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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
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