BCEC Churchwide Theme for 2023-24: Running the Race


The Pastoral Staff, together with the Board of Elders, have decided to use "Running the Race” as
next year’s church theme. An idea behind this theme is my retirement at the end of 2004 after
serving BCEC for 33 years, just like Pastor Steven Chin retired a few years ago after serving the
church for 41 years. After my retirement, someone will take over the position of Senior Pastor. This
is a picture of passing the baton. But the picture is not limited to pastoral positions. It also applies
to every service position in the church. My wife started attending BCEC in 1974 as a teenager. She
often shared with me about the people she met at that time. Many of them were college or
graduate students. These big brothers and sisters cared for her and helped to grow her faith in
Christ. A few years later when she was in college, she started teaching children Sunday school.
Then her Sunday school students grew up and became my son’s Sunday school teacher. This is
how faith is passed on from one generation to another in BCEC.

I pray that this picture will continue to be painted by people whom God has called to service. The
Chinese version of the theme is “Passing the Baton: Church Service from Generation to
Generation.” It is not a word-for-word translation of the English theme. But the imagery is the
same. Every generation of Christians is called to serve God and to raise the next generation of

Ever since the men’s 4×100 meters relay was included in the Olympic Games, the Americans won
15 gold medals out of 25. The second best countries only won two golds. Therefore, whenever the
Americans got into the finals of the event, they were always considered the favorite to win gold.
But surprisingly, the Americans have only won one silver medal in the past five Olympic Games.
One of the reasons is failure in passing the baton. According to statistics, between 2005 and 2021,
the US teams made mistakes in passing the baton a combined total of 11 times in the Olympics
and World Games.

In a relay race, handing over and taking over the baton involve a lot of skills. The athlete handing
over the baton must maintain speed, judge the height and starting speed of the next runner, and
choose techniques such as lifting up, handing down, or delivering horizontally into the palms of the
other athlete. He or she also needs to allow the next runner to stay as close to the inside of the
track as possible. The person taking over the baton needs to estimate the speed of the incoming
runner, judge when to start running, and accelerate. He or she must keep looking forward without
turning his or her head backward, depending on feeling the baton in the palm and holding it tight.
Most importantly, all these actions must be completed within the 20-meter baton passing zone.
These relay racing skills give us many insights in our generation to generation service for Christ.
For the scriptural verse of the theme, I have chosen the last two phrases of Joshua 24:15: “As for
me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” I hope our individual members and Christian
households can identify with the word “me” or “my house” in the scripture, and experience the
blessing of serving the Lord together.

As I meditate on the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, I see many similarities between us and the Israelites returning to Palestine from exile. After living in a foreign land for multiple decades, many Israelites, some of whom were born in exile and had never seen their ancestral land, returned to Palestine to rebuild their homeland. They quickly found numerous unexpected changes in the region. Many “foreigners” have moved in and became political leaders of the land. They viewed the returnees with suspicion and did not want such “outsiders” to flourish. When the Israelites tried to rebuild the temple, a symbol of their identity as the people of God, they met great political oppositions. As a result, the construction was paused for over 16 years. Even when the temple was finally finished, Jerusalem was a deserted city. The city wall was in ruin. People were not eager to live in the city for security reasons.

Almost 70 years after the second temple was completed, Jerusalem was still in a pitiful state. People who visited Nehemiah in Susa told him, “Those who survived the exile and back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” (Neh. 1:3) The report prompted Nehemiah to ask for a furlough from the court of the Persian king to return to Jerusalem. The king granted his wish and appointed him governor of Judah.

Upon arrival, Nehemiah assessed the situation and determined that the city wall must be rebuilt. But he soon discovered that resistance to the rebuilding project was very strong. Other governors in the region first teased about the Israelites’ ability to complete the project, then they planned to use force to shut it down. Yet the bigger challenge came from inside. Tolerating a broken wall seemed to be easier than rebuilding it. People were exhausted by the difficulties of the work and were ready to quit. On top of that, some rich Israelites were forcing poor Israelites into slavery as a condition to give them food. After Nehemiah dealt with internal complaints, external threats emerged again. The adversaries started to spread rumors that the Israelites were planning to revolt against the king once the wall was completed. Under such an attack, Nehemiah wrote in his journal, “They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hand will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.’ But I pray, ‘Now strengthen my hands.’” (Neh. 6:9)

Under those difficult and ever-changing conditions, Nehemiah and his builders pressed on. The wall was finally rebuilt. The Israelites celebrated by inviting Ezra the priest to read the scripture to them. The Word of God moved them to tears. Then Nehemiah announced, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh. 8:10) However, there was one more task remaining–to repopulate Jerusalem. Before the wall was rebuilt, people had safety concerns about living in the city. They eventually settled in the suburbs and were slow to return to dwell in Jerusalem. Nehemiah asked the leaders to return first. Then he told other people to draw lots to determine who should move back to the city. Jerusalem flourished when people volunteered to return to make it strong. (Neh. 11:2)

Learning from the Israelites, let us rebuild our church in the face of changes. May our church flourish as we adapt to the new normal and continue to make disciples for the Lord.