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by Dr. Christopher L. Cagan

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, May 12, 2019

“Honour...thy mother” (Exodus 20:12).

Today is Mother’s Day. Today is a day when we honor our mothers, and all mothers. In a few minutes the mothers will go to another room for a special banquet and presentation, beautifully prepared by Mrs. Hymers. If you are a mother here today, God bless you!

This evening I want to tell you the story of my mother. I have never told it here before. Please listen carefully. I hope it is a blessing to you, and I hope that something I say tonight will help you.

My mother Marjorie was born in San Francisco in 1926. Her parents – my grandparents – were honorable, decent and caring people. Marjorie’s father worked until he was 75 years old. Her mother always had me and my brother come and stay at her house for a week every summer. That was the high point of the year for me.

Marjorie led a good life. She was well-behaved. She lived with her parents until she married my father, Leo Cagan, at the age of 26. She was diligent at school and work. She graduated from college in a time when not many women did that.

As a girl she went to church on Sundays, but she was not converted. Her parents came from Episcopalian and Catholic backgrounds, and that was her experience with religion. She went to a Catholic college. Marjorie got the idea that she had to make herself pure from sin, because God was angry with her. She did not understand the Gospel, that Jesus Christ had given His life and Blood for her, and all she had to do was trust Him. Instead, she tried to please an angry God. She prayed in her room, but she never found peace.

When she was older, Marjorie gave up trying to please God. Instead she focused on her life here on earth. She stopped going to church completely. She did not think about God or what happens after death. She became what people call a secular humanist – thinking of this life here and nothing else. I will talk more about this later.

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A mother has tremendous influence on her child’s life. President Abraham Lincoln said, “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” The example of a bad mother does great harm to her children. The example of a good mother does them tremendous good. I will tell you about the good example of my mother.

Marjorie always supported my father on the main points of our growth and training. She did not contradict him. She said the same things as he did. As I was growing up I heard one voice, not two. This was very important, for as an adult I did not depart from what I had learned. The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). This does not mean a child will automatically become a Christian if you bring him to church. It’s talking about the character of a child. If you train your child to have a good character, and discipline him when he needs it, he will be a solid, dependable person when he grows up. That’s what happened to me.

First, my mother agreed with my father about the importance of education. I heard one voice, not two. As I said, she graduated from college. She worked for many years as an administrator in the mathematics department of Stanford University, near to where we lived. Sometimes she drove me to Stanford where I met many of the math professors there. After she retired she went to colleges and sat in on classes until she was 80 years old. She bought sets of lectures on video and watched them. Up until she died, she was reading books.

She always encouraged me to read and learn. Since my father had a Ph.D. and taught at Cal State San Francisco, my family was very strong on education and learning. We often talked about history, politics, and current events. The house was full of books and I read almost all of them. My parents did not let me watch more than an hour or so of television each week. Most people watched three or four hours of TV every night, but not us. Instead, I was allowed to read! Later I was grateful to my parents for guiding me not to waste time and dull my mind.

My mother agreed with my father that all their children needed to become professionals. They did not teach us that. In my family it was part of our DNA, part of our family culture, that we would go far in education and get high level professional jobs. It was assumed. It was automatic. It was as natural for us as speaking the English language. That’s why I have two Ph.D.s today.

My mother agreed with my father about being on time and never being late. I heard one voice, not two. My father had a clock in his head. My mother told me that she had never been late in her life. To come late showed disrespect for the other person whose time was wasted. My father and mother were never late. They never wasted time. And so I learned to be on time and not to waste my days and hours. My mother agreed with my father on this. Today I am 65 years old and both of my parents are gone. But I still have a clock inside my head. Because of their example I could take five or six classes in college and work two jobs at the same time.

My mother agreed with my father about self-discipline. They didn’t goof around very much. They took care of their work and obligations before they took care of themselves. They had what is called the Puritan work ethic. I got that ethic from them. My father was very focused and disciplined. That’s why he went to England on a prestigious Fulbright Fellowship when he was 24 years old. That’s why he worked for the United Nations when it was just getting started. He knew what he was doing, and he did it well. My mother did not soften what my father did. I heard one voice, not two.

My parents never took me to church. I did not go even once until I was 21 years old, and then I went of my own choice. But I had the strict and disciplined youth that the Puritans had hundreds of years ago. God drew me to Christ when I was 23. I became very serious and zealous about following Jesus. There was nothing else I could do. When I did something, I did it with all my might. When I trusted Jesus, He was everything to me. Being serious about the church was natural to me. It was in my character. My father trained me in the right way, and my mother supported him. I thank God for my mother.

All those things my mother gave me are important, but they are not the greatest thing she did for me. The greatest thing I learned as a young person came completely from Marjorie, my mother. What was that? Mother made me into a solid person, not a rebel. She made me into a stayer, not a leaver. She did it by her life, not by words. How did that happen?

My father was not always easy to get along with. He had high blood pressure. He had a bad temper. He was often angry. But my mother put up with him. Sometimes it wasn’t easy. But she stayed through everything. Through the example, through the imprinting of my mother, I became a stayer instead of a leaver. She didn’t have to teach me that. It was in my soul, put there by her example.

Marjorie later told me that once she thought about leaving my father. I am so glad she didn’t. When a mother leaves, it is always terrible for the children. They grow up unhappy and confused. All that comes out later when the children are grown up. They often have broken marriages themselves. Whether a mother stays or leaves has a supreme influence on her children.

My mother felt like leaving my father. She thought about it. But she didn’t do it! She didn’t run away. She suffered and stayed, even when she was unhappy. She stayed with him and loved him and helped him until he died. They were married for 43 years. She didn’t miss a day.

Now listen to me carefully. By staying, she made me into a stayer. She made me into a person who didn’t quit when life was hard. She made me into a person who didn’t run away when others quit or when I felt bad. I would not be here tonight speaking to you if it were not for my mother! She made me what I am today!

Earlier I said that my mother stopped going to church. She didn’t want Christ. She didn’t try to stop me from being a Christian, but she wasn’t interested in Jesus for herself. She didn’t want to talk about religion. Whenever I invited her to church, she refused to answer, or gave me some frosty words. Once she said, “I think not.”

Thank God she didn’t end like that. When she got older she moved into a senior home. At the age of 89 she found out that she had cancer. She had stage 4 cancer in different parts of her body. The doctors couldn’t cure her. They made her as comfortable as they could, but she was dying. During that time God softened her heart.

Before Marjorie died I flew up to Northern California to see her for the last time. We talked about our lives. We listened to classical music together. We had lunch together. I walked her here and there in her wheelchair. Then one afternoon we went up to her room. She had a caregiver there all day, but the lady agreed to step out for a while so I could be with Marjorie alone. I had brought my laptop computer with me. There I showed her part of my sermon video, “The Great Division of the Ages – Grace vs. Works.” That sermon showed her she couldn’t be saved by trying to be good. But she could be saved by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. After she watched the video, I spoke to her about how Jesus loved her, even though she was a sinner. I told her that Christ died for her and gave His Blood to wash her sin away. Then I led her to Jesus. She trusted Jesus then, for the first time in her life.

Later she told me again that she had trusted Christ that day. Her attitude changed. She was happy and open. Even her face was different. Marjorie died a few weeks later, but she had found peace in Jesus!

I thank God for my mother. It was wonderful what she did for me. I hope a mother here will be blessed by this message, and benefit from my mother’s example. And I hope that you will remember that she trusted Jesus and was forgiven by His Blood. May you trust Jesus soon. God bless you. Amen.

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Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Jack Ngann:
“The Love of God” (by Frederick M. Lehman, 1868-1953).