Archives for category: culture

Anyone who has been in full-time vocational ministry in a church setting will know firsthand the knife’s edge of burnout and disillusionment.

In some ways, we respond to God’s call because we are open-hearted to his purposes, but it is that very open-heartedness that can leave us wounded, jaded, and burned out.

I am grateful that God, in His grace and wisdom, opened my eyes to see that pastoral work is about a whole lot more than preaching in front of big crowds very early in my ministry life. It’s certainly not wrong to have big dreams for God; we just need to be careful how we define “big” or “important” in the Kingdom.

One of my most powerful moments of “re-conversion” came as I dug into Scripture and saw God’s passionate heart for justice. Not the flavor-of-the-month activism that fills your social media stream, but the kind God declares in Amos 5:24:

Let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

This awakening to justice breathed new life into my relationship with Jesus and my heart to serve God and others.

The Gospel encompasses personal righteousness, but never at the exclusion of compassion or justice for others. The fullness of God’s Shalom, where Christ rules and reigns as King, leads to the flourishing of all people as God renews all of creation. Followers of Jesus are invited to participate in that mission of restoration and redemption, through our words, actions, relationships, and stewardship.

Way back in 2009, I heard the origin of the One Day’s Wages story at the very first Idea Camp (created, curated & hosted by Charles Lee).  There, I heard Eugene Cho tell the story of how his family, on a very ordinary pastor’s salary, had committed $100,000 toward the fight against global poverty. I marveled as Eugene shared, “We’re not asking people to do anything we’re not willing to do.”

From their very real personal sacrifice and leadership, ODW has become a powerful force for good, “a grassroots movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty.” I am thankful for ODW’s partnership with Justice Ventures International, on whose Advisory Board I serve.

I have eagerly anticipated Eugene’s book, Overrated and, though painful to read at times (because of the level of self-reflection it requires), I highly commend this book to others.

A quick heads-up, though. Eugene is not passing out trophies to everyone just for showing up. He asks himself, and all of us — particularly in this age of celebrity causes and slacktivism — one sharp, insightful question:

Are you more in love with the idea of changing the world than actually changing the world?

I appreciated Eugene’s pastoral reflection on justice as discipleship:

A gospel that not only saves but also serves;
A gospel that not only saves but seeks to restore all things back unto the one that ushered forth all that is good and beautiful;
A gospel that not only saves but ushers in the Kingdom of God;
A gospel that not only saves but restores the dignity of humanity — even in the midst of our brokenness and depravity.
This gospel is not just for us. The gospel is good news for all.

Eugene shares with honesty, humor, and grace. As a local pastor in Seattle, Eugene is keenly aware that justice is not about jumping on some kind of bandwagon. That sort of activism leads to burnout. However, when our eyes our opened to see God’s heart of and for justice, we are transformed in the process:

We need to pursue justice not just because the world is broken, but because we’re broken too. Pursuing justice helps us put our own lives in order. Perhaps this is what God intended — that in doing His work serving others, we discover more of His character and are changed ourselves.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book as a free review copy. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” And, in the interest of full disclosure, I also purchased a copy of this book because I believe its message is that important. 

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Rather than delving into significant theological discussions about ancient/future worship, this headline references the old school Bones Brigade video, Future Primitive.

Enter into the painfully dated 80s vibe below:


A surprising number of 80s fashion motifs have returned with a vengeance lately. Is the photo below Saved by the Bell or a gathering of Silver Lake hipsters? You make the call!

While we’re waiting on the return of pegged jeans, we can all enjoy these VHS-inspired skate decks from 5boro. By “we,” of course, I mean old folks who lived through the 80s the first time around!


Okay, couldn’t resist a quick worship reference—the excellent Future/Past by John Mark McMillan:

Every once in awhile, my lovely wife and I will bust out our Lord of the Rings special-edition DVDs (no, not Blu-Ray. We’re old-school like that) and immerse ourselves in the epic world of Middle Earth.

Funny timing, then, that we recently finished a viewing right before a set of events unfolded that would remind me that—as much as I’d like to be Aragorn or Gandalf—I’m more like one of the Shire-folk. But there is great honor in learning to fulfill our small part of God’s Kingdom work: after all, some of the greatest Kingdom work is accomplished through the unnoticed and overlooked.

As Galadriel tells Frodo in the midst of his fear:

Even the smallest person can change the course of the future

I am truly thankful for the leadership, tenacity, truth-telling, and grace of leaders (many of whom I’m blessed to call friends) such as Kathy Khang, Helen Lee, Ken Fong, Sam Tsang, Nikki Toyama-Szeto, Bruce Reyes-Chow, David Park, and many, many others.

Jesus is recreating a people for Himself from those who are near and far away, from every tribe, nation, culture, ethnicity, and language.

This is our story to tell the world:

A better story of hope, redemption, life, salvation, justice, beauty, and truth in a diverse church that reflects the creativity and joy of Christ.

Recent events have reminded us how far we have to go in that journey, but that there is always hope.

I invite you to join with pastors, doctors, professors, artists, students, missionaries, attorneys, editors, accountants, counselors, moms, dads, and friends and raise your voice and sign this open letter to the church, to commit yourself to racial reconciliation, understanding, and forming a more credible witness to a broken world around us.

As I mentioned, I have felt quite Hobbit-ish in the midst of all these heavyweights. Most days, all I want to do is be the best husband and dad I can be, provide for my family, and live into our calling here in our little corner of the world in San Diego. My role in this story has been quite small, but I know that it is important not to give up—to lift my voice for my family, our church community, for Asian Americans, and for all people so that the world will know how great a Redeemer Jesus is.

I am incredibly thankful for my lovely wife—a profoundly gifted pastor, church leader, wife, mom, and reflection of the humble love of Jesus to the world. In many ways, it was her voice that became a sort of holy tipping point for one particular conversation with our friends from Exponential. As she shared her story, the doors of empathy and understanding opened.

It is no mistake, I think, that God used her voice to speak powerfully to a group consisting mostly of men. Like my friend Eugene, I also support women in all levels of church leadership. I believe this is the faithful reading of Scripture and, from my experience, the story the church needs to share with the broken world around us: God is unleashing His dreams through all of His daughters & sons, just as He promised so long ago.

As this conversation moves forward, I look forward to the unique leadership of brave, godly, and strong women (as well as the voices of my brothers in Christ).

Friends, your voice matters.

If you need to be reminded, I encourage you to read Connie Zhou’s story. Perhaps some of you will see yourself reflected back. Or, even if you are coming from a different place altogether, you will benefit from hearing her voice.

As the Church, may we plant and cultivate communities who are radically committed to loving our actual neighbors with the transforming love of Jesus.

Is there something in the water that’s making people freak out on retail employees?

Maybe it’s not a zombie apocalypse for which we need to prepare, but an angry shopper-pocalypse. At least that’s what it’s felt like the last couple of days.

Last week I saw a customer becoming extremely irate at a cashier at a local Target. Perhaps this sort of thing wouldn’t have caught my attention normally, but this rather large woman was screaming down into the face of the much smaller cashier, who eventually left the checkout lane in tears.

While waiting for her contact lenses, a Costco optical employee told my wife the story of a customer completely freaking out on her over the weekend.

* An aside; It’s not in the Bible, but I’m pretty sure my lovely wife has the spiritual gift of making complete strangers feel so at ease that they end up sharing much of their story with her in a very short time. Amazing. 

Just yesterday, I was asking a Verizon employee a few questions when I noticed her glance over my shoulder a couple of times. There was another customer at the entrance losing it on another employee, ranting and gesticulating wildly.

Diagnosing the low-grade fever of anger seething beneath the surface of many people in our culture is above my pay grade, but I do see troubling connections between people freaking out at the local big box store and how we, as the Church, often handle conflict.

Rick Warren recently set forward a chain of events that played out as it has many times before (Kathy Khang has been a great voice in all of this; catch up on the particulars of what transpired here). Thankfully, this story ended in a sort of apology (for reals, one of the first things I learned in married life is that an authentic apology does not contain the word “if”).

I can’t read the minds of the three aforementioned aggrieved shoppers, but I wonder if they know what they look like from the outside when their faces become contorted in anger, seething red and rage for everyone to see. I know we’re all capable of forgetting ourselves, so I don’t want to judge them too harshly — in fact, I’m guessing that it wouldn’t even occur to them to consider what is happening outside of themselves in that moment.

And therein lies the problem for the Church.

Sure, others might look at someone who is hurt or offended and run down their checklist of dismissals:

  • Get over yourself. Don’t take yourself so seriously
  • Grow a thicker skin. Get a sense of humor.
  • I wasn’t offended by that, so what’s your problem?
  • Why are you looking for reasons to be offended? I’m so sick of the PC police.

But should this be the heart of those who proclaim Christ as King? Seriously, take a look (if you have the stomach) at the list of dismissals, attacks, and “you’re great; what’s wrong with those people?” in the comments of Rick Warren’s FB apology. Double yikes.

In Scripture, followers of Jesus don’t say, “You shouldn’t feel that way. What’s wrong with you?”

They humbly serve like Jesus, listen, seek to understand, and hope to win their hearts. At least that’s how I’m reading Philippians 2:1-11.

Even if we think someone’s concerns are ridiculous or unfounded, what benefit is there in waving them off with a sneer, questioning their very salvation, or attacking their character? Has such an approach ever changed someone’s mind?

Of course, the way of Jesus is much, much slower and more difficult than any of us would like. As James says:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Listening is an act of love, as StoryCorps often beautifully reminds us.

If Jesus is our King, and He is redeeming us, then shouldn’t there be visible evidence that we will live, move, and have our being in profoundly different ways than what encounter out there?

What if we asked Jesus to crush that urge we have in us to respond with, “Well, that’s dumb” when we hear someone share their concerns with us. What if we listened with the Father’s heart?

Doesn’t look like much of a revolution but, then again, the Kingdom is sort of like that.

Listening — really listening — could be the unseen force that becomes tangible, visible evidence that another Kingdom is already here and is on its way.

.   .   .   .   .

Seriously, read this story from an Apple store employee (it’s the last one in this long post) and tell me that listening won’t change things: 

A manager scans the Genius Bar then approaches me. “Got something for you,” he says.

I exhale, leaving behind the comforting barrier of the Genius Bar for the open floor.

“See the lady that Dana is talking to?,” he says. “Her cat just died. So did her hard drive. You’re going to sit with her while we see what we can do. It might not be much, so prep her for that. You got this.”

He strides off to the opposite side of the store. To put out another fire, I presume.

All employees learn acronyms of steps to help empathize with customers. I can’t disclose them, as the Wall Street Journal already has, but they’re less important than the holistic goal. The gist is this: If you’ve never lost a cat, like this fragile woman Barbara just has, you can at least conjure a loss that would be as significant to you, so that you can relate. If you can illustrate to her that you get it, you’ll feel more and seem fully sympathetic.

However, since my mom never let me have a pet, I got nothing. I consider lying. I don’t want to lie. I wish I knew how the repair was going. I tell her I have lost hard drives before. I try to laugh bravely to her about semesters of research and libraries of mostly legal music evaporating. How it’s nothing like losing a companion, but how devastating it was to my freshman self.

Barbara is deflating on the designer stool right in front of me when my teammate brings out her laptop and, thank God, it actually boots up intact.

“It’s working,” I beam.

“Do you know how to check my pictures?”

“Sure,” I reply. “Right here in iPhoto.”

A grid of images of Barbara and a silver-haired man spring up. I wish I could un-see some of the images in customers’ photo libraries, but these are extraordinarily vanilla. Awkward-seated portraits in a garden, by some boats, at the beach, basic slice of life banality.

“That’s my husband.”

She’s crying with joy.

“He died last year… before I could print any of these images out. Thank you!”

My stomach drops. This, my manager didn’t know to tell me. I try hard not think of what it would have meant had we not gotten her computer back online.

I look up at the dozens of people cradling their aluminum babies. Tapping their feet, chewing their nails, licking their lips, they’re worried bad about something that matters to them. I wish Barbara the best of luck, really meaning it, and excuse myself. I unholster my iPod and call out the next customer’s name.

Not too long ago, while waiting to pick up my coffee, I overheard a conversation a Starbucks barista was having with a customer about movies. The customer was enthusiastically into pretty much all kinds of movies, but particularly post-apocalyptic films.

The barista perked up at mention of this genre, saying, “Yeah, I appreciate those kinds of films because they’re really about the human condition.”

“Yeah, totally. Like, how would you survive a zombie attack?”

Judging by the look on the barista’s face, I’d say it’s a safe bet to guess that’s not what he meant. I’d put my money on something in the ballpark of this or that.

Genres like sci-fi can use devices like Cylons to explore deeper questions about what it means to be human.  That, and the awesome outer space pew-pew-pew fights.

.   .   .   .   .

There’s something so creepy about abandoned amusement parks:

[I’m not 100% sure who to credit for the photo below: I found it via a search for “abandoned roller coasters”]

… and industrial ruins:

[h/t: Gizmodo — the photographer who captured this amazing shot is Thomas Jorion]

Is it knowing that even our greatest monuments are subject to decay? That what we build will one day fall?

Or maybe because they’re, like, totally places where zombies would hide out?

.   .   .   .   .

If I were to summarize Elysium in one sentence, it would be: In the future, when you die, it will most likely be by exploding.

photo 2

Even reading that title brings back painful memories of well-intentioned but, ultimately, misguided friends in my life who have tried to discuss race and ethnicity with me.

In true postmodern style, Bruce Reyes-Chow — who has been known as a pastor, techie, moderator, social media maven, and all-around troublemaker — launched this book through a successful Kickstarter campaign. And, since I pitched in to the Kickstarter (“First!” in old internet comment-speak), I was able to chime in regarding the question:

Why is it important to talk about race?

photo 1

I’m looking forward to diving into this book. It can be a difficult conversation all around, but if we’re going to see the future begin, then we’ve got to enter in.

As Scripture says in Revelation 7:9-10, our future looks something like this, with an incredible array of people, languages, cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds worshiping Christ:

There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

One of the hallmarks of our postmodern, internet-driven culture is that communication is moving away from the written word toward images. Just check your social media streams — the perpetual-motion reblog machine that is Tumblr, the Ecards filling up your Facebook news feed, the ubiquity of infographics. We live and breathe images today.

Design matters.

Not simply for the sake of an aesthetically-pleasing picture (which, I would argue, does matter) but in order to communicate effectively.

That’s why I’m always intrigued by efforts to redesign documents and forms we use every day. Simply put, many of them are a cluttered mess — the unspoken message, when a person picks one up, is often, “What, exactly, am I filling out now?”

This is an interesting take on redesigning the British birth certificate. Granted, there is some unnecessary information here, but your eye can easily find what’s most important on this document.

Think how much easier it would be to understand the most important information (i.e., where I am going and when) if your airplane ticket looked more like this?

Apparently, sometimes these things work. Perhaps American Airlines took several of the suggested principles from this designer in their recent rebranding/website re-launch.

.   .   .   .   .

Pastors, we are called to share the Word of God, which endures forever.

In service to this high calling, I encourage you to learn to communicate the Word of God visually.  You don’t have to be an artist, and you don’t have to ride a motorcycle into the main sanctuary (for reals), but tying together visual elements will help you deliver more effective sermons.

Keep it simple. Too much information per slide is kind of overwhelming. You don’t have to go ultra-simple, full-on Pecha Kucha — 20 slides, 20 seconds each — but please don’t use any of these cluttered, crazy presentations as your guides.

Seriously, you’ll end up with this.

Although this is ancient history (2007!), Seth Godin’s tips on simple, effective presentations still work today.

These days, I’ve been creating graphics to highlight Scripture verses and quotes (which I believe is more effective than simply putting the words onto a blank screen):

Beautiful feet