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Harding College Chapel Messages

Harding College Chapel Messages

My Practices

  1. Vegetarianism
  2. Daily Walk
  3. Seeing God’s Presence

Vegetarianism by Faith

Growing up in a Chinese- American home, there was always some kind of meat dish. Even if there wasn’t enough money to buy a prime cut of beef, there was always lop-cheung, sausages that came tied in bunches with the string used to dry them in the butcher shop. After a pot of white rice was washed and the water had been boiled, you put a lop-cheung in the pot for each person eating that night and covered it. After a few minutes, 
the rice was fully soaked in the fat of the lop-cheung and the aroma filled the house. Then it was time to eat. It is said that Chinese eat anything with four legs except the kitchen table.

In 1998 I was called to serve as the Senior Pastor of the historic First Chinese Baptist Church in San Francisco. At the other end of our street stood a restaurant, Uncle’s Café that still serves one of the best tasting ox tail stews in town. Instead of lop-cheung over rice, the ox tail stew, mixed with potatoes, carrots, onions, and celery in a thick gravy, is poured over the rice. This is a big step from what I had at home. For about $5, you get the stew over rice, a dinner roll, a cup of coffee, and a piece of apple pie. I ate with no guilt or self-consciousness. And for such a price, it’s cheaper than a Big Mac!

As Senior Pastor my weekly responsibilities included preparing a sermon and a Bible study. Every week, I sought to interpret the Scriptures in a way that had relevancy for our congregation. During one season my personal study led me to read Genesis 2, and I learned how in the original creation God planned for us to eat food that grew from the ground. I read Isaiah 11 and discovered how, in the future, God wants us to live peaceably with all living things, including cattle, pigs, chickens, turkeys, fish, and shell fish. I began to experience an inner struggle that questioned why God’s plan for creation was not being made evident in my personal lifestyle.

Every time I stood behind the pulpit I called people to be more giving knowing that they would still hold some back. I called people to be more kind knowing that they still had prejudices. I called them to act and live as the Body of Christ knowing very well that there were still gossip, backbiting and squabbles in our church. I began to understand that I would always be calling people to be more than they are able to be until the age of Christ’s reign. I came to the realization and then the conviction that I am a vegetarian not by birth in a Chinese-American home, but by faith, so that I may model for the not yet and for what is to come. For me, being a vegetarian is a matter of personal and spiritual integrity.

My eating decision opens discussions about other lifestyle issues. It’s no longer possible for me to eat vegetarian and not look into every other aspect of living more wholistically. Physical exercise becomes important and essential and now occupies two time slots for playing tennis in my weekly day-timer planner. When tennis is not possible, I substitute gardening and housework as alternative forms of physical exertion. Following recommended physical check-ups and taking vitamin supplements provide the confidence that my health is on the right track.

As the result of my conviction, multiple circles of life and relationships are also affected. While my wife is not 
a vegetarian, when we eat at home together we both eat vegetable-based meals. We shop at markets that have more vegetarian products and fresh fruits and vegetables. Last year I even started a small planter-box garden that has yielded heirloom tomatoes, string beans, and strawberries.

Perhaps the most significant transformation of what started as my rediscovering the meaning of Scriptures and how that has affected my lifestyle is how my church has responded to my decision. While I haven’t converted as many to vegetarianism as God has transformed lives to believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior in the past 11 years, I have made a small impact. Our congregation
is is more aware of having a vegetarian option when I come over for dinner. They make the dish and try it for themselves and on many occasions, they even like it.

When I was first called into Christian ministry way back in 1975, I never thought that I would not be eating anything with four legs except the kitchen table. But what I do know now is that God has called me to be faithful, both when I stand behind the pulpit and when I pick up a fork.

Daily Walk

Giving Attention

Fitted with a Fitbit, I have been obsessed with achieving 10,000 steps a day. I walk from our house to town and back; the equivalent of 6800 steps in an hour, which is about 3 miles. I see the sunrise over Angel Island. I meet Fen, the hardworking trash collector. On Tuesdays, I discuss theology with Peter and Dennis, faithful Jehovah Witnesses who pass out tracts to anyone who would stop by. I just met beret-wearing Albert who first asked me my name. Most of the time during the beginning of the day, I would think, ponder, and pray for the day and our world.

Recently, it just seems like everyone and everything demand our attention. Our news spots are filled with fast-breaking news making us overwhelmed and news-fatigued. It seems like everyone wants to be on the front page. The US President and the North Korean Supreme Leader rant for the best lines. We hear that the President seemingly wants the spotlight on him before anyone else in his cabinet. While investigators are still searching for a motive to the horrific tragedy in the loss of lives and physical injuries in Las Vegas, the killer is at least achieving the goal of getting the world’s attention.

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When people want attention, I wonder if they haven’t received the necessary attention in the past to believe that they are loveable and capable. It’s like when Jesus was passing through Jericho and met Zacchaeus, a rich tax collector but who was also a short man. Zacchaeus probably didn’t like himself for taking more taxes from the people than he should and maybe he wished he could have been taller. When Jesus saw Zacchaeus up in the tree, Jesus gave him the attention he sought. Jesus then invited himself over to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner. (Luke 19:1-10) We can only imagine how Zacchaeus became a changed man afterward.

The theologian Kosuke Koyama in “Three Mile an Hour God” presents a God in Jesus Christ who walks with us at the same pace; “God walks ‘slowly’ because he is love. If he is not love he would have gone much faster. It goes on in the depth of life, whether we notice or not, whether we are currently hit by storm or not, at three miles an hour. It is the speed we walk and therefore it is the speed the love of God walks.” (p. 7)

If there were a group that needs our attention today and is not getting enough of it, it would be Puerto Rico. The San Juan mayor deservedly demanded attention from FEMA and the US government when hurricane Maria devastated the island. After almost 3 weeks, most of the island is still without electricity. One can only wonder why there is a different approach to this disaster response from the others during this active hurricane season. Puerto Rico was hit by a storm and we believe that God walks with them. The Puerto Rican Americans need our attention.

When we walk 3 miles an hour on this earth, let us give attention to the people we meet. Inasmuch as God gives each and everyone of us attention, perhaps our attention to our brothers and sisters would ultimately help them to feel better about themselves. And hopefully, even people in high places would know that it’s not about them but their main attention is for the welfare of the people and peace in the world.

God Around Us

Heart-breaking tragedy hit the Bay Area last Friday. Thirty-six full-of-life people perished in the Oakland Ghost Ship in a fire that consumed them. You have seen the pictures and read the stories. In our local papers, we read the brief profiles of many of these aspiring artists who made a life by working in service jobs in the day and scrapping by to live in whatever affordable housing they can find. I grieve over these great losses of human life that will no longer grace and enrich our lives forevermore.

Sadly, we know that last Friday’s tragedy was not the first nor will it be the last when it comes to the death of innocent people. We lament. We recite, “walking through the shadow of the valley of death.” We think about Job’s undeserved calamities. We remembered how Jesus explained why the blind man was not like that as the result of what someone in his family did. As human beings, we cannot not feel some degree of loss to know that people like us have died. Jesus proclaimed that he came to give life and for us to live life abundantly. So why did 36 people die last Friday?

Already there’s much soul-searching. There will be investigations, litigations, and prayerfully reconciliations. There is just no acceptable answer to the question why good people die. In fact, there is also no acceptable answer to the question why less-than-good people die. In Ecclesiastes, we read, “There is a time to be born and a time to die.” As human creatures, there’s a rhythm in life that we have and we are called to live life as fully, as productively, as lovingly, as gently, and as faithfully as we possibly can. And whatever happens, we leave the rest in the hands of God. I believe the 36 people did just that. God be with them in this season of Advent.

At the beginning of my ministry over 40 years ago, I clipped out St. Patrick’s Christ Be With Me. It’s always been tucked into my Day-Timer that I have used throughout my career and perhaps has served as my prayer card especially when I traveled around the country. I offer St. Patrick’s prayer in such a tragic time.

            I arise today

            Through God’s strength to pilot me;

            God’s might to uphold me,

            God’s wisdom to guide me.

            God’s eye to look before me,

            God’s ear to hear me,

            God’s word to speak for me,

            God’s hand to guard me,

            God’s way to lie before me,

            God’s shield to protect me.

            Christ be with me, Christ before me,

            Christ behind me, Christ above me,

            Christ on my right, Christ on my left,

            Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit up,

            Christ when I arise,

            Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,

            Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

            Christ in every eye that sees me,

            Christ in every ear that hears me.

As just a simple preacher, I am absolutely confident that God is all around us even when tragedy hits us.

Seeing God’s Presence

Noticing the Good

At dawn, my daily walk through touristy Sausalito finds much litter on the sidewalk: Lappert’s ice cream cone paper wraps, Starbuck’s napkins, and cigarette butts. Before the shopkeepers open their doors for business, Juan is busy. He’s blowing up leaves, power-washing the ice cream dropped on the sidewalk and meticulously picking up the litter. One time I asked Juan whether he wished that people would not litter as much to make his job easier. To my surprise, he said, “People on vacation are having a good time. Besides, I get to have a job.” While I was noticing the bad things, Juan was noticing the good.

Read Related Sermon  Every Sip Saves Lives!

We are planning to replace our 70 year-old single-pane aluminum windows in order to save on energy consumption and being more comfortable. When the Wine Country Fires were raging in October, ash and smoke seeped through the edges of our old windows and doors. To replace windows, our town requires a zoning permit. I had to post a yellow sign visible to our neighbors in order to give them 10 days to register any questions or challenges to our project. While I found this bureaucracy unnecessary, it is being good neighbors. Our town notices the good in ensuring that we don’t live in isolation with our neighbors but rather we need to function as a healthy community. I wonder if my neighbors will like seeing our new white frame windows. Eventually I notice the good in this.

One of the public parks in Sausalito is Yee Tock Chee located in the center of town. The bronze plaque recognizes Yee who owned the Marin Fruit Co. It said that when residents needed assistance, Yee was there to help out. He delivered groceries to people’s homes and made loans to those who needed some help. Remembering Yee reminds us that everyone regardless of station in life can do some good in the world. By noticing Yee Tock Chee doing good, I must do no less.

Jesus told the parable about the Good Samaritan who against all cultural expectations did good. Jesus noticed that and wants us to notice the same. Barbara Brown Taylor writes about the practice of paying attention and said, “All you need is a body on this earth, willing to notice where it is, trusting that even something as small as a hazelnut can become an altar in this world.”

In our everyday living, in the daily chores and tasks that we perform, in the places of our neighborhoods, we are given the opportunity to notice the good. Wherever we notice the good, we also notice that God is here. For some being among the natural world releases our noticing the good and the Creator. For others like me, my daily walk on the sidewalks of my local town provides me the opportunity to notice good is happening all around me. And when I notice the good, I also notice God is here.


Be Christmas Presents

After a dear late church member introduced lithops to me I have been fascinated over them ever since. They are taproot plants found in African deserts. After maturity they would shoot out delicate flowers that would open during the day and close at night over many days. In extreme dry African days, thirsty animals would scavenger them for water. Every lithop is different just like every one of our fingerprints is different.

A few weeks ago, I found a stick insect with 8 legs living in my lithops. I took a picture of it and shared it with my grandchildren telling them that I now have a little pet bug. As surprisingly that I saw him, he suddenly wasn’t on my lithops anymore. I found him dead on the floor. I wonder if when I pushed back the drapes to let the sun come in that I might have accidently brushed him aside to his demise. I wonder if he would have survived in an inside environment even though he had lithops to be with. I wonder if his natural life span came to an end.

As I write, I see out my window hummingbirds going from one flower to another even when it’s late December in California. If we didn’t have such Mediterranean climate, the hummingbirds would have gone someplace else.

It’s been said that the flutter of a butterfly’s wings affects the weather on the other side of the world. I confess that my pushing back of the window drapes may have caused the death of my pet bug. One discipline of life is to pay attention and become aware of how our actions affect the world around us regardless of how big or small these actions may be.

Every kind word we say adds to the hearer’s life. Every piece of litter we pick up on a trail beautifies God’s creation. Every stranger we meet brings the human family closer together. Every time a man speaks up against sexual harassment and assault another woman is fulfilling her dream. Every time I call out against injustice I am a more faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Imagine the healing and reconciliation we can do when we take responsibility for our actions and mindful of the blessings or injuries our actions can do to others.

Being on top of the food chain or believing that we are more superior to any other living life form on this planet requires us to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

During this holiest of seasons as the result of God’s coming in love and mercy, may we all sing joy to the world for the Lord has come! Christ is born we have hope. God acted and the result is we are saved. Be Christmas presents today to bring peace in the world. Merry Christmas!


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