Archives for category: Kingdom of God

This is the fourth, and final, post in this series I’ve written with my good friend Jason Evans (You can also read part one, part two, and part three).

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At a time when there was a lot of unrest about unemployment and social problems, punk music suddenly burst onto the scene like a slap in the face. It said to the world, ‘Wake up; we’ve had enough of meaninglessness!’ 
— David O’Brien1, Northern Soul: Football, Punk, Jesus

Let’s review.

The two of us have attempted to share with you how punk rock may have saved our faith. In our youth, we found parallels between punk rock politics and the Christian tradition that reaffirmed what we had learned in Sunday School classrooms. Like punk rock, the Biblical figures we had been taught about challenged the status quo, calling God’s people to live differently than what popular culture expected. Similar to the DIY ethic that encourages every participant to find a way to contribute, passages of the New Testament were to read us which encouraged us to be active members in the Body of Christ.

Open critique of prevailing systems. Open communities where all can contribute. Totally punk rock. Completely biblical.

There is little that is unique to our experience. Many have found an analog to Christian faith in communities formed through other musical genres, as well as, sports, recovery groups, and more. Part of this is simply due to how the gospel works; it finds its way into the everyday lives of ordinary people — no matter where that might be. As Justo Gonzalez writes in The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1:

The missionary task itself was undertaken, not only by Paul and others whose names are known—Barnabas, Mark et al. —but also by countless and nameless Christians who went from place to place taking with them their faith and their witness. Some of these, like Paul, traveled as missionaries, impelled by their faith. Both mostly these nameless Christians were merchants, slaves, and others who traveled for various reasons, but whose travel provided the opportunity for the expansion of the Christian message.

As this Advent season comes to a close, what might be next for us? Where do we go from here? Well, we’d like to offer a few recommendations.

Start the Conversation
Punk rock shows were always great places to get educated about the issues of the day. At shows, there would be tables set up in the back of a room with folks concerned about any number of agendas. In between sets, you would hear lively discourse about conservative and liberal economics, science, feminism, sexuality, gun control, the treatment of animals and more.

We were young and there were times when debates grew heated, even violent, but most Friday and Saturday nights were absent of this. What brought us together was that we were all punks and while we might disagree on some issues, we knew we needed space for each to find her voice.

There is a growing divide in this country along political and social issues. It is increasingly difficult for folks to talk to each other about the issues that most concern them and impact how they vote.

Create a safe space for dialogue. Provide opportunity for folks to hear differing opinions. This may be (or, frankly, will be) uncomfortable, but when has growth ever been easy? Pay particular attention to people whose voices may go unheard in your community.

Ask a friend with a different point of view in theology or politics for one book recommendation and commit to reading it. Or, if you don’t have any friends with differing opinions, consider how you might genuinely connect with someone who sees the world differently.2

Leverage the power of social media for the common good. Read and share meaningful articles on your Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter streams. On social media, follow one or two thoughtful people outside of your usual circles.

Get Involved
Our words certainly matter but, as they say, talk is cheap. Or, to phrase it biblically, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”3 Find ways to act on your convictions, even if they seem small.

For example, as you hear about the atrocities committed against children and families in Aleppo, refuse to give into despair. Give $20 to the Preemptive Love Coalition to provide a warm sleeping bag to one person on the run from violence, just as winter is beginning.

Find Your Voice  
As Ted Bond of California punk band, Craig’s Brother once wrote, “The gospel is punk in that it recognizes all governments as false gods. There is only one King. His name is Jesus, and he does not rule through fear.”

In the punk rock community, we found our voice. The church should be the same. There is no reason to hide your faith. As you boldly proclaim your allegiance to our unKing Jesus, again, you will certainly be misunderstood by people from all sides — continue in faithfulness and humility anyways.

You Are Not What You Own
In Merchandise, Ian Mackaye reminds us, “You are not what you own.” Actively resist our culture’s attempt to assign you value or worth based on outward appearances or more stuff.

Advent is a particularly important time to remember this, as you fight for your life amidst the bloodthirsty shoppers at Target. You were made for more than that. Find your worth (and see worth in others around you) by remembering that we have each been created in the image of God.

The notion that each of us is created in God’s image is very punk rock and incredibly good news! During this season, we read the announcement that a Savior has come, a Savior who embodies the ancient name Immanuel, God with us. God entered into this world in Jesus to be with us. You do not need anything else to attain access. Advent is the all ages, all access show. You are invited. You are welcome here.

Merry Christmas.

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1. Once a street punk in the UK, O’Brien is now an Anglican vicar.

2. But, please, do not go and grab some random person of color, woman, etc. and thrust yourself upon them. Gene Demby and company offer keen insight here.

3. 1 John 3:18. John’s always messing with our comfort.

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Restoration - by Jin ChoIn addition to my pastoral work with Anchor City, I’ve had the privilege recently of working also with the good people of Flourish San Diego. As implied by our name, the mission of Flourish is:

to help people and churches flourish into the fullness of who they were created to be so they can join God in flourishing our city and world.

One of the frameworks we use to describe how we see the world is The Four-Chapter Gospel (for reference: A two-chapter Gospel basically summarizes life as 1. You’re a sinner and 2. Jesus died for you—nothing false at all, but certainly lacking a broad biblical picture of the fullness of Christ’s love to restore, redeem, and renew all things). In brief:

  1. Ought: God created the world in goodness, love, and holiness. Deep down, many of us feel that longing for the world as it ought to be.
  2. Is: The world, and our own lives, are broken. Every relationship that makes life meaningful (with God, others, ourselves, and creation) has been broken and marred by sin.
  3. Can: Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection make it possible for us to live as citizens and representatives of the Kingdom of God (which, somehow, is already here but not yet fully realized).
  4. Will: One day, rather than burning up the world He so loves in a Nicolas Cage-worthy apocalyptic trainwreck, God will restore all things. As Samwise wonders in Lord of the Rings, we live for the day when our King will make everything sad come untrue.

“Christian” art can be a tricky thing, often being reduced to “successory” style motivational posters or saccharine nostalgia. Culture critic Frank Guan makes the following important observation about art:

To my mind, great art fails to embody a better world, but it carries the promise of such a world and encourages its audience to be worthy of it. Mediocre art, on the other hand, reiterates the world as it already is: Lacking transformative energy, it can only reflect the stinginess and squeamishness of its society of origin.

To my knowledge, Frank has no allegiance to the way of Jesus, but he manages to powerfully advocate for a Four Chapter Gospel understanding of art.

Flourish commissioned my friend Jin Cho for a series of original photos inspired by the Four Chapter Gospel called The Big Story Project. The results are stunning. Each photo of our city (SD forever!) was painstakingly well-thought out and beautifully executed.

The photo at the top of this page is the final photos from The Big Story Project series, “Restoration.” Jin can tell the story better than I can, but there are several ways this embodies the story of Revelation 21 in which God restores all things:

  • There is an ethereal, liminal sense of heaven touching earth—the bridge of reconciliation God builds
  • In the coming Kingdom, work still exists (notice the cranes in the skyline) and is redeemed
  • The light (as described in Revelation 21:23-26) is coming from the city; in fact, God Himself shines as our light forever
  • There is a palpable love for this great city throughout the entire The Big Story Project series
  • After several weeks of trying to line up this shot, Jin was able to capture this beautiful image—at sunrise on Easter Sunday!

Please consider purchasing these prints here. You will be a supporter of the good work of Flourish San Diego, a patron to the artwork of Jin, and a storyteller of the Four Chapter Gospel in your home (or wherever you choose to display these wonderful photos!).

Sermon 4 - Saint Exupery

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!

Our church community isn’t the most liturgical or formal. Even though my lovely wife and I have been ordained as ministers of the Word & Sacrament for a little while now, we generally don’t often wear vestments. [An aside: I did wear a clerical collar for the first time when taking my daughter to an event at the USD campus to protest racial discrimination as part of the post-Ferguson movement.]

Yesterday, as part of our worship service, we celebrated the Eucharist together. Whenever my lovely wife and I lead communion at church, we wear stoles in recognition of the significance of this sacrament (after all, for Presbyterians, we’ve only got two!).

As I began to read the Words of Institution, one of our first graders asked why I had put on a stole. I began to explain that when farmers lead oxen, they need to use a yoke—otherwise the oxen might run roughshod over the entire farm! In the same way, I told him, the stole is a symbol that we are all yoked to Christ, that He is the Leader.

Our first grader thought about it, smiled, and said, “So… it’s sort of like a leash then?” 

Sorta, I told him, as we all laughed! However, for followers of Jesus, we willingly accept His guidance and direction in all that we do (or, at least, that’s the goal).

*   *   *   *   *

Friends, may your Lenten fasts remind you that you are made for more than this world has to offer. May your capacity to love God & others expand as you make room in your hearts for more of Christ. And may you find joy in being yoked to our King.

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. 

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!