Prayer Journal

 

Recently, I bought a Leuchtturm 5 Year Journal. It was, by far, the most expensive journal I have ever bought ($30).

But it's supposed to last you 5 years and gives you just a little bit of space per day.
I've been using it as a daily prayer journal. I've always liked writing my prayers down. I don't know why — and yes, I started doing this way before the movie or the book “The Help” came out (one of the main characters writes her prayers down as well).

I guess one of the reasons why I do it is, for one, it helps me to pray. I know that prayer should be automatic for us pastors. I can't speak for anyone else, but for some odd (and bad) reason, prayer is one of the first things that I forget to do. For reasons I can't really explain, journaling just helps me to remember to pray.

Another reason is that I enjoy looking back at my prayers weeks; months later. I like to see where my state of mind and soul were . I like to see how God answered my prayers because I learned that a lot of my prayers were answered, just not in the way I hoped, expected, or wanted it them to be answered.

With this new journal, I don't have that much space to focus on prayer requests. But it's a good thing, because often times, we treat prayer no differently than our wish list on Amazon. It helps me to frame my thoughts; my relationship with God; overall, reflect on who God is in my life.

I've had the journal for about a month and already there are days that I missed in my attempts to daily write my prayers. Looking back, I have to ask — what the heck? What was so wrong with my day that I didn't take time to pray? And usually, it takes me about 10 minutes (pray silently; write down as I pray; pray silently) — because the space I'm given is limited. How whack were my priorities that day that I did not pray? There's never a legitimate excuse. As Bill Hybels said, “If you're too busy to pray, you're too busy.” Yes, I do feel guilty about those empty slots in the journal. But bigger than the guilt, I am given a chance to correctly prioritize my day for the following day.

I can't overstate how important and vital prayer is to my (and everyone else's) soul, life, and faith journey. Unfortunately, I just need all the help I can get to remind me to pray. Journaling my prayer has helped immensely and I'd recommend everyone to keep a journal of their prayers.

 

Wonder

This past month and a half has been a crash course on parenting for my wife and I.
I can’t speak for my wife — but it’s been an interesting time with a steep learning curve.

I’m noticing things I’ve never noticed before like, Why doesn’t Taco Bell have a kids menu? Why doesn’t Panda Express have kid friendly drinks, like milk or juice? It’s all soda! Why is this McDonalds open 24 hours? … I don’t take him to fast food restaurants as much as I just made it sound…

I’ve noticed that all the Korean establishments in the LA county that we’ve visited do not have changing stations in the men’s bathrooms. Tells you something, huh?

The most refreshing thing I am seeing through Lil’ Dude’s eyes is the joy for life and the joy for the here and now.

My wife will be the biggest testifier to this: I have a hard time being in the present; staying in the here and now.
I’m always in my head thinking of distant thoughts.
Sometimes, when I know that my sermon is going bad, and I know that I can’t save it; that it’s going to be one of those Sundays — my minds already thinking about 1) what I can do to eat my feelings away and 2) next week’s sermon while I’m still preaching the current sermon. 

My head is in the clouds dreaming; scheming; escaping; planning; ignoring; wishing; worrying; whatever other “ings” I can’t currently think of.

But this kid, he’s fully in the moment; and fully appreciates it. He doesn’t have time (or perhaps the capability) to think of what’s coming tomorrow or the week after or the month after. All that he knows is the here and now; what he’s currently doing; what’s in front of him at the moment. And he finds utter joy in the things here and now.

I find it heartwarming that he’s somewhat seemingly associated prayer with thanksgiving. He can’t speak all too clearly, but sometimes I can’t distinguish between his word for “prayer” and “thank you.”

I have never seen someone so happy that a bowl of cereal is being poured in front of him. All he can see is that cereal. That is his entire world, right then and there. He’ll put his hands together to ask that we pray and then he’ll go to town on that cereal saying, “ray-al” (his word for cereal). Then after a couple of bites, he’ll put his spoon down, put his hands together and say his word that sounds both like prayer and thank you. Actually, he’ll do that with any food. He’s just so happy to eat. (Also, when we’re eating out and the waiter brings food, he says, “YAAAAAAY!”)

He finds joy in things that we take for granted. A fountain. A bike. A bird. A butterfly. A car. A motorcycle. Swings. Water. Milk.
So much joy from such a little (yet big for his age) body. It’s contagious. His joy is contagious.

Which then my mind drifts (from the here and now) to the words of Jesus saying that one must be like a child.
We some times have confused having a child-like faith with having a childish faith.

Childish faith: where we are to simply believe and (blindly) accept what we are told; where we get mad when people don’t think like us; where we make threats of leaving a church because we don’t like what’s going on or not giving because we don’t like a decision the church made;

For me, childlike faith is finding wonder in the small, rather normal, things, like sprinklers turning on. It’s being grateful for the smallest of things, like cereal. It’s finding joy in every moment and in order to do that, you have to be present; you have to be in the here and now. And of course, childlike faith is not just believing in God, but depending on/in God. Much like how a child depends on her parent … for everything.

Abraham Herschel wrote, “I did not ask for success; I asked for wonder. And you gave it to me.”

I’m learning what a great prayer it is to ask God for wonder.
As an adult, I see that a lot of the world has lost its wonder. Nothing’s new under the sun. It’s easy to become bitter; cynical; jaded. I’ve seen too much for wonder to remain.

But, through this kid, my heart (and eyes) are being reopened to the wonders of the world. Finding joy in blowing dandelions; the oohs and aahs of seeing a butterfly pass by; the joy of flying on a plane — even if that plane ride included a 6 hour layover at a terminal; the excitement of water falling from the skies.

So how does one become an adult and remain full of wonder…?
I guess it can start by asking God for wonder and having our ears, eyes, hearts, minds, and souls open to see the wondrous things all around us…

 

One Size (Doesn’t) Fit All

Greetings to you from the foreign country known as Te-Xas.

I joked on twitter yesterday that I felt like a foreigner walking to my destination here in Dallas. And for being Asian. Though, currently at this Starbucks, there are a lot more Asians here (and Koreans at that; and fobby Koreans at that! — where the heck am I?) than any other ethnicity.

On the way to this Asian invaded Starbucks, I was flipping around the radio station presets of my father in-law's car, when I came across a preacher sharing his thoughts. This pastor was touching on all the controversial topics from gay marriage to sexuality to Hobby Lobby to Obamacare in a 6 minute segment.

Of course, his POV ended up being God's POV on these matters.

I didn't mind what this pastor was saying. I heard it all before. What bothered me was how adamant he was that his thoughts were not only aligned with God's, but that these were God's thoughts as well.

Therefore, if I did not agree with him, I was going against God.

I didn't (don't) agree with him. And I don't find myself going against God.

The issues of sexuality is simply not black and white. The Bible is far more complex than we like them to be. As uncomfortable as it may make us, our world is more complex than black and white thinking and is full of gray.

I know I'm guilty of this too, but it's amazing how we try to make God/faith/religion/Christianity a one-size-fits-all thing. It's not. It's next to impossible, for we all bring our own lens; baggage; worldview; into how we approach God and the Bible. Yes, we're all made in the image of God, but everyone one of us has somewhat made God into our own image also.

That's why God's a Redskins fan (but not a fan of the franchise's name). That's why I believe God to disdain the Lakers. God views the Yankees the way he views any empire: unholy.

But the real tragedy is that we don't give room for (loving) debates and discussions. Discussions about the differences of theologies ends up devolving to a my-way-or-the-highway conversation. We're flustered and frustrated that our (seemingly) one-size-fits-all theology doesn't fit them. So, we conclude that it doesn't fit them because they're wrong. And we'll condescendingly tell them that we'll pray for them so that they'll be enlightened like us.

What happens, then, is that Christianity becomes primarily about what we know and what we believe. We're more concerned with right thinking — or everyone thinking like me. There's no room for differences, because we are right.

But as Paul tells us, knowledge puffs up.

And that's one of the tragedies with American Christianity. We're too puffed up on what we think we know and we find ourselves more of a bully than a servant to those who don't know as much as we do or think differently than we would like.

But knowing is easy. Believing is easy.

If I told you I believe in ghosts, so what? I know the starting 11 defense for the '94 49ers. So what? How's can that be redeeming or serve a greater cost? (Unless I find myself on a game show and the million dollar question is “Name the starting 11 of the 49ers '94 championship team.”)

And believing you're right is even easier.

We're too concerned about what we know and not concerned enough about what we do.

Jesus instructions after the Good Samaritan story was “go and do likewise.”

James instructs us to “not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (not argue over what it says until everyone hates each other).

(He also instructs us that we should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry — something we don't do very well).

I think it's Shane Claiborne who wrote that we should be more concerned with right living than right thinking.

In the end, I believe God to be less concerned with what we know and more concerned with how we lived. After all, the story Jesus told in Matthew 25, the King did not ask the sheep and goat what they believed; what issues did they picketed or stood up for; how many bible verses they memorized. Rather, the King judged them on what they did (or did not do).

It's okay if you and I don't agree on theology or interpret the Bible the same way. It's okay if we find ourselves on the opposite side of certain issues. God is bigger than our one-size-fits-all thinking.

But God's love, I believe, is a one-size-fits-all type of love that is available for anyone and everyone. And the way we embody God's love, grace, and hope through our actions — that can reach the heart of anyone. For no one can really debate with acts done in and through unconditional and sacrificial love.

But that has less to do with what we know and believe and more about what we do and how we live and love. After all, that well known song says they will know we are Christians by our love — not by what we know.

So, less talk. Less arguing. Less of “this is what God says!” And more grace. More justice. More mercy. More love. More walking humbly with God. And may it begin with me.

 

The Christians Propensity to Overreact: Noah

I don’t like how we jump to conclusions without even knowing what the issue is.
People demonize Rob Bell even before his book Love Wins came out — that’s right, before reading it.

Months before Aronofsky’s Noah came out, some Christians were already “boycotting” it and asking other Christians to not see it. That it wasn’t a faithful interpretation of the biblical story. (This was all before anyone screened the movie.)

The truth is, many of us Christians haven’t really thought beyond what we were told during Sunday school as children when it comes to Noah.  And when they read/hear Midrash from Rabbis about “Christian” stories (because we forget, this is first and foremost, a Jewish story, not a Christian one), we get upset saying, “That’s not in the Bible so it’s not true.”

Look.
Hollywood’s # 1 goal is to make money. Not to tell stories. If they were really about stories, then we’d have more movies like Once; Memento; Lars and the Real Girl… and less movies like John Carter; Battleship; Transformers 2; the Saw Franchise… And I’d guess we’d have less sequels. The only reason why Lego movie is making a sequel was because everything was awesome about the first one, and everyone is seeing green.
And that’s okay. That’s Hollywood.

It’s awful for a church to be all about money. The church is upside down if their focus is the dollar sign. No, the church’s focus is about stories. We share the greatest story ever told with our community. And we share the stories of our lives together, as a community.

If you’re uncomfortable with the Hollywood version of a Biblical story, that’s fine. But what’s the purpose of boycotting? Or telling Christians to not support the liberal Hollywood agenda? (What does that even mean?)
That will only scare away the bigwigs who can make a $100 million budget movie based on the Bible.
Besides, we all know the book is better than the movie. Always. 
Maybe someone who finds the church detestable would go see Noah because they like Aronofsky (who’s also made fantastic — albeit “non-Christian”– movies: Pi; Black Swan; Requiem For a Dream… yea, maybe don’t go watch those movies) and end up wondering about the story and open up a Bible, and reading it. Maybe it piques their curiosity, and they want to know more about this God who ends up making a covenant with people.
Wouldn’t that be a great result? And trust me. Non-Christians aren’t going to watch Christian movies like Fireproof and Left Behind. I consider myself a decent Christian — or at least I am trying to be a good Christian. I consider myself a “believer.” But for the most part, I can’t watch a Christian movie for Christians by Christians because… they’re just corny (to my taste).

Are we so insecure about our faith that Hollywood can control what we believe in? That Hollywood has that much sway over us?
I mean, I remember when Da Vinci Code came out and how we were all trying to boycott it. And I remember thinking, “Is our God so small that a stupid (yet entertaining) book can undo our faith?”
Or, I remember how my Sunday School thought I was going to turn into a Wiccan because I raved about the Harry Potter books. Really? Look — I know I look dumb, act dumb and… well am dumb… but I isn’t that dumb.

It’s entertainment. Hollywood exists to entertain, first and foremost. 

Believe me. God is bigger than Darren Aronofsky.
The story of Noah can be interpreted into many, many different ways. I don’t believe what I was told in Sunday school anymore. I believe in the Noah story. But it has evolved, where I believe the purpose of the story is to tell the relationship between God and humanity, and though humanity broke God’s heart, God still made a covenant with them–with us. I focus less on the details.

Sure — I get it. It’s doesn’t line up to the way we’ve been taught in Sunday School when we were kids. 
But, again, what damage can that really do?
Are we going to freak out over Ridley Scott’s version of Exodus? (I mean, I love Christian Bale, but he ain’t no Charlton Heston).

And while we’re at it — why isn’t anyone complaining about the fact that Noah and his family are white?

Now, I understand that I am overreacting as well.
But, I figure let Hollywood have a crack at the stories of the Bible. The beautiful thing is, the Bible is open to interpretation. We all bring our personality (and baggage) into it.

Besides, I’d much rather see something done by people who know how to make movies rather than be told that I need to watch Kirk Cameron movies in order to be a good Christian.

Dear Churchgoers

note: this post originally appeared on Ministry Matters. Please head over to their site to see all the other great resources and articles. (www.ministrymatters.com)

This may make me sound like I’m either complaining or not good at my job. Neither is the case, though the latter can be debated. The truth is, I’m not a mind reader. Now I bet some of my colleagues have such a Bat-phone line connection with God that with one look at your face they know your niece’s goldfish died. I don’t have such an in with God. I wish I did.

It may be that I’m just not as holy as some of the pastors you see on television who can tell you what God’s will is for your life (for a nominal fee.) I have to rely on a different source. You. Now I understand you might think I should know all the things that are happening with you. I really do want to. Most of my fellow pastors would agree. We love to know the things that are going on in your life. We want to hear all about it. But there’s a good chance that we won’t know if you never tell us.

I’m a lot duller than I’m given credit for. I’d be one of the disciples Jesus would look at incredulously and ask, “Are you so dull?” Because you see, I’m a bit slow. Dense even. I definitely live up to the title associated with my moniker: I’m a dreamer. Now this has its upside—it makes me optimistic. It helps me come up with great ideas. But it also has a terrible downside in that it keeps me inside my own head. When you add my severe introvertedness on top of that — I just need help. From you.

If you don’t tell me that your closest third cousin who lives on the other side of the country passed away, there’s a chance that I won’t know until it works its way through the grapevine of the church. Or if you’re in the hospital for a minor procedure and didn’t tell a soul, and you’re upset with me for not checking up on you, it’s probably because I just didn’t know. I know this sounds like an excuse (it is) but there are other people in the church that, God bless their soul, need me for something. You may be thinking, “Why does my pastor spend so much time with them and not much with me?” Well, there’s a small chance it’s because I don’t like you. ( I know, I know. Horrible. But pastors are people too, and like all people, we’re broken.) But the more likely answer is that it’s because the other folks are probably letting me know when they need to see me.

Contrary to popular belief, there’s a lot a pastor needs to do throughout the week. We can’t always go through the directory to call folks one by one to see how they’re doing. We’d like to be able to do this, but things sometimes happen that take us away from the desk. Like the bathroom flooding. Again.

You’re not bothering me if you’re at the hospital and want a visit. Call me. Don’t think you’re being a burden if you’re struggling and need to talk. Call. I want to have conversations about your faith, God, and your life’s journey. Believe me, I would rather do that than answer emails from the District Superintendent.

Sharing life is one of the best things about ministry, and something I feel honored and privileged to do. But sometimes, I need your help to let me know what’s going on in your life. Don’t give me too much credit and assume that I know everything. I don’t. So let me know. I’ll be grateful that you called to share what’s going on. And I’ll definitely make my way to visit you soon.

Church People Say The Darndest Things Pt. 4

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.  

So I know my wonderful church folks say this because they care for us and are looking out for us.

But I can’t help but thing what a really weird thing it is to hear.

Ever since we’ve introduced the Little Dude (formerly known as Nate Dogg) to our loving congregation, many of the folks “warned” us by saying different versions of “Don’t get too attached.”

And we look at each other on the way home and ask, “How can we not get attached?”

It’s not like we’re just house mates where we may bump into each other here or there and might have one or two casual conversations.
We have to take care of him. Love him. Nurture him. Help him. Guide him. Teach him. As far as we’re concerned, he’s our kid until he is not.

Now of course, they’re saying this for the inevitable day when we have to say good-bye. They don’t want us to be too hurt or too sad by the departure of the Little Dude. But it’s what we’ve signed up for. We know what we’re getting into. We know that the day will come when he has to go to his parents. And we are looking forward to that, for LD’s sake. Because, ideally, the best place for him to be is with his parents.

And I want to return him better than I found him, if you will. And in order to do that, we’ll have to pour our selves out into him. You can’t not get attached by doing that. There’s no cold way to do that. There’s no way you can do it with detachment. You’re all in. You’re investing it all.

Besides, we get attached to much smaller and insignificant things as human beings.
I legitimately get sad when I lose my favorite hat. For days. I think about it. I wish I could wear it. I miss the way it feels with the years of sweat and dirt on the brim that makes it an oh-so-perfect fit.

We get attached to our first cars. Our homes. Our rooms. Our dorm room. Our high school campus.

I even witnessed one man get so attached to a volleyball with a red hand print that he cried – bawled – when he lost it.

We get attached to our pets.
So how can you not expect to get attached to a human being that you feed, change, bathe, and care for?

We’re human beings. Not human doings. We’re not going to just do-do-do-do (hahaha doodoo) and then send him packing on his way. No, we’re gonna be with him the best way we can.
We want to make sure that he gets healthy when he’s with us while his parents are getting healthy so that they can be the healthiest versions of themselves when they’re finally united.

That’s going to take a lot of effort, strength, and time.
And because we’re sharing our lives together, getting attached to the Little Dude is bound to happen.

That’s okay. It’s a risk that we’ve took on. Because love always comes with a risk.

 

 

Jealousy and Foreskins

(I know. What a weird title. Did I get your attention, though? Ha.)

When I began my ministerial career, this chapter laid out the awful and detrimental affects of jealousy for me.1 Samuel 18 has always been a fascinating chapter for me.

I'm sure Saul was grateful for David's contribution to the defeat of the Philistine. But in no way did he expect this young man to be more glorified than the king.

Saul was faced with 2 options: let it go, for people will always be fickle or get angry and let it eat at him. He chose the latter.

But he's not the only one who would choose the latter. Think about how many times we get jealous about our neighbor. Or how upset we get when someone else gets the credit we feel we deserve. Saul was already insecure after hearing that God will tear the kingdom away from him.

Now, this guy has risen up and is the people's champion. Everyone is smelling what he's cooking. (Rock reference? Anyone…?) David can do no wrong. This would make anyone upset. We've all drank from Jealousy's kool-aid.

Saul eventually became afraid of David. “Saul was afraid of David” (v. 12a). And as a wise man once said, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” (Okay, technically, he wasn't a “man”…)

Saul was consumed with jealousy, anger, and hatred for David. And Saul, his family, and his kingdom suffered because of his obsession with the hatred for David. He used a lot of manpower in hunting David down. I'm sure there were other (and better; productive) things that the king could do.

In fact, he was so blinded by his obsession, he was willing to exploit his daughter's feeling for David to eliminate David. His daughter became nothing more than a pawn in this game that only he was playing. If we're not careful, we can let jealously really do damage to everyone around us.

If we don't get these emotions in check, we can do things that are outside of our character and integrity.

Jealousy can be destructive and damaging.

One “simple” (and I say “simple” because it's easier said than done) antidote to the poison of jealousy (particularly in a ministry setting) is to remind ourselves over and over; through and through that ministry is not about us. It is not about your teammates and what they are doing and what they are accomplishing. It's not about how much hours you spend in your office and how little the other pastor spends in hers. It's not about how much you're getting paid (or not getting paid).

It's not about you.

Nor is it about them.

It's about God.

And if we get that mantra rooted deeply in our hearts, jealousy doesn't become such a poison to our lives.

Shifting gears — I recently (finally) started watching The Walking Dead. I'm only halfway through the 2nd season so save your spoilers.

In the second season, Daryl gets hurt looking for a missing girl and is attacked by zombies. He eventually overcomes them and then wears the ears of the zombies around his neck.

That image of him wearing the necklace of Zombie ears completely reminded me of this chapter.

Saul says he'll give his daughter Michal to David for the price of 100 Philistine foreskins.

David brings 200.

“They counted out the full number to the king” (v. 27b)

Did David carry them back in a sack?

Did he also, a la Daryl, wear them around his neck?

And… how were they able to tolerate the smell…?

And I love the mental imagery of counting the foreskin out in front of Saul. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7… 110. 111. 112. *wait, stop talking for a second* 11… 111? 112? Dang it! I lost count. *sigh* 1. 2….

And what did Saul do with them afterwards? I would've avoided the soup that night at the castle… just in case.

So there you have it — a look at how destructive jealousy can be in our lives followed by having 200 foreskins counted in front of you. All in one chapter.