that I didn’t have ample time to prepare, I just don’t know if you can prepare for something this life changing. This loss will not only affect me, but will have an impact on millions. If you haven’t realized by now (and you skipped the title), I am referring to the retirement of the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba has played 20 years in the league so I literally grew up watching him go from high school to NBA first round draft pick to five-time NBA champion. His accomplishments over his 20 years are incredible. Outside of the five championships, Kobe has 18 all-star appearances, 833 career wins, an NBA MVP trophy, 9 first-team all-defense selections, is third on the all-time scoring list, is the only player to play for 20 seasons with one team, and the list can continue to go on and on. Those who have spent any significant time with me know that I refer to Kobe on a regular basis. And, fun fact, even attempted to name my son Kobe (didn’t fly with Abbey). However, to the surprise of some, I will refer to him not only when discussing basketball, but also in the context of ministry and my Christian faith.


Why this may surprise people is because though Kobe is considered one of the greatest on the basketball court, his life has been marred with several questionable decisions. He has, on several occasions, been known to drive people away with his arrogant and demanding demeanor, he has had multiple clashes with teammates, and maybe the most incriminating to the Black Mamba was a sexual assault charge brought against him by a 19 year-old hotel employee.


As someone who has served in ministry to young people for almost a decade, I realize the impact role models have on the minds of our youth. They begin to worship their teen idols and start to live their life to look like the culture their idol lives in. So with that knowledge, it is a legitimate question to wonder why I would hold Kobe Bryant, the confirmed adulterer/pride-filled, non-forgiving basketball player as an example. I even questioned myself at times about the legitimacy of using him as a positive example. Then, in his last game in which he not only scored 60 points, but brought his team the victory, I realized why I am so drawn to Kobe.


The apostle Paul, in his letter to the church in Corinth, talks about running a race. He challenges the struggling church in Corinth by not coddling them, but telling them that it is going to take hard work. It is going to take sacrifice, patience, endurance, and the intention of your entire being to live the life God has called us to. When I read verses like the one quoted above and others like it, I use Kobe as an example because he demonstrates the meaning of Paul’s command so clearly. There is an important distinction that I am always careful to make when referencing Kobe, which is that Kobe has felt that his purpose is to play the best basketball and our primary purpose as Christians is to love God and others.


But, his commitment to his calling puts our level of commitment to shame. If we as Christians were as committed to loving others (what God has called us to) as Kobe was to his career as a basketball player, I believe this world would look very different. What if we put in the same hours, training, intensity, thoughtfulness, and single minded focus into living a life that pleases God? I know that, like Kobe, my life would begin to bear the fruit of this hard work and focus. So let’s take a page from the Mamba and “run in such a way as to get the prize!”   - Pastor Andrew Nishimoto


The Elections Are Coming!

A little over 6 months until the November elections.  I'm going to do my part in keeping things civil....will you join me?

For the duration of the election season, I hereby pledge to uphold the highest standards of truth and civility in word, thought, and deed.  On my honor, I will:

•    Just say no to crazy email forwards, and to any other noxious electronic communication that comes my way. Everyone in your address book will thank us. We promise.

•    Communicate in a spirit of truth, humility, love, and patience with all people I come in contact with, despite our political disagreements or family relationship. That goes for Uncle Frank. Especially Uncle Frank.

•    Question any and all statements that sound mean, vindictive, or absurd; that provide no source or context; or that are politically motivated. So, pretty much everything you hear on cable TV news.

•    Share and enjoy stories of folks who are living out an attitude of truth and civility. Make sure each story meets both requirements: Nice people telling lies don’t count.

•    As a witness for God, encourage and spread a message of hope and reconciliation to a world that is deeply divided by political and cultural differences. Like Jesus taught.   - Pastor Lon Wagner


Measuring Success

Over the past 9 years, I've gotten to be involved in a weekly meal for the homeless and low income people of our community. It's been a wonderful experience! We begin with a short devotional shared from scripture, we sing a hymn, and then we share prayer requests and pray for each other. There is a clothing cart where they can get clothes. There is a resource table where they can get information about employment, a place to stay, rehabilitation, other food resources, etc.And then we share a meal together. We have a great team of cooks and servers who take turns lovingly preparing and dishing out a great meal. Seated at each table in our Friendship Center are people who are homeless, people who are barely hanging onto their apartment/trailer/house, as well as, Bethany members. They eat and engage in conversation together. Over the past 9 years, significant relationships have been formed around these meals. We have formed community through these meals. It's really something to see!Recently, a friend asked if I felt like our meals were being successful. I had to think for a second and then I answered, "It depends on what I am looking at." If I am looking at people who have significantly turned their lives around, then it is easy to get frustrated. Sure, we've been able to celebrate a few who have gotten jobs, some who have chosen to enter into rehab, even several who have gotten apartments to live in. Those times of celebration have been sweet, especially because of the hope that it gives to the others in our community. But because it is so difficult for people in these conditions to turn things around, especially when there is addiction involved, the percentage of those making significant change has been small. But if I look at the relationships that have been formed, I say, "Yes! We have had success!" I think of people who come timidly at first. People who would barely make eye contact. People who anticipated being treated like an object of charity...someone who needs to be fixed...someone who is not worthy of friendship. I have seen them blossom and grow in confidence. Some even take on "leadership roles" within the community.It's happened because some special Bethany Church members have decided to invest in the lives of people that others have chosen to look at as throw-away people. They have chosen to value them as people worthy of respect.The ultimate sign of success? Over the years, a few of the long-term members of this community that we've formed have become members of the Bethany congregation. They didn't stop attending our weekly meal because they are now in the position where they are giving back and investing in others' lives. But they've chosen to also become a part of the Bethany community because they have felt loved and learned first hand what being loved by God feels like.And to that, we shout "Yahoo!"  - Pastor Lon Wagner


Walkin' the Blvd.

I walked the boulevard today.  It was a bright, warm walk with opportunity to duck in and talk to merchants, to buy horchata at Nachos, to stretch my legs down to Alondra and back.  I met many people and today was a day where everybody smiled back at me, even the guy waiting for me to cross the road so he could turn on the red.  It was a wonderful walk.  On the way back, I turned up Flower Street and walked past the court building.  A long grey bus pulled out of the parking lots.  The sign on the bus read County of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.  The windows of the bus were darkened, even the driver was difficult to see through the windshield.  My purposeful habit on my walkings is to smile and wave, so I tried it.  I had no idea if anybody saw my greeting, nothing showed through the dark windows.  For a moment I regretted trying, perhaps the prisoners would misinterpret, as if the smile were a false and mocking smile, my walk illustrating my freedom and their own internment, my wave not a blessing but a cursing.  But I let go the moment’s regret, as people’s interpretations are largely their own responsibility.  And I thought, perhaps only in my mind’s eye, that I saw through the windshield a smile on the driver’s face.  It must be difficult to be a prisoner, especially on a beautiful day in Bellflower.   - Pastor Jim Kuiper

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