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.

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.