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From 1998 to 2008, CGM

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Remembering Grace

I do remember...

I am known for my lack of memory. My brother and I would often find ourselves in the same familiar squabble at the local movie rental because of this poor memory. “Hey this one looks great!” I’d exclaim after minutes of searching through the aisles. “Dude, we’ve seen that,” his gruff reply would follow. “What? I’ve never seen it,” I’d continue the volley. He’d proceed to tell me exactly where and when we saw it and with whom. “Ah.....was it good?” I’d inquire still wondering how I don’t remember the movie. “Yeah, it was great,” he’d state in that tone that was somewhere on the path back to pleasantry from the previous impatience. “Then let’s see it again!” I’d say in hopes of enjoying a winner rather than the ever so abundant garbage or dud. “DUDE, we’ve SEEN it!” he’d repeat with a slow and articulate gruff tone that would warn me to drop the subject.

So I forget, but I do remember sitting there. It takes me a bit, but I remember many times sitting there. Whether it was in silence or in the midst of my inner guts spewing out in non-sense ramblings—I remember the times there at CGM. (Poor Martin, thanks for bearing with me.) As I remember, though, the problem was not so different as it is now. The situations, environments, circumstances—all those were quite different, but the problem is hauntingly familiar: I am in need of His Grace. Thank God for His unfailing love and never ending grace.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Tale of Balaam's Ass

Once upon a time there was a body. The body had what all bodies have: a Head, arms, hands, torso, legs, feet and various other body parts both seen and unseen. There was a time, however, when the different parts, except for the Head, didn’t know they belonged to the body. Neither did they know that the greatest part of all the parts was the Head.

Over a period of time, however, one by one, each part became aware that it was in fact connected to and directed by the Head, but, at the same time, each part still failed to see the other parts as equally important and equally connected to the Head. Each part, depending on the degree and disposition of its self-absorption (whether one said "woe is me" or "woe is you"), responded differently to the idea of belonging to the body. The foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," and the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body." These pusillanimous parts, in their feelings of inferiority and unimportance, envied the vain eyes and hands and saw no place for the pitiful and pathetic parts that they thought themselves to be. To make matters worse, the eye would say to the ear, "I don't need you!" and the hand would say to the foot, "I don't need you!" These puffed up parts only reinforced their own delusions of grandeur as well as the delusions of degradation that the other parts felt.

In the midst of all this, the puffed up parts began to suggest ways to promote their prominence within the body. One suggestion was to cut off those parts that they thought were demeaning to the body at large. Another suggestion was to try to make all the lesser parts imitate all the greater parts. Both suggestions brought the body to the brink death in a macabre fashion. Whether each part saw itself as the best or the least of all the parts didn't help the body as a whole in the end.

Healing, however, began within the body when it began to realize the importance of each and every member, no matter how lofty or lowly. And this realization came when the lowliest of the lows, the bottommost of the bottoms, i.e., the sphincter muscle, heard and obeyed a commandment from the Head: "Hold thy peace." And so the sphincter held its peace and said not a word. Now as the lowly sphincter held its peace, the rest of the body began to shake and shudder with a cold sweat and spasms of searing pain.

"Woe is me!" cried the hand as it trembled uncontrollably.

"I am done for!" cried the knee as it began to buckle and bend."

“Help me, Lord! Help me, Lord!” wailed the eye as its ducts filled with bitter tears.

“I can’t take it anymore!” shouted the foot as it hopped up and down.

All the stomach could say was "Arrghhhhhhhhhhh!"

No part of the body was spared the paroxysm of torment and agony that resulted from the lowly sphincter’s simple obedience.

Just as the body was near collapse the Head spoke before the presence of all:

"Lowly sphincter release thy peace!"

In response to the command the lowly sphincter let loose its burden and the entire body let out a unified sigh of relief.

"Well done, lowly sphincter, you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things, but first things first," said the Head in a calm yet commanding voice.

"Woe unto you, parts and members of my body! Who told you that the way to live was to see your part as the whole? Who told you that the way to unity was to eradicate diversity? Who told you that some parts are more important than other parts? That some parts are exceptional while others are expendable? That certain parts must take upon themselves duties reserved for other parts? Am I not the Head of the body? Do I not see how each part connects with the whole? Is not unity found when each part is connected to me and to each other? Do not all suffer when one part suffers? Should not all rejoice when one part rejoices? And above all things, do you not see that love is what keeps the body alive and healthy? That love is what allows each part to see the preciousness of the other parts?"

And so the Head and its body began to experience a deepening of both love and unity as each part began to contribute itself to the health and welfare of the whole. And even until this day, from the Head the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

And the lowly sphincter waits and wonders in eager expectation for the glorious day when it will become a ruler over many things. But until then it must needs be content to be…

The End.

A link to a flicker of light

I don't know if many of you have heard of Josh Garrels, a musician; I had not until a couple months ago. You may or may not like his style and vocals if you give them a listen, but two songs from his album Jacaranda really struck a CGM chord in my soul. I'll give a snippet of each:

From "A Season of Rain"

"So faint the impatient can’t hear--the sound of the one without years
The culmination of every child’s tears form a tide breaking on the eternal lands

Time stands still in the moment when we are healed

I questioned if this was real but then I opened up my heart and I could feel

The feather of a bird in the wind, fire in the brush if we only speak when we must---A hush of heart will become a good treausure

And from "Desert Father"

Hold on All you Who wait by the blue shores For Him

To part the water Desert Father Show us a new way

The impossible dream Through the deep and the unseen --- Carry us home

It just so happened that I ran across his blog looking for some lyrics. Read about his project, and hear how he states his values. I found it encouraging and a flicker of light that reflects some of the things we hold dearly.

hannukkah and Christmas blessings to all


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Starbucks Nostalgia

Recently while in Dallas for a week I visted my old haunt at Starbucks Lakewood. Thinking a year would make a difference I approached as if I was a stranger. To my amazement as I walked in I connected with many old friends and even saw Michelle who had lost her son just one year ago. As we spoke of His grace in time of need I became aware once again that most people are waiting for someone to notice them and genuinely care. As I glanced at the computer next to me spoke to the owner only to find he was recently released from prison for narcotics and had come to know the Lord. Michael has a place to stay for a few months and what a privilege to pray for my new brother. May the Lord of grace keep me sensitive to those around me and not discard them as scenery.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Here is a testimony that I gave at the AABC Thanksgiving banquet.

GRAVYNESS by Mark Okada November 21, 2009

I love this time of year! Why???? Grandma June's GRAVY!

Ever since I was a kid, I have loved putting gravy on my food. I will eat almost anything if you put gravy on it. And Grandma June makes some awesome gravy. I have never understood those people who JUST put it on their mashed potatoes or just on their rice or their turkey or JUST on their roast beef. THERE IS NO “JUST” WITH ME…

Here’s my nine step game plan for Thanksgiving dinner: 1. Drink a lot of water the night before to stretch the stomach. 2. Eat a normal breakfast with plenty of fiber to stay regular. 3. Skip lunch, but keep drinking water. 4. Help Grandma June and Pam with the cooking (okay, “Help” might be too strong of a term) 5. Give a thanksgiving blessing. 6. Load up my plate with rice, turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes until all the surfaces are covered (no need to bother with adding green things to the plate) 7. By pass the gravy boat, go straight to the big pot of gravy warming on the stove and proceed to cover the entire plate with gravy until I can’t see the food beneath! 8. Eat and repeat steps 6, 7 and 8 as many times as possible. 9. Collapse in a happy food coma…. Well, what does this confession of my issues with gluttony and love of gravy have to do with a thanksgiving testimony? Since Pastor Michael Ong asked me to share today, I have been meditating on the idea of thankfulness, and it has dawned on me that, thankfulness is the gravy of life. I repeat, Thankfulness is like Gravy for everyday life! Let me explain what I mean. Gravy is something you add to your meal that can take an ordinary meal and give it HOLIDAY status. It changes a meal from a regular season game to the super bowl. And if the meal is sometimes not up to par; the meat is a bit tough or dry or overcooked, which I assure you NEVER happens with Pam’s cooking, it can make it much more enjoyable. It’s a lot like that with thankfulness in the bible. Psalm 100 is sometimes referred to as the Thanksgiving Psalm. It’s a very short psalm which says: Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. Why is the psalmist thankful? Because God is the Lord and he is good and he made us and we belong to him and he loves us and is forever faithful. Notice that all these things on this list are about God and who he is and what he is doing. Nothing here is a matter of material blessings, our circumstances, the success in our lives or our happiness. As I think deeply about that I believe it is the key to understanding what “with thanksgiving” really means... It is the goodness of God that is the basis for my praise and thankfulness.

Now, can I get by without being thankful? I guess I do that all the time. I confess that I am an incredibly selfish, broken man. And as I have been struggling with my business these past 2 years, often times I have wallowed in fear and self pity. Why me lord? Why would you do this to me God when I have worked so hard and faithfully for you? Of course, when things were going well with my work, it was easy and natural to be happy and thankful. But in these past several years of heavy trials there were many times that I was unhappy and unthankful. In fact, Pastor Ben Wong had asked me to share at last year’s thanksgiving banquet and I was struggling with what to say because in my heart of hearts I wasn’t thankful at all. And when I was called to go overseas for a business trip that conflicted with the banquet, I was actually relieved when I called him to cancel. But the psalm doesn’t tell me to be thankful because things are going well with my life. It doesn’t tell me to be thankful because I am a successful businessman or things are going well with my TEENAGERS. (by the way, when you tell people you have termites, you don’t have to bother qualifying it by saying I have trouble with termites, everyone knows you have trouble if you have termites, it’s the same way with teenagers.) I am being convicted that the psalm says to be thankful because God is Good and He loves me. And so, we can be thankful in all sorts of good and bad things because of this truth. Thankfulness can be added to any circumstance and bring me to a place where I can praise him. Thankfulness, like gravy, makes even bad things better. It reminds us of who is truly good and who is in control and who my hope is in. Yes, the old saying is so true, Gravyness is next to Godliness!

So, lately I have been intentionally adding prayers of thanks for things. As I pray at night and in the morning and as I go through my day, I try to list the things and people on my mind and thank God for them. “Thank you God for Pam and Lauren and Luke and Lindsey and Leighton and Lilly. Thank you God for Jesus' death and resurrection and my salvation. Thank you god for AABC. Thank you god for my lifeshare group. Thank you God for saving me from the swine flu. Thank you God that I lost my hair and gained a lot of forehead. Thank you God that I have Teenagers that you love. Thank you God that my arm hurts from the surgery because the pain brings me back to you on my knees. Thank you God that my business is struggling because it was becoming my idol. Thank you God for you are the Lord and you are good and your steadfast love endures to all generations and your faithfulness extends to all generations. Thank you God for Grandma June's gravy. Thank you God for your gravy that goes so well with the Good and the bad.”

It is my prayer for you that your plate, your life, might be covered with the gravy of thankfulness this thanksgiving. If you are a visitor here at AABC, I pray that you might come back to fellowship with us and be blessed with the gravyness of AABC. That God’s goodness would cover you and bring you to a place of true Thanksgiving. AMEN

Sunday, November 29, 2009

short breaths, but still breathing

When I got the invitation to this blog, it was if all the air (little though it might have been these days) was sucked out of my lungs. I have been short of breath a lot lately- not in the literal sense, but in the "grace, life, breathe a little and enjoy it" sense. I have been struggling and scrapping for every bit of energy to "be"- no, more like I have been avoiding being and caught up in doing. I felt trapped and stuck - and wondered where the freedom I found at CGX had gone. I longed for those deep breaths of grace that were common on Swiss Ave.
So, I sat down to make a list of all the things that I loved about CGX in an effort to see just how far I had fallen (and maybe how to get back)

I thought I would share some of this list with you-
There was freedom to be
There was a love for creativity
There was a lot of space to be (and worrying about the doing seemed to fade into the background)
They were always giving- time, space, food, internet
Movies were plentiful
I received from people willingly (or at least, by the end of my time there I learned to receive with gratitude)
We sat in silence - a lot (the things I learned in that papasan)
We weren't afraid to admit our sin (and even wear it as a bracelet if we wanted)
We had a community that couldn't be explained
We had the most amazing espressos - mint chocolate and coffee- yum!
We were all struggling to figure it out - but it was more fun struggling together than by ourselves
We were learning to live by faith, not fear

by the time i got to the end of the list, it was clear why I was taking such short breaths- when you live your life to prove your worth by your actions, the fear of failure will suffocate you.(I mean, if you fail- you are proving yourself worthless....and who can withstand that!) The result is there is no space for creativity, no space to breathe, no space for grace- no space to live.
So, I find myself repenting, breathing and wallowing in grace

Friday, November 27, 2009

Shock & Awe

Within a week or two of our arrival in Mesquite, Texas, my mother took a phone call from a strange voice that claimed to be connected with the mob. He said if she was not on the next plane back to my stepfather, Bus, in Ohio, they'd throw acid in her face and hurt my sister and me.

The threat hit home with my mom, not just because she was a beautiful woman who didn't want acid thrown in her face. She probably still held out hopes of launching her singing career. By now she'd performed in night clubs and actually sung on television, albeit in the wee hours of the night during a telethon broadcast by a station in Steubenville.

And she wasn't simply reacting instinctively, as any mother would, to a threat toward her children. But my stepfather, Bus, though Irish, had somehow ingratiated himself with the Italian mob, and in the short time she'd known him she learned his friends were capable of such things. So she flew back to Ohio.

Not long after, still living with our dad in the little rental house in Mesquite, my sister and I began getting regular mail from her: cards, letters and, on the appropriate occasions, extravagant gifts, best of all an entire set of encyclopedia. Perhaps more than ever before, I thought my mother loved me. I had the papers to prove it.

But I was still eleven and didn't yet know all that stuff about Bus and the mob and why we fled Ohio in the first place. I just knew my mother had chosen to return to this cranky, sleazy older guy instead of staying in Texas with us. I decided how I would get her to come back. To my eleven-year old way of thinking, responding to her cards, letters and gifts would simply indicate I was okay with her not being my mother anymore, so instead I would show her how hurt I was and not respond at all. I would hurt her and change her mind and then she would come back to me.

Of course that didn't work, and my mother and I would have to wait more than a decade to see each other again and to reconcile our relationship.

But that was more than 30 years ago. Yesterday, on Thanksgiving Day, I sat silently and watched family members respond to people they loved, but in a way calculated to change them: somewhat sarcastic comments made out loud as if to joke, but with a very unfunny edge. And I thought back to my plot to change my mother, then to more recent plots to change a close friend, or a business associate, or my wife, and then about others' plots to change me, all by means intended to hurt, to shock someone into changing. I wanted to interrupt, and say I'd never seen this tactic work, but I didn't.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Looking Above the Sun, to the Son

Thank you, Martin and Chris, for your idea and invitation to join this GLOG. Reading that first entry by Martin, I recognized myself as one who is in that sunless valley. In fact, it ‘dawned’ on me today that my journey into that valley essentially began shortly after my CGM group’s year ended. I sustained a back injury a few weeks later which was the beginning of the end to life as I knew it.

Yes, it has been a sunless valley. But I want to shout from it that God is light!

Looking under the sun, my resume does not have much to show for the past several years. Nonetheless, I can say that I would not trade my trials for the world! Not because they haven’t been painful. Oh no, I have been chiselled and scraped and pounded and crushed, but not beaten by my pain and losses. The testing and refining of my faith has forced me time and time again to look above the sun, to the Son.

It is in the deepest and darkest valleys, where this world’s sun can hardly reach, that the Light of the world is best seen.

My love and knowledge of God has increased so much through the worst of times that they have become the best and most treasured of times. While many of my hopes and dreams have evaporated, my hope in the One who does not disappoint has become more firm. That hope gives me impetus to be creative and find expressions for my interests despite my physical limitations. Just one example. Once I stopped waiting to be able to paint again in order to express myself artistically and threw myself into photography, I’ve not looked back. I've had so much fun taking my pocket camera everywhere, ready to capture a moment of common grace or beauty to savor.

And so the journey continues!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Comparing Notes on the Journey...

When Chris Wynn responded to my BEDOSAY blog encouraging me to write for the "Common Grace diaspora" I immediately thought of all the folk who crossed our path over the last decade. The idea was simple: don't invest in the expansion of CGM but in the movement of grace within the hearts of the individuals who cross our path no matter where their paths take them. Well, brothers and sisters, you know where your paths have led you. I know some have led to sunlit mountains and others to sunless valleys. Wherever your paths have led you, I would like to personally invite you to share your notes on the "inward" and "outward" journeys of your life. Feel free to share whatever comes to heart and mind: memories, questions, insights, observations, encounters with grace, struggles, poems, songs, photographs, films, etc. I'll be sending you an invite via email (if I have your email) to contribute to this...this GLOG (Grace-LOG). OK, just imagine it's around 5:30 on a Wednesday afternoon and you've just entered the CGM living room in silence. Hmmmmmm. What's going to happen today?
Under Grace,
P.S. If you happen to cross the path of a former CGMer, please let them know about this GLOG and send them the link. Thanks.
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