Being a Christian Doesn’t Mean We Can Act Like A***oles

My Good Friday began with a conversation with a mother who adopted an African-American baby.

She was telling me that her son, now pre-school age, was asking about church and wanted to take him to a church. Only that her son has two mothers and knows that her family is not welcomed everywhere. She asked if they would be welcomed in our church.

And I was completely honest with her. I told her that she and her family will be whole-heartedly and fully embraced, welcomed, accepted by me — that I can guarantee 100%. I told her that our church would be welcoming — but don't know what will happen after. Because it's possible that someone from my church will love them; but expect them to “change” — to leave behind their decades together and become heterosexual folks (to which I began to wonder — is that “welcoming”?)

But I'm not writing this to talk about this issue — and won't approve comments dealing with this issue in the comments section — regardless of what side you're on.

She wanted to ask me if her family would be welcomed at our church because of a run-in with her neighbor who is a devout church goer and Christian.

He told them (in the presence of their child) that they were “N***** loving D****.”

I don't know the context this was said in. But whatever the context — that's not never okay. No matter what you believe or what side you may fall on this issue or any issue, being mean; using slurs… just not okay.

Maybe the mothers were in the wrong and upset the Christian neighbor — but to me, that kind of hate and use of slurs can never be justified. Especially to utter those words in presence of an innocent child. What does it solve? How's that redeeming? How's that Christlike? How is that loving someone the way Christ has loved us?

I fully understand that we are passionate about social issues and theology and ideology. I appreciate passion. It lets us know that we are alive. But we can discuss; debate; argue; converse without being jerks. Just because we may be assured of our salvation doesn't give us the license to be jerks. After all, we are called to love.

I have to admit, I was angry all Good Friday long. It wasn't until the near end of Good Friday service where I let go of my anger. We have a tradition of taking flash paper, symbolically laying our brokenness on it, nail it to the cross, and watch the paper (and our brokenness) go up in a flash, leaving no trace of the paper (and our brokenness) behind. As I began to nail my flash paper, I realized my own brokenness and darkness. I realized that, sure I may not use degrading slurs — but that I am jerk in many other ways. That I am not innocent; that I, too, have done harm.

I can't control what people say or do — but I can control what I say and do.

Shane Claiborne wrote that we could be the only Jesus someone may ever see/encounter.

And though I (will) fail quite often, I need to continue to try to be the best representative; the best ambassador for Christ that I am called to by

doing no harm, doing good, and stay in love with God.


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.


It’s Friday Night And I Just – Just – Juuuust Got Paid

Note: How appropriate that I made a mistake with the title. Got, not God. Geez.

(The title to the blog: ‘Nsync, anyone? No Strings Attached album? No? Yea, I never really listened to ‘Nsync either……………..)

Some time last week, I received a check for the Bible study I wrote on prayer for the Converge Bible Study series. It wasn’t like I made bank, but I was very grateful for the opportunity (don’t tell Shane this, but I would’ve done it for free…) and even more grateful for the check that came in the mail.

It was a surreal moment.

I wanted to frame it — like business folks do with the first dollar they made — but I’m too cheap for that and we need a new vacuum.

I got paid for writing. That’s a weird feeling. I mean, I once got paid for a small book review I did for my friend’s Annual Conference. But this is different. This reached a scope beyond one Annual Conference and beyond my 3 readers on this blog (thanks wife and mom).

Even though I got paid for writing something — I don’t think I could ever consider myself a “writer.” Because I’m a horrible writer. Like my religion professor told me in undergrad, “You write the way you speak, and the way you speak is incorrect.” (He might’ve said it more grammatically correct.)

I can’t believe how that one little statement has hung over my head for so many years.

Turns out, writing like how I speak has become a necessity when I write my sermons. (So, ha! Dr. Crawford! — though he was one of my favorite professors. Maybe that’s why the words hang around after all these years).

And me speaking in a wrongly way? (bad sentence on purpose… give me some credit). In honor of my pidgin speaking friends: ainokea. (I no care).

Well — I do. I mean, I don’t want to sound like a complete moron. I’m okay with moron — just not a complete moron.

And, in the words of Juan Pablo — English is my second language. I’m a product of ESL. Ees okay.

Actually, I only joke about ESL. I think I’ve taken 1 ESL class or however it was done in my life and that was in the first grade. So, 20 years ago. Okay, another lie, 20 years ago would make me 26.

About 3-5 years ago, I remember how I really wanted to write a book. I was looking at all sorts of opportunities for me to pitch an idea. And I never really had an idea for a book. I had a few decent ones, but they were more suited for a series of blog posts, not a book. One thought I toyed with was how jealousy can destroy a team ministry by using people like King Saul as an example. His obsession and jealousy towards David destroyed him. But again a good blog post, not deep enough for a book.

I can’t really tell you why I so wanted to be a published writer. But, it most likely had to do with boosting my ego and self worth.

I gave up the thought of writing a book when I realized (through someone’s blog post) that in many ways, we preachers are writers (also when I realized I had nothing to write about. And when I realized I’m not that great of a writer.)

We write a sermon week in and week out. Although this pastor blogger said that pastors write 15 pages of manuscript each week. 15 pages? My sermon manuscripts come out to an average of 1500 words (2.5 pages at most). It only becomes over 15 pages on Sunday mornings when the font size is changed to 24 so that I can use it to preach. 15 pages?! Per sermon?! Am I doing something wrong…?

It’s funny how things happen when you let go of it.

I was approached by Shane, not once but twice, to write a bible study for the Converge series. Both times (especially the second time) I was floored, humbled, and grateful. Really? Me? Again?

Through this experience, I am learning that I don’t think I could ever write a book.

Writing the Bible studies (particularly the new one) was difficult and beyond my intellectual capacity (please note: I’m not complaining). And that’s with a 2000 word limit per session and only 4 sessions at that (I can math this: that’s 8000 words per study! Math, like English, also not my strongest subject. I bring dishonor to my ethnicity).

I know writing a book goes deeper and takes more effort. It’ll feel like going to school. And school and I are not the best of friends. On top of that, my church used the Practical Prayer study for a small group study. What they loved the best was the questions each session asked. And I had nothing to do with the questions. That was all Shane and Co.

I think my wheelhouse is in blogging. Of course, if the chance to write a book ever comes up, I won’t deny it. Hopefully that’ll mean I’ll have something worthy to share. But if it never does, I got other things (real things) to be concerned about than doing something that ultimately promotes me as a person. That can’t ever be what my life is about. I got bigger and more important things to push and promote — like God’s love and restoring grace.

And that’s done best through actions than words.

Santa Barbarian Way: Institutionalized

lionYou either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. — Harvey Dent

On January 19th, we started a sermon series called #SantaBarbarianWay based on the book Barbarian Way by Erwin McManus.

The premise of the sermon series is that we’ve become a bit too domesticated and civilized when it comes to our faith. Jesus was wild; raw; untamed — and it made the already religious nervous. He threatened the job security of the religious elite.
Today, instead of taking risks and tackling challenges, we’ve settled for security; for familiarity; for safeness. We’ve embraced tradition. Instead of accepting God’s call and invitation to go!, we’ve stayed in our buildings and invited God to dwell with us.

As I have prepared for the sermons, there has been a lot of inner turmoil within me. Perhaps the one being affected most by these sermons is me.

Years ago, I remember sitting in a room full of board members (of the Board of Ordained Ministry or BOOM) asking us about our thoughts of the ordination process. I remember telling them that I felt that they were domesticating me. They were training me into becoming a “suit”; that they were more concerned with me being a “good Methodist” over a good person; that all their leading questions were requiring me to give them an answer they wanted to hear. And anything that was different from their thinking, I felt, was viewed as a threat or danger and required me seeing a spiritual guide or a psychologist (a common “suggestion” given by the BOOM).

I hate the feeling of being confined and am a bit claustrophobic.
I hate to be labeled or stereotyped. And yes, it has a lot to do growing up being the only Asian person in my class and the things people thought about me. (No, Chinese is not the same as Korean. No, I don’t know Bruce Lee. No, we don’t eat dog. Oh wait, never mind. That is us.) It has a lot to do with being a PK (pastor’s kid) at a Korean church and the unrealistic expectations that people had of me.
It’s why I go out of my way to be horrible at math (okay, that’s just an excuse. I’m just naturally bad at math.)
I mean, the hatred of being confined is so in my head, I get nervous when I have to preach behind a pulpit. I feel like I’m trapped; being confined. I hate the way the robe makes me feel claustrophobic. I know it’s all in my head. I know I’m neurotic. I’ll never wear a clerical collar because I don’t want people to label me as pastor and treat me differently (well, never say never, right?). It’s not like we get free stuff these days for being a clergy…

During those Ordination years, I also hated meeting with other clergy because I would always be the youngest one present, by decades. And they would go out of their way, it felt like (though in retrospect, I’m sure they weren’t) to belittle me and be condescending. They would tell me that I need to learn how the real world and real ministry works; that I was being naive; that I was being too unreal and too simplistic; that I had passion, but it was everywhere and that was not good.

It’s funny — no, it’s sad and scary — how things change when you climb over that wall and be part of the “civilization.”

Somewhere along the my path, I’ve become institutionalized. I’ve lived long enough to see myself become the “villain,” if you will. (I am aware that this may just be all in my head)

My wife and other folks would come share with me ideas about ministry and I’d be quick to remind her and others — resources are scarce (even though I’ve preached that vision always comes before provision). It’s logistically impossible. I have too much on my plate to tackle that. That’s not how it works. You’ll see things differently if (or when) you become a pastor.

I remember a phone call with someone who was in his first year of youth ministry and saying, “Give yourself a little time and you’ll see that things work a little differently. Things aren’t that simple and easy.”

Once we’re “in” we forget all about being “out.”
We forget the struggles; the heart aches; the loneliness; the anger; the hurt as a member of the “out” group. All we may see now is that not everyone can be part of this group.

Once a certain “banned” group forces their way into the door to become members of an exclusive country club, those same folks will work even harder to keep the next group out.
Some Christians forget we were (are) sinners and put on the shoulders of others heavy packs that are impossible to carry in order to receive grace.
In our history, we Christians, as soon as we became the official religion of the empire, forgot how we feared for our lives; how we were hunted and persecuted; and with a flip of a switch went on persecuting all who didn’t think like us.

Today, I see myself on the side that I fought not to be on.

I feel a lot of unrest rising within me.
My eyes are open and I realize that I’m too comfortable in living in a civilized and domesticated faith. I’d rather be comfortable than take risks.
At 20-something, I had nothing to lose. So it was easy to risk everything. Say anything. Do anything.
Perhaps now, I think I have more to lose, therefore risking everything comes at a greater cost. Perhaps now, I think that I have a reputation to be mindful of. What rubbish! At what cost? I’d rather challenge everything than have a good reputation because I stayed silent and hidden.
Perhaps, there was shift within me that was more concerned of being a good Methodist than a good person. Perhaps I was more interested in being a person of the book — in this case the Book of Discipline. But the biggest sin of being a person of the book — whether it be the Bible or the denominational laws — is that one will always value the book over a real person. Which we see happening all around us, all the time.

This rising restlessness within me is telling me to question everything.
My calling. My ministry. My profession. My employer — the United Methodist Church. And not in a bad way, at all. In a necessary way. Why am I doing what I am doing? Who am I? Who am I, really, in Christ? Why am I the kind of pastor I am today? And so forth.

This restlessness is causing me to be awake and see everything with eyes wide open instead of blindly accepting everything because that’s what the powers to be tells us so (and not that the powers to be tell folks to accept things blindly).

Consider this a wakeup call.
And I’m… finally waking up.

10,000 Steps

We’re starting off the new year with a vacation, so my posts will be sparse once again. By the time you read this, I’ll be stranded in the wilderness that is Los Angeles. Or the Valley. Like, totally.

I also have been asked to write another Converge Bible Study — this time an even more vast subject: grace. And it will only be through God’s grace that this gets done. If you have any thoughts about grace, encountering grace, leave a comment.

But, Happy New Year!

I didn’t make any resolutions this year. Check that: any specific resolutions. Besides, I’d break those specific ones within a month and feel guilty that my commitment to bettering myself couldn’t last longer than a few weeks. Well, actually, as I continue typing, I realize that my resolutions are rather specific. So, forget this entire paragraph.

I want to become a healthier person is all aspects of my life: emotionally; spiritually; physically.

Maybe it’s because I’m Asian and within the fiber of our being, we have the idea of being well-balanced — you know the whole ying and yang thing; the feng shui thing; I can’t think of anything specifically Korean, but we Koreans were under Chinese rule for most of our people’s history. (I may have just made that up. Much like Fox News, I don’t feel like fact checking).

It’s one of the reasons why Wesley’s Quadrilateral pulls at my soul. It provides a balanced way to approach God and faith.

Spiritually — I want to become more intentional in my spiritual practices. Spend more time reading and studying, absorbing ideas and thoughts on how others (those who are much smarter than me) see God’s grace in action within our brokenness. I need to reclaim my prayer life and be diligent about it, as I seek God’s will. I probably should look into fasting more — check that. Stop thinking about fasting and engage in acts of fasting. From food. From media. From screens.

Emotionally — I just want to be a better, healthier person who is in tuned with the here and now. I am a dreamer. I live up to the moniker, Joseph “the Dreamer.” That’s not bad, but I keep my heads in the clouds too much. My wife’s biggest complaint in our 7 years of marriage is that often times, she feels I’m not here, but “there”– “there” being the deepest corners of my mind and the universe (okay, that’s a lie to make me look I’m smart and… stuff). Being “there”, I risk of missing out on everything in the here and now. And all the life that is happening. I want to–need to be more present. For God is with us. In the midst of us. Right in the here and the now. And if I spend too much time with my heads in the clouds, life and God will just pass me by.

I also want to be nicer. But, I’m not in too much of a hurry to change that.

Physically — I want to be healthier. My cholesterol isn’t getting any lower. And, unfortunately, I haven’t figured out a way to get any younger. Now, let me let you in on a secret: I’m afraid of getting old. As John Mayer croons, “So scared of getting older, I’m only good at being young/ so I play the numbers game to find a way to say that my life has just begun.”

Being around the older generation, I sort of understand the sentiment “Let me die young or let me live forever.” I just want to take care of myself now so that tomorrow I won’t curse my younger self for being all #YOLO. (I deeply apologize for using that).

My wife got me a Fitbit Force for Christmas to help me out with the physical part. The daily goal I set for myself (which is the default goal) is 10,000 steps a day.

I didn’t realize how difficult 10,000 steps were. As I write this (January 3rd, at a coffee shop waiting for my car to get done being maintained with a estimated wait time of 3-4 hours), I have yet to hit the 10,000 mark.

This just means that I have to, at least, head out to the gym more than twice a year. Or walk more. Or join my wife on her jogs. (I hate running. All my life, running was a tool for punishment, as coaches punish you by making you run laps around the field).

But, it’ll be worth it in the long run.

So begins a new year. A new journey. New adventures. New ways to succeed and new ways to fail.

I’m excited and nervous on what 2014 will hold for me personally and professionally. I’m excited to see where God will take us.

And I hope that your 2014 will be filled with blessings, love, joy, and grace. More importantly, I hope that you will be God’s instruments of blessings, love, joy, and grace.

Thanks for reading.

#RAK (Random Acts of Kindness)

Hi Folks,
Sorry for the lack of updates — and there will be a bit sparse here and there as I have been graciously asked to write another study in the Converge Bible Study Series.
So my thoughts have been ruminating on that, since I need to have it done by February.

But today, I just wanted to share with you a video that I came across that one of my former youth students made.
One of my favorite memories of Sam is during a SSP trip (Sierra Service Project), he declared that he could give me the world’s most awkward hug. I accepted his challenge and declared that could give a more awkward hug. Maybe not the best story to share, because as I am reading this — it feels very awkward. But let’s just say, hands down — I know how to give the world’s most awkward hugs.

Anyway, he’s a talented and very warm human being who is a blast to be around.

This video made my day as he proceeds to make the day of random strangers. Good stuff.
(follow him on twitter)

Merry Christmas!

Hi. I’m a Pastor, but a Normal Human Being

Well… “normal” is relative.

I, much like my very dear childhood friend Calvin, also found it incredibly odd to see teachers outside of the classroom. Thinking that they had “normal” lives was something I could not comprehend. Especially those teachers who would not raise a single eyebrow of his/her students if one were to discover that the teacher indeed slept in a coffin or dwelled in a cave or habited somewhere under a bridge during their time outside of the school campus.

And more and more, I feel that many people have that kind of thoughts when it comes to us pastors.

…not about sleeping in coffins or caves or living under a bridge demanding a toll any time someone crosses… (well, who knows…)

I often come across people who are perplexed — shocked, even — when they learn that I find entertainment outside of the Bible and church. I know! Scandalous!

Starting from the years where I was trying to figure out who I am (and other terrifically terrible puberty moments), I’ve been asked countless of times, “Can you really do/listen/say/read/watch/drink/eat that?” (Okay, maybe the “eating” thing doesn’t have to do with being a pastor but being a Korean. Yes, yes that is our food. Yes, I know it smells like dirty feet airing in the hot desert heat. But I promise you, it doesn’t taste the way it smells. Okay, I can’t really promise you that either.)

I remember some youth parents being offended that I found affinity with Tupac and had all the Eminem albums on my iPod.

“What kind of example are you setting for my kids?” they’d ask. Well, not any better example you’re setting because they only found out about the stuff on my iPod because they took it without asking and starting browsing through my song selections. It’s not like I blared it in their presence and had a sing along to “Without Me.”

But that comes from the sick expectations that Korean parents had/have of their youth pastors… I mean, they’d pretty much expect us to turn this kid’s life around with one prayer — all the while, at home, the kids are getting verbally abused, watching their parents do shady things… and when the kid screws up, it’s “what are we paying the youth pastor for? He can’t even keep my son out of trouble! And he listens to rap music!”

… yea…whoops, I got a little carried away.

But, I watch a lot more TV and movies than I care to admit. And a lot of things I watch is what some Christians would call “not redeeming” and pretend they don’t watch. (Okay, I’m sure they don’t “pretend” to not watch it. There are far more folks who are holier than me. And I’m okay with that.)

I have several guilty pleasures, one of them being the Sports Entertainment business of the World Wrestling Entertainment. But I watched that stuff as a kid and will always hold a special, nostalgic spot in my heart. My friends and I would make our own championship belts out of poster boards and have some awesome wrestling matches. (Just to clarify — that was when we were like 12). And yes, I know it’s fake. But, those athletes (and yes, they are athletes — I don’t see you doing anything they do) really do put their bodies on the line.

In the spirit of Smells Like Teen Spirit, I sit in front of the screen and demand that it “entertain us.”

Because, I like to be entertained — from the mindless (non-redeemable) entertainment to the things that teach you a profound lesson and gives deep meanings on what it means to be a human.

I browse through great and thought provoking website to scrolling the mindless pictures on buzzfeed. And I am a casual redditor.

My iTunes collection consists of “you have to listen to them” (say… the Lone Bellows or Gungor) to “Oh. Yea, don’t judge me” (say… *Nsync and Miley Cyrus. What? I said don’t judge.)

Underneath our robe (or whatever we choose to wear — just be thankful that we’re wearing clothes) we pastors are fairly normal human beings.

Some of us do engage in binge watching — and no, it doesn’t have to be things like History channel series The Bible by that lady who was on Touched By an Angel and the dude that does all the reality shows on TV.

Some of us will watch rated R movies that have … content that makes it rated R — whether it be violence, language, nudity — or the best kind: all of the above! (Ha! Although, some people of faith find violent movies acceptable — even enjoyable — but say that nudity and sex in movies will destroy minds and souls. Well yea, but so do movies that have violence in them, right? No? Eh… moving on)

We like to eat junk food.

Some of us are stress eaters, while others are stress sleepers or, like me, some are the avoid-all-human-contact-and-the-world-when-stress-gets-too-much.

And here’s a dirty secret: some of us still struggle with God and some have doubt. But you didn’t hear that from me. Contrary to popular belief, nobody on this God’s melting earth has it all figured out.

But most importantly, all of us have feelings. (If you cut me, do I not bleed? … is that how that quote goes?)

So please don’t think it’s okay to send a nasty email because it’s our job to hear those things.

Don’t assume that we have thick skin. Many of us don’t. And if we do, it’s because we earned them through all the scars we received from those who assumed we had thick skin.

Don’t think that we’re not affected if you criticize us. Not everything is like water off a duck’s back for us.

And trust me on this. When you’re frustrated about something, most likely, we’re frustrated as well. We’re a lot smarter and more perceptive than you may give us credit for. I mean, I know I look a little slow. But I’m not slow. Well, not that slow.

There are graceful ways to share your frustrations without making us your punching bag.

And here’s a shocker — brace yourselves. We’re not perfect. Don’t listen to anyone who claims to be. We will make mistakes. It’s never a matter of “if” we screw up, it’s a matter of “when” we’ll screw up and “how often” we’ll screw up. We ain’t God — and I apologize on behalf of us who felt that we knew better than God here and there.

But it’s hard to hear your thoughts and concerns and your heart when you come in guns a-blazin’ and throwing verbal punches hoping any or all of it would make contact. When we feel attacked, we may have the need to fight back. Or run away. You know, fight or flight deal. And there won’t be a productive and redeeming outcome to the conflict.

I could go on, but I’m getting bored, which must mean you were bored like 5 paragraphs ago.

Anyway, give your pastor a hug or a high-five or whatever her/his comfort with personal contact might be. Not everyone is a hugger.

And know that even though they work once a week, they work the hell out of that one day. Or.. is it more correct to say “They work the heaven out of that one day.” Ah. I don’t know.

A Thought As I Turn 33 Today: Fear is a Crappy Friend

Today I am 33.

Barring any disaster, I will have lived longer than Jesus. Of course, I won’t accomplish as much as he did while he was on earth. But, he is God and I’m not. So there’s that.

33. It’s a weird age. I’m not young. Nor am I old. I’m in between. But in between what? I don’t know. Life and death? How morbid.

Last week, at a youth camp, I called one of the kids Jazzy Jeff (because her name was Jazz and I make up stupid nicknames to remember people’s names better) and she looked at me completely clueless.

You know…? Fresh Prince? Jazzy Jeff? I tried to explain.

She had no idea. She knew who Will Smith was — as “Jaden’s dad!” *face palm*

Damn you pop culture references for being so irrelevant outside of one year- and for always revealing my age.

Anyway, at 33, I’ve had my fair share of valuable lessons learned. And at this age, I’ve been able to teach and share valuable lessons as well.

One of the things I am learning is how crappy of a friend Fear is.

We’re lifelong friends, Fear and I. But he’s never been good to me. More often than not, he has held me back from doing things.

At the tender age of 10, I decided that I wanted to make French Toast. On my own.

No one told me that having lots of oil in the pan was a bad thing. So, I poured a lot of oil into that pan. And as soon as that battered egg soaked bread hit the pan, grease flew everywhere. Luckily, I covered my eyes just in time, as I had grease burns all up on my forearms that shielded my eyes. The rest of my face was covered in grease/oil or whatever burns. And I spent that night in the ER.

Of course — of course – the following day was picture day. The photographer called me Ninja Turtle and Donatello because of the black spots that covered my face. Looking back, that photographer was a jerk. Who says that to a 10 year old? And Donatello? How insulting. I’m definitely a Leonardo!

But to this very day, when grease pops (is that the right term?) in the pan, I still feel a tingle in my spine. I mean, what the heck? That was 23 years ago. Why am I not over it?

I also have a fear of speed bumps. But I’m slowly getting over them. (Rim shot! … no? Not funny? Pssh)

Fear holds on tightly to my hand and refuses to let go. He’ll whisper all sorts of nonsense in my ear — and I’ll listen. Even if he doesn’t make any sense.

For instance, I have an admiration for surfers. I like hearing stories of surfers and the peace that they find being in the water. Or the thrill that’s indescribable and incomparable when catching that wave.

I want to experience that. I want to live that — not hear about it. I want to know what it’s like to catch that wave and the thrill and joy that accompanies riding a wave.

But here’s the thing. I have this deep, deep fear of sharks. It originated from watching Jaws. I remember after watching Jaws, I was afraid to go into my grandfather’s swimming pool because I was worried that there might be sharks just at the spot where the deep end began; where you couldn’t see much, because the pool dipped. Never mind the fact that it’s a pool. With chlorine. I knew that.
But Fear would always whisper… “what if… what if there was a mutant shark that can survive in that pool and lurks at the point where you can’t see, begging you to come its way…”
“But, how would it make it to the pool in the first place?”
“Shhh… you might wake it up.”
Fear never cared for logic… (btw, this was a real thought that ran through my 12 year old brain)

But here’s the stupid thing. I love Shark Week. Love Shark Week. I know too many stupid facts about sharks. But Shark Week further cements this irrational fear of sharks.
Yet, I can’t stop watching stupid shark attack videos even though they leave me with a chill that goes deeper than the marrows of my bones.

I’m also not a great swimmer. Drowning is one of the worst ways I can think of dying. And being burned alive. And being caught in a crashing plane. And being executed. And dying slowly and painfully. And being eaten by an animal… or a person… alive. And being buried alive. And… basically anything outside of dying in my sleep…

If I get caught in a current, I don’t know if I’d have the skills to swim to safety. And then I could run … swim …into a shark. I have this weird thought that I’d have a fighter’s chance of surviving an encounter with a bear. Or a lion. Or a tiger. (oh my) But a shark? My only prayer is that it’ll swallow me whole. Then, I’d make a raft out of the junk it ate. Then start a fire and have it cough me out, catching a wave (whooo!) on that raft I pieced together.

One of these days I hope to conquer this stupid fear and experience the thrill of catching a wave. But, I’m not in too much of a hurry to do so. Consider it placed on my bucket list.

I guess one of the things I can work on this year is to not let Fear be the deciding factor in my life.

A little dose of Fear is good, as it’ll keep one on their toes; keep one sharp and alert. But too much Fear may leave one paralyzed and immobile.

So here’s to another year full of love and blessings. Of joys and lessons. Of having a healthy relationship with Fear and not one where he is possessive. Although, if I ignore Fear altogether, I may not have a 34th birthday…

Anyway, thank you for all your birthday wishes.

And, as always, I am grateful that you take time to read my silly thoughts.

Why Are Christians Such Bad Tippers?

Did you happen to catch this news over the weekend?

Basically, a Kansas couple left this note for their waiter:

Thank you for your service, it was excellent. That being said, we cannot in good conscience tip you, for your homosexual lifestyle is an affront to GOD. Queers do not share in the wealth of GOD, and you will not share in ours. We hope you will see the tip your fag choices made you lose out on, and plan accordingly. It is never too late for GOD’S love, but none shall be spared for fags. May GOD have mercy on you.

Really? Really!?

You know, I once thought this was a stereotype of Christians — being bad tippers. But I’ve met enough, actual people in the service industry who have told me that they hate working the Sunday shifts because they know that they may not be tipped.
And it’s not because they do a poor job. It’s just that in lieu of money, they’ll receive a tract. Or some other Christianese thing with a Christianese message.
I thought that was just an urban legend that non-Christians made up.
But now I’ve heard too many personal stories to realize that it’s the sad truth.

Dude, I get annoyed (and sometimes offended) when people hand me tracts as I’m leaving the grocery store. And I have no shame in admitting that I use the “Ah. Sorry! No speak Engrish” card to not be bothered. And, I have no shame in admitting that I use the “I have to apologize to you. I am afraid that I do not know how to engage in what can be a very promising conversation with you using the Korean language” card when I’m at Korean grocery stores.
But, to receive a tract in lieu of compensation?

That’s just being cheap, y’all.
We’re known by so many negative things, can cheap not be one of them?

Think about how we’d feel if someone, instead of paying us money, gave us a sheet of paper explaining what they believe and why we should believe it with them.
Chances are, those same people… er… we… would demand that they give us what is owed to us.

So why the hell do we do it?
Why do we give out tracts as tips?

We’re not “winning” anyone to Christ that way.
We’re just being cheap. And petty. And ugly. Is that who God is to us?

The couple themselves admitted that the service was “excellent.”
What does that waiter’s personal life have to do anything about the service you just received?

And what’s the point, really, of leaving such a hateful not using God’s name?

Who on God’s green (and sort of browning… and slowly melting…) earth would read that and be like, “YES! I NEED TO BE A CHRISTIAN! I HAVE SEEN THE LIGHT!”

I know that the issue of homosexuality is a divisive one. And it brings out all sorts of emotions out of people.
But, whatever your belief is — how can saying things like that be okay?
How is that note redemptive?
How is that note loving?
What does that note say about God?

And while we’re at it — why is “shame” the go-to method that we Christians use? I mean, maybe you’ll disagree, but I feel like shame is the most used tactic in our “bag of tricks” that we use to “evangelize.”
We’re pretty good at kicking people when they’re already down.
And if shame doesn’t work, then we turn to fear, often combing shame with fear in hopes that they’ll come to the light side.
“You keep on doing that, and you may find yourself in hell. Turn to Christ, or burn!” 

As Beth Moore said (and I paraphrase), you can’t shame someone out of a pit. You’ll just shame them deeper into it.

I’m getting carried away.

Grace and love are far more effective than shame and fear.

Anyway, I can go on and on about this. But I won’t.

Just… when you go out to eat, in the words of Teddy KGB:

Who Do You Say You Are?

Most, if not all, folks seem to have an unhealthy view of themselves.

Sometimes, folks have a higher view of one’s self than they should. You know, like the Kanyes. Or, the American Idol auditioners where they sing that one rendition of the big hit pop song but sing the first line in 7 different keys like a cat being tortured. And then they are shocked, I mean, shocked, that the judges hated their audition. They leave the auditions ranting and raving and cursing and their mamas are like, “Simon ain’t know nuthin’! My baby can sing, y’all! Simon ain’t nothing! He ain’t seen no talent like this. He scared of my baby!” (Note: I haven’t watched American Idol since Simon Cowell left. Hence the outdated reference). Confidence is one thing. But not to the point of delusion.

And other times, there are folks who have a much lower view of self than they should. Their history and story fills them with shame and they feel unworthy of love of any kind.

This past Sunday, I preached on one of my favorite stories in the Bible — Jacob wrestling with God.

And I’m still wrestling with that story.

Jacob lived up to his name (or was Jacob’s life shaped because of his name…?). Jacob spent a good portion of his life tricking and deceiving people. And outraged when he tasted his own medicine (how about waking up to who you thought you were marrying, only to see that you awoke married to her older sister? Drama. For. Your. Mama).

I mean, really, Jacob was nothing more than a con-man. And deep in his heart, I think Jacob knew that about himself.

And now here he was. Face to face with God. Wrestling with God. And God demanding to know Jacob’s name.

Jacob was asked his name once before in his life. At that time, he responded, “I am Esau.”

This time, Jacob told the truth. God said, “Tell me your name.” He replied, “Jacob.”

And in doing so, I believe that Jacob was confessing who he was. Jacob was confessing that he is a con-man. And as a pastor said (and I’m paraphrasing), to confess that was like death for Jacob, for when a con man is revealed to be a con man, what does he have left?

But instead of punishment, Jacob received a blessing. A tremendous blessing. God responded, “Your name won’t be Jacob any longer, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and won.”

What a tremendous response. Was Jacob deserving of that? Of course not. But that’s not what I believe this story is about — Jacob being deserving of anything. I mean, if he deserved anything, it was punishment. Wouldn’t you agree?

Jacob went from “Trickster” to a man who “struggled with God and with men and won.”

Every time I read that verse, it always forces me to pause. And… I don’t know. Just let the weight of that sink in.

There are so many names that we are known by. I’ve had my share of nicknames, most of them being some sort of variation of “jerk.” (“Pastor Jerk” is my favorite. It seems like an oxymoron, to which I always respond, You’re an oxy moron. Ha).

Just as damaging (if not more) are the names that we give ourselves.

And we give those names too much power over us. So much power, that it can shape and reshape and limit and cripple our journey and our future.

But when we confess those names to God; once we bring the darkness of those names and expose them to the Light — “what was so powerful while it was in the dark is now being exposed and weakened by the light.” (Pete Wilson, Let Hope In).

Maybe then we can finally hear what God is telling us and not what those names are telling us.

You may be calling yourself a loser; a fraud; unloving; unworthy; fill in the blank _________

But God is calling you His Son; Daughter; Beloved.

In Christ, we too have been given a new name; a new identity.
May that mold, shape, and guide your journey.