How is it with your soul?

I wrote two blog posts for Ministry Matters, basically, about the same thing.
Space to Breathe and Distracted.

And I think I wrote them a month apart. But they’re so similar in subject and written so close together — I’m wondering if my soul is trying to tell me something and I’ve been ignoring it.

Perhaps it’s time to sit down and ask myself, “How is it with your soul?”
But honestly, I’m a bit afraid to, because I don’t know where that question will guide my thoughts.
You know, like when you’re lying in bed and you can’t sleep and you let your mind wander and you keep going further into the rabbit hole and whatever chance of sleep you had is gone because your brain is messing with you.

But it’s a good question to ask and reflect on.

So, then, how is it with your soul?

And Year 3 Has Arrived

There are 3 times throughout the year where I do some serious self reflection.
November 14 (my birthday. Gifts welcomed).
January 1.
July 1 (July 1 is when appointments in the United Methodist Church begin).
This year’s July 1 came and went rather quickly. I don’t even really remember what happened on my 3rd first Sunday of the year.

The month started with N’s (our foster son) sister, S, being dropped off by her foster parents because they were en route to a family reunion out of country. She’ll be with us for 3 weeks.
And it’s been… hectic.
She has been testing my claim of being a real patient person. On her first day with us, the wife had to go in to her office and N was at school leaving me with S. And I made her cry. Oops. That was day 1.
On top of that, N was really sick. I say “really” because he didn’t eat much throughout the week. That’s a huge red flag. N loves to eat. And that’s an understatement. It’s also been heartbreaking at times to see the little ways he has regressed with his sister around — like being paranoid with food. But it’s also been great to see him play and interact with his older sister.
And of course, being the generous kid N is, he has passed on what he had to me — with a vengeance.

What I’m trying to say is, it’s been a real crazy start to the month. On top of that, the wife started her new and exciting journey in IV.
This weekend, N and I are going to make a quick trip to SF to see one of my closest friends who’s flying in from Okinawa with his family. That little drive will give me some ample to time reflect about the year that was in my appointment.

Starting year 3 is a big milestone for me. This is now the longest appointment so far for me. (Granted, I was a mid-year appointment at VUMC — but I don’t see a mid-year appointment happening to me here at St. Mark).
I felt like I stumbled to the end of Year 2 and still haven’t caught my footing as I anticipate the second Sunday of year 3.
Something within me hasn’t been clicking in months, I feel like.
The last good sermon I gave, where I undoubtedly knew it was a good sermon was Easter. After Easter each Sunday ended with, “What was missing today…?”
Some Sundays I would go home thinking, “What in the world happened?”

Of course, it’s unfair to assess me on just my preaching because that’s not the only thing I do. But it’s the most visible thing I do. And it’s one of the things I absolutely love about my calling. So it’s hard to separate myself from preacher role and pastor role. If I don’t do a good job of preaching, that tends to taint all that I did the previous week. I, unfortunately, put too much emphasis on my worth in how I preach. But that’s for another post.

Without going into too much detail, a big part of the reason why I can’t seem to find my footing is due to my holes in who I am as a pastor/leader. I have huge flaws in my leadership. I am very well aware of what my shortcomings are.
At my church, the area that needs the strongest pastoral leadership, currently, is where my biggest weaknesses lie. And trying to shore up my weaknesses have been tiring and draining. And taking my attention away from areas where I excel as a pastor and leader. But it’s also been a great learning experience.

I’ve also come appreciate the unpaid servants of our church. Their willingness and capacity to serve amazes me and inspires me. They do this out of their call to serve and their love for Christ and love for the church. Sure, I do that too. But I’m generously compensated to do so. So, at least for me, it’s different. I know many people come to church looking to be inspired by their pastor. But we pastors are inspired by the laity who are so willing to serve.

However, as I dream of year 3, I get spurs of excitement within my bones.

The strange thing is, I don’t know exactly what the excitement is about. But I’m approaching this year with anticipation because I know thath God is going to do great and wondrous things through/with/in us.

I also anticipate tensions, ups and downs, and of course failures. But all of that is expected and part of being a community. We don’t have to agree on everything to be with each other.
But we’re called together to be known as a people who stand for justice, show kindness to others, and live out a vital relationship with God.
And I fully expect us to live out this vision statement of ours throughout this year and beyond.

I Can’t Remember

From Ragamuffin Gospel by Brenning Manning

“Perhaps you’ve heard this story: Four years ago in a large city in the far West, rumors spread that a certain Catholic woman was having visions of Jesus.

The reports reached the archbishop. He decided to check her out. There is always a fine line between the authentic mystic and the lunatic fringe.

“Is it true, m’am, that you have visions of Jesus?” asked the cleric.

“Yes,’ the woman replied simply.

“Well, the next time you have a vision, I want you to ask Jesus to tell you the sins that I confessed in my last confession.”

The woman was stunned.

“Did I hear you right, bishop? You actually want me to ask Jesus to tell me the sins of your past?”

“Exactly. Please call me if anything happens.”

Ten days later the woman notified her spiritual leader of a recent apparition.

“Please come,” she said.

Within the hour the archbishop arrived. He trusted eye-to-eye contact.

“You just told me on the telephone that you actually had a vision of Jesus. Did you do what I asked?”

“Yes, bishop, I asked Jesus to tell me the sins you confessed in your last confession.”

The bishop leaned forward with anticipation. his eyes narrowed. “What did Jesus say?”

She took his hand and gazed deep into his eyes.

“Bishop,” she said, “these are his exact words: ‘I CAN’T REMEMBER.’”

A New Appointment

For about two years, my wife could not find a job.
This bothered me a great deal because it was ruining my dreams of being a stay at home Dad, spending all of my wife’s money on video games and Apple technology while half-mindedly attending to the kids or teaching them how to play video games with me.

In all seriousness, every lead that we followed, the doors just weren’t budging open. I’m sure she was getting frustrated — but I’m not hear to speak on her behalf. I, for one, was getting fairly annoyed because, regardless of me being her husband and being biased, I fully believe that she will be a great addition to any organization.

Again, I can’t speak for her, but I think both of us suspected (or at least hoped) that all these doors weren’t opening because God had something else in plan for her.

And from my experience, God’s plan seemingly always comes with a time of waiting. Perhaps it’s to make us so desperate that we’ll say “yes” to whatever God had planned. Maybe it’s to prepare us for the journey ahead. Maybe it’s to wean us off of depending on our own strength and laurels and yearn for more dependency on God. Maybe it’s to take time for us to whittle away bad habits — a purifying fire, if you will.

But the wait is over. Starting July 1, Rahel (my wife) will be appointed to Isla Vista working with (recently “refrocked”) Frank Schaefer.

I am excited at this new opportunity for her. It’d be a lie if I told you I wasn’t a bit envious of her. But I think this is a great opportunity for her and a great opportunity for IV.

I’m anticipating that some controversy will arise because of the appointment of Frank Schaefer. And perhaps my wife will unfairly get caught in the crosshairs of chicken shit folks who would rather hide behind a screen (or a screen name) and write hateful comments and emails. But we both have thick skins. It’s the product of being a minority — and a pastor’s kid of a Korean church. In other words, I’m not worried about anything. My wife will excel with the help and guidance of God’s grace.

I have been putting some thought into Bishop Carcaño’s decision to appoint Rev. Schaefer at IV. While I have many words and thoughts regarding this, I always come back to Acts 5:

Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God

All that matters is, my baby’s gonna be making that paper and she can resume spoiling me!

More importantly, she now has a chance to utilize her gifts and talents and serve the people of IV through God’s grace and love. And believe me — the community of IV is blessed to have her.

And I’m not just saying that cuz I’m her husband.


8 Years

8 years!?!
They say time flies when you’re having fun and time has flown.
I can’t believe we celebrate 8 years of marriage today!

To my wonderful wife: Thank you and I love you. I wouldn’t be where I am without you. And I wouldn’t know where to go without you.

(…don’t mind the singing… please)

Beats by Dre and Church

My brother has a great ear for music.

Currently he’s going to school for sound engineering and works at a sound engineering company and does the sound for his church. I’ve spent a year pestering him about what earphones I should get. He kept telling me and I kept forgetting.

I finally purchased the earphones he recommended with a gift card from Amazon that my former church graciously gave me as a going away present.

They were great. My brother didn’t steer me wrong.

Except, and you need to know this about me (and I also don’t like this about me) — I’m a poser. And I’m a sucker for great marketing.

I returned the earphones recommended by my brother. Sold a few things on Craigslist. And over the weekend, was able to purchase Beats by Dre Solo 2 headphones, paying $60 out of pocket.

What pushed me over the edge was their promo video for the World Cup 2014. (Told you, I’m a marketers dream): (I think it may have one PG13 moment in the video)

Here’s the thing about the Beats.

If they were a $100, they’d be one of the best headphones on the market. Hands down.

But they’re priced at $200. And for that type of money, there are far better headphones.

(The first hour, I had buyer’s remorse. I couldn’t believe I purchased the Beats, even if I only paid $60 out of pocket. I thought about how that money could’ve been put to better use. But my conscious was soon drowned out by the beats coming through my Beats.)

The extra $100 is purely for fashion. Style. Brand. Looks.

You’re paying more for style than for substance.

And people are lining up to pay for style over substance. Beats by Dre blew up the earphone/headphone market in ways no one thought possible. So much so that Apple bought them for 3 billion dollars.

The Beats also remind me about church and ministry because many people choose a church on style over substance.

In our desire to reaching the younger generation, the temptation to focus purely on style and forgo substance is great.

Years ago, I attended a retreat for Jr. Highers. They brought in a local youth pastor to be the main speaker for the main worship sessions (3, in all, I think).

He was a charming guy. Good at his job. Surfer. Skateboarder. Clicked with the boys instantly. One of the sermons was about feeding the 5 thousand.

He asked for two volunteers to come up and gave each of them one of those french baguette sticks and told them to go at it with one another using the bread as a sword.

Then he asked for two more volunteers and gave them a can of sardines and said whoever finishes their can first wins a prize.

He’s opener worked like a charm. He had the whole room’s attention. That’s quite a feat because jr. highers are a tough crowd.

And then he said, “Whenever you think of this story and this day, think of the bread fight and fish eating. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

I know I shouldn’t be critical because who knows how God used that moment for the kids in the room. But the bread fight and stuffing sardines in your face really doesn’t have anything to do with anything. I just felt that there was more he could’ve done with them — especially the way he had everyone’s attention.

To me, he chose entertainment over teaching. That’s okay — here and there, but not for the entire weekend which was what happened.

While style is important, we can’t forgo the substance.

And it bothers me that people think church is boring (because nothing about God is boring, amen?). It also bothers me that we try to counter that by saying, “You can bring coffee into the chapel!” “Our pastor wears Ed Hardy shirts!” (note: no one should wear Ed Hardy shirts). “Come join our fight club and fight the pastor after his message! Tell him how you really felt about his sermon!”

And maybe as a Church, we tend to focus too much on style. Worship style. Sunday attire. Laser light shows for worship. Gigantic fish aquariums. Maybe we spend too much time talking about what kind of church we would like to be; what kind of church would make us popular (or in more appropriate words: bring new people) that we don’t focus on actually being a church.

I don’t know. I don’t have any answers. Unfortunately, all I have are fingers to point and nothing positive to contribute.

What I do have is a pair of shiny blue Beats by Dre Solo 2 to drown out these questions for the time being.



I get addicted to songs.
I wanna hear them on a loop until I get tired of it. Which is why I don’t like the radio because they overplay a song until it gets… overplayed. I want to outwear the welcome– don’t want the radio to do it for me.

Current kicks include: Multiplied by Needtobreathe; Fancy by Iggy Azalea; I Am by David Crowder; John Mayer’s cover of Beyonce’s XO. And leading the pack is “Headlights” by Eminem. Some will raise an eyebrow and ask, why would a self-respecting pastor listen to such an artist?

The answer is simple: I’m not very self-respecting. (ha-ha).

Hip-hop always resonated with me. It’s not like I grew up a troubled or grew up in the projects or anything like that. I had a very normal and loving childhood. The beats at first spoke to me then the lyrics, as I grew older. Tupac Shakur still has a big part in my playlists and when songs like “Changes” come up where he laments, although it seems heaven sent/we ain’t ready for a black president I always think, “Man, If you were still alive…”

Forgiveness is such a prickly thing. A lot of us don’t quite get the grasp of it. We think that when we forgive all the lingering feelings should be gone. But sometimes they remain. Sometimes we confuse forgiving with forgetting. Or forgiving with condoning.

And at the center of the song “Headlights” Eminem is the idea of forgiveness. Him working out his issues with his mother; regretting airing a lot of dirty laundry in public regarding his mom like “Cleaning Out My Closet.” He ends the song with “I’ll always love you from a far because you’re my Ma” which gets me because it goes against the sappy ending we Christians seemling always go for in our “safe” and “pure” brand of media (the ever happy ending because our confession of faith solves ALL problems). He’s working through his issues with his mother and he loves her and he’s over a lot of the anger and resentment he held on, but perhaps too much pain and still too real to bring himself to go back to the way things were decades ago.

Or, I’m just reading way too much into the lyrics of a pop song.

But here’s the music video for this song that was directed by Spike Lee. And know that it has a lot of language that’ll make you frown with disapproval.

The 3rd Type of Death

David Eagleman writes in “Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives” about 3 deaths:

The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grace. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time. So you wait in this lobby until the third death. There are long tables with coffee, tea, and cookies – you can help yourself. There are people here from all around the world, and you can try to strike up a conversation with whomever you’d like. Just be aware that your conversation may be interrupted at any moment by the Callers, who call out your conversations partner’s name to indicate there will never again be another remembrance of him by anyone on the Earth. Your partner slumps out, face like a shattered and re-glued plate, saddened even though he’s kindly told by the Callers that he’s off to a better place. No one knows where that better place is, or what it offers, because no one exiting through that door has returned to tell us. Tragically, many people leave just as their loved ones arrive, since the loved ones were the only ones doing the remembering. We all wag our heads at that typical timing.

Death — it’s just… so permanent. I know. Deep.
I had the privilege of being with a family as they were going to take their loved one off of life support. (I didn’t realize how resourceful the Book of Worship was until this past week).
We shared a prayer together and spent the rest of the time just sharing stories about her, about one another, about… life.

The moment was heavy. I didn’t realize how heavy it was until I left the hospital room and felt the gravity of what took place. I know I sound like Marty McFly, but it was heavy.

But as soon as got in my car to drive home, the weight was gone. Maybe it was because I was heading back to the safe place where my wife would be waiting for me. A part of it has to be (and I speak honestly) that it wasn’t a loss that affected me personally — just professionally.

I don’t think I’ll ever get over the fear of death. That third death, when I heard Eagleman talk about in on NPR months ago, has stuck with me. I find myself thinking about it once it a while. I wonder when my name will be last spoken and by whom and why. Will I be talked about after my memorial service? Will I be talked about decades after I’m dead? All the while — why does it matter? Because, you know, I’m dead. Yet, there’s this desire that I exist after I’m gone. And I don’t know why it matters that I exist after I die. Is it too much sci-fi movies? And of course, I desire to exist in a good way after I’m gone.

To be completely honest with you — the assurance of the resurrection; the promise of eternal life — while brings a bit of peace, it doesn’t ease the fear and uncertainty that accompanies death. And as a pastor, death will always be part of the job. There’s no escaping that. And I always fear being asked the dreaded question of “why?” because I never know how to answer it — except, “I don’t know.” which isn’t satisfactory to any of the parties involved.

I’m starting to ramble now — but I remembered the story from David Eagleman today because of the tragic events from this past weekend Isla Vista. And I have nothing comforting or poignant to say because I’m left stunned and speechless. I didn’t realize how things like this takes on a different level of tragedy when it happens so close to home. And there’s this mixture of, I want to help… but I don’t quite know how.

I don’t know what else to say, but am reminded of a story of Corrie ten Boom, a holocaust survivor.
As a young girl, she encountered the lifeless body of a baby and realized that life ends at some point and her loved ones would eventually die. The thought of losing her parents and her sister frightened her.
One night when her father came in to tuck her into bed, Corrie — sobbing — grabbed her father and said, “I need you. You can’t die! You can’t!”
“Corrie,” he said as he began to comfort her, “when you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?”
She thought about the question. “Why, just before I get on the train.”
“Exactly. When the time comes that some of us have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need — just in time.”
Many years later, Corrie and her family were sent to Nazi concentration camps. She was painfully confronted with the deaths of her parents and sister. She endured and saw many hardships that she never could’ve imagined as a child. But she always remembered her father’s words and they proved to be true. “You will look into your heart and find the strength you need — just in time.” She always found the strength she needed in her heart, just in time.

May those people grieving find the strength they need in their hearts and in the hearts of others.


Encountering Grace — A Shameless Plug

Just taking the time to shamelessly plug myself. On my blog. As if I need more attention…

The Bible study I wrote about grace for the Converge Bible Studies is now available to purchase on the Converge website and Cokesbury’s website. It’ll be available on Amazon real soon.

My church graciously used the “Practical Prayer” (the first study I wrote) for one of their bible studies and I received a lot positive feedback. But that has less to do with me and more with the person leading the Bible study (It wasn’t me. C’mon, I’m not that guy) and the questions that accompanied each session (4 sessions in all). My church was raving about the questions and congratulated me on writing such excellent and discussion leading questions. But I didn’t have anything to do with the questions — that was all the editors doing. And they were great questions. I don’t think the study would’ve been good if I wrote the questions myself.

I think this goes the same for “Encountering Grace.”

The questions following the sessions are really great and can be really useful as discussion starters.

So, if you are looking for a bible study to do with your church or something to do for your quiet time, may I shamelessly suggest to you “Encountering Grace” that can be purchased here or here (or Amazon some time next week).

There are other great bible studies that Converge has put out (like Shane Raynor’s “Being Holy”) and will continue to release throughout the year. Great resources and studies for your small group and bible study groups. Please check them out!

…but start with mine first ;).