Listen with Both Ears

Another election has come and gone and it seems the political arena is more divided than ever. I saw a commercial that explicitly advertised, “Vote Republican”. It wasn’t about a particular candidate, it was promoting a political party. I often bounce between both conservative and liberal media sources to attempt to sort through the rhetoric. In doing so I see clearly how one can easily be swayed if you only hear one side.

Same is true in our churches and theological debates that have been ensuing for years. Both ends of the theological debate have convincing arguments. If we are deaf to one side and only hear the other, we quickly create a divided environment. Politics, theology, economics, education…there are many areas of life that can foster polarization if we only hear one side. We become convinced we and our side are absolutely correct.

In the midst of this reflection I got news that a dear friend and mentor passed away. Tim Morita was an accomplished member of the military and retired as a high ranking Navy chaplain. He also had one of the greatest pastoral hearts that I have known. I learned a lot working under him. He was a good man, generous and humble. These things I can say in complete sincerity, even though we never saw eye to eye all the time. I’m certain I drove him crazy with my questioning and strong opinions. We had many disagreements, but I came to respect the fact that he was always listening, with both ears. I had some strong views of the church and the issue we are facing as the church. We disagreed on a lot of it. After he retired from Olivet, he gave me a call. In visiting other churches he told me, “I see what you are talking about now.” We had several conversations after he retired and I was looking forward to our next one in December when he was supposed to return to Hawaii.

As I think about it, many of my mentors hold very different views than I do. Tim Morita, Larry Smith, Glenn Harada and many others. We see things differently, but they listened with both ears. They could hear both sides of the debate and respectfully hold to what they believed. That’s something I treasure and hope to reflect one day. I hope I will always be able to listen with both ears and make my decisions on what I hear on both sides, like my mentors do, like Tim did well.

I will always remember vividly my three children running to the door at the end of the hall. “Pastor Tim!!!”, with their tiny hands and faces pressed against the glass door. Then Tim pulling up a chair to offer up jelly beans and a great big smile.

I’ll see you again, at the end of the hall. Door wide open, just like your heart. -jason

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Pick Up Your Poop

Pick Up Your Poop

One peaceful afternoon, at a little cafe in Sausalito, I sat with some friends and a man walked by with his dog. As he safely passed out of earshot, Elijah said, “I wonder who’s the master?” Just then the dog stopped to do his business and his “master” bent over to pick it up. We all chuckled.

As a dog owner myself I often feel like my dog really owns me. As much as I loathe it, when I walk my dog, I pick up his poop. Unfortunately, there are some who do not. In our neighborhood I have seen large piles of poop left behind in people lawns and even one right in front of our driveway. In an effort to remedy this, people have put up signs, both handmade and store bought. When I have picked up my dogs poop I have had cheerful comments from neighbors, ‘Thanks for picking that up!”

Dogs are our personal pets, our own preferences and our responsibilities, but when we leave the poop behind, we affect others around us.

Reminds me of the “dogs” we walk in our lives. When we have a hard day at work, or we have a fight with our spouse, maybe someone cuts you off on the road and we walk that “dog” into the rest of our neighborhood. We leave the poop behind in other people’s lawns. We are short with our family members, we snarky with the sales clerk, we put in danger other drivers on the road when we drive recklessly.

Our dogs, our responsibilities, they leave their poop behind, but we can pick it up and dispose of it properly. Pull over, take a breath. Pray. Do something fun. Treat yourself to your favorite snack. Call a trusted friend. Whatever you do, be the master of your “dogs”, don’t let them master you. Pick up your poop. -jason

Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories

In a recent conversation with friends we were talking about ghosts. One friend admitted his skepticism toward ghost sightings. Two others shared stories to try to convince him otherwise. It appeared the skepticism was not toward a spiritual reality, or even the potential for us to experience it, it was the validity of human account.

Understandable. Seems everyone has a ghost story to tell. Either a personal experience, or a family member, or your fourth grade teacher’s husband’s uncle’s co-worker’s best friend’s ex-girlfriend. We embrace these stories. We love to sit around and tell these stories. During this time of the year the horror movies emerge and the crowds will flock to theaters for a good scare. Perhaps we love a good scare so much that the conjuring of ghosts and spirits are harvested from our own imaginations.

This does not surprise me. I see the same thing in our churches and in Christianity as a whole. The theme of hope is foundational to the Christian gospel, as is the grace through faith that our hope rests in. Hope is something we all need whether we realize it or not. Issues arise when the hope distracts us from the source of hope. When we crave hope enough, we can create experiences that may not be there. Personal encounters with God that are derived of the mind. We want it so bad, we fabricate it, sometimes unknowingly.

Like ghost encounters, it’s impossible to place judgment on anyone’s personal experiences. Who are we to say that Person A is making it up, or Person B just had and episode of mild psychosis. Emotional charges, both positive and negative, can elicit such powerful desires that we have the potential to create experiences in which we feel them. Not necessarily a bad thing.

Unless…with the inability to indubitably determine what is true and what is false, we just turn people away from any form of belief. Skepticism grows as they are left wondering, “Did they REALLY experience that?” Despite the ambiguity of true experiences, it has been proven that some many have falsified personal claims. Cynicism is expected with an unfortunate history of a counterfeit God.

We encounter people that pray off of these strong desires for supernatural experiences. Whether it is a promise of a ghost encounter or a surge of the Holy Spirit into your life, con artists are out their manufacturing experiences to take your money.

The unfortunate reality is that many will be left without the truth because of the apprehension toward those who misrepresent with warped realities. Like with ghosts we have a culture that identifies as “spiritual” and some that acknowledge their is a higher being, but never really get to know much more. There is so much more to learn about the God of all Creation. The Lord of Salvation that laid His life down for us. The Holy Ghost that speaks to us today. We don’t know what to really believe, so we will leave it as emotionally charged stories. A subject that’s fun to talk about, but saved for special occasions. With respect for others it’s good for them to believe, it’s just not for me. All the while we miss out on a fantastic truth that Jesus in His grace is calling you to know Him more. The good news of Jesus Christ is no ghost story.  -jason

Why?

Why?

When I was in high school I was not a good student, at all. I remember once my dad offering to get me a used car if I got honor roll. This was not an offer one would expect from my father. Seems he knew me better than I knew myself.

Two weeks into the semester I started to question my efforts. “Well…I don’t really need a car. I can just catch a ride with my friends!” Why was I working toward honor roll? For a car. The car was my “why”, it wasn’t very strong for me.

My academic efforts are laughable compared to the students I work with now. Their schedules, their class load, the extra curricular activities, it’s pretty extraordinary what these kids do. As amazing as they are, they still get overwhelmed. Many students have filtered into my office in tears and distress over the work they are putting in. I don’t blame them, it’s a lot! When they come in I have been asking them what their “why” is. “Why did you choose this school?” “Why are you working so hard?” Often they are unsure. I get vague answers like, “Get a good education”, “Go to a good college”, all good things, but not very specific and not very convincing. When I talk with them through it, some seem to have a revelation or reassurance of why they are doing what they are doing. They have a renewed sense of purpose in work they are pouring themselves into.

Even as adults we can just plow through life, caught in the routine and absent of the sense of why we wake up every morning and do what we do. It’s also possible that our “why” has changed. The world around us can be convincing like that. Why are you working 80 hours a week? Why are you living in debt? Why are you so busy with activities? Why do you live where you live? Why do you do what you do?

I’m convinced that when we understand why we do what we do, truly why, it drives us through the hard times. When we remember why we set our goals and why our lives are headed in the direction they are, there’s meaning and purpose.

Whether you need to figure out the “why” or remember the “why”, take some time and think about it. Stop wandering aimlessly or allowing other people to determine your direction. Establish your “why”. -jason

 

W.M.D. – Word of Mass Destruction

W.M.D. – Word of Mass Destruction

Weapons of Mass Destruction is a general term that defines any device that can cause widespread death and destruction. This term probably became most used in recent history by the Bush administration in the lead up to the 2nd Gulf War.

In 2003 the Iraq War was sparked by military intelligence that claimed the existence of weapons of mass destruction. After the horrifying events of the 9/11 attacks, you can imagine fear and suspicions are heightened. In 2011 after years of combat and many deaths, there was no evidence of WMD. President Bush suffered politically, military intelligence suffered publicly and worse, many families suffered personally.

Really, the War in Iraq was just fuel for a greater WMD, Words of Mass Destruction.

Watching recent events have me concerned. Political parties are so divided. Below there is a graph on the movement of our two major political parties in our country.

One article I read suggests the increasing polarity is due to a stronger ideological focus in politics. Now party alignment determines ones set of ideologies and that determines if you are a friend or an enemy. Division becomes more polarized. The battle between them is mostly with words, but the words they use are deadly. Consider Proverbs 21:18,

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue…”

This war of words between politicians then gets bolstered by political analyst. Citizens then watch CNN or FOX and become infected with words and bring the battle into their homes and into their workplace. I was sitting in the hot tub with a couple co-workers when a political science professor walked in and started off with, “Are you following the story on the judge???” Here we go…

Physical death is terrible, acts of violence and terror are extremely tragic and should never happen. What’s worse is what the acts of the flesh do to the state of the heart, and its often words that spreads it. Ephesians 6:12 teaches us:

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Such things of the flesh like sexual immorality and murder are egregious, but the words that follow these events are what lead to a corruption of the heart. The words we use can aim to kill.

Unfortunately, I have been both a victim and offender of harmful words. There are moments in my life I wish I could take back, but I can’t. We can only hope our hurtful words have not shaped the heart. When it does it can spread into the masses.

One Word is given to us for healing. Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. This is the one Word, no matter the speakers intention, is a healing word of truth. When Paul is imprisoned and writing to the church in Philippi he hears that his imprisonment and the reason for his imprisonment is becoming widely known. He says:

“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

This is the Word of God:

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”

Words can create destruction that is eternal. Be mindful of your words. Be aware of the destruction they can bring. Understand how your words can spread and cause mass destruction or bring life. Protect your heart from the words meant to destroy. -jason

 

It’s Tough to Be Me

It’s Tough to Be Me

At 6 feet tall, 230 lbs, and a shaved head, I have come to realize, I’m just not that tough. Most of my life I tried to be. It was a trait that seemed desirable for men. When we look at movies and television, the leading man is tough. In magazines and advertisement, the model is portrayed as tough. Sports stars are all really tough guys. So, I wanted to be tough also.

In college I was at the mall with my friend’s girlfriend and she saw a guy who owed her money. I offered to approach him about it. Trying to be as tough as I could the guy asked my friend, “Am I supposed to be afraid of this guy?” Ha! I’m no tough guy, not even close.

When I try to be someone I am not, there are problems that arise. First off, I can’t be comfortable being me and being the person that God created me to be.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10.

Once you really get to know me, you know I am a pretty goofy guy. I also have a lot of quirks, I’m pretty uncoordinated, and I my humor is pretty lame. With all of those “deficits” I am happy being me. I’ve also come to know that the people that love me, love me best when I am just myself.

The other problem is that you cannot enjoy certain things to it’s fullest. I love football and I wish I played. I was afraid I wasn’t tough enough, so I never played. I have tattoos, but it took me a while because I thought only tough guys could get tattoos. The military always intrigued me, but I got in way too late in life.

We can get so easily persuaded to be someone we are not. We might be tempted to pretend to be tougher than we are, or smarter than we are, or more wealthy than we are, but if it is someone we are not, we will not be happy. We cannot be happy if we are trying to be someone we are not.

In a world where perception drives our actions, it can be tough to be you…or maybe to be you is not to be tough. I’m not a tough guy, I’m okay with that. I know that when I am the person that the Lord made me to be, that is all I need to be. Be the person God has created you to be. You were created for GOOD works in Christ Jesus. -jason

Musubi Maker

Musubi Maker

I grew up thinking everyone loved SPAM. As a kid I loved SPAM and eggs for breakfast. In Hawaii, you can even get SPAM at McDonald’s. SPAM chopped up and put into fried rice can be served at any meal. When I was in college I would chop up SPAM, fry it and mix it in with Mac ‘n Cheese. Delicious, right??

As I got older I learned not everyone liked SPAM. In fact, I discovered that most people on the mainland thought it was downright disgusting! A friend just shared about a game they would play in their youth group where they had to pass SPAM the the next person with their necks! What a waste of SPAM!!

When I was in seminary we had an event where students would represent their countries with food. We students from he “country” of Hawaii were invited to have a table. What better to pass out than SPAM musubi!  A block of rice, a fried piece of marinaded SPAM, all wrapped in a piece of seasoned seaweed. People looked at it and cringed. “SPAM!?!?!” Then they took one…many came back and asked for another. SPAM musubi was a hit and we sold out quick.

Since being back in Hawaii I have been noticing that many that would normally not eat SPAM, will eat SPAM musubi. Even Emily has developed cravings for it.

Amazing that you can take something that is undesirable and transform it into something people crave. It’s all about that transformation. A balance of ingredients, the way it’s presented and an open mind.

In a similar way there are things in life that are undesirable. Chores, criticism, work, and many more things, these are just not usually desirable. So how do you transform it? Perhaps making a game out of chores, make it a competition. Criticism can be better received and effective if partnered with a plan for improvement. Building around a persons strengths as opposed to focusing on weaknesses can make a healthier team.

Be a musubi maker. Find ways to make things that may seem undesirable, something that people will enjoy. Also, eat more SPAM. -jason

 

Puzzled

Puzzled

As we waited in suspense for Hurricane Lane to arrive, Emily thought it would be a good idea to work on a puzzle. Our activities would be limited.

After an initial wave of excitement from the family, everyone was over it. I think 1,000 pieces was just a little too overwhelming. The best next step would probably have been to pack it up and put it in the closet. It was just too hard for me to leave it unfinished.

Over the next week I sat at that puzzle during the evenings and plugged away at it. Every day I wondered why I was wasting my time doing this and contemplated just putting it away. No, I have to finish.

The thing about puzzles is, the more you put the pieces together, the clearer the picture. The clearer the picture the more you want to work on it. It’s as if the puzzle itself inspires you to keep going when you focus on the larger picture. As you get closer and closer to the end and the picture comes into focus, others are more excited to get involved. Part of the excitement comes when the remaining pieces are much easier to put into place. In the end the final picture is beautiful and celebrated.

There may be things in life that are puzzling. It’s discouraging and overwhelming to work on. Everything inside you wants to give up. When there are pieces everywhere it is overwhelming. You just can’t see how this picture will ever work out.

Take it one piece at a time. As you fit them into place you will begin to see the picture. As the picture comes into focus you will find encouragement to move forward. It might be you that will help others see the bigger picture. When they see it, they will be excited to jump in, maybe even finish the puzzle for you.

In many ways I feel like that even in my relationship with Jesus. There are pieces of Jesus in my life. I know what the picture is supposed to look like (the picture on the box is like the Bible). Sometimes I get so distracted and want to give up. Then I piece just fits and the picture becomes clearer. I’m motivated to see the bigger picture. Then I get discouraged again. If it was up to my own effort, I’d have given up a long time ago. It’s as if the puzzle gives me motivation to keep going. When I can see the bigger picture coming into focus I want to put more of the pieces together. I can’t wait to see the final product. I can’t wait to celebrate the beauty of the whole picture.

What ever you are puzzled by, keep pushing forward. See the bigger picture and move forward one piece at a time. In the end you’ll be glad you did as you celebrate the final product. -jason

 

 

 

 

Learning to Receive

It has been two months now at my new job and I am excited about my work here.

When I applied for this job I figured it was a shot in the dark. We applied our son to Kindergarten and I went online to apply for financial aid. I saw the EMPLOYMENT link and a counselor position and thought, “Why not?”

Later I told Emily that I applied and assured her I would not get hired. An institution like `Iolani will certainly pursue someone with more experience and education. To my surprise, I was offered the job. Over the last two months I have been still in disbelief that I was hired here.

A couple weeks ago during Sunday worship we sang the hymn, “I Stand Amazed in the Presence”, written by Charles Gabriel. When we got to the chorus, “how marvelous, how wonderful is my Saviors love for me”, I began to reflect on just how marvelous it is. The thought was overwhelming. Then I realized through that moment of epiphany, I struggle to receive that. The reality of how undeserving I am to receive God’s love overshadows the fact that despite what is deserved, God’s grace and mercy pours out His love on me. It’s a gift from the Lord, gifts are not earned. In that revelation I felt absolutely free. I felt vulnerable, but a necessary vulnerability to allow God’s love to flow through me.

God revealed a broader understanding to me that morning. I struggle to receive love from others. I’m a skeptic. In my mind there is always an angle, there is always an agenda. This keeps me on my guard and when my guard is up, I am unable to receive love that is given. When I cannot receive, it’s difficult to freely give.

When the Bible talks about a faith like a child, I think of how my kids freely receive our love. There is no condition and no questioning the love that is given. You grow older and the people that take advantage of innocence sow seeds of mistrust in us. We can’t help but put up our guards. We narrow the input of love in our lives.

If we are able to accept love and kindness from others, not because we deserve it, but because it is truly a gift, we free ourselves up to give. In my job I see how I have been very limited because I’m trapped in my thinking that, “I don’t belong here.” In my marriage I see how I can shutdown because I can question the motives of my spouse. In my parenting I can get frustrated easily because I can look past the simple innocence of love that is given. In my friendships I can see how I can shut people out because I don’t believe they would really want to be my friend. Most critically I am unable to really be transformed and shine the light of Jesus to the world because I feel like I need to earn it from God.

When we can learn to receive from others freely and without judgment, we can give to others freely and without judgment. -jason

 

Hurricane Warning

Hurricane Lane came barreling toward the island state of Hawaii. An intense Category 5 Major Hurricane presented potentially catastrophic outcomes.

If you have lived in Hawaii for any significant amount of time, you likely have been around during some natural disaster warnings. Tsunami threats and hurricane/storm warnings are not uncommon. When these things happen, people start to prepare.

When I went to Costco there was a pallet of about 20 cases of water left. An employee was standing there loading the water into carts for customers limiting everyone to two cases. I stopped to get gas and there was only diesel and regular grade left, the lines were long. Everyone was preparing, and that is a good thing. Always be prepared.

There is a parable in the Bible that Jesus tells regarding the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven upon the earth. In this parable of the ten virgins, they are waiting for the bridegroom to arrive. They have lamps so that they will be able to participate in the celebration of the wedding feast between the bride (the Church) and the Bridegroom (Jesus Christ). Five of those virgins did not bring extra oil and therefore were unable to participate when the bridegroom arrived. (Matthew 25)

In the chapter preceding this one, Jesus gives the background to the need for this parable. Enraged with the Pharisees, He tells his disciples whats to come: 

“Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.”

This is just a sample of the signs of what is to come, the return of the Lord.

The Christian understanding is that we are all prone to turn from God. That’s just our nature. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the redeeming of many who He has called back to Him. In the end a storm is coming. There will be destruction, but those who are prepared will live.

Like a natural disaster, we should always be prepared, not just at the last minute. With the return of Jesus, we are already seeing the effects of the storm and we already have heralds proclaiming the coming storm. Will you be prepared?

Hurricane Lane has not passed us yet. We are not yet in the clear. The damage from heavy rains are already being broadcast on the news. Pray that it might move on with minimal further damage. This storm will eventually pass, but consider the spiritual storm that is brewing in our world. Be prepared, there is only one shelter available for this storm. -jason