Thursday, March 8, 2012


Sometimes life just seems busier than usual. Case in point, right now:

Preaching, reading groups, office move, vacation planning, high school transition, D.Min papers and reading, ministry assessment, taxes, birthdays, fundraising proposals, fundraiser event, new study group, meeting with people, conferences.

I asked the Lord this morning to speak into these things. He says, "Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age." I say, "I hope this is not the end." He says, "Abide in me." So I spent some time in prayer committing these things to Jesus.

He is the end.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Church From Meal to Meal

I have a theory that you can tell a lot about a church just by observing how often and with whom it eats.

The common meal has always been at the center of what it means to be the people of God - from the story of manna in the desert to the disciples breaking bread in homes to the banquet as a sign of the age to come - the meal has a sacramental quality about it.

J.H. Yoder writes that when Jesus said, "Whenever you do this, do it in my memory" what he couldn't have meant was "Whenever you celebrate the mass" or "the Lord's Supper." What Jesus was referring to, what his disciples took him to mean was "whenever you have your common meal." "The meal Jesus blessed that evening and claimed as his memorial was their ordinary partaking of food for the body" (Body Politics).

With that in mind, I was thinking about the meals I've had recently. What if I strung those meals together, what would they tell me?

Taco Lunch. A few weeks ago Epic held its worship service in our host church's sanctuary; this is something we do once a year as we swap spaces. Because we have a late start and are in the sanctuary, we always desire to do something that says "Epic," which usually means we eat. This year we decided to have a local taco guy come out to cook on the plaza. As soon as our formal worship ended, we would continue to worship through the sharing of food - that was the plan. What we didn't anticipate was the line of people waiting for the food pantry to open across the street. The line proceeded just several steps from the taco grill. Though we didn't plan for this many extra people (and realized we may not have enough food) we also thought it would be terrible to not share either. I have to admit, for a second I saw the situation as a potential problem, but soon realized that it was a good problem to have. It was a mercy. So before service let out, we decided to limit the number of tacos for our church community. This left plenty of tacos for everyone, including our unexpected guests. As J.H.Yoder reminds us, "Bread eaten together is economic sharing. Not merely symbolically, but also in fact, eating together extends to a wider circle the economic solidarity normally obtained in the family." In the end it sure was nice to extend the family table.

Special Parents Dorene and I really enjoy this group. Right now there are three couples with special needs children that get together every quarter to share a meal, and talk about the struggles, challenges, and heartbreak of raising our kids. We also share the many joys. Together we extend an encouragement and "withyou-ness" that only we can for each other. Sharing and understanding - that's what this group is all about. Not wanting to keep all this good stuff to ourselves, we are extending the group to include two other families next quarter.

House Church Our Fullerton house church eats together for every meeting. Following Yoder we understand that, "Every meal in the Jewish household was an act of worship." We potluck it. And we celebrate birthdays. This particular week we celebrate Abraham's birthday. Abraham is newer to our church, but he is family here. What is neat is that our meal organizers Sandee and Fiona ask the birthday person(s) what their favorite foods are, and that becomes the theme for the evening. We also kick off conversation about our race & culture series, sharing a bit of our ethnic backgrounds and our hopes for the series in small groups. We pray for one another and for the church. It is a good Friday.

Valentine's Day For a day devoted to love, it can be awfully anxiety inducing, a nuisance, or ironically exclusive - maybe all of the above. Like New Year's eve, I wonder if the biggest effect of Valentine's Day is to remind people of their feelings of aloneness. Which is why I liked this Feb 14th so much. We were invited to spend a casual dinner with other friends from Epic - as families, marrieds, singles, children. It was nice to be inclusive. We enjoyed our chicken and waffles, shakes, and desserts. We chatted and laughed around the table and then strolled basking in the knowledge that God is good to give us one another.

Dinner for 6 Dorene and I hosted a dinner at our house to get to know people in our church. It is something we do from time to time in this form. Though there were only six of us, we marveled at discovering the differences, but also connections we shared: Beside Dorene and myself, the others were single. Among us were two Filipinos, an African American, a Chinese American, an Okinawan, and a Japanese American. Two of us had familial roots to a small town in Mississippi. Two of us were part Cherokee Indian. We shared our stories. We asked each other questions to better understand the struggles we faced living in our shoes. In many ways we dove into our Race & Culture series right there. It was beautiful and enjoyable. One of things that struck both me and Dorene, however, was something that was said as we sat down around our dinner table to begin the evening. Someone mentioned, "Wow, this the first time in months that I have sat down like this for a family meal." Then someone concurred. Then another. Dorene and I realized that what we take for granted every day (i.e. eating dinner as a family) was something very rare for these single friends. They elaborated that because they rent rooms with others, they usually eat alone in the house or eat in their rooms by themselves. I was struck by this. I never knew. Craig Bartholomew writes, "The home is above all else about the inner community of the family, and the home will need to be developed to facilitate deep relationship...Mealtimes will have to be recovered as slow times of reflection and enjoyment" (Where Mortals Dwell). For me, this meal took on a whole different meaning. It was not just about convening to have a conversation with food as a good excuse, it was the actual practice of eating around the table as a family that became such an ordinary, yet powerful experience.

Lunch with WAC Once a year, our staff takes the staff of our host church Wilshire Ave out for lunch to express our appreciation. We did this on Wednesday. Two different churches. Two different staff teams. But very much one in mission. One in Christ. And it so happens, on one campus. They are so good and generous to have never treated us like guests, but like family. Thank you Wilshire Ave.

Entering Houses As I write this, in the midst of all this goodness, I am also aware of a way I would like to partake more of in the future - something that is missing here in this link of meals. Alan Roxburgh, in his book Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood, presents a theology of eating in Luke 10:1-12 that is compelling as it is challenging. He writes that "entering and eating lie at the heart of the message." But with a twist. "In this Luke 10 context the location of the 'church,' if you will, is in the homes and at the tables of the people in the towns and villages, and the stance of the 'church' is that of receiving their gracious hospitality" (emphasis mine). There is certainly a place for gathering and hosting, but I would also like to grow in going and receiving. I wonder where that will lead me? Where is Jesus present through a meal in a place I am unfamiliar, in which I am the stranger, guest, or foreigner? I will pray about that one.

Until then.

Food. Family. Jesus. Mission.

We're Epic, Let's Eat!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Race & Culture

Our long-awaited series on Race & Culture is finally upon us. In a diverse congregation such as ours, we want everyone to feel good about who God has made them, and to appreciate the differences among us that enrich our community. We also want to look at race as an issue of justice, and what that means for our church in addressing corporate and systemic racism. Lastly we want to imagine Epic as a concrete expression of a new humanity where Christ makes a difference in how we see, relate, and live. There will be an 8-week series on Sundays, and a 4-session conversation in house churches and reading groups.

Here are some of the resources we will be referencing for the series:

Exploring Culture - Gert Jan Hofstede,
Mujerista Theology - Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz
Churches, Cultures & Leadership - Mark Lau Branson & Juan Martinez
Divided By Faith - Michael O. Emerson & Christian Smith
The Next Evangelicalism - Soong-Chan Rah
More Than Equals - Spencer Perkins & Chris Rice
Mirrored Reflections Young Lee Hertig, Chloe Sun,
No Partiality - Douglas Sharp
Santa Biblia - Justo Gonzalez
Race: A Theological Account - J. Kameron Carter
RACE: The Power of an Illusion (video series) -

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Voice of Vocation

Led devotionals this morning with the AA Colloquium group. Spoke about my sense of call - past, present, future. Began with a "I cannot not do this" moment back at Evergreen in the late 80's, to something evolving from what I and others expect from myself during the early to mid-ministry years of my calling, to now gradually something that I listen for from within the contours of my own life and context.

Resonated at several points with Parker Palmer's journey chronicled in his book, "Let Your LIfe Speak" - a required read for my D.Min program at Northern Seminary. I shared the following quotes this morning with the other pastors, ways that Palmer's journey seemed to parallel my own:

Vocation at its deepest level is, “This is something I can’t not do, for reasons I’m unable to explain to anyone else and don’t fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling.” (p.25)

Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about – quite apart from what I would like it to be about – or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.

That insight is hidden in the word vocation itself, which is rooted in the Latin for ‘voice.’ Vocation does not mean a goal I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live – but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life. (p.4)

Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks – we will also find our path of authentic service in the world. True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Buechner asserts when he defines vocation as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

Buechner’s definition starts with the self and moves toward the needs of the world: it begins, wisely, where vocation begins – not in what the world needs (which is everything), but in the nature of the human self, in what brings the self joy, the deep joy of knowing that we are here on earth to be the gifts that God created. (p.16)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Viablity of Virtual Church?

Had a parking lot conversation recently about virtual church. A friend asked me what I thought about the prospects of community via social media and the like. I told him if you were on a deserted island, then yeah, community through computer screen, whether "attending" a worship service, fellowship through ichat, or communing via e-mail or Facebook is better than nothing. But how many of us are really in those circumstances? My fear is that this option becomes the convenient choice to the more difficult but ultimately more rewarding and essential task of actual relating.

To state the obvious, virtual community has its limitations. For one, it seems to me that much of the New Testament cannot be lived out without a real physical community that you literally bump into. Though it is admittedly possible to experience aspects of connection virtually, it is ultimately a challenge to break bread together, to forgive one another, comfort one another, speak truth, and encourage one another short of actual presence with one another. There is something to be said that the Son of God became human in Jesus and came to dwell among us. At precisely this point, Christian spiritually is enfleshed, it is embodied. Godliness looks human, not digital. God becoming flesh and walking in this world was in direct opposition to gnostic abstraction of the day. Arguably, both the Old and New Testaments describe God's people always as a very real people who gather together. Location and physicality are inherent in the expression of authentic faith.

Which leads to the related, and possibly bigger issue: Without a real, particular community that assumes a specific context, it is impossible for a church community to bear witness to the particularities of Christ in its midst. In other words, church is always socially located. If (and I assume it is) the church is the apologetic for faith, then that church is a real people who paint the outlines of the kingdom via their mutual life together, a life that can be seen, touched, and heard as a gathered reality, not just an abstract or idealistic one. For Christ to be made believable (trustworthy, verifiable), there must be a real visible community that gathers, worships, serves, and celebrates the Lord's Supper together - not just a virtual one. This goes directly to the issue of mission. Without a gathered body, bearing witness to Jesus in its very life as the people of God, in a particular social context, the church can barely be called missional. Virtually, the church at best is a mere shadow of itself.

This is the limitation of an on-line community. I am not saying there are not vestiges of community made possible through virtual means, certainly there are. But at the same time it must be said that it falls short of mitigating the tendencies of modernity to mimic true relating where physicality is necessity, not ancillary to true spirituality. The I-thou encounter of the first humans in Genesis 1 suggest that we are always ensouled bodies and enbodied souls, and that this flesh-to-flesh encounter with one another is partly what it means to be fully human and fully alive to God.

Monday, January 2, 2012

What's new?
In 2011 took up road biking, got a new kitchen, first time to NYC, and went back to school for a D.Min. What new things will emerge in 2012?

Already looking forward to Hawaii in July with the family. But before that, my first winter in Chicago coming up in a few weeks and great stuff around culture and connecting points this year at Epic.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Hello 2012. But first, goodbye 2011.

Went biking yesterday with Brice, Charlie, and Lodi, third time this week after resting my knee for about 3 months. Beautiful ride with climbs up and behind Fullerton Road. Want to make this route part of my regular repertoire. Since purchasing my first road bike this past June, hope to ride more in 2012.

Two goals that I set out to do in 2011 finally come to an end (though their impact will hopefully continue)...

I took a sabbath from clothes shopping having been convicted of 1 Timothy 6:6-8, "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." I had vowed to not purchase any clothing unless it was somewhat necessary or if I already a gift certificate for it. Overall, I did fairly well; though I must confess that I did make a few purchases: As I said above, I bought a road bike in June and with that needed some legitimate bike clothing; I also bought two pairs of jeans because they were 50% off - jeans are both my everyday and work clothes; and this December I purchased an on-sale REI down jacket with a gift certificate anticipating many trips to Chicago in winter…this first being later this month. During this self-imposed sabbath from shopping, I noticed I tended to stay away from malls and places I know I would see something enticing; I also realized I simply shopped less because I knew I couldn't buy anything anyway. Interestingly, the next verse in 1 Timothy say this, "Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction (v.9). I learned one way to deal with a temptation is simply not to indulge it, to stay away if physically possible.

A second 2011 goal was to reflect on "abiding" based on verses from John 15:5…"I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." Couple of thoughts: I tried to pray more, or more deeply; one of my practices every morning is to recite the Lord's Prayer as a framework for my prayers. I tried to make room for more praise of God and also to think more deeply about my real concerns and hopes, to lift those up and trust God with them. I also felt that I was able to let go of results more this year; maybe this is part of getting older and realizing that there is much to this life that I will never be able to control or will into existence. Whether this is part resignation from being tired or just a bit of wiser living, I let more things be. This year also involved a season of loss (mostly of people moving away), but also of new growth (particularly going back to school - a doctoral program at Northern Seminary).

For 2012, I need to reflect a bit more, but in addition to reading through the New Testament I am considering what Proverbs 3:3-6 might mean for me, "Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and humankind. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." I thought of these verses the last week because they came up on two separate occasions: the first time was when Luke Mason read those verses on the bottom of his strawberry shake cup from In 'N Out; the second time came a few days later when my friend Eddie told me a funny story about a friend of his who was considering whether he should date a gal who wasn't a Christian; this young believer was getting advice from Eddie while he was driving (Eddie was in the back seat listening and texting at the same time). Eddie encouraged his friend to read the Bible and ask God what He thought; almost immediately the guy said, "Proverbs 3:5-6". Eddie, without looking up, replied, yeah, that's a good one. The friend said, "Whaaat? I was just reading the license plate of the car in front of me!" Eddie exclaimed, "Dude, that's God speaking to you!"

Maybe God was speaking to me, too, when Eddie told me that story. Verse 3 is about focusing on growing in love and faithfulness. The result is favor with God and others. I'd like that. Verses 4-5 is about trusting God with everything, letting things go to him, resting in the knowledge that He will make my paths straight as I (we) move into the future. I'd like that too.