Archives for category: faith

This is part three of a series I’m writing with my good friend Jason Evans (Part one and part two).

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Perhaps our culture’s strongest signifier that the holidays are upon us is the annual trampling of humans and merchandise that begins the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday.1 While the spectacle of people camping out for a week to be the first in line for an oversized flatscreen television or shoving grandmas out of the way to snag a snack-retrieving drone2 still manages to elicit tongue-clucking editorials, it feels sadly appropriate for our consumer culture to ritualize the height of the consumer spending season3 in this way.

For Christians, Advent is an invitation to live an alternative story, one in which giving is better than receiving, where the unKing arrives amidst a violent empire as a vulnerable infant. Advent, not Black Friday or the ball dropping in Times Square, marks the beginning of our year.4

A Mechanic’s Guide
In 1991, Simple Machines published and sent out 10,000 copies of their Introductory Mechanic’s Guide to Putting out Records — a DIY how-to guide that explains the record manufacturing process in simple language. Originally, the guide was released as part of a larger booklet released in conjunction with Dischord and Positive Force DC (a DC-area activist group that works for social change and youth empowerment) called You Can Do It, which covered topics such as how to organize an activist group or put on a show.

The Mechanic’s Guide has been influential in a number of other ways, as described in the introduction:

This booklet is just a basic blueprint, and even though we write about putting out records or CDs, a lot of this is common sense. We know people who have used this kind of information to do everything from putting out a 7″ to starting an independent clothing label to opening recording studios, record stores, cafes, microbreweries, thrift shops, bookshops, and now thousands of start-up internet companies. Some friends have even used similar skills to organize political campaigns and rehabilitative vocational programs offering services to youth offenders in DC.

Discipleship, Movie Theaters, and Shopping Malls
In the Western church, we have become painfully dependent upon a spiritual hierarchy. We have professionalized the idea of ministry – with the amateurs sitting back passively and watching the ordained professionals “do ministry” for them. It has been grossly misused by paid ministers and has been the excuse of many to treat discipleship to Christ as a casual hobby.

In this scenario, one might picture church as a movie theater, where people purchase a ticket, sit back comfortably, watch the show, and then get on with the rest of their lives or church as a shopping mall, where shoppers survey the many purveyors of religious goods and services, expect and receive attentive customer service and then, again, get on with the rest of “real” lives.

Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved5
Scripture paints a very different picture: rather than passively consuming religious goods and services, we are called to make, create, and participate. In 1 Peter 2, we are told that, as a people belonging to God, all of us are part of a “royal priesthood” — not only the religious professionals or those on the stage. Scripture urges us to do more than “go to church” but to be the church. As 1 Corinthians 12:27 shows us, “You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

You don’t have to search hard to find talk, both within church circles and in the broader culture, about finding your calling or chasing your dreams. This provides a unique opportunity for the church to remind Christians of our primary calling as the beloved people of God in Christ, and our primary vocation to seek the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, as Jesus prayed. And, like early DIY punk scene, this challenges us to help the church live out our secondary callings in every sphere of life — everywhere we live, work, and play — and find a place for everyone to contribute so that the church becomes a dynamic, creative force for good in our local communities, rather than simply a destination to consume religious goods and services.

From Mass Produced to Artisan Crafted
From local craft microbrews and coffee roasters to artisans and makers, some in our culture have begun to shift from mass-production’s emphasis on efficient, scalable, and uniform to thoughtful, crafted, and unique. When the church calls everyone to participate in joining God’s mission of redemption, we may lose a bit of the slick, high-gloss sheen of big-budget productions, but we will gain much more — particularly in the unexpected joy of discovery as God’s dream for more of the church is awakened and unleashed.

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1. This day wears black on the outside, because black is how it feels on the inside.

2. Look, I don’t need a jetpack in my future — is it too much to ask Elon Musk to make a drone that will get me a Diet Coke from the fridge?

3.  To the tune of almost $800 billion this year. Yikes, indeed.

4. Many Christian traditions recognize Advent as the beginning of new liturgical year.

5. We could use some more Soul Power, too.

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This is part two of a series I’m writing with my good friend Jason Evans. You can read part one here.

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Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.
— Paul Batalden

Suicidal Tendencies broke onto the punk scene of southern California in 1980. Long before the dreaded rap rock era of loud music1, Suicidal mixed the aesthetics of LA gang culture with punk and metal music. Not long after forming, they would find critical acclaim for their song, Institutionalized.2

The song dramatizes the story of young man who is criticized for his looks and behavior by his parents who think he might be unstable. At one point in the song, vocalist Mike Muir cries out, “I went to your schools, I went to your churches …” explaining that he is a direct result of the systems his parents created for him.

Beyond Critique
Punk has always been defined by a strong critique of prevailing systems and dominant assumptions. But more than critique in song, a punk rock ethic has lead many to seek out accountability of those in power. Through protests, petitions, and other actions punks have often set out to hold the powers accountable for their actions.

Further, they also point out to the rest of us our complicity, or participation, in furthering systems that often disenfranchise those on the margins. Suggestion by Fugazi is a striking example3 — the song decries the objectification and harassment of women in our culture, and calls out our complicity:

She does nothing to deserve it
He only wants to observe it
We sit back like they taught us
We keep quiet like they taught us…
He touches her ’cause he wants to feel it
We blame her for being there
But we are all guilty

American Jesus, Mohawks, and Faux Hawks
Several years ago Jason was watching the legendary Bad Religion play in downtown San Diego, CA. They ended their show with the song, “American Jesus.” At the peak of the song the audience chanted along mockingly, “In God we trust,” taunting the religious establishment that had reared so many of us. In that moment Jason realized something; the American Jesus that Bad Religion was criticizing was not a Jesus he wanted to follow.

We’re both too old to care anymore, but when we were much younger we knew there was a difference between punks that sported mohawks and “faux hawks.” Like Wattie Buchan4 of The Exploited or Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, those that had shaved clean most of their head with the exception of tall, often brightly colored, spikes jolting out of the tops of their scalps radically and obviously identified with punk culture. Their job opportunities were limited, public scrutiny was expected. They were serious punks. On the other hand, those who used a little hair gel to spike up their hair for the concert, only to wash it out at the end of the night could go back to being a normal kid, blending easily back into the culture—no cost, no ostracization.

Hair styles may be the shallow concerns of adolescents but punk rock provided an analog to our faith. Were we taking this seriously? Were willing follow Jesus only on Sundays? When it was comfortable? Or were we willing to follow when it was difficult as well? The Jesus that Bad Religion was mocking blindly aligned with patriotism and consumerism. It was a faux-Jesus; a Jesus that had some veneer of Jesus but none of the substance. That said, it’s easy to critique a shallow theology, the challenge is in choosing a different path.

A Different Path
From the prophets to Jesus of Nazareth, we see the same principle of speaking truth to power, holding those in power publicly accountable. What is more, they called God’s people to repentance which was more than saying, “We’re sorry, God.” Repentance begins with a recognition that we’re headed down the wrong path and is the hard choice to live differently, to count the cost, and to follow Jesus wherever he may lead.

It’s important to acknowledge our complicity in the problems we face today. Too often, we have made decisions based on fear, rather than perfect love that drives out fear. We have loved our lives and comfort in this world, refusing to plant the seeds of the Kingdom through our sacrifice. Rather than welcoming strangers, we have chosen to fortify and insulate ourselves against anyone who looks or feels different from us. We have blended comfortably into the system, rather than following the incarnate Christ, the light who overcomes darkness.

As we journey through the season of Advent, we are reminded of the stories of an unwed girl and day laborer that journeyed to Bethlehem looking for a place to stay. In a barn, the unKing would be born and his first cradle would be a feeding trough. The Gospel narrators do not provide these images on accident. They are intended to remind us that when His name is announced to mean, “God with us” that this means God’s presence would be found amidst the unwanted and outcast; not simply those we find to be comfortable company.

For varied reasons, many Christians are uncomfortable with where our nation stands today. We too are concerned. Yet we feel challenged by our punk roots and discipleship to Jesus to not simply criticize but to choose to live differently, no matter what popular opinion might be. We feel compelled to confess our complicity and to choose a different path. In our homes and Christian communities, will we embody the kind of life that the gospel calls us to?

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1. Look, even Barbie was “rappin’ and rockin’”

2. Did I see a boneless in that video, amidst all of the powersliding? Ah, the 90s.

3. See this short article from the Washington City Paper

4. Punk’s not dead, oh no! Wattie, after all these years.

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With each passing day, I discover a new joy in this journey of church planting. As any planter will tell you, it’s lots and lots of work—but absolutely worth it!

I enjoy many different kinds of work, including graphic design, web editing, and freelance writing (and love that they’re part of my vocational mix) but I’m discovering that being a part of and helping to pastor Anchor City is really where my heart is. As God awakens and unleashes His dreams for each member of our amazing community, I’m filled with gratitude and wonder.

As the author of The Little Prince notes in the quote image above, pastoring at Anchor City isn’t about assigning tasks or accomplishing my 5-point vision plan: it’s standing shoulder-to-shoulder, discovering the vast, endless ocean of God’s grace.

A couple of unexpected opportunities have come up from this church planting journey, and I would truly value your prayers, friends.

  • First, my lovely wife and I will be sharing a breakout session at The Fellowship Community National Gathering on Wednesday here in San Diego. We’ll be sharing about our planting journey and what we feel it means for us to be a church for our great city.
  • Second, I’ll be part of a panel discussion at Exponential West on October 8th called “Engaging Healthy Conversations on Race Relations” alongside an incredible group of Kingdom leaders (for real, how did I end up in this group?). I hardly consider myself an expert on racial reconciliation, but I passionately believe a diverse church who reflects the joy and creativity of Jesus is a beautiful, credible witness to our divided, broken world (Revelation 7:9-10). As an Asian American, a central part of my life of faith has been Jesus’ redemption of my “neither/nor” existence into a “both/and” identity in which I can empathize with those who haven’t found a place.

“Platforms” are a funny thing. More power to those who want to, and are able to, reach large audiences through preaching, writing, or online. My lovely wife and I often say that we just want to be faithful in our little corner of the world. That’s not some kind of “holy” humility talking: as I’ve grown more comfortable in my own skin, I recognize how God has wired me as an introvert (and shy, to boot), so public speaking events (outside of our church community) are not a top priority for me. At the same time, I’m discovering how much I love and am energized by seeing life transformation happening in our Anchor City community and, through us, in our city and world.

As C.S. Lewis wrote, “The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become – because He made us. He invented us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be… It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.”

If there can be some kind of Kingdom impact through sharing my story, let it be so. As we seek to join God’s mission of redemption for our cities and for our world, we need each other. Maybe I’ll see you at one of these gatherings!

Today’s headline comes with a grateful tip of the hat to my friend Dan King, author of The Unlikely Missionary: From Pew-Warmer to Poverty-Fighter.

“Adventure” almost sounds too simple to describe our church planting journey over the last nine (!) months, but I’m not sure there’s a better way to describe what an unexpected, joy-filled, nerve-wracking, and humbling journey it’s been so far!

When I read my friend Wayne’s recent blog post, I felt a deep resonance with his words:

I stepped back, sat down in my chair and watched it unfold(ing) before my eyes. I didn’t have to do much. The people are doing it. It’s high collaboration, and requires minimal management, because we all are heading down the same track: that of a missional church with a multiethnic mission in the suburbs of west Houston.

Switch out H-town for sunny San Diego, and you’ll get a pretty good sense of our Anchor City story.

I’m beyond grateful to plant along my extraordinary wife: A truly gifted pastor, preacher, teacher, and developer of leaders. I’ve loved seeing God work through her to unleash the people of God to join Him on His mission of redemption and reconciliation. I often tell people (and only half-jokingly) that my job around church is to set up chairs (and, humblebrag: I’m pretty good at it!).

From time to time, you might see church leadership articles ask the question: If you were not on staff at your church, would you be part of it? For me, as I look at the amazing things God is doing through Anchor City, the answer is a thousand times yes!

Our community has taught me so much about generosity, devotion, laughter, and hard work. I believe in our friends so much — and when such a gifted group is willing to share their kindness and talents so freely, quite frankly, it’s easy to believe in them. I can only pray that God will shape me into a pastor worthy of such a church community.

We’re far from perfect, but God is raising up a beautiful family through Anchor City. If you are in the San Diego area and you’re looking to become part of a church community, we invite you to be a part of the story God is writing in and through our lives.

Following Jesus’ call to plant Anchor City Church in January has been an adventure all the way!

Please take a minute and watch this short video (filmed and produced by some very talented creatives from our community) that introduces our heart & vision for Anchor City:


May God’s will be done in San Diego as it is in heaven!

Adventure

A very happy new year, friends!

When I responded to God’s call over 17 years ago to serve in full-time vocational ministry, I had no idea what was in store. God always knows what He is doing, though, right? There’s no way I was prepared for the ups & downs ahead, but Jesus has always had more than enough mercy & grace for the journey.

Our family is so thankful for the next adventure to which God is calling us. We are incredibly grateful to partner with a group of generous, thoughtful, faithful, kind, compassionate, and talented individuals and families to plant a new church here in San Diego: Anchor City Church!

We believe God is calling us to plant a third culture, multiethnic, multi-generational church to bless and serve San Diego and the world, and are excited to respond to the call. We believe a diverse church with Christ at the center reflects the joy & creativity of God and forms a beautiful, credible witness to a broken, divided world (Revelation 7:9-10).

As Asian Americans, we have experienced the pain of being not accepted as fully Asian or American. However, through the redemption only Christ can bring, our journey has been transformed from “neither/nor” to “both/and.” We believe God is calling us to leverage this gift for the sake of others at the margins, who might not feel at home elsewhere and to invite them to sit at Christ’s table among the family of God.  As the psalmist says, “God sets the lonely in families.”

As pastors, my wife and I seek to unleash the God-given dreams of each member of our community, to cultivate better expressions of Christ’s love for the world, and to join the redemptive work of the Holy Spirit throughout San Diego and the world. Christ is the true Anchor for our souls (Hebrews 6:19), the One who harbors us in the eye of the storm and who gives us the courage to venture forth and risk the ocean.

We dream of kids & families growing together in the truth that this is our Father’s world and following Jesus is an adventure like no other. We want to engage and unleash the God-given creativity, curiosity & wonder of people of all ages through music, art, science, food, and play.

We will begin gathering in homes this week as the new year begins. If you, or someone you know, does not belong to a church community and is looking to find a church to call home, we invite you to consider Anchor City Church. We believe God has not given up on the world, and neither have we!

Friends, we deeply value your prayer & intercession. We want to cultivate an outward-looking ethos & culture in Anchor City, and we believe that is only possible through the leadership & guidance of the Holy Spirit.

In the weeks to come, I will be posting more about our heart, ministry, and life together — including our social media accounts and website. We look forward to connecting and collaborating for the Kingdom!

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.