Archives for category: faith

One of the toughest things to break free from as an Asian American is fear.

Not of spiders or heights, but of failure and what others might think.

When I was younger, I would stay silent most of the time when I would hear racist remarks — even if they were directed at me. As one of the few Asian Americans I knew growing up in the Mitten, it was easier to stay silent and not rock the boat.

Ethnicity is a Gift

After I became a Christian, though, God began to do powerful work to restore my sense of identity in Christ. Our ethnicity is a GIFT, not a burden for which we should apologize nor an inconvenience to brush aside. When Jesus redeems us, He makes us into the people He dreams of us becoming — ethnicity and culture and all.

Speaking out about racism is vital for the Church — which often ignores ethnicity for the sake of growth (see: the homogeneous unit principle) or because it’s uncomfortable (or, in the worst-case scenario, because we’ve already printed the curriculum and why can’t you just get over it already). The Church is meant to be a diverse community where each person counts, where Jesus Himself tears down ancient walls of hatred and division.

Fight the Good Fight

Last night, at my daughter’s school choral concert, the grade levels were performing different Disney songs. The Lion KingTangled… and then Mulan. Each grade was dressed up in clothes that reflected their particular film — animal prints and safari clothing for Lion King, etc.

For the Mulan performance, a Caucasian boy came out in one of those conical hats hats that are often used in stereotyping Asians (for example, in scare-tactic political ads). Now, of course I know that this young man wasn’t trying to be a racist and, to be frank, I wasn’t particularly offended. The choral director for the school is Asian American as well (which, in an of itself doesn’t always make things right. I’m thinking of many people’s excuse of “i have lots of Asian friends and they’re not offended by my racist words/actions.”).

My wife and I work hard to instill in our daughter a sense of confidence about who she is in Christ — including her background as an Asian American. We want her to be empowered to live as a both/and person (as opposed to be neither fully Asian nor accepted as fully American). We want her to be able to shake off the little stuff, but be ready to stand up for what’s right, particularly on behalf of others.

Ninjas, Again. Really?

However, there are times where we must speak up. That’s why I was glad to see there was some positive resolution to a recent discussion about something called Easter Ninja — an online event designed to help churches with their outreach.

Of course, I know that in today’s popular culture — particularly in social media circles — there are gurus, jedis, rockstars and, yes, ninjas around almost every corner. I understand that, in this context, ninja is meant to imply expertise, skill, and a certain amount of I’m with it cachet.

However, as an Asian American, I cringe when I see this kind of branding. Personally, I think of how many times non-Asians have come up to me making karate motions or “Bruce Lee” sounds, pulling back their eyes, etc. For people of color, it’s often not the major blowout racist events (e.g., a Klan rally against you in town) but the compilation of years of microaggressions that causes us to lose heart and grow weary. Like this.

I’m sure the pastor organizing the Easter Ninja event means well — reaching more people for Christ at Easter is a good and worthy goal. I’m sure he did not mean anything racist by branding his event in this manner. I’m thankful for voices like Soong-Chan Rah and Mark DeYmaz who communicated these important issues to the organizer of this event, and that the organizer was open to listening and growing from this discussion.

Moving Forward

All too often, in cases like this, we see the following pattern:

  • Offending incident
  • Response
  • Overwhelming backlash to the response

Learning to listen is absolutely vital. We all have blind spots, we all make mistakes. The question is: How will we grow through these missteps and failures? It’s good to have fruitful discussions after mistakes have been made; it would be even better not to make these kinds of mistakes in the first place. In the big picture of things, this ninja event wasn’t such a huge deal — however, it is important to create positive momentum for future occasions that are a big deal.

Hopefully, as the Church, we will move forward in the hard work of racial reconciliation — not only for Asians or Asian Americans, but for people of all races and ethnicities. If we are to be faithful to God’s calling, we must move forward in unity, celebrating our God-given ethnicities while joining together in worship and mission.

A number of years ago, when I responded to God’s call to full-time vocational ministry, I willingly abandoned other lines of work that would have been much more financially stable (in particular, in the fields of consulting and marketing).

At the time, being young, single, and idealistic, it wasn’t too much to sacrifice financial gain for the sake of the call. Today, as a husband and father, it would be a significantly more difficult decision. Not because I believe in serving God any less, but because there is so much more at stake.

Over the last couple of year, I’ve been serving in a church, editing part-time online, and hustling for whatever freelance design gigs I can in order to make ends meet. As ‘Ye says, I had to did what I had to did ’cause I had to get. Please don’t misunderstand: I will joyfully sacrifice my time and comfort in order to provide for my family.

However, this has not left much time for self-reflection, particularly about big-picture or long-term dreams that God has put on my heart.

I want my life to count for the Kingdom – to see the oppressed set free, the lonely set in families, and for freedom songs to be sung in Jesus’ name anywhere and everywhere. When these God-dreams slam into reality, though, they are delayed and I can feel stuck. I get the feeling many of us feel that way.

It’s not always dramatic tragedy that sidetracks us but, often, a low-grade dissatisfaction with things as they are (and an unwillingness to change course).

My friend Marko offered up this compelling insight recently:

You don’t lack the ability to make the decision; what you lack is the willingness to make the wrong decision.

Leadership in faith is seeing what is not yet, but one day — by the grace of God — will be.

Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of changing things up: These are dream-killers. Thankfully, we are not left alone in this fight:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. – 1 John 4:18

It’s time for different outcomes. And that means different approaches — both to the big-picture and the mundane, everyday business of faithfulness.

I had an insightful conversation with my daughter recently. I grew up with so much fear, and I want her to be free of that burden so she can be everything God dreams of her becoming. We were discussing failure and risk, and she said to me:

The pain of failing only lasts a little while. But the lessons you learn from it stick with you for a long time.

Here’s to not getting stuck, but driving ahead through the fear — and failure — in grace and love.

Robots

I am, like many of us, quite wary of people who claim to have heard God speak to them.

As Anne Lamott writes in Bird by Bird“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out God hates all the same people you do.”

That is, it’s way too easy for us to hear what we want to hear, and then attribute it to God.

However, I do believe God speaks.

Certainly, through Scripture — and not the “Bible roulette” kind of reading, where God’s Word becomes little more than tarot cards or tea leaves as we try to divine the future.

No, the kind of reading that engages us at the deepest level, where it grabs hold of our thoughts and to which we return again and again weeks after reading it. The kind of Bible reading that illuminates our understanding of how things are and the incomparable heart and character of God. The kind that challenges, upsets, and upends our way of thinking.

I also believe God speaks through His people.

Again, not through the blustery megaphone wielded like a sledgehammer or the arrogant presumptions of those who simply want to control others.

Often, I find that God speaks most powerfully through people when they don’t even realize He’s speaking through them.

A friend from our church community recently shared an amazing story about how God was at work in ordinary and unforeseen ways through him.

One of his friends, who we’ll call John — whose only religious background is Buddhist — had a dream in which someone came to him, handed him a book, and told him that if he wanted to be successful in life, he should read this.

When John opened the cover, he discovered it was the Bible.

My friend directed John to connect with a church in his area, and he has been taking steps toward faith.

However, God did not speak to John randomly, out of the blue (although I know God does speak powerfully through dreams, particularly in areas in which following Jesus is dangerous or against culture or law).

John revealed that it was a Facebook photo my friend had posted that got him thinking about what he wanted his life to be about.

That photo was from one of our church’s housebuilding trips across the border to Tijuana, Mexico. And as John saw this photo, it made him think that about sacrifice and service.

My friend is a phenomenal photographer with an amazing artistic eye. But he had no intention of proselytizing through his photo.

He was simply sharing with family and friends what our community was up to. And that natural discussion of how we’re joining what God is doing in our ordinary and everyday lives is, to me, an incredibly powerful witness.

May you walk so closely to Christ that you cannot help but hear His voice, and may He speak powerfully through you.

Michael Gungor, writer of songs and melter of faces behind the umlauted liturgical post-rock musical collective Gungor, just put his arm around my shoulder and reminded me why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Figuratively, sure, through his just-released book The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse: A Book for Creators — but the truth is no less real simply for the fact that I can’t name-drop him as a friend friend.

I suppose I was already predisposed to like The Crowd, given my fondness for banjos, harmonized guitar solos, and swelling strings (all of which Gungor has in spades), but I was not prepared for the gut-level response I would have from the opening pages in which Michael describes his burnout and the pain it caused the people he loved the most.

Before I go any further, let me recommend this book — for creatives of all stripes (musicians, visual artists, graphic designers), pastors, and church leaders — not for its ability to teach you how to write a killer worship anthem (although Michael could help you with that) or how to get your song onto Christian radio playlists (see Appendix 3: A Snapshot of American Christian Music for help with that), but for the way it ushers in the hope that comes alive when our eyes are opened and we realize our God is here.


We are all creators. Those of us engaged in church work must be reminded of this again & again: We are called to build, rebuild, restore, redeem, and reconcile — to create, not destroy — in partnership with the living Christ all that sin has broken.

The common idea that there are some people who are creative and some who are not is a myth. So on some level, we are all artists. We are all creators.

In our little church community, we try to cultivate the God-given creativity in each of us for the cause of redemption. We believe that when we dream alongside our Creator, restoration becomes reality.

While “art” is notoriously difficult to define, Michael’s words sound a call to the Church to reclaim the God-given power behind it.

Art matters. It is not simply a leisure activity for the privileged or a hobby for the eccentric. It is practical good for the world. The work of the artist is an expression of hope. Art, along with all work is the ordering of creation toward the intention of the creator.

Throughout The Crowd, Michael injects these potentially heavy topics with humor and joy. From his first robot-crafted guitar to his description of  the (I’m still not convinced he’s real) stylings of The Emotron, Michael demonstrates a self-deprecating humor that is often missing from conversations about Art, Purpose, and Meaning.

The Christian music industry might play by “safe for the whole family” formulas but followers of Christ are driven by something much greater than fear:

In this story, my imagination is set free as it envisions the earth as part of the creation that will someday be set free from its bondage to decay. This is a framework in which one can anticipate the arrival of Beauty’s fullness. It is the anticipatory painting of a room that will eventually be lived in. It is the present feeding and clothing of those who are to eventually be clothed and fed. Art is not a distraction from human meaninglessness, but part of the burgeoning newness that gives our existence a hopeful and sacred meaningfulness. It speaks of incarnation. It is a future hope taking root in the present. It is a view that the Creator has not given up on his creation and an invitation to join the sculpting of creation’s dirt into something that God might breathe his very breath into.

Sounds a lot like something John wrote many years ago: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.” – 1 John 4:18-19

As we seek to love God and God’s people — particularly those of us who are called into various forms of church leadership — we must hold fast to hope. Otherwise, we will burn out, becoming jaded & cynical.

The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse is a gift to those of us who believe this is not the end, that God has not given up on the world, and that we’re called to reflect His boundless, creative joy in all of life.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free as part of a book review program. 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.”

The statistics can crush us, if we let them sink in.

Every year, over 3 million people die from water-related disease. 

Every day, water-related disease claims the lives of 5,000 children under the age of 5, or roughly one death for every 15 seconds that pass.

Over 800 million people around the world do not have access to clean water.

I do not want to live in a world where kids die for lack of access to clean water.

As a follower of Christ, I firmly believe that God’s heart aches for the suffering.

It has been a dream of mine for several years to participate in a well-digging trip. This past summer, I was privileged to lead a team from our church community in partnership with Living Water International to dig a well for a community in need in Granada, Nicaragua.

I love the work and ministry of LWI. Through clean water projects, LWI shares the living water of Jesus to bring the true hope that changes everything.

On a personal note, there are very few things as satisfying as collapsing into bed at night, completely exhausted from giving it all for the Kingdom.

This Kingdom of God is near: In the hard work of digging through the mud and hauling pipes, in the laughter of speaking broken Spanish with giggling kids from the neighborhood, in newfound friendship working side-by-side with local community members.

I learned so much from Jorge, the leader of the Rivas LWI team. His patience and humor helped guide our team through a week filled with plenty of challenges. From a ministry perspective, I deeply appreciate LWI’s approach of training, equipping, and consulting with local leaders. Rather than showing up with all the answers from an outside perspective, I believe effective and God-honoring ministry is founded upon a posture of humble listening and genuine partnership.

We are looking forward to continuing our partnership with LWI. We’ll be sending a team to Guatemala this year, and another team to Nicaragua next summer. It’s a privilege and joy to be a part of God’s redemptive work in world, to share the living water of Jesus and a cup of cold water in His name to those in need.