Guest speaker Jeff Louie compels us to make changes through the power of Christ.
It is always good to be at Cornerstone. I was telling some of the attendees, I guess that’s what you’re officially known as, how I pick up the vibe of San Francisco and this free-spiritedness. I feel very relaxed here, almost too relaxed actually, a little dangerously relaxed. I have to calm myself down. Just with a little mental sedative on myself. I always like when Pastor Terry says, oh, it’s an update. I’ve got to do a clothing thing. If you notice my shoes, this is actually the first day I’m wearing these stylish numbers. I like to save money. It’s expensive living in the Bay Area. So when I’m at Skechers, I always buy two pairs of shoes because the first one’s full price, but the second one’s 50% off. So that’s the financial tip of the day, the second one’s a day off. Even if you don’t like them, buy them, because you’re saving 50%. You got to do that.
There are big changes that have happened in my family life. Changes that are probably greater than some of the changes of the years that I’ve been here and shared. The first one involved my daughter, her husband, and their three children, my three grandchildren. He works for the government and put in a request to be transferred to another country for a number of years. He put it this way, he just needed a spark in his life, a little change. He thought it was a long shot. You say how long? Think the odds of the Cavaliers defeating the Warriors, ain’t going to happen. That long. It’s going to take everyone getting injured on the Warriors, hamstrings everyone. But he got it. He found out on June 6th that he got the position. It’s a big change. A big change because next summer for three years he’s going to be in the Far East. It’s kind of sad for me because they have three of my grandchildren. They live about 50 minutes from where we live in the Bay.
The older you are, the faster time moves. Really, when you’re in your thirties you can’t wait until you are 35 to 38. Big deal, nothing happens. But when you’re older, every year in relationships become dearer and dearer. It’s like dog life, one year is seven years, it’s sort of like that. My wife, big change for my wife too. This is all recent. This all happened this week. This Friday was her last day of being a public school teacher. She was an elementary school teacher. All my children and her coworkers came and we had lunch and then my kids stayed over. My wife is taking early retirement and it sort of felt like it was needed. I got her a mug and it said, Goodbye tension, Hello, pension on the mug. I’m a romantic at heart. What can I say? It’s Amazon, free shipping, what do you want? But it’s a big change. It’s a big change when you retire from a job. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to work in another job, but it’s a big change.
My wife needed it as a spark because teaching in public school can be a grind. If any of you are teachers, for public and elementary school teachers, it’s a grind. She needed to change to give a spark in life. Now for me, what’s interesting is that Pastor Terry introduced me as someone who was a pastor in San Francisco. Then, I was now a Professor of Theology. The next time I speak here, which will be in August of this year, put it down in your calendar, I’m going to be a pastor again. It wasn’t something I was looking for, but I’ll be pastoring somewhere in Silicon Valley. It’s a big change for someone who’s of more vintage years. People say, “Well, why are you doing it?” You had an easy job being a professor of graduate school. Because graduate school’s easy compared to public school teaching, I’ll tell you that. This was easy. I said, “I don’t know. I just feel like I want to go back to it.” I emailed one of my friends and told him about it. He says, “Welcome back to the trenches.” Because I like that type of interaction with people more.
Everyone needs a change in their life, a spark. I just want to tell you, especially if you live in California, we get bored every two years, we get really bored. We need a spark. That’s just the way we are, especially if you’re a millennial, you need a spark even more. You need a spark all the time. That’s how society is. That’s what we are. It sometimes can energize us. So you see change as energy to pursue something new, to give you a lift in life. Now the issue is, how does one who seeks to follow Christ, allow Christ to make these spark changes in our own journey with God. You may not be moving. You may not be retiring, though you wish you were retired. You might not be changing jobs, but how can you get the spark? I love the theme that Cornerstone has, the spark, putting the life of Christ, the faith into your life.
We’re going to look at three different scenarios, three different areas of life. We’re going to see how Christ can be a change agent in each and every one of our lives. I have three passages. They’re in your program. The first one’s found in the book of Ephesians 4:23-28. I’m going to read that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind and put on the new self, which is the likeness of God that has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Now, this is the overall picture of what Jesus wants us to be, to be a reflection of what we can be in Christ, a newness, rather than the old, old Jeff. New Skechers doesn’t hurt anybody. But think not just Skechers. The inward being. That is a huge make-over. That really is the desire and the will of God for each and every one of us.
With that overarching truth, the apostle Paul, in this letter will now describe the first three applications of this truth. It’s very surprising because as I put on the new self, you pray more, you read the Bible more, you’ll be more caring to people, you’ll attend church more and stuff like that. These are all good things, but it’s not how the apostle Paul immediately applies this new self passage. How he applies it is very surprising. Verses 25-28, “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you to his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” He’s not talking about praying, though praying is very good. He’s not talking about reading the Bible, reading the Bible is very good. It’s talking about lying. I have to be my new self, give some spiritual things, and go on a mission trip.
The second one’s very interesting and moves from verbal abuse, lying to get ahead, or throwing someone under the bus to verse 26, “Be angry and do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger and do not give the devil an opportunity.” From verbal into internal, emotional, turmoil within yourself. There is no actual application if you don’t reign in your anger and your turmoil, what it will do. It just says, you need to reign it in, because if you don’t, you’re going to give the devil an opportunity. What does that mean? It’s very interesting. This is the one in the middle that the application is not that clear.
The third one is verse 28. “He who steals must steal no longer, but rather he must labor performing with his own hands what is good, so that he may have something to share with one who has need.” Now what’s very interesting, these first three, following this overarching verse about putting on the new self, have in common the theme of the spark in changing ourselves, to change ourselves. Each one of us has this propensity to sometimes abuse people. I know you always tend to abuse the people that are closest to you and the ones you love. Strangers, yeah, you’re really nice to them. People you love, then you abuse them.
This was never the intent of Christ. It was to change us from being abuse agents into agents of grace. The last one is about stealing, the same thing. But instead of verbal, it’s actually monetary self-gain and taking advantage of people. It has to do with the personal arena. Before you think about change as doing something great for God or achieving something for God, that’s too American. Achieve something. You want to let Christ be a change agent within you. That middle one is the most interesting for me. Let’s spend some time talking about it. “Be angry, do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” Anger. As Pastor Terry mentioned in his opening prayer about how there is a spate of people taking their lives in American culture. This week two icons of American culture took their own lives, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. People ask, “What do you think about it, Jeff?” I get very sad, I get very sad. The reason I’m sad, it’s very interesting why I’m sad. It’s because I have a tendency to be a sad person.
This week with my daughter staying at our house, they’re at our house right now, I’m giving up being with them to be with you folks. She discovered this week, this personality test, called Enneagram, E-N-N-E-A-G- R-A-M. You go online, Google it, Enneagram test, you go for the free version. Don’t pay for it. There are a lot of free versions. I’m always trying to save you money all the time. You could pay for rent, get the free version. So she said I’m a four-wing three; four is an individualist. That explained why she was one of the tougher ones to raise of my daughters. A three means she has bent on achieving in order to get acceptance, which made her a little neurotic, I think.
She had my wife take it and she came out to be a three-wing two. She’s not an individualist. My wife is an achiever. Then she had my other daughter take it. She also has a three-wing two, which is an achiever. Well, of course, Dad’s got to take it. So I took it. I’m a four-wing five. When I told my daughter that a four is like her, we finally understood each other. We made peace because both she and I are individualists, believe it or not. That’s why when Pastor Terry introduced me, he said, Pastor Jeff or Jeff Louie has a unique perspective about him. The word unique is in caps. Unique perspective, I’ve always been unique. I’ve always felt very different. We had a common meal with everybody yesterday and we were talking about this Enneagram. Everyone that got the healthy numbers. So as I talked to the other one who’s a four, I said, “So who do we match up well with?” Because of these pairings, fish, what kind of wine do you get? So the pairings. She said to me, “No one.” I Said, “It’s got to be someone.” It’s no one because we’re individualists. We take 10 to think inwardly. Because we tend to think inwardly, we’re prone to sadness because we are the most introspective of all the numbers.
It made a lot of sense in my life why I was like that. Why I’m still prone to that. For me, it’s part of my personality, my proneness to sadness. For others, it might be tragedies that occurred in your life. For others, it might be genetics. There are probably a dozen reasons why people are prone to sadness. What I do know is that there are a lot of articles about it becoming an epidemic in American culture today. I had nothing to do this week, so I read the Center of Disease Control paper on the top causes of death. I have nothing to do. I’m an individualist. You guys are watching TV. I’m reading CDC reports. You got a problem with that. I hope you don’t. Well, the word is, that taking your own life has risen to number 10 of causes of death in Americans. If you take out young kids 13 and under, and you take out 45 and over, doing harm to yourself and taking your life is the second cause of death amongst that age group. If you go one over into the adult, it drops from two to three. So young kids actually skew the number, which means in a group this size, maybe 20% of you, 25 are sad, and maybe single digits really sad. That’s the numbers. That’s the numbers, and this week Kate Spade took her life. Anthony Bourdain took his life.
I’m very sad, but they also represent not just what’s happening amongst celebrities, but what’s across America. Here’s something I know though. It is not the purpose of God and of Christ for us to stay this way. I will always be a four, individualist. I’ll always preach the way I preach. If you don’t like it, I won’t preach. I’m not going to change. It’s the way I am. There’s a rebel within me. But you know what? I have learned to allow Christ to uplift my spirit in joy and peace. That is what God needs to do for all of us. So that we are angry, misunderstood, or confused, but we don’t allow it to overwhelm us and let a transcendent peace of God reign over your life and lift you up. Perhaps that is the word that God would have you hear today. That would be it. Imagine if you can change or exchange your sadness for a degree of peace. Wow. I believe that Christ can do that because I’m living proof.
The second, Ephesians 6:5-9. “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters, according to the flesh and with fear and trembling and the sincerity of your heart as to Christ, not by way of eyeservice as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill when their service as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free and masters do the same things to them and give up threatening, knowing that both their masters and yours in heaven and there is no partiality with him.”
Now I always got to tell, we talk about slavery is that the gospel of Christ, the grace of Christ can live, can exist in any situation. Part of this was inherited as the Roman system of slavery. You also must understand that according to the Old Testament law, any type of slavery that evolved abduction of people was a crime punishable by death. That was totally unallowed, as in Exodus 21. But just to go back. This passage talks about work, socioeconomics and it applies to every generation and every age. Whether you are living in the exact same details of a Roman type of culture or an American type of culture. What this is saying is that Christ can bring a spark to your workplace. Either you as a worker, manager, or owner because in Christ, the purpose of God as work is not just to make money or to make the most money. Or to cash out so you could buy four pairs of Skechers, but to understand that in our work we serve Christ and that there is no partiality with Him.
Workplace abuse is getting big news today. Hollywood big, politics big, Silicon Valley big, and male-dominant sort of geekdom. Now there’s abuse, not just of workers, but abuse of people who get their services. Facebook, what they do with your information and the abuse of that. Here’s the thing. It was not the vision of Christ that you would just be another cog in industry. It was the purpose of Christ that you would make a difference because you understand the big theological picture of humanity, that there is no partiality with God. So within Christians, as you grow, there should be no ethnic bias. There should be no gender bias because there is no partiality with God. That is what we need in this culture, this society. We, having the advantage of the Holy Spirit and of the changing aspect of Christ in our lives, should be a testimony and manifestation of that in this world that desperately needs it. I have to go to the end because I want to have an extended time of prayer.
The third category is in I Timothy 6:17-19. “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, and to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.” Here’s a whole different category of people. Be the people who have the talent, the money, and the time. If you have the talent and you have the money and you have the time, Paul puts you in a third category of what that spark of Christ can do with you. You do it for the good of humanity. Live your life for the good of humanity, not to enjoy just simple life. It’s not that you don’t enjoy life, because Paul says He’s given us all things to enjoy. But in the midst of all things to enjoy, of course, I know the more money you have, the more things you can enjoy, but instruct them to do good. Be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share. Some of you are in that position. You have the talent, you have the wealth and you have the time. And what God has put in front of you is an ability to use the talent, the money, and the time for the good of people around you.
About 20 years ago, my church did something very unusual. We were getting into social justice about 20 years ago. There was a little unknown organization that was having a fundraiser in the City of San Francisco. They were having it for the first time. It was an International Justice Mission. Believe it or not, in that fundraiser, Arch, my church in San Francisco, purchased half the tables at I believe $2,000 a table. We said, we’re going to buy $20,000 worth of tables, which meant I sat at the high rollers table. I just want to tell you, I sat at a table with this person that you’re going to see, Gary Haugen, CEO, and Founder of International Justice Missions. He was relatively unknown back then 20 years ago. He was a Harvard graduate. So that puts him in a different league. My parents never went to college. They’re just happy we went to any college, let alone Harvard. Gary went to the University of Chicago Law School. He worked for the Department of Justice in Washington. Back then it had a better reputation, now it’s getting a little sketchy. Who’s leaking? I don’t know who he is, but back then it was more honorable. Gary gave it up and founded this organization. I remember him sharing that he started in the garage of his home in the DC area.
This is how the Wikipedia entry of Gary Haugen describes him. You know, if it’s not in Wikipedia, it’s not true. So if it is, then of course, it’s true. It says, “Haugen is an engaged Christian since founding the International Justice Mission in 1997. He has described witnessing a sea of change within the Christian community that was once largely disengaged from the struggle for justice in this world. But now views care for victims of injustice as a significant issue in faith. Inspired by the work of historical leaders, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa, as well as contemporary Christians in seeking justice for the oppressed, Haugen founded IJM on the principle of Isaiah 1:17, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Though it is a faith-based organization, he makes no bones about it. We are Christians. Though it is a faith-based organization, IJM protects the poor from violence without regard to religion, race, or any other factor and they seek to partner with all people of goodwill.” I sat next to him. I shook his hand. I’ve never washed my hands since. So my hand’s a little dirty, you look a little closer. It was indeed an honor to sit next to him and to see how the organization has grown. I think it was the first organization that got a donation from Google. It was very interesting that Google gave a donation to this organization, millions of dollars.
There are many people who are intelligent. Many people who are so intelligent could go to the best schools in this world. There are many people who have good jobs. How many of these people can get a spark that I believe is from Christ and the Spirit to take what is of great prestige and honor in this world and use it for the common good of man. That’s the life of Gary Haugen. Might be the life of one, two. I’ll just say if there was a half of one, that’d be great.
Christ can be a change agent wherever you are, whether you are a four and you wallow in introspection, allow Christ to be a change agent within. Whether you’re in the workplace, a cog in the wheel, to say that there is no partiality with God so give up threatening, man, give it up, man. If you have the ability to change your work life, give it up. That is what the scripture says, because all these applications are outside of the church, into the real world. Some of you are really talented. Maximize your talent.
I have friends, I asked them for advice when I was thinking about going back to be a pastor, and some of them were questioning. They said, “Your life is good. Teaching is easy. Look, you’re 62. You look really young because you’re Asian, but you’re 62. You’re about to retire.” Yeah, I could see the finish line, let’s say. I got 10 miles to go, but I could see it. I could see it. Then why do you want to? Pastoring is more difficult. I love it. I love meeting with people, even as an individualist. I want to maximize my life. I’m not crazy. Am I crazy? I might be. But I told a dear friend. I said, “It’s the oddest thing. Why would a major church in the Silicon Valley hire a near retiring short Asian male?” I don’t know. You tell me. But you know what? It’s been a great ride in Christ and I’m going to end with even a greater ride. You need to do that too. The journey with Christ, as you ebb and flow in the decisions and changes in your life, don’t shut Christ out, you’re not perfect. You got anger problems, you got verbal abuse problems like they all had in the early church. Let Christ in and to spark you, that’s a great ride.
Allow me to pray for you. Our heavenly Father, I pray for my friends at Cornerstone. I indeed call them friends. Wherever we are, whether we deal with sadness, which is probably the majority of things that we have to deal with for the majority of people here. Uplift them, allow no harm to come upon them, and have them exchange to whatever process is needed. I won’t go through how it actually works, but give them a sense of joy and peace that transcends understanding, what the world needs today. Make these people buck the trend in America, through Christ. For those in the workplace, no partiality, fight abuse. For those special people who can dictate how they’re going to do life, let them invest largely to be great sparks in this world, to bring a sense of grace and goodness to a fallen world that desperately needs you. Allow us all to end well, allow us all to finish the race, allow us all to be transformed by the grace that you have given to us. Spark that faith into something that the world will see that is so gloriously different that it would draw people to you. We pray this in the name of our Lord. Amen.