Archives for category: prayer

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

Advertisements

As Eugene Cho wrote recently in southern california is burning, it can be hard to actually enter into another person’s experience. Even for us, right in the midst of the firestorm and its aftermath here in SD, there can be a strange disconnect. Like others around the nation, we’ve been watching the firestorm from the television. As Shane Hipps comments, “The screen always wins.” I mean, we are here and it wasn’t even a week ago that we were grabbing only the essentials as we evacuated through the smoke and sirens early in the morning and yet watching the constant news feed has a strange, dulling effect. The sense of being “informed” creates a false sense of understanding, which can easily create a barrier to actually engaging the reality of individual people’s lives.

Sometimes it takes just being there to feel and understand it. During our return back to San Diego, we drove past the Camp Pendleton fires which created a menacing black cloud through which we had to drive. This junky cell phone photo (which, not to worry, were taken by my wife from the passenger seat!) shows how powerful one small brush fire can be — the hills and valleys in the immediate vicinity were, at the time, pretty well ablaze, so you can imagine what the larger scene looked like:

fire-4.jpg

* * * * *

However, more than just driving by, what brought home the impact of these fires for me was helping a church family try to deal with the aftermath. This particular family lives in one of the hard-hit neighborhoods and were just able to re-enter today. After much worrying and wondering, they were relieved to find their home in good condition. Their neighbor five houses, down, however, was not so fortunate:
five-doors-down.jpg

I have heard about the random nature of fires — one house will be perfectly fine, the next completely leveled. But it is an altogether different experience to see it with my own eyes. We spent most of the afternoon trying to clean up the ash and soot that covered most of everything and to try to make their place livable again.

On Monday, while were still greeting evacuees at our church, a stranger wandered into our education building. After talking for a bit, finding out some of his story and giving him some bus fare, he said (regarding the wildfires), “You know, people call these kinds of things ‘acts of God.'” I told him I didn’t think that was an accurate description of what was happening. As much as we’re all grateful that God has spared our homes, can we really say that we out-prayed or received more favor from God than those who lost their homes? I don’t think this is a straightforward one-to-one proposition — otherwise, we’d all end up losing our places, wouldn’t we?

* * * * *

After cleaning the front of the house and the garage, we moved to the backyard — which, if we didn’t realize it before, definitely put into perspective how close they came to losing their house. One family member saw the garden hose in the back and didn’t remember leaving it out, and then we saw this burnt out palm tree, not even ten feet from the house:

burned-palm-tree.jpg

We could only guess that either a firefighter or neighbor who stayed behind saw the burning palm tree and doused the flames with the garden hose. Just beyond the white fence is the ravine through which the fire cut a brutal path — embers kicked up from the Santa Ana winds must have caught the house five doors down.

However, the street just across the gulch was hit much harder. I passed house after house that looked as if some angry, mythic giant had just stomped on them; but there was the same randomness — one house was hit, the next three were fine, and then two in a row were gone. News crews were out in full force (I saw at least three), chronicling the heartbreak of families trying to salvage whatever they could.

next-block.jpg

* * * * *

My daughter attends the preschool of a church in this community in which 57 families lost their homes. Tonight, they hosted a gathering of worship, prayer and sharing. It did our hearts good to stand with others in our community who have lost it all and yet can say, “We are survivors; God is with us” as we did as a modified benediction today. Reading Scripture together, seeking God and interceding on behalf of others, sitting together in silence. The old hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” came together with a new resonance tonight.

We realized tonight that, in our longing for connection, community is not going to come to us — we have to pursue it, build it wherever we are. If you are in the San Diego area, there are plenty of people in need. Some need help sifting through the rubble, some might need special expertise navigating the maze of FEMA and insurance, and some might just need you to listen to their stories and weep with them. Let’s be the body of Christ to a hurting world. Or, as Donald Miller writes, followers of Christ are called to live “as if something was broken in the world and we were supposed to hold our palms against the wound.”

After an arduous and extremely surreal couple of days on the run, we are finally back home.

Apart from the ash covering the stairs and landing in front of our place, things are looking pretty normal around here. However, that sigh of relief that I breathed upon seeing our apartment complex still standing was followed quickly by a prayer for the thousands who have now found themselves homeless. Or, perhaps even worse, still do not know the status of their place — as is the case with one of our church families.

* * * * *

Today, we awoke at my father-in-law’s place before six in the morning to the sound of sirens wailing in the near distance. After making sure things were settled down at church on Monday, we drove straight up to Orange County to my father-in-law’s place because they were uncomfortably close to the Santiago Fire (apparently — inexplicably — the result of arson). We wanted to makes sure we were there to help them evacuate, if necessary. After all, our church community has one another, but we are the only family around to help my father-in-law.

It was the sound of police sirens that first alerted us to the evacuation up in Rancho Bernardo, so when we heard them in OC my heart was pounding as I raced to the computer to find out what was happening. Unfortunately, they are still using a dial-up connection to the internet. I was not aware that people still used dial-up. This was, perhaps, a divine test of my patience, as pages that take more than five seconds or so to load usually drive me nuts. After what seemed like an eternity, I was finally able to locate the number to the local sheriff and to the Santiago Fire hotline. I received assurances from both that the danger was not imminent, and there were no evacuations for this community. This, despite the fact that we could see the flames from the second-floor balcony and ash was beginning to fall like snow.

We spent the remainder of the morning calling every church family we could, making sure everyone was alright. Throughout the morning, we kept receiving the good report that many were able to repopulate their homes. We also kept in contact with the local sheriff’s department and fire hotline to make sure there were no local evacuations. After receiving assurances that things were stabilizing around OC, we made the trek down the 5 freeway back to San Diego. We passed through the area of the Camp Pendleton fires, which had caused intermittent closings of the 5 throughout the morning. Though this fire was “small” in comparison to some of the beasts that have been raging across Southern California, there is something extremely emotional about seeing a wildfire up close. I’m just glad that our daughter was sleeping as we passed through the hellish, billowing smoke that blackened the afternoon sky.

* * * * *

Something cynical inside me wants to rebel against the constant media barrage and emotional manipulation — the Kenny G tracks playing over photo montages of people weeping in front of their burning homes, the breathless “on the scene” reporters, the grandstanding talking heads using the crisis to yammer on about their pet political stance.

Firefighters battling Southern California blazes, from SignOnSanDiego.comAnd yet, there is no denying some of what has unfortunately almost become cliche during these kinds of tragedies. There can be no doubt about the heroism of the hundreds of firefighters who have fought these blazes day and night. With hardly enough time to rest for a moment, these brave men & women have put their lives on the line to save lives and homes. One family lost their home, but firefighters found a safe moment to dash into the home and grab some photos before all was lost. As one firefighter said during an interview, “Every home is our home.”

I don’t mean to sound gratuitous in saying this (I never use this as sermon material), but I am reminded of 9/11. We were on the ragged edge of disaster there as well — living just across the bridge to the city in Palisades Park. We have heard it so many times, but when everyone else was running away from the burning towers hundreds of firefighters were running toward them. And we have seen the same selfless heroism on display this week.

In fact, the reason we felt secure in leaving my father-in-law in Orange County was because of the incredible work of the understaffed firefighters to make a stand against the Santiago Fire. Almost on sheer will it seems, they have beaten back the beast.

* * * * *

The crazed dash to evacuate our place really put things into perspective for us in terms of what is really important. I was really pleased to receive my Junky Car Club membership in the mail a couple of weeks ago, but I wasn’t quite ready to live out their motto, “Learning to live with less so that we can give more” by losing everything we own to the firestorm. However, amidst the sirens and smoke, ash and adrenaline as we evacuated the blaze, what really mattered was getting our family out of there.

I am so thankful for my wife and daughter. My wife was the first one to bring panicked church members together to pray — and not only for the winds to cease and the fire to fall back, but for our community to seek God’s heart. During the non-stop news reports, our four-year old daughter kept asking if our place burned down. We tried explaining that we hoped things were fine, but even if we lost our place that God would still take care of us. Finally, we realized she was concerned that her dolls would be hurt and that she was not there to help them escape. Today, we heard a story on the radio about a man who bought out the local big box retailer for children’s backpacks. Our daughter asked us why he did that, and we explained that there were lots of kids at the stadium who lost all of their stuff in the fires. Her eyes lit up and she said earnestly, “I have toys at home. I can share with them!”

* * * * *

There is an uneasy calm as things get back to “normal” around here. Will tomorrow bring another phone call about a friend who lost a home? When can we stop wearing masks outside? Can the talking heads and pundits wait until at least next week before launching their politicized tirades against whomever?

I am worn out. And, even in saying that, I feel guilty because I know there are many others just down the street who do not have luxury of typing those words in the comfort of their home. All I can do is join the psalmist and pray:

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Thank you for your prayer, concern and offers of shelter and help — you have been God’s tangible grace to our family. May God continue to have mercy on all of us here.

Thank you, everyone, for your prayers.  I think they might be the one thing sustaining us right now.  

I am writing from Orange County. My wife is an amazing trooper — she drove most of the four-hour drive through bumper-to-bumper traffic up from San Diego, while I spent most of the trip vomiting (we think it was probably due to smoke inhalation).   Our family is still safe, but all we have right now is what we could cram into the car during the mad dash to evacuate our place.  We are hearing reports that our apartment is still standing, but at literally the next stop light up the road the fire departement is not allowing people to pass because of the continuing fire danger.

We spent most of yesterday at church helping out church families who were, and still are, under mandatory evacuation from their Rancho Bernardo homes.  Just to give you an idea of the sheer destructive force of these fires,  here is the preliminary report of homes lost in the Rancho Bernardo neighborhood alone  (although, because so many residents have been trying to access the site, you might want to wait a couple of days before checking it out so that there is more bandwidth for those affected).

There are wildfires raging in Orange County as well, which is what brought us to my father-in-law’s place.  If they need to evacuate (which is still a realistic possibility), then we wanted to be available to help them.  Things seem relatively stable here, so if we get word that we can return to our homes then we will be back in SD tomorrow.

Our students are frightened.  I can’t tell you how many of them received phone calls from their friends, weeping because they had already lost their homes.  One of my ninth-graders, in fact, was the first one to inform her friend that she had lost her home after seeing their address listed during the continuous television coverage.  How do you deal with that? We prayed together and tried our best, with racing hearts, to reassure and comfort them.

Worse still, many of them live in the neighborhoods that were hit hardest.  One of my youth group teachers left her house with only her family and the clothes on their back when the police arrived at their house at four in the morning, urgently telling them to evacuate because the fire was already destroying their neighborhood. 

We’re still waiting to find out which homes are still standing.  It’s the not knowing that is the worst part.  Yes, yes — it’s just stuff; but, at the same time, these homes are safe havens filled with memories and it has been utterly crushing to just sit and wait and watch while San Diego burns. 

Over half a million people have been evacuated.  There are over 20,000 people taking refuge at Qualcomm Stadium.  The fires continue to rage across thousands of acres and turn countless lives upside-down. View the San Diego Tribune’s interactive map to get a sense of the vast scope of devastation in the San Diego area.

Somehow, we know that God is bigger than all of this — but, from down in the soot and ash, fear and despair, it is so hard to trust.  We treasure your continued prayers for all of us here.

We awoke early this morning to the sound of police and fire sirens. The raging Witch Fire has caused 250,000 San Diego area residents — including our family — to evacuate their homes. Many of our church families live in the direct path of the fire. Quite a few of us have gathered at our church, which is located in Point Loma — close to the ocean. This is one time where I am extremely grateful for the fact that our church is far away.

Please keep San Diego in your prayers. This fire has the potential to be the worst in California’s history. The combination of Santa Ana winds (gusting anywhere from 35 to 70 mph), a ten year drought and extremely low humidity have made this region a tinderbox.

Pray for the brave men & women fighting the blaze on the ground all over this area, for the city, county, state and federal decision makers, and for us here. Our little family is safe, but we could only bring what would fit into our car — some precious photographs, a couple of books and toys for our daughter and some important family paperwork. I know that the single most important thing is that we’re safe, but the prospect of losing everything we have has left a pit in my stomach all morning — and to see the fear in the eyes of our church families is heartbreaking.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Being in town meant that I would not be missing our Sunday at church. While there is a definite downside to not getting away for the weekend, I could sense how God was using the words spoken through Francis Chan and Doug Fields to enlarge my heart further for my students. Maybe it was nothing revolutionary for them — I’m sure I still managed to lull them to sleep during the sermon today — but I’m praying that, by the grace of God, my love and prayers for them would ever increase.

* * * * *

After a full day at church, I hustled over to the Town & Country and caught the Q+A part of Shane Hipps’ first seminar. I chatted briefly with him and wandered with him over to his next seminar (which turned out to be a good thing, because I never would have found the seminar room on my own. I’m really bad with maps and have managed to get lost several times this weekend) which expanded on several of the ideas in his book The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture, which I highly recommend.

One of the most important things Shane discussed was the oft-referenced idea, “The methods change but the Message stays the same.” This speaks to our efforts to adapt new ways of bringing the timeless, eternal Truth of the Gospel to different peoples and cultures. Unfortunately, though the sentiment is sincere and well-intentioned, it is also false.

As Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.” Shane did a fantastic presentation of McLuhan’s life, thoughts on media and the future and how this impacts us as followers of Christ. We must be clear-eyed about the ways in which the media we use — and not only Media Shout or MySpace — fundamentally alters the message we are trying to convey. I saw this illustrated at every general session — although I was often sitting only several yards from the speaker, I found myself (and saw most of those around me) watching the giant screens rather than the actual person in front of us. Shane gave a great quote about this: The screen always wins — it’s almost a creepy, bizarro take on “Love Wins” but it’s so true.

Although this seminar was very much about our current media culture, Shane was really addressing worldviews. And, even to take a step back further from that, Shane was addressing the forces at work that shape our worldview. Another McLuhan quote is helpful here: “We become what we behold.”

The printing press ushered in an age of linear, sequential, uniform, repeatable thinking as normative. And, in the modern world, we find this repeated in unexpected places — from the assembly line of cars and cookies, to the orderly, linear pews in our churches, to reducing the entirety of the Gospel into a sequential formula (e.g., Repentance of sins + Acceptance of Christ = Salvation to heaven).

However, the world in which we live changed long before the advent of the internet. Shane argues that the invention of the telegraph, photograph and radio began a dramatic shift in how we see the world. The telegraph, or “Victorian Internet,” broke the relationship between transportation and communication. The photograph recalls the stained glass of the Middle Ages — consider the difference between seeing the printed words, “The boy is sad” versus this photograph of a sad boy. The words are rational, linear and left-brained; the photo is intuitive, non-linear, right-brained — qualities that describe the shift toward postmodernism.

* * * * *

I will interact more in the future with some of these thoughts. Shane’s seminar today triggered quite a few thoughts that I’d like to work through — especially regarding the built-in fluidity and ability of Asian Americans to navigate between and through different cultures. He was extremely gracious in fielding all manner of questions, and taking time out to chat with me a bit before leaving to catch his flight. It was interesting to listen to the line of questions that people raised afterward — questions about doctrine, defending our faith and jumping straight to the “take-home” revealed their linear, sequential, rationalistic mindset.

* * * * *

I’m getting packed up just in case we need to clear out of here because of the wildfires raging around here. Please keep us in prayer.

I am worn out after day three of NYWC but, finally, in a good way. I always have difficulty articulating my inner life but I have been in a particular state of disorder in the weeks leading up to NYWC. In the midst of busyness and weariness, I have not been listening well for God’s voice. Today, at the convention, the fog began to lift in myriad ways. This was a full day of getting to sit under some great teaching, and Mike shared about building a holy rhythm to our lives.

* * * * *

I have been looking forward to hearing Francis Chan since I saw that he would be a main session speaker. He is a dynamic and gifted communicator — and, as an Asian American, it is so encouraging to see a face to whom I can relate up on the main stage. I am sure, though, that his words spoke to everyone there this morning. I won’t attempt to recap everything Francis said (although I’m sure I will wear out the CD of his talk that I picked up), but God was definitely speaking to me through his words this morning. Several times, I found myself in tears as I listened.

When Francis began to share his heart, as a parent, about what he wanted from his daughter’s youth pastor, I was completely convicted. More than programs and messages and the big show, he is looking for a youth pastor who will love and pray passionately for his daughter. I know I would wish the same thing for my daughter — and, if that’s what I’m looking for, then I cannot offer any less.

Francis’ words about actually believing the Bible and living it out — not mediated or filtered through someone else’s lens, but engaging, living and breathing the Word of God in real life. The consequences in the life of Francis and his church have been nothing short of revolutionary.

* * * * *

In the afternoon, I went to a brilliant seminar by Mike King. His words gave voice to so much of that with which I have been wrestling over the last couple of years. He exhorted us to find out what makes us feel fully alive, and to incorporate those things into our everyday lives. I am looking forward to reading his book Presence-Centered Youth Ministry. He gave several practical, creative, engaging ways to incorporate a rule of life into our daily living.

In particular, his words about community spoke powerfully to me. Not just community as a concept, but the physical, proximate community of people with whom we actually live our lives. The commuter church has not been kind to our family in terms of building and maintaining these kinds of meaningful friendships — I feel my heart gravitating more & more towards this friendship and proximity.

* * * * *

Tonight’s main session was brutal in all the right ways. Doug Fields spoke about his deepening concern for the heart of youth workers and he identified ministry envy as a primary killer of our hearts. While we might be good at masking the obvious envy we have of others, it comes out in the way we talk about and criticize others. Sure, we might try to disguise the envy by claiming that we’re just pointing out our differences, but it looms large in many of our lives.

In a powerful exegesis of the Genesis account of Joseph and his brothers, Doug showed us the crippling effects of envy — and ways in which we can combat it.  By celebrating others and their accomplishments we are protecting our own hearts.  Celebration counters our tendency to turn those who should be colleagues and friends into rivals.

* * * * *

Doug’s words caused me to reflect more deeply about what I recently wrote about the American worship music industry.  My words might have come across as an unfair attack against Matt Maher, in particular.  I sincerely regret speaking quickly and foolishly.  There is plenty of room for legitimate criticism when it comes to the worship industry, but I want to be much more careful with my critical words — not to speak out of envy, bitterness or cynicism.  I want to spend more time celebrating those things I genuinely love and appreciate than in criticism (legitimate or not).