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Memorial sermon for a friend

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

In parts of the San Gabriel Valley, people have been buying homes, usually two properties next to each other.  You might think they do this in an attempt to keep family together.  That’s true, but not in the way you imagine.  They buy these side-by-side properties with tract home on them and then demolish them.  Once the dumpsters are full, they are taken away, and something interesting happens.  The new owners built one large house which takes up the new properties.  They call them “McMansions”.

Maybe you wish you could live in a house that’s so opulent, so rich, so luxurious.  I comfort myself at times like that by saying, “but there’s so much space to clean, I wouldn’t want that”.

Today, you have heard a lot about Jesus, heaven, God and ‘churchy’ stuff.  It’s expected, because we are in a church to remember and celebrate, the life of Pastor Donald Wilkowski.  This is not exactly the place where you drink a beer and reminisce around a firepit in the backyard and commend an old friend to his maker.

No, this is the place where we read from an ancient book, partake in traditions and sing some songs.  The question is why do we do it?  What’s in it for me?  Can’t I get the same benefit from listening to music on my headphones and taking a walk on the beach?  After all, that’s a great place to recharge my batteries.

That’s true, in part.  We can definitely benefit psychologically from taking time off to reconnect with ourselves and nature in a beautiful location.  We can become whole again, at least, for a little while.

But that’s where the benefit ends.  That beautiful sunset never guarantees another sunset.  That ‘time off’ transitions to work time and all the expectations, pressures and demands return again.  The demands and expectations of family life flood back in.  The burdens of life return and you might feel like a beast of burden.

Kind of makes you wish you stayed at the beach, doesn’t it?

Jesus of Nazareth said the following:

28“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”(Matthew 11)

He didn’t say he would pull you out of your circumstances and put you on easy street.  He simply says that He will give you rest.  Psalm 55:22 states, ‘Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you’.

Today, many of you come burdened.  A dear friend, neighbor, and family member has died.  This weighs heavy on the heart.  Where can we go to unload the feelings, all the feelings we have?

The first followers of Jesus felt troubled about something Jesus had said in John chapter 13.  You see, Jesus told them, “Where I am going, you cannot come” (Jn. 13:33).  These followers had given up their entire lives, reputations and livelihoods to follow Jesus.  They had followed him everywhere.  They had gone to God-forsaken places and the Temple, synagogues and lowly homes.  They saw Jesus healing the blind, curing the lame, and raising the dead.  They were with him everywhere.

Now, though, He was going somewhere that they couldn’t.  At least, not yet.  We know this because  John writes that Jesus was talking about his own death and return to God the Father.  That He was going to be falsely accused, tried, and unjustly sentenced to death.  That He was going to be beaten, whipped, spat upon and crowned with thorns upon his head.  That He was going to carry a heavy burden; a wooden crossbar upon which he would hang.

Then, God put a burden on Jesus that no one else could bear.  In that God-forsaken place outside of Jerusalem, Golgotha, Jesus became our scapegoat.

Then, the follower of Jesus, John, writes that Jesus told them that he was going ahead of them for a purpose.  He was going ahead of them to prepare a place.  He was going ahead of them to be a good host for when they arrive.  Jesus, who lived a selfless life, would continue this selflessness after his death and resurrection.  He gave up everything for them.

And that’s just what impacted John so powerfully.  You see, the Gospel of John is all about God’s Kingdom arriving here on earth through His Son, Jesus.  All of the miracles, His birth, baptism in the Jordan, preaching and teaching pointed to the fact that the King had come.  But He didn’t come to exact judgement upon us.  Jesus Christ, God the Son, came to rescue you and me.  He came to rescue us from the greatest burden we bear, the burden of death.

On that cross outside of Jerusalem, 2,000 years ago, Jesus became the scapegoat for every man, woman and child in the entire world.  The wandering King, who had no place to lay his head in this world, was crushed for all.  He was crushed for you, dear friend.

He was crushed for the Reverend Donald Wilkowski, too.  The impact this made on him lead Don Wilkowski to give up being an engineer to follow His savior into God-forsaken places, Temples, McMansions, lowly houses.  He followed Jesus here, to serve and care for God’s people, helping them to bear their burdens in this life.  He followed Jesus to the Father’s House where Jesus has prepared a place for him.

And the Jesus he followed is calling you, too.  Jesus tells you now,

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6

Acts 4:12 states:

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

This Selfless King has become your savior.  He has already taken on the burden of death.  You don’t need to get cleaned up first.  You don’t need to fix your issues.  Not every ‘i’ has to be dotted and every ‘t’ crossed.  That’s Jesus’ job.  He simply says to you “Come”.

It is God’s will for you.  Paul write in 1 Timothy 2:

3This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all people.

The great rescue has begun.  Heaven awaits.  It is a place free of the burdens of life in this world.  Jesus is there waiting for you and me to arrive.  It is a place of Joy, peace and Love.  All made possible because of Jesus, who is the only way there.

Random thoughts

Question: Where do I find God?

Answer: Crucified on a cross

Deicide comes before infanticide.

Theological ‘liberals’ are trying to keep the ‘Old Adam’ alive.  Most theological conservatives behave the same way.

Springs of life

“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.” ― Martin Luther

These words were penned by the church reformer, Martin Luther, about 500 years ago.  Since then, spring has come every year, without fail.  Maybe some springs were warmer, some were cooler, and some were rainier, but spring always came.

And with it came the birds, flowers, and animals.  New life!  This is what led Luther to declare that ‘the promise of the resurrection’ was not confined to ‘books alone, but in every leaf in springtime’.  Spring is a new beginning.

Winter comes first, however.  It is the time where everything goes dormant, hibernates, or just dies.  We don’t really look forward to winter (I’m sure those who were living in Boston this year won’t look forward to winter next year!).  If we could do things our way, autumn would change straight to spring, and we would skip winter altogether.

So it is with the Lenten season.  We would rather avoid this somber period in the church calendar altogether.  Why can’t we skip it and go from Christmas to Easter?

The answer goes all the way back to a leafy garden.  In this garden, God instructed Adam and Eve, “…you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”  We know that they did not follow this rule, but ate the fruit of the tree in defiance.

Thus, Paul tells us in Romans 6:23, ‘For the wages of sin is death …’ Death is the consequence of sin. Its finality is absolute. Its sentence is sobering.

But, that is not the end of the story.  In fact, it is just the beginning.  The latter half of Romans 6:23 tells us, “…but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 5:17 states, ‘For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!’

God didn’t wait until spring came to bring life.  The Son of God came during the season when sin and death reigned.  He came and lived during this winter season and was crucified.  But his cross put an end to winter forever.  His cross is the beginning of an eternal spring!

Upon a tree barren of leaves, the crucified one was put to death to face eternal death for us.  He paid for our sin and the consequence of our sin; death.  At Jesus’ resurrection, that mustard seed sprouted.  Eventually, it became the largest tree in the garden, and it’s still growing.

As the Easter season begins, we can point to this new life that is not merely declared in books, but also by God’s creation.  This creation replays the story over and over again, declaring, “Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!”

Pastor John

Gospel healing

By Alice Gallagher:

“But for you who fear My name the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.” Malachi 4:2 “. . . Through the progressive worsening of my seizures, God has continued to provide me with comfort and strength through the love of my friends and brothers and sisters in Christ: they have made great sacrifices with unrelenting kindness- from helping to fund a trip for me to go see a specialist in California and then actually traveling there with me, to simply being there for me so constantly, such acts reflective of Christ’s love have finally allowed me to rest in the knowledge that I am not unwanted. Most essentially what has brought hope to the tangle of fear and frustration that the seizures have cast on my life is the verse Matthew 17:23: And while they were there gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and He will be raised on the third day.” And they were deeply grieved. It struck me one day that if the disciples had understood at that time what it meant that Jesus was explaining to them how the reconciliation of mankind to God was going to take place, or if they had at least had the retrospect of knowing about the resurrection event, they would have been able to see how pointless it was for them to become so “deeply grieved.” Following that train of thought, I believe providentially, it occurred to me that I have no need to feel so helpless about my seizure disorder and its consequences on my life. I have the retrospect that the disciples had not: the knowledge of Christ’s saving grace. Likewise, I can take the seemingly hopeless situation of my seizures in retrospect: my soul, once broken, is healed by the mystery of Christ’s redeeming work. In the same way, so is my body destined to be healed, whether it be on earth or after, at my ascension to be with Christ. So even though God has chosen, at this point, to withhold healing of my seizures, I can rejoice in the hope I have in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that he has made my soul new and someday I will have a new body to match. In the meantime, when I feel grotesquely unlovable, like a burden to others, God loves me with an incredible love,so much that he gave Himself to DEATH to save my soul, and he continues to sustain and protect me in ways that never cease to amaze. S.D. Gl.


What do you think of when you hear the word testimony?  Perhaps you think of a court case where a person is called on to testify about their observations of a crime.

In modern evangelical circles, a person might tell the story of how they ‘made a decision for Christ’ publicly.  That person would talk about the darkest aspects of their past in order to highlight the change they went through as a result of that decision.  People who had the worst stories are often considered pseudo-celebrities for coming to Christ after all they’d been through.

The point of this exercise is to encourage the Christian audience that God is still at work.  Additionally, the ‘unchurched’ might feel that the person who is giving the testimony is a kindred spirit, and feel motivated to make a decision for Jesus just like s/he did.

For those of us who were raised in the church, we might feel that we haven’t had such a dramatic conversion.  We went to church on Sundays, attended Bible study and went through confirmation.  Our testimony seems rather weak compared, to say, a drug-addicted mother of fourteen who found the Lord and reformed her life.  Let’s face it, we’ll never end up on the lecture circuit with a resume of lifetime church-going.

But is our testimony the one that matters?

The apostle John’s account begins with testimony after testimony about Jesus.  He begins this account with what the Holy Spirit inspired him to write:

14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15(John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.d 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1, ESV)

John disappears into the background.  In fact, except for the phrase “The disciple whom Jesus loved”, John is hardly seen in his testimony about Jesus.

As the first chapter progresses, John writes of John the Baptist’s testimony:

29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (ESV)

What an incredible declaration!  And that is not the end of it.  Jesus talks of himself in the “I am” statements made throughout John’s account.  These statements would have clearly reminded the Jews of Jesus’ day of Moses encounter with God in Exodus 3:14 at the burning bush:

13Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” 14God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”

Jesus is declaring that He is the self-existent God!

For you and I, this is good news.  We don’t have to worry about the relative strength or weakness about our personal testimony, instead, we can repeat the testimony of John the Apostle, John the Baptist and the all of the disciples who declared Jesus to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

This leads us to God’s testimony about us in 1 Peter 2:

9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

No matter what your background is, Jesus has made you his own.  Through Him, we have become one people, united through His death and resurrection.  ‘You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession’ through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  That is God’s testimony about you.

In Jesus’ name,


Pastor John

Hide and go seek

I ran across a term that I hadn’t heard before in the book, “Left Behind and Loving It”.  The term was ‘epistemological crisis”.  It is when you learn something that turns your whole world upside-down.  It’s not just a paradigm shift, but it is a moment when your belief system is challenged by a truth discovery.

How do you respond in such an instance?  Perhaps the better question is, “How many time have you changed political positions, religious conceptions or intellectual positions when something challenging has been presented to you?”

The Scriptures can effect such a crisis.  Actually, that is what Scripture should do.  The individual should be confronted by issues, problems and confusing texts.

How do you respond to Scripture which challenge your belief system (even a ‘Christian’ belief system)?  Do you ignore it, shut it down, rely on cultural Christianity to save the day?  Or, do you just say, “That must be wrong”, and forget about it?

Maybe you decide to look for answers from someone else.  You look for someone who is ‘on your side’, and who you can trust.  You reinforce your beliefs to defend yourself against the troubling questions Scripture brings up.

These are simply the efforts of the Old Adam to avoid the onslaught of the challenging propositions in Scripture.  The Old Adam can hide behind ignorance, other people’s knowledge, avoidance, or changing the subject.  This is all rooted in fear.

We are afraid that God will kill the Old Adam.  We identify so closely with him, that we find fig leaves to protect our vulnerability from a God who is trying to expose it.  Ultimately, this means we fear the cross.

You see, the cross is not just for Jesus.  It is for us, too.  We use our strengths, resources or other means to defend us against a God who inspired the authors of Scripture to put some challenging things before our eyes.

However, once the text troubles us to our core, then God is able to make us new; to re-birth us through the process.  If you allow this to happen, it is scary.  You will have to depend on the Holy Spirit to help you understand the Scripture.  He will have to be your guide as you try to distinguish between Law and Gospel.  He will have to guide you to find Christ in the passage that troubles you.  He will have to be the one to hold your hand as you are transformed from arrogant to humble.

Church plays a vital role in this process of ‘letting go’.  You may experience a crisis of faith (this is not necessarily a bad thing).  Without the guidance of your pastor, you can end up in heresy or agnosticism.  The pastor is concerned with your eternal salvation, and can be a support as you struggle to understand, reflect, and ultimately, grow through the reading of Scripture.  Forsaking the assembling together would be foolish and dangerous.

May God keep you in His will,



A couple of weeks ago, one of the Sunday readings (periscopes) was from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.  I spent a considerable amount of time working through the text, because it is from this text that some theologians developed the concept of a rapture. I came to understand a great deal, and as it is with any […]

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