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I still haven’t gotten my mind wrapped around all of things God was doing at the Passion::Los Angeles regional event from this past weekend. Perhaps I will be able to unpack some of these things soon but the thought of how closely worship and justice are knit together absolutely gripped my heart.

Although I am doing one thing he specifically requested we not do after hearing him speak in saying this, Francis Chan is everything you’d want a speaker to be — dynamic, funny, engaging. I mentioned to our youth group students this morning at church that if God zaps certain people with lightning bolts of communication ability, Francis Chan is definitely one of them. While I certainly appreciate his giftedness, it is the heart of God that comes through so passionately when I have heard him speak.

During one of his messages, he shared about an artist he knows from Thailand who had been teaching children. As she spent time with them, she discovered that child after child had been forced into prostitution. So she did what she knew was right. This artist would enter these brothels, find these children — each beloved, made in the image of God — and literally steal them away from this life of degradation and exploitation. Quickly, she was receiving imminent, credible death threats, so she took all of her children to safety. Today, she awakes every morning to a houseful of rescue, 120 children.

Francis went on to say that he loves college students because they will do crazy things. For example, if he told this gathering of over 3000 college students that he had chartered six planes to go to Thailand so that we could run into these dark places and rescue as many kids as we could, he knew that they would be filled. If those hypothetical planes had been waiting on the tarmac at LAX, even though my college days are distant memory, I would have left that night to go.

Even as I sit here and type these words, my heart rages against the sin, decay and brokenness of our world. How do we live in a world in which evil men and women would abuse children in such unspeakable ways? When Francis brought his oldest daughter out on the stage as he was speaking on this, I could not help but hold my own daughter close to my heart. If it were our daughters out there, we wouldn’t be sitting comfortably in our churches, critiquing the songs — Well, David Crowder shouldn’t have used that Guitar Hero Flying V during Neverending. I would have used the Gibson SG, and on and on — we would move heaven and earth and until they were safe.

They’re all our daughters. Each one of these children upon whom the worst depravity of humanity has been unleashed bears the indelible imprint of our Creator and is unimaginably loved by Him. I love my daughter more and more each year. Becoming a dad is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I would do anything for her, and it is overwhelming to imagine what God’s heart must feel like when He sees what is happening to His children around the world.

My heart felt like it was being crushed in a vice grip when Francis spoke of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 — they’re all our daughters, they are all created and loved by God and, in some barely comprehensible way, they are all Jesus. Who else could be more aptly described as the least of these? It is unbearable to imagine Jesus — Jesus — hungry, naked, thirsty, imprisoned, voiceless, oppressed and yet, when we choose to bring light into dark places, to come against such horror with redemption and rescue, to allow our worship to overflow into righteousness and justice, we have done it for Him.

To learn more or to find ways to get involved, here some organizations committed to bringing about justice in our broken world:

Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! – Amos 5:23-24

Ten years ago, I was looking for some Bible study material at a Christian bookstore on the East Coast when I came across a cassette tape (!) for “Passion ’98: Live Worship from the 268 Generation.” Although I had no idea what a 268 Generation was, I liked the design on the cover so I picked it up that day. Like many others, my first connection with the Passion movement was through their music.

My wife and I, along with two friends, road tripped it over 20 hours from New Jersey out to Tennessee for the first OneDay event in 2000 (if you watch closely, you can spot us on the DVD). Since then, we have been to several Passion events — Thirsty, campus tours, various concerts & conferences, etc. We are bringing a group of college students from our church out to Los Angeles on Friday and Saturday for the Passion ’08 west coast regional event.

I really admire Louie Giglio, the founder and catalyst behind Passion. For being an extremely influential person, Louie is down-to-earth and very approachable. Once, when my wife and I were down in Atlanta as part of the ramp-up to OneDay ’03, Louie asked if we needed a ride back from dinner and we had a nice, albeit brief, conversation together in his car. Almost two years later, towards the end of ’04, we were in Manhattan for the last of the Passion events being held around the city and we saw Louie briefly before the event began. He actually remembered us, and greeted us warmly. I don’t mean to imply that I am “friends” with Louie at all; rather, I think these little stories show the heart and humility behind the Passion movement.

Louie often shares that there is no new theme for the Passion events — it’s always the same: the glory of God. While I love the music of Passion, it is the message that resonates deeply with me: that there is no higher calling, no bigger story, no more worthy cause than to live completely for God’s glory.

I don’t believe that events should be the primary catalyst for growing as followers of Christ. More and more, I am convinced that it is the living out of what we believe in the everyday and in between that causes our love for God and others to deepen. That being said, part of what draws me to Passion is that they’re not just about the events (which, by the way, are always creative and inspiring). In Louie’s own words:

Jesus is a movement. He’s not into monuments, systems or external structures. He is a river of life. “And everywhere the river flows, everything lives.” Movements are fluid. Movements move. Movements are not always predictable.

Join with us in praying that God would raise up a collegiate generation — a movement — who lives for something more than wealth, power or fame, whose life and breath would be spent to proclaim the beauty, wonder and glory of our God everyday.

Earlier this week, my wife and I went to a meeting hosted by James Choung, to help plan for an Asian American leadership gathering in April of 2008 down here in SD. I’m definitely looking forward to hearing from the main session speakers — Dave Gibbons, Peter Cha and Ken Fong — along with those who will be presenting seminars.

During the meeting, James shared something that really struck a chord with me — voicing some thoughts that I’ve been feeling, but unable to articulate. He mentioned that, often, when we gather as Asian Americans the general ethos tends toward the negative and focuses on the weakness of being Asian American — e.g., how to overcome struggles with your first-generation parents, shame and identity etc. While these are important issues that we must continue to address, with this gathering we are hoping to shift the focus toward embracing the people God has created and redeemed us to be — to understand how deeply we have been blessed that we might be a blessing to others.

I’m trying to work out the core image for our theme, “Called Out, Called Forth.” For this draft, I’m definitely trying to create a postmodern vibe and to emphasize the high calling God has placed on us — so the theme is pushing skyward. The city represents the campuses and workplaces in which the conference participants live, study and work. And the birds represent the desire to take flight, to break free from our fear of failure. Here is the design concept (there is no actual website yet, and the location is yet to be determined but the core concept is there). Any thoughts?

city-1-draft.jpg

I had the chance to meet up with James Choung last week. My wife teases me about having “internet friends” (a phrase which could easily come across the wrong way if taken out of context!). While I am very glad for the camaraderie and kinship I find in the blogosphere, it is still nice to meet people face to face. James introduced me a great local coffee shop and we sat down and talked, laughed and shared for awhile. Because James is the San Diego staff director for InterVarsity, I picked his brain and learned quite a bit regarding the spiritual vibe and general scene of our local college campuses.

If you haven’t already seen it, I highly recommend this video clip James put together about “The Big Story” of the Gospel. A very creative and thought-provoking picture of what it means to follow Christ:

I am thankful for this reminder that the Gospel is a much bigger narrative than just my story. I love the paradox at work here, though: when I remove myself from the center of the story and gain some much-needed perspective, I experience a deeper intimacy with God. The mighty, providential God of all time, history and creation wants small, messed-up me to be a part of His story of reconciliation, redemption and rescue. It’s almost too much to wrap my head around.

Thankfully, I don’t need to see the entire metanarrative at once (not that I could, even if I wanted to); sometimes, sitting down with new friends and sharing our stories allows me, in small pieces, to plug into the overarching narrative of the big story.

Speaking of stories, James has written a book, True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In which will be released through InterVarsity Press next year. I’ll definitely pick up a copy when it hits the bookstores, and I encourage you to do the same!

Rick Meigs had a great post a little while back about the false dichotomy we often create between church and parachurch organizations. I have been putting some thoughts about this together for awhile now, but with our responsibilities at our church now moving into college ministry this is becoming a very present reality for us (there are a number of universities in close proximity to our church).

It is a well-worn phrase spoken by many pastors: the church is not a building, it is the people. That is, until their local congregation is challenged by a campus ministry, mission group or some other parachurch organization. Unfortunately, the perception of many pastors is that these organizations are competing with them for finite resources — whether human or financial — and that these groups exist for the benefit of their church.  At best, such a relationship would be characterized by tolerance; at worst, suspicion and/or hostility.  Even the language itself suggests that the local church congregation is the legitimate expression of the body of Christ, while the parachurch is “close” or “near to” it.

When my wife and I sat down with our senior pastor to discuss the future of a college ministry at our church, his underlying attitude was basically that we needed to plug students into a “real” church. Certainly, there are significant benefits for college students to be plugged into a local congregation. There, they can find a diverse, multi-generational community. They can benefit from the wisdom of their elders. They might find a family who will open their home during that Thanksgiving break where they are stuck on campus.

Unfortunately,  many college students find their local church experience lacking.  Maybe the energy or vitality is missing.  Others find that there is no real place for them; they end up in a strange kind of ministry limbo — ready to move out of the kids’ table, but not finding a place at the adults’ table.  Sometimes, they wait so long for “their turn” to lead and serve that their time eventually passes.

I believe in the institutional church.  After all, I am a pastor at one.  I love the idea of being connected across geography and time through our denominational affiliation.  I believe in the accountability structures the institutional church provides.  But I see a pressing need for church ministers to develop  more robust ecclesiology. Viewing parachurch ministries as competition, or as something less than “real” church, only weakens the wider body of Christ.  The picture out there is way too big for any single ministry to fill in all the blanks.

The church has so much to learn from parachurch organizations. I have encountered many people who, after graduating from college, really struggle to find a church community to call home.  In part, this is due to a lack of close-knit community.  I don’t mean that these churches don’t have small group ministries and the like; rather, people actually living in close enough proximity to one another that they could walk over for a visit.  These environments, as Joseph Myers might suggest, create the possibility for genuine, organic relationships to arise naturally.

So many Korean American churches are basically commuter churches.  While many first-generation believers were willing to make a thirty or forty minute drive in order to find the community that they could not find anywhere else, many second-gen believers find that getting together once or twice a week is not enough to build deep, meaningful friendships.  They might have time to get an executive summary of how their friend is doing over donuts during the fellowship hour on Sunday, or time enough to get through the discussion questions during their mid-week small group gathering, but not enough time to cultivate genuine friendships.

In addition to the importance of close-knit community, parachurch ministries can model a sense of adventure or calling to local churches.  All too often, despite what the Sunday bulletin says, the vision of the church is to keep the ship afloat.  How amazing would it be to find a local congregation as passionate about reaching out to the lost, lonely and hurt as many campus ministries are?  What if churches could create a sense of wonder in our gatherings, that life is open-ended and filled with possibilities?  The local church can leverage its assets (e.g., its roots in the community, multi-generational setting, etc.) to set this passion and wonder in the context of the rhythm of everyday life — work, family, etc.

We need each other.  God’s purposes are much too large for any one church, parachurch, ministry or model to fulfill.  As Rick Meigs writes:

…some expressions of the church have a narrow ministry focus (sodality) and others have a broad ministry focus (modality). Each needs the other and each is a part of the whole. We should honor and respect what God is doing through his people regardless of the label we put on it