Category Archives: Evangelism

Some interpretation

I usually don’t tell people what my art means… it takes a lot of trust to let somebody into the motivation of some of my art. My art is not necessarily about skill (there are many more talented artists than I… I usually joke that I do modern abstract art because it requires less skill… it’s true.), but about catharsis, release and unburdening. They are prayers that I lay before the Lord. They are psalms in visual format… So it’s a little nerve-wrecking to let people into that space. But in the meantime, I allow people to see the final product, and I’m often interested in how the art affects them. Sometimes it shines new light on my work that I didn’t see before. I’m always fascinated at how interpretation transforms from individual to individual, and how it will affect my own interpretation, even though I myself am the creator of that piece…

…That being said, I have decided I should provide some interpretation to the last piece I painted. Here it is:

Stains on pavement Torn Asunder What will be released? Is there treasure underneath?

Stains on pavement
Torn Asunder
What will be released?
Is there treasure underneath?

The Ferguson decision was made on Monday night. I made this painting on Wednesday night, after realizing how exhausted I was from the constant stream of news, to seeing communities in pain, to figuring out how to talk to my immediate friends and family about it all.

The initial connection to the shooting of Michael Brown is obvious. I used an acrylic gravel medium to make a pavement effect on the canvas. I spread it randomly, imperfectly, brokenly… because that was what I was seeing in the system that had perpetuated this all. I used a tar-gel solution to create the red stain on this broken pavement. This was the stain that was left by Michael Brown’s body on Canfield Dr… But it represents more- it’s the stain on the community that surrounded it. It’s the stain that was there before the bullets penetrated Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant… and many others. It’s the stain of fear. It’s the stain of oppression, of systemic bloodshed that has a 400+ year history. It’s the stain we keep trying to cover up, saying that it ended in the ’60’s with the civil rights movement. It’s the stain that one can hear screaming from the pavement, crying out for justice. It’s a scream that I have heard in the sigh of black students and leaders I have partnered with in ministry. It’s a scream I, as an Asian American, have agreed with but tried to silence because there was no context in my culture for anger and loud protest. It’s a scream, that although intense, I have recognized as an invitation to listen in partnered compassion instead of the comfortable saving face action of silence and ignorance.

And the torn canvas…

I was at a prayer vigil in Berkeley the night after the decision was announced not to try the officer in court. It was moving to be part of a community that mourned. At one point of the service, we spent 4 minutes and 32 seconds in silence as an act of reflection and lament for the 4 hours and 32 minutes that Michael Brown’s body was left out in the open on the street. After that, we were each given strips of cloth. As an act of lament at these events, following with the Jewish tradition of tearing your clothes when in mourning, we tore those strips of cloth as an act of lament. At first, it was silence again… but then one tear. Then another. Then the whole room was filled with the shredding of cloth. The sound was echoing off the walls of the church. Black, Asian, Latino, White… the sound was deafening. It reminded me of the prophet Joel’s cry, to “rend your hearts, not your clothing”… unlike Israel, the sound of tearing in that room was not a fake repentance. I heard beneath the shredding of the strips of cloth the sounds of people’s hearts tearing and rending before the Lord. We then, one by one, tied our torn strips to a wire-mesh cross in the front. It was beautiful:

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As an Asian American, we have many positive parts of our culture… but often, the way we are taught to mourn is silence. It was moving to be invited into a more open type of lament. I am learning to openly lament- as an act of solidarity with others and as an act of bringing our sorrows before the Lord, to the cross where He defeated our sorrow.

Later that night, I was reading a post from one of my former students, Jon. In it, he wrote to his fellow black brothers and sisters:

In the midst of all of this I still remain hopeful. Some ask; will this be the event that begins to wake black America up? Others remain less than optimistic. To all of those who remain cynical, who have given in to hopelessness, who feel empty, who can not see an end, I URGE you, once again to examine history. History has shown time and time again that under the most grim circumstances, our people not only rise to the occasion, but create a path, an outline, a blueprint for the rest of us to follow. So instead of looking from a deficit, ask yourself, what will we create this time. #‎ferguson

The hope he had was inspiring- it was a call to face the reality of brokenness in the world around us, and in the midst of lament and mourning, to activate our imagination and creativity and continue to work as a people who declare and make the Kingdom of God a reality, despite the crap we see around us.

As I reflected on this, I remembered that it was not just an old testament practice to tear one’s clothing… it was a new testament thing as well. When Jesus, wrongfully accused by the majority and sentenced to death while innocent, was brutally killed by an oppressive occupying force that had created a system of fear and dominance over his people on a cross and breathed his last breath, it was recorded that the veil in the temple all of a sudden violently tore in two from the top to the bottom. On one level pointed to God Himself rending his garments in grief at the death of His son. We serve a God who also had his son unjustly killed. Other theologians, however, talk about how this simultaneously destroyed the barrier to the holy of holies- that out of this grief, God tore down the very thing that separated people from the presence of God. The greek word in the Mark account for tearing was only used once  before- when the heavens tore open during Jesus’ baptism and a voice declared that this was His son, whom he loved. The tearing of the veil made the same sound as the presence of God tearing into our reality, a symbol of God’s presence released to be accessible for all.

As I tore the canvas of my  painting and reflected on this, I prayed- Lord- make it so. Turn our mourning into a release of Your Spirit. Turn it into new expressions of Your kingdom, breaking through and tearing apart the unjust realities that we live in. Retrieve and reveal the created goodness in this world that has been so long twisted and torn up by both the systemic and personal sins of racism. We need your kingdom to tear into our reality, God. Only You, oh Lord can do this. Lord, have mercy.

Finally, this painting is my feeble attempt at remaining a person who pursues justice. In this transition here to the Bay Area, it’s been really easy to default into “it’s not around me, so I don’t have to care”, especially living in the middle of the Silicon Valley. My old allies and partners in the multiethnic journey are no longer near me, so there hasn’t been anyone to bother me to keep pressing in. The Lord has been repeatedly reminding me in the last several weeks that those excuses are not good enough. All that the Lord had taught me about what it meant to be a cross-cultural Asian American who cared for the issues of people who didn’t look like me during all those years working with my students at MiraCosta- they weren’t just for my first years on staff, but remain my calling as I continue in ministry. As I move into more management positions, I have already felt the temptation to remain distant to the things I once fought for.

This painting was a personal confession before the Lord. The tearing of the fabric was not just for the issues but was me rending my heart to the Lord- my personal expression, my heart, my inner being. It was me saying, “Lord- continue to break my heart for the things that break Your’s.” It was a prayer, asking the Lord to give me courage once again to seek out the cross cultural partnerships that keep me from being comfortable but reveal the full richness of the gospel. It was a prayer to the Lord, confessing my propensity towards using my privilege to hide from the brokenness around me, and to help me once again to be an agent of Kingdom reconciliation and healing that comes in the wake of the power of the Gospel. It’s a prayer, not only for the stains of blood on the pavement and the stains of racism… but for the stains of ignorance and fear on my own heart.

What can wash away our stains?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus…

——-

Yes, I know- many of you don’t agree with me. The challenge of my piece is not to agree with me or the voices in defense of Michael Brown. It is this- sit and listen compassionately, not critically. Before you judge, lament with those who lament; listen to why they lament before you judge, and be open to what it might do to you…

…Still disagree after that? Fair… but please- Sit and listen first.

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A mystery.

I had a micro rant earlier today on facebook. It went like this:

why is it that so many churches merge their college and young adult ministries together? Is it a resource thing? Is it because we don’t know what to do with either demographic? Is it because young adults out of college keep wishing they were in college?

the mystery of my last 5 years. They are totally different life stages! Doesn’t make sense!

And then I realized I had a lot of answers and thoughts for my own questions.

Background- I’ve been a little angsty lately on the topic of personal community. Although I’ve made some great friends here and there, on the whole, making friends after college in a new town is extremely difficult. Every time I go to one of these “young adult” groups to see if I can go and meet some more people in my life stage, I find myself sitting next to… college students.

And don’t get me wrong. I love college students. It’s my freaking job to LOVE college students. Many of the college students I minister to are my friends… but it’s a different relationship. I am their mentor. Their leader. Their pastor. Their coach. There’s a point when I stop being their friend and lay some truth bombs or make them do extremely uncomfortable things as their leader. So you can see how it’s awkward to go from a place of leading college students to having them called peers all of a sudden.

Here’s the problem- many churches in the West have engaged these different life seasons with different ministries. The problem is, life stages usually keep following common age markers… and then when you hit post-college (or even during college), the age markers go all out of whack. Things start getting weird. They start having groups for married people, for people with babies, for people retiring… and all these things happen at different times. Which leaves me in an awkward place- A 28 year-old single male that is often shoved in with college students at church because all my friends are married and having babies.

But as I was reflecting on this conundrum after posting my question on facebook (and receiving a lot of interesting replies), I realized the whole “age group” thing is a convoluted mess. I was honestly acting like what I always tell my students NOT to act like- A consumer of ministry, not a missional producer of ministry.

Here’s my theory- It starts with the western notion of “youth group” at church. Youth groups started with the missional purpose (and many still remain missional- I continue to be influenced by what I was taught by my own youth pastor, and am continually inspired by my man Nate Wells and other youth pastors I know…) to reach the unreached youth for whom church was often irrelevant or unaccepting of. It was to address a problem in which youth were not being reached. So they started to create hip programs and hire youth pastors that could play electric guitars or who had tattoos on their arms. But then something strange started to happen… parents started to see the youth program as an extension of the babysitting/children’s program. It was something to keep the teenagers in the church. And so the posture so easily shifts- It’s not about the groups that are not in the church, it’s about those who are IN the church and to KEEP THEM STIMULATED. Once ANY group becomes a babysitting program… you lose missional edge, you lose the point and you create consumers of ministry.

And so it continues for college groups- Well… the kids we KEPT with youth group are out of youth group… and oh shoot. There’s no youth group for them. They will probably leave because we aren’t giving them anything! So we get trendy hipster services where there’s radiohead-like crooning with V-necks, plaid and skinny jeans, so our kids will stay.

As a college minister, I unfortunately have to work out the consumer out of most of my Christian students. It’s driven me to a point where my co-workers have called me out for just ignoring Christian students because sometimes the mentality of consumerism is so engrained, it just drives me nuts. It’s why I often tell my students that we are NEVER to be called a “Christian Club”. Christian clubs (including the one I was the president of in high school) have the tendency (and not all of them, mind you) to HIDE from the world, not engage it. I’ve found that the shift in my ministry in the last 5 years has gone from producing a good product (like a slick bible study) to producing good producers. It’s not trendy. It’s not sexy. Sometimes it makes Bible studies horrible. But I’ve begun to realize that an empowered student who leads an awkward and choppy Bible Study but knows that they are heralds and representatives of the Kingdom of God in the location that they’ve been placed… oh man the shivers that run down my back thinking about that.

So back to my dilemma. Really, the question I was really asking was- WHY ISN’T ANYONE PAYING ATTENTION TO ME AND FEEDING ME?? I’m like a raging glutton who’s had his feeding tube fall from his mouth, but is too fat to stoop down and pick it up.

But my yearning has some legitimacy though. Perhaps my question should not be about whether somebody will minister with me or not… but rather “Are there any peers out there who want to do mission with me?”

Perhaps the dissatisfaction comes from churches not sure how to treat the masses of Christians getting older and addicted to being babysat. So many churches just create another baby-sitting program for… adults? Perhaps this is why it feels so demeaning. It takes the leadership out of adulthood. All this time of just getting really hip programs and inspirational speakers… were we like princes and princesses gorging at a medieval feast that our father the king provided… while not paying attention to the intentions and real leadership that a king does? Has our king become the caterer for our buffet?

We were meant to become LIKE Jesus, to do what He did, to love what He did. And yes, He’s promised a banquet for us in heaven (personally, probably my 3rd highest reason for being a Christian), but Jesus was about SO MUCH MORE. He was about healing. He was about redemption. He was about forgiveness and reconciliation. He was about raising up the weak. He was about starting movements that would change the course of history.

Here’s a scary thought that is inspired by how my youth pastor, Victor Quon, used to think- What if youth groups stopped being a place where we protected our kids but where we actually started to teach them how to lead their friends to faith? What if college ministries were not about helping all those Chrisitans keep their faith in college by sheltering them (by sending them to Christian college… ugh don’t get me started), but to actually see their place in college as A CALLING. I was inspired recently by our IFES counterparts in Mexico. Their group is called COMPA. Their group spans from high school to college… When their high school student leaders get ready to go to college, they actually go through a process where they pray to God things like, “God, what school would you send me to? How do you want me to become part of the movement there? What college campus do you want me to plant your movement at?”. Gutsy.

Let us end our babysitting programs. It gets old. Especially to a 28-year old. Honestly, the more I learn about Jesus and sit in the word, there’s nothing about Jesus that was about staying and being protected by a program. The only thing that comes to mind was that Jesus told the disciples to wait for was the Holy Spirit, but even that was SO THAT the disciples could fulfill the great commission of going OUT to the ends of the earth… Let’s start leadership development programs. Let’s start launch pads into unreached cultural groups, campuses, companies and office buildings. Missions isn’t for a select group of people in the church who go on Christian vacations to exotic locations across the ocean- it’s for EVERYONE who calls themselves Christian, which originally meant “little Christ”… If we are to be imitators of Christ, shouldn’t we be stepping forth into His mission wholeheartedly? What if we knew we were “sent”, like Christ was sent? What if high schoolers knew that they were sent to their high schools for a reason? What if college students knew that they were sent to their college, no matter how prestigious or dingy, for a reason? What if young adults stopped seeing their cubicles and annoying boss as a place of slow death, but as a place where Christ’s light could burst forth with light… through themselves, who were sent?

What if we stopped worrying about KEEPING people? What if we decided to stop being consumers of babysitting programs and bomb shelter supplies…  and began to awaken people as forces of cultural change, reformation and redemption?

What if I stopped whining about nobody paying attention to me and started finding co-conspirators to find and redeem my peers who are far from God?

…okay. My unorganized stream of conscious vomit of thoughts is over. I’m getting old, can’t stay up this late. Time to sleep.

Peaceful Joy

I was driving the old maroon Previa up the peninsula on I-280, a trip I had taken so many times in my years as a Bay Area resident, but remains fresh every time I am on that road. The rains had just fallen and it just so happened that the hills that are usually brown, burnt by the sun, were glowing with a vibrant green. The oaks were barren but gleamed with a lime green from the sun reflecting off of the lichen that bore heavy on the trees. On the left, we could see the fog from Half Moon Bay slowly crawling over the evergreen-covered coastal mountains. The conversation I was having with my friend in the passenger seat stilled as we reflected on the peaceful joy that emerges from scenes such as this.

Peaceful joy. hm.

This past week, I was in the San Francisco Bay Area for the Asian American Staff Conference for InterVarsity. I had been expecting it to be a place of peace and joy. It had been at this conference where I was invited to attend as a student guest, that I first started really got serious about considering that InterVarsity Staff was going to be God’s call into ministry for me. And after spending so much time in a ministry context so devoid of Asian Americans (but still several there, you just have to look hard), being at this conference in the Bay Area, where I grew up, should have felt like returning home.  Perhaps that was why I didn’t feel peace and joy.

Yes, I walked into that conference- a place where 3 years ago I would have felt complete comfort in…- totally uncomfortable. I felt tension. I felt lonely even though everyone else around me looked so similar to me! I had grown up all my life in situations like this! This place that should have been the epitome of my feeling of “home”… resulted only in my own disorientation.

And not just in conferences… As I sat there uncomfortable in the back of the room during the first session, my memories wandered back to a few weeks prior as I sat in my grandparent’s house in San Diego’s City Heights, trying futilely to help them out as they labored to prepare Chinese New Year’s dinner for me. This was the same house they had moved into when they first immigrated to the States in the 70’s as a cook and a laundromat worker. The age of the house showed with grease stains on the kitchen walls and the carpet worn where my grandparents had grown accustomed to walking on. Usually I try not to help my grandparents prepare food. They get mad because for them, service, hospitality and food are how they show love to me, and they don’t want to be stolen that opportunity because they don’t usually have much to give in a red envelope to me.  This time though, my grandma’s blood sugar had gotten low and she was sweating so much she had to change clothes, and my grandpa’s leg was undergoing some sort of pain that made walking almost impossible if it weren’t for his old aged pride used as a mask in an attempt to hide his inadequacy that night. As I attempted to offer help, I tried to ask them what I could do in cantonese… and what once flowed out of me so naturally felt like I was coughing out clumsy bricks of words, stripped of the intricate 7-9 tones that makes the cantonese so warm and alive to me.

It’s created this nagging and haunting thought… in the attempt of being incarnational and missional to a community of whites, blacks, latinos, philippinos  and samoans, am I losing my own Chinese identity? In theory, being missional and being a blessing to those outside of our own communities should not steal from our identity but actually should help us discover what it really means to be whoever we are… because that’s what we were created for. It’s so beautiful in theory…

…but it’s so hard in reality. When I get endless jokes about me being a kung fu master, a ninja, a panda, jackie chan, etc… I feel cornered into two options that I don’t like- either directly get really angry and frustrated at people and have nobody understand why I’m so angry at them or passive-aggressively swallow it in a slow simmering resentment against my own Chinese identity.

And so I find my own identity dissolving, fracturing and decentralizing in ways that horrify me but am powerless to stop. Joy and peace… is something that I realize i’ve gotten used to not having when it comes to my identity.

But then as I write those words, Alexi Murdoch’s song “orange sky” comes up on the shuffle, with that simple repeating refrain I could listen to endlessly, “…in your love, my salvation lies, in your love, my salvation lies, in your love, in your love…” I remember John 15, the verse we dwelled on several weeks ago during our retreat of silence- and the majestic whisper that kept beckoning me, “Remain in my love.” I remember marvelling that God prunes the branches that bear fruit… so they could bear more fruit. Not as punishment, and not so that they would bear less fruit.

I did this piece during a retreat of silence as a reflection on my Chinese identity in the light of John 15

Could it really be true that God is pruning my identity? That He is pruning my identity as a Chinese-American so that I could be even more fruitful in my identity as a Chinese-American? Could there really be fruitfulness as a result of this sense of identity-barrenness?

True joy and peace in the midst of this journey of identity formation cannot be in the flux of my identity, but in the hope built upon His unchanging, unswerving and unrelenting love which is the very force that has taken me on this journey in the first place. A hope that this journey does not lead me to a place of identity sublimation, but to a place where my identity no longer stands in the way of me being a blessing to others… but on the contrary becomes the very means in which i can be a blessing to everyone I meet in this multicultural world.

In the midst of this tension and reverse culture shock, I choose to remain.

…in Your love, my salvation lies…

No More Secrets

They were only colored slips of paper, that hung wistfully in the in the wind, hanging by small safety pins on the dark cloth that lined the tent. And though the slips of paper hung playfully, with the different colors brightly displayed, there was a heaviness about these slips of paper. Physically, they were each as light as feathers. But emotionally and spiritually, they hung heavily, like lead.

We’ve noticed there are a lot of people that walk around with secrets and shame, and it is heavy on their hearts. We believe that God calls us to be a community of honesty where we can feel safe in letting go of these secrets. We wanted to make a place where you could feel safe and get things off your chest anonymously. We believe acknowledging these secrets and shame is a first step in the healing process for many of these things… and we want to walk with MiraCosta in facing its brokenness and bringing it God, the only one who can heal it.

That was roughly our script, how we, the staff and student leaders talked to people looking at the tent. It was how we prepared ourselves to have conversations and pray for people. But honestly, even I wasn’t prepared to be exposed to the fullness of MiraCosta’s brokenness. The outside of the tent was heavy with sexual brokenness, relational betrayal, anger at God, sin, and heartache. Rape, cheating, doubt, divorce, bitterness- it was all there, uncensored. Even the immature secrets and people trying to be funny revealed a certain brokenness in itself. I sat in disbelief. These weren’t just random slips of paper with writing on them, but they were real people… people that I walk right by, people I sit next to in the cafeteria, that I see in the parking lot, that my students take classes with… and even my own students.

Yes, we got to pray for several students coming out of the tent. I even got to share the gospel with a guy who had felt “drawn” to the tent by some “force” (pray I see him again and get to have more conversations). But I think the biggest thing that happened with this tent was God trying to make us aware.

Aware. Aware that MiraCosta and CSU San Marcos are such broken places. And that He mourns for each and every student and their brokenness. But he doesn’t just mourn. No. I can see Him lift His tear stained face out of His hands with fire in His eyes… A gentle yet fierce flickering in His pupils, burning with love, compassion and anger that His creation must live under the bondage of sin. He looks up with hope, confidence, victory and vitality, as he raises his tear soaked hands to show the holes in His wrists. “I did it for these secrets. I did it so you can be free. I was born into a world soaked with these secrets. I walked and lived among all of the secrets so you would know I cared. I died so that you could be set free from the secrets. I came back from the dead because another world is possible where My children no longer have to live like slaves to their secrets.”

Ultimately, although we were made aware of God’s heartbreak for MiraCosta, that was not the point. The point was to be aware that our God is able to and desires to set the students of North County San Diego free. The point was to be made aware of God’s dreams for the campus. Pray that we do not forget this. Pray for our students and us the staff. I am going to lead our students into a season of fasting and prayer for MiraCosta this Friday. Pray that God would continue to show us His heart.

Here are some pictures of the secrets on our tent. I ask that as you look at these different pictures, don’t just gawk at them in shock. Instead, pray for the students of North County San Diego and perhaps even join us in this season of fasting.

Being part of a failed movement.

Lately, I’ve been realizing I might actually be a quality leader of sorts. The reality of being a team leader is becoming more… real. I spent a week alone, made decisions on my own, and started to dream about what I wanted to see happen. I did an activity where students had to learn how to do Godly affirmation to one another (and then do it for their non-christian friends). This conveniently had time where they got to affirm me. One of the students said something really sweet that I want to keep- he said that I was like a light in the darkness, and that any time I talk to him, no matter what state he’s in, he always feels better. I’ll take that. Then I got an email earlier this week telling me that I had been invited for a big position for the Urbana conference. That also helped my self esteem. The more I go through this year, the more I’m realizing that God is preparing me for more and more leadership.

At the same time, in these past 2 or 3 weeks, I’ve been coming to a ridiculous realization that I hate failure. I fear it. It is one of my biggest fears. It is the fear that all will fall apart when I fail. I’ve been facing a lot of things that signify my failure, or at least my lack of perfection. I led 2 horrible bible studies this week. I would have puked at the horrible exegesis if I were one of the participants. Heck. I wish there were more participants. At every bible study, I had perhaps two other students sit out there with me on the tarp (forgetting that it’s midterms week). On Wednesday, I had perhaps 3 students (from ~20 last year) signed up to go to Catalina and 0 dollars in scholarship. I felt like a failure in my recruiting abilities (forgetting the fact that we are in fact in a recession when people can’t pay 225 bucks to go to a camp). Then there’s the other part of me that doesn’t even want to go to Catalina from remembering the supposed failures I had last year teaching Mark. Let’s not forget that I have a fuller class that I haven’t had time to do at all and all the work is due on the 20th. I feel failure creeping up to me with the possibility that I could do mediocre in this class. And then there’s my room, which I have failed to clean for the last 3 weeks. And then, just as I was getting over it all, while I’m finally cleaning my room, I find that something very important that my sister let me borrow has disappeared. I don’t know if it’s misplaced, or if it has been stolen. I feel the weight of failure pressing me down.

I realize that I equate the successes of the Kingdom of God with my own success. I wonder how much God laughs at that assumption. But I really have the audacity to think that.

Last year, after messing up a session at Catalina (students, you probably didn’t know, but I accidentally ended early on one part, leaving my other staff worker with an extra passage to teach that she didn’t prepare), I was apologizing profusely to my co-teacher. Then our leader turned to me and just straight up said, “Stop apologizing. It’s done. Guilt doesn’t make sense right now. God meant for you to end early there. God meant for you to mess up. And He’s going to use it.” That moment has been haunting me for the past year. I’ve been avoiding returning to that moment, because part of me secretly still feels guilty for my “failure”.

Two weeks ago, I had a dream that I was driving in my car. All of a sudden I started feeling water dripping in my eyes. I kept wiping the water away, until I realized that my sunroof had cracked, and I was driving in a wild storm. My team leader interpreted it for me (she took a dream interpretation class at one of those crazy charismatic churches… I’m pretty crazy, but… yeah. That’s crazy.). She said that God was purifying my ministry. She said she was excited. I kind of felt excited, but in the back of my head I was thinking “excited? What is she smoking? Purification is never an exciting thing!”

And… God has been purifying me since. Purifying my motives for leadership. He’s weeding out my desire for success and my tendency to equate it to the success of the Kingdom of God. I’ve been realizing that as I step into higher leadership, I can’t be consumed with my performance and continue to blow up the effects of my failures. Yes, I have to still pursue excellence. But I’m not perfect. God is. And there’s the miracle. Out of the beautiful mess of our failures, God somehow breathes in the success of His Kingdom. We can’t achieve that success. God has mercy on our inability and allows us to witness His success despite and even through our failures.

I sometimes forget that Christianity started out as a failed local movement with its leader brutally nailed to a cross. And out of the ashes of failure, came the resurrection of the Kingdom that was surely of God, which transformed cowardly fishermen into the rock and foundation of a worldwide movement. Right now, I feel like that scared fisherman, wondering why I even joined this movement; wondering if my convictions were misplaced if all I see around me is failure. But perhaps I’m in this place of fear because I have not really realized that after the ultimate failure that I have witnessed, there is resurrection.

These past few weeks, I’ve had to convince myself to get out of bed and face the day, leaving the failures behind me. And you know what? His Kingdom still advances each of those days. My last Bible study, I felt the conviction return to me and had everyone including myself in a quiet awe of the power of the scripture. God has been merciful, and I now have 9 or 10 students going to Catalina with enough scholarships to cover their lack. As I was preparing for Mark next week at Catalina, I felt a strange excitement for what God was going to do with my students, no matter how sucky I performed. I finally got around to cleaning my room. And I have enough money to replace what was lost.

And no, my failures are not fully undone. But I feel the tendrils of fear and guilt slowly release as I realize that His Kingdom is not dependent on my success. I realize the depth of the statement that is thrown around in evangelical circles- His grace covers us. And wow. His grace does cover me overwhelmingly, and will continue to cover me no matter how successful or how much of a failure I am.

Slice of Conversation.

This last week has been treating me well, God has definitely been good. I definitely would not have expected this all, coming from the crappy week we had last week. I really felt the prayers of my community this week… I almost forgot that in my work, as I fundraise, the people who partner with me aren’t just income providers… they lift me up in prayer consistently, and I can be sure that their prayers were at work this week.  I won’t share everything that happened here, if you’re on my email list, you’ll probably get a full update of this last week… but just wanted to share a slice of a conversation during one of the funniest GIG’s (Groups investigating God, bible studies with seekers) I’ve had, which happened yesterday.

We were talking about Jesus turning the water into wine, and the guy just didn’t want to believe that Jesus actually did a miracle. The conversation went like this:

“Well, i just don’t see how this could have scientifically happened. Like, what if Jesus had some powdered wine and threw it in the stone jars? Kind of like Koolaid or gatorade?”

“…uh… i’m not sure that they knew how to make juice powder back then.”

“Okay. so what if Jesus was a time traveller with a time machine, and when he was born, there were two of him? perhaps, they travelled back and forth in time, replaced stuff, replaced eachother, went on vactions while the other Jesus was dealing with the disciples? And once in a while, they’d help out each other with a trick that the other Jesus wanted to do, like turn water to wine?”

“…Ferdinand. Your story sounds more ridiculous than the Bible. You have twin Jesuses travelling through time in a time machine.”

“oh. yeah. you’re right… okay. well. then here’s the most logical explanation. Jesus didn’t do anything to the water. The host was just so wasted that when he drank the water, he started shouting hysterically that it was wine.”

Amazingly logical. He smiled and stared at me. We both burst out laughing.

I seriously would go insane if I were not hanging out with people who aren’t Christian. They keep me humble and keep me laughing.

A Couple of Pictures

Open Heavens Again

Open Heavens Again

My Latest Painting

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Catalina

Catalina

Unfair

I went to a black gospel church today with one of my students (which was really awesome. It struck some chords that have not been struck for a while… but that’s for another entry). A conversation really caught me off guard. I told a guy I was living in Carlsbad. He laughed and told me he got close, but “they” won’t let him live there. I laughed, telling him how guilty I felt (which is usually my comedy line when I tell people where I live). We both agreed I should count my blessings, with plenty of laughter in between.

What’s funny is that as I was driving back home, and crossed highway 78 from Oceanside to Carlsbad, I really did feel guilty. It didn’t feel like a joke tonight. It might actually be reality.

But I remembered what the guy said to me- “count your blessings”.

Just be thankful, and live fully, love fully. Sometimes, though, it’s so hard to live in such a broken yet beautiful world. My dad used to tell me I had to just accept that the world isn’t fair (“The world isn’t fair, Daniel”, as i wondered why my sister got the cooler toy (ha don’t worry, i have no bitterness, charissa)). But sometimes I wonder if it was meant and created to be unfair…

How do I love people on both sides of the unfairness? How do I remain in between and retain my sanity? My identity must rest in God, He is the only one who can empower me to love the rich and the poor at the same time in a community where the rich and the poor live so near one another (almost literally like “across the train tracks…” except it’s a freeway). I feel like I have a rich mask and then a poor mask, depending on which part of the Tricity area I’m in (and it’s ironic my mom came from a rich family and my dad came from a poor family). But God rips apart the masks and reveals that my identity (and the members of this community’s identities) is not rested upon social standing, but upon his passionate and unrelenting love for all of them- rich or poor.

The sunset over the ocean that I can see from our giant windows… is so beautiful, but so broken, because only the priveleged can view it from where I live. I know I must not be swallowed by guilt, but the question still haunts me… Is this sunset worth it? How can I share it?

The San Diego Story

This is a video I made for our divisional fundraiser, Everyday World Changers.

It’s a great summary of what God has been doing not just in MiraCosta but in the entire San Diego county. It’s really exciting, and making the video kind of reminded me of how exciting it actually is to be working with IV in San Diego at this time. Anyways, enjoy!

throwing around scripture

I have always had this dream of getting so heated up during a sermon that i’d throw a bible off the podium. Yes, it’s ridiculous, but it was the goal of my preaching. In my head, it would shock the congregation into weeping confession and passionate action. Yeah i know. Ridiculously conceited.  It was the goal… but I always stopped myself. It just seemed to gratuitous, and I felt if I needed to throw the Bible, it had better be important.

Today I threw a bible while preaching today. I blame it on not having enough coffee to maintain self-control. I just got a little… heated. And before you know it, a black, leather bound book was leaving my hands at speeds probably near 45 miles per hour. And then it hit somebody. Good thing it was a high schooler. And for some reason, it didn’t have the rush I imagined it would have. However, I believe the high schooler the bible hit had quite a rush :).

haha. I’ll have to work on my throwing bible move. And think of a better move than throwing a bible for dramatic effect. I wonder what my next gratuitous preaching move will be. Perhaps it will involve a hammer, a bucket and a glass of water (If you’re from my SYS 1 class from NISET, you’ll know what i mean by that). Upon reflecting on that moment, I have been thinking about over-using illustrations or over-stimulating people in a sermon. I’d rather God hit somebody, not my Bible. But deep inside, I enjoyed catching that attention. God was perhaps shaking his head in amusement at my horrible attempt at imitating his wrath… with a book thrown at a high schooler. Hopefully Jesus will forgive me for my meddlings.

In more serious matters, I spoke at a chinese church today (Lord’s Grace Church San Diego). This was the first time I had the oppurtunity to publicly articulate the journey God has been taking me on to a Chinese audience. It was really good to publicly talk about it in front of an audience. Not only was it a good time of preaching, it was a good oppurtunity to think about where God has taken me this past year… and perhaps my life.

When I think about how God took me from wanting be a missionary at 5… and then my ethnic journey of me dreaming of being a missionary in any place of the world but China–> God humbling me on a missions trip to actually care about Chinese people as my own people–>wanting to see chinese people transform the world (back to jerusalem, baby!)–>realizing that meant I had to change it right here at my front doorstep, and it’d be a shame if i could not love my neighbor if I wanted to see entire nations transformed.

Strange windy path that somehow makes sense. It felt good to put it out there. It’s sometimes hard to explain it, because I just haven’t had the chance to. It’s worse when somebody is expecting an answer on why I’m at MiraCosta in perhaps 3 minutes, when I really need 35 minutes to explain it. And it has nothing to do with my long-windedness. It’s just that I really did not make a rash decision. It was an elaborate, methodological, strategic and heartfelt journey that God has taken me on and is still taking me on.

I feel like i’ve gone so far. And just like my silly throwing of bibles, I’m realizing my original goals were just too far, because God can achieve them in an instant. What i thought were goals were just trailhead markers for a trail towards an ominous but beautiful mountain. It’s time to tighten those laces, check my Northface camel back (how i wish I actually had a northface backpack) for water and start walking forward. Because that little ridge was just a precursor for something far greater and more glorious.