Pastor Anh Truong shares his story and how he models his life of serving the community after the truest example of sacrificial service - Jesus.
Grace and PCU, welcome to Cornerstone. Don’t worry. You came at the right time. Usually, I host you at the beginning of service. My name is Ahn Truong. We are so delighted to have you with us for a Sunday service. We know that the last couple of months, it’s been really limiting how can we gather. Most of you are used to going to the Riordan campus, the Mission campus. I just miss seeing you all in general, in-person. Wherever you’re gathering with us, either in your house, maybe the Sunday it’s in a different part of your home or you’re in different parts of San Francisco, a different county, a different state, or even a different country. I’ve been joining our post-service chats on Zoom, and it’s been amazing to see how people have been viewing us from Montreal, Canada to Dubai. Is that crazy, Dubai?
I’m new to our church. I’m new to our community. I’m new to the pastoral staff, as a community catalyst pastor. What I get a chance to do is to love our community, to enhance it, to bless it, to push people to fellowship, camaraderie, to be in a community with Jesus. I can’t think of a better way to serve you. It’s been a joy to do that. Pre COVID, I got a chance to serve with so many of you from our Sunday services, our pre-marriage courses, even joining with you on our SF food banks. But post-COVID, it’s been crazy just to find ways to be a community online, from our community chats, from our club 456, Thursday lunches, and a plethora of ways that we are trying to engage with you as a community. It is hard, but that’s where life is not new, life is old.
For all of us here, where are you in our life? What’s a word that can best describe how you are feeling? Maybe that word changes every minute, every hour, every day, every week, every month. We want you to know that we’re doing life together right now. All of us are. For some of you, life is great right now. You’re actually doing well, overcoming things, and learning new ways to live. For some of you, it’s been such a headache, you’re lamenting, it’s been challenging. There’re so many different expressions of it. We want you to know that we acknowledge it, that we want to be with you. We’re currently on a series called up and over to overcoming life in faith. Today I know most of you might feel that you’re not going up and over, you’re going back and down. That life right now, it’s just so confusing.
But I want to say, thank you. Thank you for showing up. Thank you for being here right now. There is joy and hope because of you. Because of what God is doing right now for you to be present. I know the opposite is felt, that maybe there is the opposite of joy and hope. There’s discontentment and just being not connected. We all have faced or been in positions of both joy and hope, discontentment and disconnection. I want to say this, that we are here as a community. Pastor Terry asked me to come and share my faith story. What is a faith story? A faith story, it’s about how Jesus came to my life to have a personal relationship with him. I acknowledge that he died on the cross for my sins. Most of us have heard the gospel or the good news. Well, the good news is that Jesus came on earth to walk with us, to die for us, to have risen for us because He is our Lord and Savior and that we are worthy of why He sacrificed His life.
Today’s sermon is titled ‘serve.’ Speaking of serving, Pastor Terry has been serving our church, at Cornerstone, San Francisco for 30 years. Three decades of being in San Francisco, being a pillar, a shepherd, unwavering to the culture, and preaching the gospel. I just want to say, thank you so much for your leadership and who you are. This year, Pastor Terry and Pastor Sheryl have been married 36 years, with their four kids and one grandson. It’s a joy for us to see an example of the gospel, an example of faithfulness. Brisbane family, thank you so much. PT and Pastor Cheryl, you got married when I was two years old. I just want to throw it out there. I just want to say, will you pray with me church? Father, God, thank you for this time that we come before you. I acknowledge that you give us hope and joy through all seasons, despite what is going on in our world. There are some harsh realities, some evils out there, some things that we are such in despair for. May you rectify it. You show up. You give your grace and your mercy because you are good. Amen.
Growing up, dancing on my faith, I began to discover the Bible. What does scripture have to say about life? Someone gave me a Bible and said, I want you to open up to the gospels, right in the middle of the new testaments, and check out the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I want you to read it for yourself and see how God can speak to you about life. As I began to be intrigued by the words, I saw letters in red, and I said, who or why are these scriptures in red? Ahn, these are Jesus’ words. That intrigued me. One word that intrigued me the most was the word serve and servants. Why did Jesus come on earth to serve us? Why did he not seek us to serve him, but he became a servant to serve us? I began to be more intrigued. Today we’re going into the gospel of Mark 10:35-45. What happened was Jesus and his disciples have been healing, loving, caring, in all these different towns and cities they were going through on the way to Jerusalem. Jesus by then had already predicted his death two times. Here he is walking with his disciples to show them what does it mean to be a servant?
Then James and John, the son of Zebedee came to him, “Teacher,” they said, “We want you to do for us whatever we ask.” What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” The sons of thunder, whom Jesus called, were asking Jesus to say yes to a question that he hasn’t even heard yet. At this moment, Jesus is showing them his servanthood. This is how he replies, he says. “You don’t even know what you’re asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I’m baptized with?” These are two sacramental imagery that’s related to baptism and The Lord’s Supper. You see, we gather as a community, as a church because of the fellowship of Christ, what he did for us.
That’s why this is so important, why we serve Jesus. We serve a living God. They replied, “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You would drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit the right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they’ve been prepared.” When the 10 heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Now, the disciples were a band of brothers, a band of misfits serving one another, caring for one another, loving one another, but they also were very selfish. They wanted to serve themselves, to see the position of high rank, who could be the best with Jesus? Jesus said that to the left or right was not for him to say because it’s part of God’s plans. This is the first shout out between Jesus himself, between two sinners, to the left, and to the right when he was crucified.
You see, Jesus serves them despite the limited understanding of what Jesus is trying to do, trying to model servanthood to them. Jesus called them to gather and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” Jesus teaching about servanthood is so key right here. So the kingdom way was not to be first but to be a servant. Not just to be a servant, but lower than a servant, to be a slave. Jesus is talking about himself, that he’s preparing to serve, not his disciples, but to serve the world as a slave. Verse 45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” We’re going to come back to this verse, verse 45 when I camp out.
The words served, serve and ransom have left an imprint on my heart when I came to know the Lord. No one expected Jesus to come to be a servant, let alone to die as a ransom for the sins of the world. The word ransom means the price that was released. The disciples would, later on, become apostles and they would fully understand what it means to serve and to be a ransom for what Jesus did. Each of them will have their own faith story. Jesus doesn’t waste any life lessons. He teaches and demonstrates. The disciples would do the same. We have a chance to learn and do. This scripture to me, Jesus modeled for me how to be a servant. A faith story brings Jesus to life. In any story, there’s a climax part, where it reaches its high point, the turning point, the point at which the greatest suspense is.
For me, I want to share with you the climax of my faith story. Let me share with you my faith story. Growing up, I had a fancy for cars. I had this giant six-foot poster, a Ferrari Testarossa on my wall. It was six feet wide and it had a cherry red Ferrari Testarossa. It looked something like this model. My dad got me this when I was probably in third or fourth grade. I still have it. It’s missing windshield wipers and things are chipped and broken and it’s beautiful. I still have it today. I’m very blessed by that.
But usually, when I slept next to the poster, my door was open. Depending on how big the fight of my parents happening, the door is wider or more closed. My parents fought a lot. They fought verbally and physically. This fight on this particular night was different. My mom was yelling and hitting my dad. That never happened. What happened is that my dad gambled away our entire life savings. Every single cent of it to the point for us to be on the streets, losing our home because he was six months behind the mortgage that we didn’t pay. Mom was tucking me in. She was crying. I was crying. She told me that everything was going to be okay. I knew it was not going to be okay. Right then and there at that moment, I asked God, I prayed to Him and said, God, allow my family to be okay. I prayed in English and Vietnamese because I didn’t quite know if God understood my ethnic tongue or English. What came true of this request would take years. Years for me to see through God’s plans for me. I’m a refugee. I’m an immigrant. I grew up on welfare. I grew up with mice and cockroaches. I have learning disabilities that limit me.
I have a stutter. I have speech impairments. I grew up in the part of San Jose called the Eastside of San Jose where we called it the Hood. I’m a victim of physical and mental abuse. I’m a walking example of trauma and dysfunction. Growing up, my parents taught me how to lie, to steal, to hustle, to be indignant. While other parents were teaching their children to be respectful, to be kind, they taught me how to hustle, to cut corners, to take what I want, to steal it. My parents were selfish. They didn’t know any other way because no one served them. No one taught them. No one loved them.
So they just loved themselves and they did their best for their children. I drank from their fountain because there was no other fountain for me to learn, to grow from beside my parents. I knew there was more. I knew there was more. So by the time I was a senior in high school, my parents ended up in prison, my mom and my dad. How did it get to this point? I never once blamed them. I never once asked for help because I was so ashamed of who I was, of where my family was. This one day in high school, I get this really good deal. A two for one. A girl that I liked said, “If you want to be my boyfriend, get to know Jesus, then I’ll be your girlfriend.” I said, “that is a sweet deal. Yes.” Even though the relationship did not work out, my relationship with Jesus was the best part of the deal. I began to walk with Jesus in high school and into college. I began to understand what it means to see Jesus as a servant and why to serve Him because He served me well.
Fast forward to a month before I got married. I’m in the car with Troy. You don’t know who Troy is because Troy is my daddy. I called him daddy for all these years because of how much I loved him and cared for him, but I call him Troy now because how can a man who abused my mother, to our family, all the things that I can’t unsee or undo, how can I call him daddy? You’re just Troy. Your American name is just Troy. So Troy and I were in this car. I don’t know why we’re in this car. It was in a van; it was beaten up. The windows were locked up. It was hot and stuffy.
He turns to me and says, “Son, I love you so much. I’m so proud of you. You are getting married.” At that moment, God came down into my heart and said, “Ahn, you are going to reconcile and forgive your daddy.” I said, “Troy, no. Do you know what Troy did to my mom, to our family, to me? You were there. You’ve seen it. I tried to prevent all the abuse, all the stress, everything. You want me to forgive him. No way.” God said, “Ahn, I gave you Jesus. Jesus came and died for you and your sins. He forgave you. Your daddy doesn’t know how to be served because he was never given an opportunity to be served, to be loved by my Son. Again, Ahn, do you want to forgive your daddy because my Son, Jesus Christ died on the cross for you?”
I’m looking at Troy. I’m looking in my heart. I’m looking at Troy. I’m looking in my heart. Before you know it, tears start streaming from my eyes. I made the decision that I wanted to forgive Troy. When I looked at Troy again, I saw my daddy. I saw a daddy that didn’t have an opportunity to be served by Jesus, to be loved, to be forgiven, to be reconciled because someone who reconciled had served and loved me. Daddy was the last person I saw on my wedding day. It’s been 13 years of an amazing relationship. It hasn’t been easy. It’s been hard. It has some ups and downs. But we have mutual respect, a love of one another, of how to serve one another. He doesn’t know Jesus yet. Daddy, if you’re out there, I love you so much. You are my earthly father because my heavenly Father loves you and has given me an opportunity to serve you.
I love you so much, daddy. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served. Jesus was my climax. He was my up and over. I’m able to overcome because of what Jesus did. Jesus came not to be served. Jesus came to be a sacrificial servant. That’s just me and daddy, not for all. Look, I tried all the ways to go up and over on my own. At middle school, high school, and college, the culture pulls you left and right. You want to be cool. You want to be popular. You want to get to the next thing that makes you the quickest money. There’re your shoes, your clothes, your hair, your gel, your mousse, or whatever you try to do to be the best to get over. Jesus was the only one to get you to go up and over. When I realized that, I opened my eyes to how Jesus served us. William Blake has a famous quote and says, “No bird soars too high if it soars with its own wings.”
I never understood this quote. I realized that when I finally understood who Jesus was in me, that it’s Him who allows me to have the unlimited opportunities and abilities for me to soar because of what He’s given me. It’s not who you are, it’s whom you belong to. Whom you belong to is the Lord. There are unlimited things you could do with Him. When I went up and over, I began to practice the ways of Jesus. I started loving. I started caring. I started serving others. I began to understand fully because of who served me first. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. Jesus gave me a family to serve, it was so different. I didn’t fully understand what was given to me, my amazing wife, Echan Truong. This is us 20 years ago.
We met in college at San Jose State. I guess you could say we’re college sweethearts and have been together for 16 years. We’ve been married for 13 years. Echan, you’re the love of my life. You’ve given me the reason why I want to serve our Lord and our family unto Him because of what you’ve given us. We have two beautiful daughters, Charisse, who’s 10, Addie who is five. I would never imagine that God would be giving me a family to love and to have. I had my own family of dysfunction, of weary and trials, and thought how can I bring all that experiences into my family? I found my own. I thought that God would never give me a family, but Jesus says, Ahn, I served you. Since I served you, you will know how to serve your family of origin, where you were born and you were raised. You will get a chance to serve your own family.
That prayer for me, that I asked God for everything to be okay, continue to play out in my life. I didn’t expect that my parents who didn’t serve me would become a model for me to see how Jesus served me and for me to have my own family to serve. Serving a family is not about being perfect. Serving a family is about being imperfect. Here in our community, there are so many different families, so many different levels and so many different ways you can serve one another. I know firsthand how complex and challenging it is to serve your current family, where you were born and raised, but also your family right now. We’re able to overcome anything in the name of Jesus because of what has already been done. It means that your dysfunctions, your trauma, your hurt, and your pain, we’re going to work through it together because becoming selfless is to recognize that we are selfish. Overcoming pride, loving our children, caring for our spouse, loving in your marriage, working on it, really working on it, healing conflicts, fighting for peace, creating opportunities for reconciliation is something to be learned.
It’s not innate in you. It takes time to accomplish these things. We’re going to do it together. You’re not going to do it alone. For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give the life as a ransom for many. Jesus gave me my calling to live. When I woke up to that calling to live, I began to fully understand that it was my choice to begin to serve others because of what Jesus did on the cross for me, of how he served me. I began to relate, to share my trials and tribulations of who I was. I’m no longer ashamed. I wanted to aid others. The last 17 years of serving God’s kingdom have been amazing. Serving people has been a joy. Some of you may recognize my faith story as your faith story. Maybe some of you could be in my shoes, in their rooms, even see, even taste what I feel, what happened in my family. I want to say that empathizing with God’s creation and stepping into people’s situations and places in life gives us an opportunity to serve others, serving God’s people regardless of color, creed, stories, likes, locations, dislikes.
I also want to say that if your life is messy right now, it’s okay that it’s not okay. Serving you allows you to see how Jesus is serving you in the midst of all things. Right now there are some incredible evil, sinful things that are going on, not in just the world, but also in you. I want to say that Jesus gives you hope and joy. When I was in high school my youth pastor Mr. Rick Shen gave me something that’s laminated. You know that anything you get that’s laminated, it’s really important, right? He gave me this track. It was the [inaudible 00:25:13]. He said, “Ahn, one day, you’re going to serve others. You’re going to bring people to know the Lord.” I said, “Mr. Shen, I’m trying to learn how to understand to be served and to serve the Lord, let alone serve others.”
He says, “Time will tell because the Lord has you. Everything’s going to be okay.” Romans 10:13 says, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” I wanted to give you an encouragement of my faith story. To see how that there’s the capacity of our pains can turn into a story of God’s grace, just for you and also for me, but also for everybody else. No matter what point you are in your faith, there’s a climax that you’re waiting for from God to bring you up and over. I want you to know that it’s been paid for in full from Jesus. It’s never too late to rediscover your faith story or to start your faith story. My story is just to inspire you. The Lord gets all the glory.
So can you pray with me? Father, God, you are the creator of this universe. You love, you seek out ways to give us hope and joy. Right now, Father, I ask you to give people encouragement, insight, wisdom, and your plans for them to go up and over to have their life in you because Father, you are so good. You know the plans for us. So Lord, may you reveal to us, to acknowledge you, so that we will have the good news. Amen.
At this time, I want to thank you so much for all of the ways you give. You can give digitally, online through the app, or analog through the mail. You’ve been such a blessing to our community in ways that you’ve been supporting, encouraging. We’re going to continue our Sunday worship. Also, PT is going to come in and give us a final thought and a blessing. I love you Cornerstone. I’ll see you soon.
I hope we appreciated what we had a chance to hear today. The vulnerability of Pastor Ahn was just something to me that I think is worth acknowledging. Sometimes we forget the stories of people all around us. We all have a story of God at work in our lives. No one is actually, even at this moment, without the Lord having drawn you in some way into his love. The Lord came to serve and He gave everything. He reminds us that we too are to be servants in His name. The fact is that our life has been touched. If it has been, then we are to share that good news, that we are to love one another. We are to love the people God gave has given us to love. We are to be blessers and life-givers.
That’s right, we are. By this, Jesus said, “All men, all people will know that you are my disciples.” He said, “If you have love one to another.” Our faith needs to show up in our closest circles. It needs to flow out. It does. I’m hoping we’ll be able to be more and more a part of what the church is trying to do in terms of pushing outward, to be a blesser, and part of a solution. At the same time, God wants us to love the people he’s given to us and serve them well, even as he has loved us. He’s so good. He’s so God. He wants us to so good and to so God. My prayer is that you would be strong in the Lord and you would be encouragement. May he keep you spirit, soul, and body. In every way, keep us. Yes, Lord. May He always remind you how loved you really are. Be blessed, this day, this week, in Jesus’ name. Amen.