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Why Does My Faith Feel So Dry? 3 Things That Might Be Wrong:

drycracked

At Woven, we’ve started a series of teachings on prayer that have been examining the soul and probing deep within my spirit as well. Over 15 years ago I suffered an experience that shut my prayer life down overnight and forced me Read the rest of this entry »

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Learning To Pray Again

examenManney

click to enlarge

I was recently gifted a book called A Simple Life-Changing Prayer from my friend and superintendent Garth Bolinder. It was a timely gift, as I have been teaching a series on prayer and wanted to not only include a talk on the Examen, but also begin it in earnest myself.

The pic above comes from Jim Manney’s book itself (here is the original site) showing us a Simple Life-Changing Prayer in its distilled form. It really is not much more complicated than this, and for my own purposes I’ve distilled it even further:

  1. An Attitude of Gratitude
  2. Examine Desires
  3. Make Amends

My renewed interest in the above came when I found I would periodically “lose touch” with myself and God despite my progress and spiritual growth of late, I would still have “relapses” of judgment, temper outbursts, selfish streaks, etc. In those moments I would “leak” as it were… and have no idea where the plumbing is broken. Sometimes for days, sometimes for weeks – I would be completely out of touch. And as a minister I am not proud to say this, but it was because of a lack of prayer.

Mind you, I am speaking of prayer as a panacea for spiritual ills, not a puffing-up, hyping-up, pumping-up, self-psyching, check box exercise that I have been a good religious person today, but rather a prayer that is a meditative cogitation before God that examines motives and desires and serves as a regular spiritual SOTU (State of the Union) – this was not happening. That’s what I needed.

And so I’ve re-carved out the regular time in my day when I settle down for an inventory of sorts, an examen, a special prayer that discerned the presence of God throughout my day and also held up my own wants, needs, and desires to the scrutiny of the divine. It’s different from the 11 to midnight prayers I used to do which rattled off a checklist of Adoration Confession Thanksgiving Supplication, which was fine as it was, but I needed something more. And because for the longest time I couldn’t find it it seemed like I had been in a long desert stretch. Discovering the Examen has been like an oasis. It has no obligation to be long, no sense of multiplying words upon words. Wordiness is not helpful here. And yet the time is easily filled with discerning and prayerful cogitation that is not wandering, rambling, droning – meaningless (Matt 6:7 ““And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the pagans do”). At the same time it is concise. A good examen can be completed in 5 minutes and so I am not beholden to the clock as in my old performance-ridden days. Thank God I am free from that. My prayers now are both long and short – but anyway concise and effective and that’s because I now have a new purpose – not to multiply words before God – but to be grateful for my day, to discern his movements, and figure out what I must do to align in action.

The writing of C.S. Lewis comes to mind here:

“Only words, words; to be led out in battle against other words… I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer… why should they hear the babble that we think we mean?” – Till We Have Faces

So for the sake of myself and my community, I’ve taken it upon myself after some study to write our own examen (with accompanying mp3) adapting elements from the Ignatian Examen as well as the end-of-day inventory of Alcoholics Anonymous (10th / 11th Step prayers). It reads like this:

Woven Prayer of Examen

God, I am grateful for today. *

As I review my day, what should I take notice of? *

Please shed your light and show me what I really need. *

Where was I resentful, selfish, dishonest, or afraid? Do I owe an apology? *

Have I kept something to myself which should be discussed with another person at once? *

Was I kind and loving towards all or was I thinking of myself most of the time? *

Forgive me for my harms and show me what corrective measures I should be taking. *

This I do, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Hope it’s helpful as it is presently helping me.

I now end my day after every and any activity, even if it is late-evening movie-watching, to end with an examen. 11 to midnight is sectioned-off once again. I feel no compulsion to fill the whole hour. Sometimes it happens, other times I am done early. If the examen was effective I am fine with that. I now also begin my day first thing in the morning with a short examen of sorts to get my mind in the right spiritual place so I can establish a conscious contact with God throughout the rest of the day. Get this – I do this even before I check my email on my phone!!! – tremendous lol. It’s also lessened some of the screen-related hypertension I’ve had. So unhealthy.

I am not listing these as a showing of pride but foolishness. Of course our prayer acts are to be kept “secret” as Jesus teaches in Matt 6. But for me it is foolishness because a) it is for your glory and benefit, and, b) to show that sometimes even ministers need to get onto better medicines for our own follies and character defects.

On Being A Leading Korean Male In A White Christian Culture

I am cheering on Glen from the Walking Dead. (No spoilers, no worries).

Glen gives me hope. In a bigger sense, outside of the show. More in a societal sense. Ten years ago a leading Korean male on any show of TWD’s caliber would be unthinkable. But we saw the beginnings of it with characters like Sun & Jin on Lost:

Now, Glen, played by Steven Yeun, has proven to us a Korean-American leading male is not only feasible in our culture today, but can gain a very strong and loyal following. Of all the characters alive in a show that kills off its characters quite unceremoniously, Glen is repeatedly the one who shows us that people can get quite attached, and can really rally behind the idea of and cheer on a Korean male lead.

Perhaps I’m overthinking it, but as a Korean-American male, this is encouraging to me. As a Korean-American lead pastor in Houston, TX where most lead pastors are white males, I wonder if I will disappear into the woodwork, go unnoticed, or be relegated to “ethnic church leader” and generally go unnoticed. And it’s not that I’m hungry for attention, but I wonder from time to time if Texas, Houston, my city, my home, society at large, the South… is really ready for somebody like me.

And not as supporting cast either.

The church I am planting has no intention of being an “ethnic” community. I don’t want to be misunderstood a la Hershel as “that oriental pastor.” I want to tap into some of the larger market share around me. I want to be a prophetic voice to a larger culture. I want to plant a church that society recognizes as legit, be a pastor in a legitimately recognized lead role. Is Texas and the South ready?

Well in Glen’s case, Georgia is…

Really, what I am reflecting on is what it means to be a leading Korean male in a white Christian culture. And I think it’s feasible. I think the time is ripe for a church like Woven. That’s why I’ve dedicated the rest of my career to this calling and this place. It makes sense to me. Yes, I think Texas is ready. I think Houston is ready.

So amidst the ups and downs of church planting I am reminded with this thought; am I called? Yes. Am I called to this place for this time? Yes. Is this place ready? I really think, Yes.

Speaking of Faith & Race in Katy, TX…

FILM Oyelowo 091294

This week at Woven Church, we are embarking on a two-week discussion about faith & race thru the lens of Scripture and also the movie Selma. As I’ve lived in Katy TX, a suburb of Houston now for over four years, I’ve just begun to deeply understand the nuances of race and religion in Texas.

While on the one hand it is not as simple as some might believe – there are complex hues to the discussion of race down here – on the other hand, the city I live in falls victim to its own caricatures of what a southern city might be like when it comes to race & ethnicity; for example, nowhere have I seen a city more segregated on Sunday than here in Houston.

Some might think it fighting an uphill battle and swimming upstream to try to plant an intentionally multiethnic church here; what I see is a vast untapped and ignored demographic. I’d say “marginalized” but the notion is not in vogue here.

And I don’t entirely disagree.

Which is why people from ethnic backgrounds should get involved in the discussion about race, and not wait for the dominant culture to start it. We’re only marginalized as far as we stay silent and unengaged; and so this daring and bold attempt to start a discussion about faith and race in Katy and the suburbs of Houston – it might be the start of something… which I hope will better not just this “city of churches” we live in, but the entire community as well.

Holy Week Maundy Thursday: Seeing With Eyes To See

blindSeeing

MAUNDY THURSDAY, April 17

Mark 10:46 Then they came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage, stand up! He is calling for you.”

Many years ago a boy born with congenital blindness was offered a then-state of the art corneal transplant. After the lengthy recovery and the bandages were removed, the momentous occasion signaled the obvious pressing question: “What do you see?” To which an equally unremarkable response: “I don’t know.” The boy perceived a varying brightness in front of him. Requesting to touch that moving thing, and upon making eye-hand contact with the physician’s waving hand, he excitedly exclaimed, “It’s moving!” Doctors and philosophers alike learned at that moment that “turning on the lights” does not necessitate sight, but the ability to see had still to be learned; light and eyes were not enough, and in that regard to give back sight to a congenitally blind person was just as much the work of an educator as it was of a surgeon.

Jesus was very much concerned in this passage (and in the preceding) with spiritual sight, as much as He was concerned with physical sight. This story of the blind man in many ways frames the larger theme of spiritual sight and (in)ability to see “with eyes to see and ears to hear.” And along the way, surprisingly, it is so often the blind who are given access to true Sight while those who think they see the most are truly blind.

Don’t be deluded; is your “sight” Sight?

For true seeing is so often precipitated by the admission that we don’t yet see, or understand yet. In that sense, Easter is for the doubting, for the faltering. It is in this posture, this admission that “I do not yet see” that we can be granted sight as a gift; I have been reading the classic by C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy. What an apt title. In his pursuit of Joy, it eluded, and only in the admission of its loss did it come as surprise.

These remaining Holy Days stay your vigil. Your number WILL be called. It will surprise you when it comes. And you will be blessed. So “Take courage, stand up! He is calling for you.”
– PW


This Holy Week, we at Harvest will be bringing to you daily reflections from Pastor Wayne’s study through Mark to aid you in your own personal reflection and prayers throughout this last week of Lent. If you are in the Houston area, join us for EASTER SUNDAY at Harvest at 9:30am!

The Ancient Monster Cycle in Crimea / Ukraine

“But who do you say that I am?”

Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ”

These words have rung in my ears throughout this week as I continue to teach through Mark this season at Harvest. At first blush, I always presumed this to be the correct answer, but upon further study I understand; right answer, wrong Christ.

At the same time I’ve been watching the unrest develop in Ukraine / Crimea. Watching Putin wait for the close of Sochi only to unabashedly jump into the Crimean peninsula. No shame. Just had to get the Olympics out of the way. Now on to the everyday work of occupying neighboring nations. It’s audacious, and it’s immoral.

Didn’t the protesters see this coming???

Hasn’t it happened numerous times in the past already? (Stalin)

I am no proponent for the perpetuation of the status quo, but to set about to change something requires some foresight; did they not see this coming? Did they really expect to set up their own government? Did they not see Putin coming?

What would have been the lesser of two evils; settling for a corrupt status quo under a monster, or fomenting revolution only to pave the way for a greater monster?

It strikes me as naive.

The same way as the above statement by Peter in Mark 8:29 strikes me as unknowing, not understanding what’s really at stake, what’s on the table, what the issues are, what the risks are.

Maybe he wouldn’t have signed up, if he knew what that term “Christ” meant.

Because this Christ would not perpetuate the “monster cycle” of Caesars replacing conquerors replacing kings; Rome replacing Greece replacing Babylon; Iron replacing bronze replacing gold.

Homey don’t play that.

Jesus will not be that Christ.

This is the Christ He will be:

8:34 And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 35 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? 37 For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” 9 And Jesus was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

It is so alt; so not-of-this-world, so un-Machiavellian, so right.

I close with the words of the “Eleventh Step Prayer” which embodies this ethos of Christ and not of the Monster:

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to understand,

than to be understood; to comfort than to be comforted

to love, than to be loved.

For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.

It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.

One Denomination’s Journey Towards Racial Revolution

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I’ve been privileged to serve on the Evangelical Covenant Church‘s “Ethnic Commission” along with the author of the above book, Ed Gilbreath. Allow me just to say in passing, I was drawn to this man’s quiet, thoughtful, intellectual demeanor and presence. One night talking over brews was not enough. But the company was good.

The connection between the ECC and the above book: moving beyond mere sympathizing to actively addressing systemic prejudice in our structures of power within society.

I penned within the margins of my copy: “So we can’t just be idealists; influence must exert itself in the structures of power we find ourselves in” and this, after just reading that what MLK did in Birmingham was much more than protest, it was to strategically cripple an entire city’s economy through combination of boycott, protest, and bad press.

Effective.

It is after all, “creative protest” that raises attention and brings about change.

Change.

Now that’s a word for us in the church. I grew up in a church where “change” = “time” and many criticized King for being impatient with it; pre-empting “time” with actions they perceived to be imprudent and hasty. But he was decisive when need came to it, and it landed him in a Birmingham jail, where he penned his opus addressing the church(es). Indeed; how many idealists and their ideals have been shot down on the steps of a church just because it wasn’t the right time for change?

Change; I’ve been witnessing an entire denomination try to embrace it; to dismiss the dismissal of “time” as a panacea to all problems, that the solution to our problems were concerted, unfaltering, solid steps taken today, bearing fruit tomorrow. That’s what we were discussing at the Ethnic Commission – those concerted steps. Unfaltering. Everyone was listening. Actions are being taken. I hope.

I have seen various ecclesial societies / orgs that have entirely succumbed to the ideal of time as solution to all problems. There is no repudiation of structures of power and influence; just hopes that one day things will get better.

I have seen in my own contexts, as a Korean-American, the tenacity of this ideal of “time” as solution to all problems. One day, in twenty years, this church will be yours. That will be the answer to all the ethnic / generational tensions. Sure.

Time.

Vs. Change.

I hope I can soon move towards the latter.