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Finding Serenity As A Church Planter

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COMPLAINT

I have found myself laboring and complaining. Looking up at God and wondering worrying fretting about the fruit and the Harvest. I wonder why toil is so… toilsome. I wonder why by the sweat of our brow we make our bread. I wonder and question God, more than a little resentful. Exhausted. Tired. And with no choice but to press on.

But then I look at my hands.

STRONGER

They are bronzed and hardened and strong. They have worked the earth and tilled the soil. I look at my faith. It has worked wonders, seen miracles because it has learned to extract Self from the equation of life. I have grown stronger through such seasons of life.

SERENITY.

I am learning that the secret to being content is serenity in the midst of all and any of life’s storms. I’ve given up trying to avoid storms or control them. Futility. I merely accept them now, and walk the path I must follow today with whole-hearted acceptance. Thank you God for serenity. Thank you that I am not afraid anymore. Thank you that i am stronger.

The Concluding Prayer of the Church

God, you have prepared in peace the path I must follow today. Help me to walk straight on that path. If I speak, remove lies from my lips. If I am hungry, take away from me all complaint. If I have plenty, destroy pride in me. May I go through the day calling on you, you, O Lord, who know no other Lord.

– Ethiopian

When Prayer Is Like Pounding On A Silent Door

I’ve been preaching a series through Mark this season at my church. Truthfully it’s been a difficult process – not in the work behind crafting and preparing for it, which I enjoy – but in the eery way the Journey of the disciples has been too similar to that of my church to be coincidental. It’s almost prophetic. I’m talking about the ups and downs of it all, the flagging understanding, the desertions which dishearten, the opposition of opponents voiced amidst stalwart supporters (“where else shall we go?”). The joys and the small victories (“we healed many!” of 6:13) and yet the setbacks of unbelief (“he could do no miracle there”).

It is too much drama for one pastor to behold in a season.

When I stumbled on the above words by Parker Palmer, voiced by Pete Scazzero, about how we persistently try to push through our requests to heaven, I had in back of mind the passage I was working on for Sunday: 9:29 “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer (and fasting).” Aint that the truth. You can’t push thru something if the door is locked. And sometimes that is an indication that you just have to try a different methodology.

After all you’ve heard the adage; “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” So maybe persistence is not the key but approaching the same thing differently.

I think that’s what the prayer and fasting is about.

Not so much more pleading, persisting, cajoling; that would be just more pounding upon a silent door. But I am of the view that actually praying while performing their exorcisms was something they did not do to begin with, and it was actually novel for the disciples; that what was required was not so much more persistence but a different approach; and if indeed Jesus is talking about prayer AND fasting, then what He’s talking about is certainly not an instantaneous transaction. To expect it to be so is childish.

It’s a process.

So as I reflect on my church’s Journey through Mark I am increasingly aware of my own need to be more process-oriented (as opposed to outcome-oriented); to be less future-minded and more here-and-now; to not neglect the relationships in front of me in favor of one more newcomer; because the work of creating culture and discipling the future of the new city is one that will take – in the words of Eugene Peterson – “a long obedience in the same direction.”

Incarnational Comedy: Reviewing Jimmy’s First Week on the Tonight Show

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This is not a traditional review.

It is a series of reflections on the impression made on me after a week of watching Jimmy Fallon’s debut on the Tonight Show. And while I don’t mean to chase trends, I can truly say: he has made an impression on me that has influenced some of my thinking. After all, he’s pretty much the same age as I am, so I’ve been watching his career develop in tandem with my own. And while of course you can’t compare apples to oranges, it is interesting how the career of a comedian can speak to that of a pastor.

Because there is a type of comedian similar to the pastor who utilizes biting satire and scathing critique, yet there is also a type of comedian similar to the type of pastor who is able to get in the crowd and feel personable and relateable, even if sometimes having to challenge.

Jimmy strikes me as the latter.

Especially in light of his predecessors, one of whom draws constant comparisons, lamentably, because I am a fan of both.

But there is a valid point; Conan O’ Brien seemed to be unable to shed his alt / outsider’s persona which was too edgy for NBC (or at least the 11’o clock slot), while Jimmy throughout his career has been able to synthesize both; the edginess combined with the mainstream sensibility AND marketability – which I think is a rare combination.

This ability is unique – to be both edgy AND embracing, off-putting yet at the same time inviting to the masses; prophetic but also popular. Because it’s all too easy to don the prophet’s mantle and deconstruct the establishment to the point that you are left the only one standing in the room, and that seems to somehow miss the point;

What is the “establishment” but a dismissive way of saying “the people”?

And if we ministers really care about people, then maybe we can take a cue from Jimmy and learn the art of making fun with them, not fun of them or at them. It is incarnational comedy. Ministry is incarnational comedy. It is the labor of playful prophetic critique that invites people into the irony of themselves, without tragically losing them in the process. The Message may have merit; the Method may need some coaching.

And as corny as it may sound, I’ve actually taken this away from a week of watching Jimmy. He’s a guy that is just edgy enough to stay fresh; but inviting enough to keep people laughing with him, even if they are the butt of the joke (maybe with the exception of Harry Styles. But Jimmy makes it so much fun that even poor Harry’s got to be laughing too).

Deconstructing ideas, theories, texts, and people may seem the common domain of both pastor and comedian. But can we do it in a way that invites people into the story and into the punchline, so that we are all laughing together by the end?

Can we do it like Jimmy does it?

People are coming for you. The Tonight Show is big and historic but people are coming for your heart…

What happens a lot of times when you see people fail in this business is they’re in it for their ego and they’re doing it for them.’

‘I tell them keep loving people. Your art is a gift to people to help their lives be better and to be brighter.

– Great advice from Will Smith to Jimmy on the first night.

The Modern Caveman’s Campfire: A Pensee on Media Addiction

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Two twenty-fours. That’s how much time I spent this week detached, disconnected, unplugged, de-phoned. At times I even – gasp! – left my house without my smart device. I was off-line, off-the-grid, and I was coming unhinged. Constant urges to check my phone had to be battled, and fear that the world would collapse around me if I didn’t stay in touch w/ the office had to be surrendered.

And you know what?

The world is just fine.

So here is the Olympic play-by-play to that final moment of victory just a few moments ago.

Friday 4pm – I leave the office and vow that I am done for the week and will come home early and be all there for my family.

Friday 5pm – I come home and check my phone one more time.

Friday 7pm – I get through dinner but still have a craving for something. Oh yeah, that bright little screen. I know I can opt for a lesser addiction and drown myself into oblivion vegging in front of the tube but that somehow seems like giving in too.

Friday 9pm – after putting the kids down, I wander aimlessly around the house. I have forgotten what it was like growing up with rocks and pencils and crayons and – oh yeah – creativity. Boredom ensues.

Friday 10pm – Having begun a rewiring process, my brain looks for other avenues of stimulation other than the flickering lights of the modern caveman’s campfire – the bright rectangular screen. I settle down with a book.

Friday 11pm – I discover the book is actually good. Reading is actually fun. I get lost in deep thought about something.

Friday midnight – I retire for the night mentally satisfied.

Saturday morning – eyes open, I need a hit. Where is that phone da*&^it?! Where did I hide it? I NEED TO CHECK MY EMAIL !?&#^*&%*@%^%$#^

The rest of the day Saturday – I actually spend time focused on my family, on others, and not on myself. I give.

Saturday Sundown – I can justifiably look at a screen again, having observed my sundown to sundown. No, I am not Jewish, but I like that rhythm. Besides, I have to prepare for work tomorrow and practice my Sunday sermon. Turn on the screen, check the phone. No the world has not burned down. Everything is fine. One 24 down.

Two days later I observe a second “pastors Sabbath”, from Sunday – to Monday (mind you, if you think I’m taking a whole lot of time off, I’ll usually put in an avg. of 50 hrs a week, Tues to Fri, some Saturdays, full Sundays, and periodic evenings).

Sunday 2pm – I AM DRAINED. Tired. Full day at church today, lots of meetings, close conversations, etc. I usually take a few hours to wrap up in the office, prep for the week to come, but this time I am prepared to just drop it. The start of the next 24 hours ensues.

Sunday 3pm – where are the wife and kids? I am home alone and bored. Should I work until they come back? Yeah maybe I will. No maybe I won’t. I need this. I need to disconnect. I try to take a nap.

Sunday 4pm – nap fails. I’m buzzed for some reason. Where ARE THEY? Maybe I’ll check the emails, turn on the compu – there’s the garage; they’re home.

Sunday evening – I get a text (this is ok). Hit up the beach volleyball courts (it’s 70 in Houston now) and spend the evening on sand. All thought of work dissipates into glorious oblivion.

Sunday before bed – I cannot believe how good I feel; physically, mentally, emotionally, after 4 to 5 games of beach volleyball and then hot tub afterwards with some good friends. Better than the drug of working and connectivity. I forget where I leave my phone.

Monday morning – time to drop my kid off at school. Lesser urge to view email today.

Monday noon – once again, leave the house without my phone. Spend a great day with my wife and younger daughter.

Monday pm – just turn on the screen to see if there are any urgent messages. None – phew! (a pastor is on call 24-7 / 365). I lose my phone again somewhere in the house.

20 minutes ago – I wrap up my 2nd 24 hours in a week; sundown to sundown. Kids are in bed, and I have some work to do.

If you think this all sounds rather trite, in all seriousness I have spent the last 50 days in an on-going, long-term experiment of not watching TV anymore. Going 24 hrs a week without internet or looking at any screen for that matter, is just part of that experiment / experience. It has been richly rewarding, but has also had real withdrawal-like effects, which I can perhaps chronicle, in all seriousness, another time. Take away a man’s campfire, and he has nowhere to stare, nowhere to bury himself into flickering visual stimulations. He is forced to stare into the darkness, and face himself. Find new ways to cope. I’ve long since doused the fire. I am now no longer stranger to the Dark.

Join CAPA (Covenant Asian Pastors Gathering)

As I write this, a thousand pastors and church leaders are making their way back home from their annual trek and pilgrimage to Chicago for the Evangelical Covenant Church’s Midwinter Conference. I left a day early to attend to responsibilities back home, but was thoroughly re-invigorated from those responsibilities I had in Chicago, from presenting the recommendations of the Ethnic Commission, to working sessions with the Board of Nominations, to serving as Vice Prez to the newly formed CAPA (Covenant Asian Pastors Assoc).

Reporting on the Ethnic Commission

Reporting on the Ethnic Commission

ur very 1st CAPA Gathering (Covenant Asian Pastors Assoc )

Our very 1st CAPA Gathering (Covenant Asian Pastors Assoc ) serving not only Asian pastors, but pastors serving in Asian contexts

If you are reading this it may be a first exposure to the Covenant, or maybe you’ve been hearing increasingly more and more about it. Its dynamism is not in any secret formula, but that God has blessed a growing diverse ministerium with a collegial spirit of unity.

Unity in diversity. Go figure.

But it works.

And instead of fragmenting the denomination more, we are finding that difference brings us closer together around shared values.

I have to pause here and speak to my own Korean background and an observation I made @ Midwinter; it is visually apparent to me that more and more 2nd gen Korean-American pastors are coming to these meetings inquiringly, attempting to find a home for their “EM” congregations (whether independent or otherwise) and are leaving convinced; I have several friends older than myself who have only just recently discovered the Covenant as a great receiving “container” for their EM churches.

Of course, that leads to a LOT of talking shop in the pub after sessions, a lot of Korean (and other Asian ethnicities as well, pardon my exclusivism here) pastors trying to figure out how to navigate various transitions well, all of which challenging to varying degree; some much further ahead, some only beginning now. I am blessed to be somewhere mid-way, and to have been useful and an encouragement to my colleagues only now beginning the journey of envisioning 2nd gen Korean-planted congregations who are attempting to open up and broaden their mission.

There are more and more of us out there.

And there is a blessedness of a sort of farm-system; the big-league guys, the veterans, to those in the game now stepping up to bat, to the up and comers who are the next season’s superstars (forgive the less-than-perfect analogy here) but the point is, we all hang out. I won’t name-drop here, but we were all there together, and it was freaking awesome.

Greg Yee, our "dai lo."

Greg Yee, “dai lo” to many Asian pastors

So consider this an official invitation to check us out. Give me a shout and I’d be glad to talk shop, help orient you to the Cov, serve you, equip you. I will do my best.

FROM THE ECC PRESIDENT:

A Cord of Three Strands

In just a few days, more than 1,000 Covenant clergy will gather for our Midwinter Conference where we will seek replenishment from God as we worship, learn, laugh, cry, gain vision, and deepen friendships.

One theme I will touch on is the biblical principle of the strength of a cord of three-strands. We will look at those cords through the lens of local church, regional conference, and denomination. As we live committed to one another, seeking the flourishing of all, the mission of God is amplified and Jesus is magnified. Strength is reinforced when strands are intertwined. Of course, intertwining gone wrong is called a knot. It’s important for braiding to be done attentively.

I want to underscore my commitment that the denomination is not a disembodied bureaucracy pejoratively called “Chicago.” Along with your regional conference we seek to serve our churches and unite our churches in service together. All throughout your region, and all over the world, real lives in real places are being touched by the grace and mercy of God. And we know it is happening around the corner from your church as well. And so, for the sake of the world, let’s lace it up, and lace it up well … for the flourishing of all.

Follow ECC president Gary Walter on Twitter @ECCprez

In it together.

Wearing Saul’s Armor

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I’ve been preaching a 3-part miniseries on “Moneyisms” pertaining to Biblical perspectives on money, giving, and this week, stewardship (1/12/14 to 1/26/14). As I conclude the series this week one image has lingered in my mind pertaining to stewardship; that of wearing someone else’s armor – that we cannot steward what we don’t have and certainly cannot attempt to steward what is someone else’s responsibility and not ours for the time being.

The bane of too many young pastors and planters is the starry-eyed covetousness of the rockstar pastor persona, that someday we wish to shoulder their “burden” of fame and wish it upon ourselves. The problem with that is simply that it is not stewardship. Stewardship of our own lot that God has gifted – yes gifted – us with. The more we look at what others have, the more we wind up neglecting and even burying our own talents.

Need we be reminded that we are not called to fame or fad but to faithfulness, that God respects the one who stewards what THEY have, beit five, or two, or one talent. His expectation is not successful return, but responsible stewardship of what was given us – in the recognition that it ALL – fame, money, success, power, authority, influence – none of it belonged to us anyway. It was granted on loan, with expectation of good and faithful returns – in a word, stewardship.

So I can say with David (and a bit of cheekiness, I might add), keep your armor, I haven’t tested it yet; I prefer that which is familiar to me; the earthiness of the 5 smooth stones – that which I know so well – that is what I will steward. Faithfully. Responsibly.