it’s so hard to say goodbye – Obeying God’s Call, Part II

It’s official: I’m being appointed to Parker UMC in Kaneohe, HI beginning on July 1, 2017.  After the initial shock, I find myself grateful to serve and follow after my friend and colleague, Rev. Andrew Lee, as the next pastor of Parker.  Still, it’s so hard to say goodbye to the English Ministry of Christ UMC.  Why is it so hard for me to say farewell?  After thinking about this transition for the past few weeks, I have narrowed down the reasons to four main categories.  This blog is a snapshot into my internal dialogue as I have processed and lamented the eventual move away from my ministry appointment for the past five years.

Unfinished Business

I think there will always be “unfinished business” for every church and pastor at every re-appointment junction.  For me, I feel as though I am leaving in the middle of some exciting developments.

So what does this feel like, leaving CUMC with unfinished business?  It’s like working as a construction project manager and leaving right as the concrete is being poured into the foundation with nary a visible structure to show forth.  Or like a baker who starts a cake but bails before putting on the frosting.  Or maybe those analogies are superfluous and all we need to know about the reality of ministry and ministers is that there will always be a sense of unfinished business – and maybe that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Like the Apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 3:

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.  So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

So beloved CUMC, if I leave with unfinished business, let us hold onto the hope that God is not finished forming and molding us more and more into the likeness of His Son.  Thanks be to God.

Excitement and Momentum in ministry

So many exciting things have been happening at CUMC.  Let me bullet-point a few:

  • Our second round of the Alpha Course just began and it promises to be an exciting one.  I’m glad to know that the majority of attendees are non-CUMC folks, and the group makeup really serves the purpose of Alpha – to reach out to non-churchgoers and provide a safe space where deep faith questions can be explored.
  • The China summer team is set and ready to go in July.  We also had a prospective India Vision Trip set this October to visit Hyderabad to observe the ministry of Susannah and Sudheer Kandikatti, our missionary couple we are supporting.
  • The EM Council grew this year, meaning that we have new leadership on board and we are beginning to see more people committed to serving within our church body.
  • We just started online giving.  😂 😂 😂  OK, so that’s not really highlight-worthy but on that note, offering/tithes have gone up, attendance at Sunday worship has increased, and participation in midweek small groups is on the rise.  Thanks be to God.

Leaving behind the Korean immigrant church

Out of all the reasons I lament leaving, this one is probably the most fear-based.  I’ve never been a part of a non-Korean church, but in about two months, I am going to be pastoring one.  There are some things I’ll miss that some might file under the “not-a-big-deal” category:

  • eating Korean food on Sunday afternoons prepared by the Korean ahjummas (distinguished ladies)
  • taking home jars of kimchi or other side dishes prepared with love by these same ahjummas
  • having my kids grow up within Korean culture and language.

At the same time, I feel like the Korean church is my Great Barrier Reef and I’m Marlin.  I need to get over my fear of wading out into the deeper, unknown waters of non-Korean churches.  In finding Nemo, I’m actually finding myself (Sorry for going too far on that analogy!).

Relationships

By far, the number one reason why it will be hard to say goodbye will be the family ties that have been built over the past five years.

I did my first wedding and funeral as a pastor of this congregation.

All three of my kids were born here.

When I came here five years ago, I had spent my entire ministry career in youth and college ministry.  Therefore, I had zero experience working exclusively with an adult congregation but that fact did not stop the people of CUMC from embracing me – quirks, imperfections, and all.  It took a great measure of courage and faith on their part to follow my leadership.   And along the way, some lifelong friendships were born.

My final Sunday at CUMC will be June 4.  I anticipate a lot of tears to be shed that day but before that happens, I wish to say to the lovely people of CUMC English Ministry: thank you for your love and support.  Pastoring this congregation is one of my life’s joys and deepest honors, and it is also one of the main reasons why it will be hard to say goodbye on that day.

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Never Say Never: Obeying God’s Call – Part I

April 9, 2017 | Philippians 2:5-11 | Lent 6

Today I am a pastor but I did not always want to be one.  Growing up, I told everyone within earshot that I would NEVER become a pastor.  This bold (yet inaccurate) prediction  stemmed from the fact that I resented growing up the son of a pastor.  But it was not for reasons that other PK’s (pastor’s kids) had.  The following are actual statements I have heard from PK friends who ended up not following in their father’s or mother’s footsteps:

 

I hated how all the adults at church seemed to always focus on me.  It was like there was a double standard among church youth and the pastor’s kid was supposed to be “holier” than the other kids.

 

I hated church politics and how my parents always seemed to get burned or betrayed by church leaders who were supposed to support them.

 

a PK colleague once shared with me his story of when his dad announced one day that he was giving up his lucrative career to enter seminary and go into full-time ministry.  A fifth grader at the time, the only question my friend came up with was, Dad, does this mean we’re going to be poor?

Double Standards.  Church politics.  The Pall of Pastoral Poverty.  As the French like to say, “Le Struggle is Real.”  

My dislike of the pastoral vocation came down to one reason alone: the dreaded possibility of moving churches.  As the son of a United Methodist clergyman, I experienced numerous church re-appointments, which also meant finding a new home, a new school, and new friends.  As a young child, these transitions were fairly easy to make.  But it was the final two moves that would prove to be the most traumatic and painful.  The summer after my sixth grade, my parents announced that we were moving down to San Diego (from Arcadia).  This meant that I would have to leave all my church friends and school classmates behind.  While this move stung, it would pale in comparison to another relocation I would have to make three years later.

I was 14 years old, a freshman at Mt. Carmel High School in Rancho Peñasquitos.  My best friend in school had already turned 16 and had a car so we were literally the youngest kids on the block cruising around on Friday nights getting Blizzards at Dairy Queen.  Hormones were raging so I had all kinds of crushes – usually on youth group girls who were older and always seemed to smell so lovely.  But my idyllic adolescence came crashing down when my parents informed me that we were moving to Hawaii.

I remember praying the night I heard of our eventual move: God, please please please don’t make us move to Hawaii.  Life is so good here in San Diego.  Please don’t make us move.  Make the Bishop change his mind.  

God did not answer that prayer.  More specifically, God did not answer that prayer to my liking.  We moved, my heart grew a little harder, and my prognostications about never becoming a pastor became louder.  I told anyone and everyone who cared to listen to an angry, jaded pastor’s kid, “I’m never becoming a pastor.”

Today, I am an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.   By the grace of God, I lack the gift of prophecy and all my boasts came to naught.

And as I reflect on today’s Lectionary Reading from St. Paul’s epistle to the Philippians, I find comfort in knowing that Christ our Lord did not have a similar aversion to becoming the Savior of the world.  I close with this Scripture as a good reminder for not only myself but for all of us, that as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to lead a selfless, obedient life.  

Thanks be to God.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

Why Was Jesus Mad?

April 2, 2017 | John 11:1-45 | Lent 5

33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled.34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them.

I do not envy the task of Bible translators.  When confronted with a mysterious word in either Hebrew or Greek, they have to choose a word or phrase to accurately convey the true meaning of the text. (fun fact: in the Old Testament, the word “kidneys” was used to describe the inmost being of a person, the word we normally use today being “heart.”  But you won’t find a Bible verse that says, “Oh how my kidneys yearn within me to see the Lord!”  This is but one example of how cultural considerations must be made when translating the Bible into English).

John chapter 11 is a great example where many Bible translators simply get it wrong.

John 11:33 reads, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.”  I took this from the English Standard Version, which is supposed to be one of the most literal (read: “accurate”) modern-day English translations.  But what does “deeply moved” really mean?  I’m sorry but when I see this phrase, I think of indigestion.  After his lunch at Taco Bell, Jesus traveled to Bethany where, because of his liberal use of the Diablo Sauce on his fresco style bean burrito, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.

When we read the verse in its original Greek, we come to the conclusion that Jesus was more than deeply moved; he was enraged.  Pastor Tim Keller, in his sermon on this passage, understands this verse to mean that Jesus was filled with passionate anger, almost like a lion ready to let out a ferocious roar.

So why did many translators choose to declaw Jesus?  My best guess is that we are troubled by the sight of Jesus actually getting angry.  We would rather not see Jesus ready to really go bonkers, maybe with the exception of flipping over the tables of money changers in the Temple Courts.  We would rather see Jesus angry and disappointed at the hypocritical Pharisees and teachers of the law.

Isn’t anger a sin?  Not necessarily.  Anger is an emotion, a feeling that one experiences when provoked.  To be angry isn’t necessarily to sin; oftentimes, it’s what we do when we are angry that leads to sinful actions or thoughts.  I remind myself of this every time I play a round of golf (which is about once a year).  Golfers label their balls so as not to mistakenly pick up or play another golfer’s ball.  I mark mine with a simple Psalm 4:4: “Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent.”  The temptation to lash out after hitting an errant shot is real – just ask any golfer.  But I have learned to not allow my anger get the best of me when I am out enjoying this game.  I only wish I could mark other areas of my life with Psalm 4:4 and follow suit!

Again, Jesus didn’t sin when he became angry.  But He did grow angry and we cannot overlook that.

Why was Jesus mad?  This is an important question and the context of John 11 will help us understand.

Essentially, Jesus was angry at the death of his good friend Lazarus and at the sorrow and grief being experienced by Mary and Martha.  Jesus grew angry because Jesus knew that this is not how the world should be. Jesus was filled with so much anger and sadness, in fact, that at the sight of Lazarus’ tomb, he openly wept in a shameless display of raw emotion.

This is an image of Jesus I have come to truly appreciate.  My Jesus is a Lord who does not simply heal and restore people because He has the power to do so.  No.  My Jesus is one who enters fully into humanity to experience our deepest sorrows and fears.  My Jesus is one who identifies with us when we are at our lowest.  I imagine that Mary and Martha were a mess at this time.  Hair disheveled, eyes puffy and nose bright red.  Their dresses probably filthy with all the tears mixed in with the dirt every time they collapsed to the ground.  My Jesus was angry at this funeral scene because He fully entered into the suffering and pain of His dear friends.

But death did not have the final say in this story.   We read through to the end and see that Jesus displayed His awesome power by raising Lazarus from the grave.  This miracle is not meant to be stared at and memorialized; no, the sign points us to the greater reality that in Christ Jesus we have the hope of resurrection and eternal life.

Today, I believe this anger would suit the Church well.  There is no shortage of suffering in the world around us.  Beloved Church, if we are to love the world with the love of Jesus, shouldn’t that also mean that we grow angry when we see pain and suffering in our midst?  Should we not also have a deep anger welling up within us when we see the dehumanization of others?  When we see the images of war in Syria, or famine in Somalia, or racism and bigotry in the images of a burnt out African-American church or the shattered windows of a graffiti-marked mosque, should we also not burn with anger at the sight of injustice among us?

Like Psalm 4:4 instructs us, in our anger may we not sin.  Instead, like the Lord Jesus may our anger move us into a compassionate engagement with the world that is desperate for the touch of Jesus.

Thanks be to God.

Jesus Confronts Two Types of Blindness

March 26, 2017 | John 9:1-41 | Lent 4

Make it a Blockbuster Night!

Back in 2000, a tech entrepreneur named Reed Hastings flew out to Dallas to meet with John Antioco, CEO of Blockbuster.  Hastings proposed that Blockbuster purchase his fledgling DVD rental-by-mail service.  His price tag?  $50 million.  Antioco, whose company was valued at nearly $3 billion and had almost no competition in the video rental industry, passed.

By 2010, Blockbuster had declared bankruptcy and gone the way of the dinosaur.  And Hastings’ company?  It’s a name you might be familiar with: Netflix.

Blockbuster’s failure to adapt to the changing landscape of technology, social media and consumer trends is a lesson taught in many an MBA classroom today.  And Antioco, who was widely respected by fellow executives, ended up blinded by his own successes and failed to see that, in Netflix, the future had arrived.

But this story is a cautionary tale about being blind in business matters and making poor decisions that ultimately derailed a video rental company – a sad event indeed but not exactly cataclysmic in the eternal scheme of things.

Jesus Confronts Two Types of Blindness

Jesus speaks of another kind of blindness in this week’s lectionary reading.  Actually, two.  The story opens with Jesus and his disciples coming across a man blind from birth begging along the edge of the road.  His is a physical blindness, an inability to see with his own eyes.  As the story goes, Jesus heals this man and chaos and commotion ensue.  And this leads to Jesus eventually calling out a second,more insidious, disease – spiritual blindness, the inability to see that one is spiritually sick and in need of help.  Spiritual blindness was an apt description of the Pharisees and religious experts who came onto the scene.

What are the indications that the Pharisees were blind?

The Pharisees refused to believe the healed man’s testimony.

Clearly, something dramatic had happened to this man – let’s call him Hank – and others took notice:

8 His neighbors and others who knew him as a blind beggar asked each other, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?9 Some said he was, and others said, “No, he just looks like him!” But the beggar kept saying, “Yes, I am the same one!”

The Pharisees asked Hank what happened.  He gave them an honest account (v.15)  They again questioned him, only this time they asked him, “What is your opinion of this man who healed you?”  The guy must be a prophet,  Hank honestly surmised.

But the leaders still doubted.  So, they called in Hank’s parents and read them the riot act:

“Is this your son? Was he born blind? If so, how can he now see?”

I’m surprised that the Pharisees didn’t ask them if Jesus ordered the Code Red.  Eventually, they summon Hank for another round of questioning and that sparks this testy exchange (it reads better if you imagine that Hank is one snarky Hebrew):

26 “But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?”

27 “Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”

The Pharisees see the same thing yet do not come to the same conclusion.  They refuse to believe.

The Pharisees refused to see the evidence that Jesus was someone special; instead, they considered him a sinner.

Jesus made mud pies and healed Hank on the Sabbath and this proves problematic for the religious authorities.  I see two distinct problems with their reaction.  First, they already don’t believe that this was a legitimate healing.  They are so skeptical that they even interview Hank’s parents to verify his identity.  If they don’t believe a healing took place, why are they worked up about a non-healing that took place on the Sabbath?  No healing = no work, right?  Or did the Pharisees consider the mud-making as work?  Either way, in failing to acknowledge the miracle, they also fail to see a transformed life.  All they see is a violation of their strict Sabbath law.

Second, isn’t it ironic that they accused Jesus of “working” on the Sabbath….and then proceeded to spend the rest of the day in full investigation mode?  Isn’t that considered work?   On the Sabbath, people come to synagogue to worship and pray; on this day, they were given a sneak peek into the pilot episode of CSI: Jerusalem.

The Pharisees react with anger and rage when other people are celebrating and in awe and wonder.  

Exhibit A of Pharisaic Rage:

28 Then they cursed him….

This was the Pharisees’ reaction to Hank giving them attitude from the verses mentioned above.

Imagine a scene at CUMC one Sunday where Chris Chui and Barbara Nagatoshi pray for Ellen Shirai’s knees.  God answers their prayer.  Then, Pastor Sam walks in demanding to know why there’s such a loud party going on inside Naeri Chapel.  Ellen testifies.  And then Psam drops some F-bombs on everyone because they aren’t ready for the Call to Worship.  If this scene sounds surreal, then maybe you’re not blind.

Exhibit B:

34 “You were born a total sinner!” they answered. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw Hank[not his real name] out of the synagogue.

Somebody get these guys a Snickers.  Jesus casts out blindness while the Pharisees cast out the blind who are healed.  Something is wrong when anger blinds you to the reality that people have come to synagogue for spiritual nourishment and guidance.

In closing, these are a few of my takeaways from the story:

  1. Jesus clearly showed compassion and love to Hank and the point was taken further by Jesus when he said that this was his mission on earth – to give sight to the blind.  The healing of physical infirmities was a sign, then, pointing to a deeper reality that Jesus came to alleviate spiritual illness.  Hank became a living, breathing sermon illustration that the Son of Man came to do some serious work.
  2. But like the Pharisees, there are people even today who claim that they have no need of a Savior, of a Healer.  There are also critics who openly doubt the transforming, healing touch of Jesus.  It’s not on us to judge or criticize these people.  However, I choose to believe that Jesus would want us to side with the Hanks of the world, even if that means ruffling the feathers of modern-day Pharisees.
  3. Let us be the church that regularly testifies and celebrates when the blind receive sight and encounter Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God.

The End of Christian Fratricide [I have a dream]

March 19, 2017 | John 4:5-42 | Lent 3

Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman offers a nice bookend to the John 3 story of Nicodemus approaching Jesus in the stealth of night.   One commentator called it a diptych but I don’t like to cuss on my blog.  This seems to be John (the author’s) message: whether you are a self-assured but secretly insecure religious expert or a person of the wrong ethnicity (Samaria), wrong gender (woman), and wrong wrongness (I’ll explain below), the love of Jesus is for ALL.  It can happen in the middle of the night or under the hot noon sun, it matters not.

Jesus will answer your questions,

straighten out your theology,

and offer you more than you could have ever dreamed or hoped for.

Jesus was the original Oprah at Christmastime, except instead of a now-13-year-old Pontiac G6, Messiah offers you something timeless, priceless, with a slightly better warranty.  You get living water, YOU get living water, YOU get living water, and YOU get living water.  ERRRRRRBODY GETS LIVING WAAAAAATTTTAAAA.  JOY RISING.  YAAAAAAASSSSSS.  

[If you can’t picture the Lord of Hosts as a black woman, just watch the Shack.  But you won’t find me in the theaters.  It’s not because I think the Shack will lead you astray and cause your faith to fall; quite the contrary, I think the Shack is a compelling work of fiction that is worth the read.  But when you have more children than adults in your household, ya gotta make sacrifices.  Some people give up stuff for Lent; I gave up movies for the next eighteen years.]

But I digress.  I go back to the Samaritan woman and this even more compelling story.  I said earlier that it was wrong on numerous levels for Jesus to engage this woman in conversation, and for whatever reason, this woman was forced to draw her water alone, at the hottest part of the day whereas her peers would have gone en masse at dusk or twilight.  Why she was shunned, nobody knows.  But contrary to popular opinion and countless homilies on this passage, it was not a foregone conclusion that she was an adulteress.  There’s lots to say on that, but I’ll leave you with this analysis on Christianity Today.

We don’t know why.  But we do know that Jesus did not hold to the same anti-Samaritan prejudices that His fellow Jews harbored.  To give us a better understanding of the Jew/Samaritan rift, here is a simple chart I made:

Jews

Samaritans

 

Culture: The Dominant culture in this relationship.  Jesus was a Jew.

Culture: The minority culture.  The woman at the well was a Samaritan (Jesus was on “enemy turf” during this John 4 encounter).

Ethnicity: Considered themselves pure, unadulterated and set apart from the surrounding Gentile cultures

Ethnicity: Pejoratively viewed (by the Jews) as mixed and defiled, because they intermarried with Gentile (non-Jew) peoples introduced by the conquering Assyrian King (see 2 Kings 17:24)

Religion: Protectors of the true faith; considered themselves as the true heirs of the Abrahamic promise.  

Religion: Due to their multicultural heritage, Samaritan worship was a hodgepodge of practices and beliefs that drew from various cultures and religions (Koreans, think 짬뽕 ).  The King of Assyria actually had to recruit a Hebrew priest from exile to go back to Samaria and teach the people how to worship Yahweh. (2 Kings 17:29-41)

Sacred Space: Worshiped in the holiest location – the Temple in Jerusalem.  When the Samaritans offered to help in the rebuilding of the Temple, they were deemed enemies of the state (due to their ethnic and religious diversity) and summarily rejected and outcast (see Ezra 4)

Sacred Space: Eliashib, a former high priest, was shunned by Nehemiah because his son married a Samaritan mixed race girl, and the story goes that Eliashib relocated to Mount Gerizim (Jn 4:20) where father of the mixed-race girl, Sanballat – who also happened to be governor of Samaria – built a new temple for Samaritan worship.

Do you follow David Platt or Rob Bell?  John Piper or Tony Campolo?  Franklin Graham or Shane Claiborne?

And this brings me to my blog title.  Fratricide is a strong accusation and certainly in the John 4 story, we see no such thing.  But check out this story from Josephus, a contemporary of New Testament times.  As you can see, there was ongoing tension between Jews and Samaritans that sometimes spilled over into murder.  Today, we may not  see Christians actually killing one another but there exists deep-seated fear and loathing between some groups.  I see a lot of parallels between the Jewish/Samaritan divide of  Jesus’ time and the Conservative Evangelical(CE)/Progressive Mainline (PM) row being played out in today’s Western Christianity.

I find myself in an interesting position because for most of my adult life I have identified with Conservative Evangelical:

  • I grew up in a Korean immigrant church (which heavily lean conservative) and in fact, I still serve in one.
  • During undergrad I was a part of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship while on campus and an Assemblies of God church on the weekends.
  • I also own an NIV Study Bible and listen to Francis Chan sermons and Hillsong and Jesus Culture.

But I find much to appreciate about the progressive Christian movement:

  • a friend recently added me onto a FB group entitled “Progressive Asian American Christians(PAAC)” and I gladly accepted.  Boy, was I surprised to find just how big that umbrella is.
  • Also, I am ordained in the United Methodist Church, probably the biggest mainline denomination in the West today.
  • I like to preach from the NRSV and I count Ken Fong’s Asian America and The Liturgists as two of my favorite podcasts.

I have close friends and family who fall on either side.  In fact, I would also venture to guess that the congregation that I dearly love and pastor is also divided down the middle.

[disclaimer: Identifying and labeling movements often require precise & incisive language and an attention-t0-detail on the smallest minutiae; I am about to paint with a giant foam roller.  Please note and give grace when possible.]

So here is a juicy question: who is the dominant culture in the CE/PM drama in my analogy?  For reasons that are too long to mention in a single blog post, I would have to say that the Conservative Evangelical movement is most akin to the Jews, mainly because I see a common thread between the two for a desire to hold on to a traditional orthodoxy.

And yes, in many ways I do see the Progressive Mainline camp as closely aligned with the maligned Samaritan people – from the dominant culture’s perspective, of course – primarily because there is a foreboding sense that the PM group has watered down its beliefs and acquiesced to the surrounding culture to the point of being unrecognizable from the prototype (if there is such a thing).  Again, I am painting with a giant brush so please forgive me here.  This is simply my observation and probably deserves greater explanation.

But as I reflected on this week’s Lectionary Reading, this is what I see Jesus doing.

  • I notice that Jesus crossed barriers and risked breaking societal protocols as well as long-standing Jewish/Samaritan hostilities to encounter this woman – with love I might add.
  • He considered a relationship with a Samaritan woman as more important than holding on to a centuries-long grudge that Jews held against their morally and genetically inferior Northern cousins.
  • Jesus did NOT say, “Get your theology and practices right and then you’ll be in good standing with God.”  He said, “ask me for a drink and I will give you fresh, living water.”

Yes, it is true that Jesus needed to correct the Samaritan woman’s wayward religious practice:

Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem.  You worship guessing in the dark; we Jews worship in the clear light of day. – John 4:21 The Message

So a person may reasonably conclude, “Woah! He pretty much says we the Jews got it right but you’re wrong! This must mean that Jesus sides with the Jews, and by extension in Sam Nam’s analogy, the Conservative Evangelical church.”  But  we read further along in the passage that Jesus offers correction (and grace) to the Jews as well:

But the time is coming – it has, in fact, come – when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. – John 4:23-24 The Message

Jesus is plainly stating that God is looking for a certain kind of worshiper, the kind who will worship in Spirit and in Truth.  And what is even more amazing is the fact that Jesus expects to find these kinds of worshipers among both the Jews AND the Samaritans.  By extension, I fully believe that Jesus sees Spirit and Truth worshipers among the Conservative Evangelical AND the Progressive Mainline camps of today.  And because His motive is love, I believe that Jesus can and does offer correction to wayward theologies and practices in both camps even today.

The Church as a Safe Space, a Kill-Free Zone

Nearly a century ago, academics in the Presbyterian Church experienced painful schism when faculty from Princeton Seminary left what they thought was a bastion of liberal theology and moved to Philadelphia to open Westminster Theological Seminary.  Today, the UMC , my beloved denomination, is showing some wear and tear at the seams (see Wesleyan Covenant Association).  Let me go on record and say that I hope we don’t split.  Furthermore, I hope we stop with the character assassinations and the demonizing of those who hold onto views different from our own.

One observation I’d like to close with: on the PAAC page, I have read countless stories of how people have been hurt by their home church.

Judged by their pastor.

Ostracized from their community.

Shunned by their own family.

These Asian American Christians seem to have found a space space on the PAAC page to address their questions, voice their frustrations, and find community and a sense of belongingness.  There’s a lot that doesn’t make sense to me.  In fact, there are some postings I disagree with.  But overall, I am grateful that this online community exists.

Here’s to hoping that the church retakes the place of leadership when it comes to leading with a loving embrace to all.

Here’s to hoping that the church becomes known for the radical ways in which barriers are broken, friendships are initiated, and God’s precious gift of living water is shared amongst all who gather.  Because if there’s one thing that Conservatives and Progressives have in common, it is this: we are all thirsty.

God wen get so plenny love an aloha

March 12, 2017 | John 3:1-17 | Lent 2

So, it’s been about ten days since I unplugged from social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, I Snapchat about once every 4 months so that doesn’t count).  Already, I feel a difference.  This social media fast(SMF) has been good for my soul, akin to the detox benefits of a juice cleanse on one’s body.  I do not feel cantankerous because I have not been inundated with

slanted viewpoints,

fake news,

alternative facts,

combative opinions,

snarky memes,

and the like.

Even seeing less of the ubiquitous “angry face” has lowered my blood pressure.

*On a side note, I hope FB replaces the thumbs up with a .*

I did not realize how much of an impact all the negativity was having on my personal outlook.  Now, when I click onto a news story – whether it is good or bad, pro or anti Trump administration, it matters not – I am able to read the piece in its entirety without the echo chamber effect that social media tends to add.

*second side note: I’ve been watching a lot of Korean news lately and have you noticed how Hangook 5-0 LOVES the perp walk?  No matter how “westernized” South Korea becomes, the shame culture will always be off the charts. *

But what my SMF has done most of all is to help me realize that the enemy is not “out there.”  I removed SM for Lent thinking that the voluminous, venomous, vexatious online volleys were adversely affecting my life.  They were.

At the same time, whether I wanted to admit it or not, I was becoming the very thing I loathed seeing on SM: impulsive, reactionary, inflammatory, impatient, unable to speak (write) the truth in love, etc.  The following status update from January 28 is a clear case in point.  I wrote this in haste.  Granted, for the most part, I still stand behind most of what I wrote but if I were to change one thing, it would be the delivery of these thoughts:

Evidently, I’ve been reading John 3:16 wrong my entire life. Replace ‘world’ with ‘Christians’ & ‘whoever’ with ‘Christians’ ~ I’m kinda new to the realm of snarky banter so bear with me…..

But honestly, #Americafirst makes for terrible theology.

Wake up, sleepy disciples, the hour has come to unashamedly put #Jesusfirst and that is best embodied by a Church who will put Muslim refugees first, the undocumented first, women first, the unborn first, the marginalized first, the LGBTQ first, the least and lost first.

On a side note, Honolulu probably cannot become a sanctuary city because of our prohibitive cost of living but I wonder if we can still mobilize and make our voices heard. To my friends and family who support the Muslim ban, I still love you. But you’re wrong.

Ban something else…..like AR-15s and Uzi 9 millimeters – saying that with Arnold’s accent will take you back to the original (& BEST) Terminator. Xoxo.

I began this post by referencing the most famous Bible passage of all time – John 3:16.  I referenced that verse in reaction to some Christians who supported the (first) travel ban.  Like Franklin Graham.  Or these friends.

But looking back now, I fully acknowledge my lack of grace by painting this to be a clear black & white issue.  I’ll be honest and say that I’ve had some very mean thoughts about Mr. Graham, simply because I disagree with his sound bites (I still disagree with him, by the way).  But I have come to realize that to characterize him in the absolute worst picture imaginable is not my job.  His org actually does a lot of good (read the latter half of his fb statement.  I don’t know why I glossed over that in my first run through).

And it just so happens that this Sunday’s Gospel text from the RCL is John 3:1-17.  Check out John 3:16 like you’ve never seen before:

Jesus say, “God wen get so plenny love an aloha fo da peopo inside da world, dat he wen send me, his one an ony Boy, so dat everybody dat trus me no get cut off from God, but get da kine life dat stay to da max foeva.”. – John 3:16 from Da Jesus Book (Hawaiian pidgin)

Brothers and sisters, wake up.   God so loves THIS WORLD.  What did God’s love look like?

God gave freely.

God gave His best.

And if we are sons and daughters of God, what is our call to action in a time like this?

 

Church, in order to love this world – especially the regions mentioned above, troubled regions like Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia, & South Sudan – would you be willing to give freely?  Would you give your best?

This Lent Season:
“let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.” – One John Three Eighteen

the first test

March 5, 2017 | Matthew 4:1-11 | Lent 1

Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: “Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.” – The Message

As we begin this season of Lent, the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) takes us to a familiar story: Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert wastelands where he will fast and pray for forty days.  It is this physically weakened state of Jesus that the Devil “took advantage of in the first test” as The Message translation so aptly puts it.

“Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.”

The mere thought of tests takes me back to my younger days where I often dreaded participating in the universally accepted method of assessing one’s knowledge or abilities.  I remember walking out of my very first Chemistry midterm in college brimming with confidence.  I got my test scores back and I received a 97 – out of 200.  After that first semester, I would ending up transitioning into the humanities.  A medical doctor I most certainly would not become.

One thing I have learned about successful test-taking is that it is absolutely critical that you understand what is being tested.  You don’t go into a biology exam by cramming Shakespeare.  Realizing what is being tested is half the battle in one’s preparation.  Armed with that understanding, I have looked upon Jesus’ testing in the wilderness with new eyes during this Lent Season.

Through all my years in reading this passage, my focus has always been on the latter half of this temptation – turn these stones into bread.  I have often thought that was the crux of the temptation and it makes sense.  Jesus has fasted for forty days and nights.  He is weak.  He is hungry.  The devil wants Jesus to do something, perhaps to use His powers for self-sustenance.  But the main point of this temptation is not Jesus’ hunger – it is His identity.

IF you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.

Jesus’ identity as God’s Son is being called into question.  This line of reasoning is insidious, a slippery slope that – if Jesus were to fall into – would cast doubt on his true identity as God’s Son – and God’s goodness as a faithful father.  Remember that immediately preceding this testing in the wilderness is Matthew 3:13-17, the baptism of Jesus.  As soon as Jesus is baptized, he comes out of the water, the Holy Spirit descends upon him like a dove and a voice from heaven proclaims, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”  This first test, therefore, is the devil basically saying, “You sure ’bout dat?”

We see echoes of this temptation in an earlier time, in the Garden.  “Did God really say, ‘you must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” the serpent asked Eve.  You see, in the Garden, it wasn’t about Eve being hungry.  The subtle accusation in the serpent’s questioning (test) was that somehow, God was denying Adam and Eve.  Satan’s ploy was effectively to convince Eve that God the All-Benevolent Creator was actually holding out on her, that she was missing out because God wasn’t for her, because God wasn’t good.

Let me pause here and redirect your attention to our 2017 Annual Theme: Sons and Daughters, Sisters and Brothers.  That’s a lot of words and it’s not even a complete sentence.  I’m sorry about that.  But I am excited about this theme and I hope you will be too.  What I am trying to convey with SDSB is the idea that, in Christ, we are made to be Sons and Daughters of a Heavenly Father who is good, who loves us.  Moreover, as a church community our identity is also about growing as Sisters and Brothers in Christ, becoming a family of faith.  It is my prayer that we grow in deeper understanding of what it means to be Sons and Daughters of the Most High God, Sisters and Brothers through Jesus Christ.  And if the devil tried to call into question Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, then we need to be prepared for a similar testing.  But thanks be to God because in Jesus, we have One who has taken the test – and exceedingly passed.

It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”

Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”

Specifically Jesus was recounting the story of Israel – recognized throughout the Hebrew Scriptures as God’s Son – and how God proved Himself faithful by providing for His child by giving them manna from heaven in their 40-year journey through the wilderness.  In giving this bread from heaven, God was trying to show the Israelites that He could spread a table of provision for them anyhow, anywhere.  God would always sustain them and care for them.  But what was crucial for Israel to know was that they needed to trust in God, to believe that there was something they needed even more than mere manna from heaven – and that was the steady stream of words from God’s mouth.

Beloved community in Christ, may Jesus’ response remind us that the same answer holds true today.  May we be known as Sons and Daughters who seek the steady stream of words from God’s mouth.  Through Scripture study, worship, prayer and meditation, let us seek to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.  And during this 40-day season of Lent, may you draw closer to Jesus.  Thanks be to God.