Monday, February 25, 2008

Evergreen SGV Dedication Service

Yesterday after worship service at Epic, I headed over to Evergreen SGV for the dedication of their new property in La Puente. SGV is Epic's "mother church" having been planted from them as a satellite in 1998. I had the honor of saying a few words on behalf of our church to their congregation during the ceremony. In fact, the words of encouragment all came from pastors of SGV's church plants/sister churches to date: Kim Kira (Lighthouse), Jon Hori (LifeSong), Troy Wong (Gateway), Ken Fong (Evergreen LA), and myself (Epic). It was really fun since I hadn't heard these guys or Pastor Cory speak (ever or in very long time). It was nice to be with them in one place at the same time. I wish I had taken my camera to give you a sense of the celebration and scope of the property (17 acres of the former Victory Outreach) was wonderful and overwhelming all at the same time! I especially enjoyed the reunion of familiar faces that I haven't seen in years (I used to be a member, intern, and pastor at Evergreen for 10 years). God's richest blessings to SGV in their new home! A great ending to a great day!

In case you're interested, below is my address to them:

Kevin T. Doi
February 24, 2008

"Pastor Cory and Evergreen SGV, good afternoon. What a great and glorious day in the Lord for you! On behalf of Epic, I want to congratulate you on acquiring this beautiful property.

On the other side of the spectrum, Epic doesn’t really own anything, and we borrow almost everything – so I realize this may be the only occasion I ever get to dedicate something. So thanks for inviting me to the party!

Ephesians 2:19-22 says this:

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Today, whether it’s the Staples Center, the Kodak Theatre, or the recent addition at LACMA – unveilings tend to garner a lot of fanfare and attention. And rightly so - as architecture and design go, buildings are its own important art form and aesthetic, its own gift to culture or to a city.

But in the end, good form always follows function; because in the end, it really is less about the buildings, but what happens inside: It is about the Lakers, it is about the Oscars, it is about Warhol and Monet.

God has given you an amazing gift today. But in the end, it’s more than the land or the buildings that we dedicate, but you. We celebrate the God who loves and believes in you. We want to rejoice in what God is doing in and through you, and give him thanks and praise.

SGV, God knows that you will make kingdom use of the space he has placed in your hands. He knows you will be a community that reflects the beauty of his grace. He knows you will be a friend to your neighbors, a light to the nations.

And so I suppose it is about a building afterall, the building that is you, the body of Christ here at Evergreen SGV, of which Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone.

And so, may our Father in heaven from whom all blessings flow, enrich your relationships as a church community in this new and exciting chapter in your history that you begin today, may he bless this property and the ministry that emanates from it, and may he make you a blessing to the San Gabriel Valley, and ultimately to the world, in Jesus’ name, and for his sake. Amen."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tahoe Fun

Spent the long weekend with the family in Tahoe. Dorene and I are part of a marrieds group with three other couples that originated during our engagements all spanning a month apart. Now 15 years of marriage later with a combined total of 13 kids, we vacation together every few years. The Wong's, Lee's and Yeh's are the kindest, funniest, most generous people you'll ever meet. This was our second 10-hour trek to Tahoe where we spend a couple of days at the Lee's timeshare condos near Heavenly Valley. The Doi kids still haven't braved skiing or snowboarding yet (hopefully next time), but they do enjoy sledding, snowball fights, and making snowmen. Lots of snow, blue skies and sunshine. Simply lovely.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Van Hunt

Rick invited me to see Van Hunt and opener Jesca Hoop last night at the Temple Bar courtesy of KCRW (Rick won tickets during the last pledge drive); both artists are favorites of the radio station. Though I have his two terrific albums, really enjoyed Van Hunt's acoustic set which brought a fresh immediacy and intimacy to his sophisticated neo-soul, reminiscent of Marvin Gaye. Very groovin' crowd, too, the ladies could sing!

Here's some video I took:

The closing portion of the crowd-pleasing "Dust"...

Singing the beautiful "Down Here In Hell (With You)"...

Friday, February 8, 2008

For Children

I'd like to think that I am for children. After all, I have two myself, my wife and I adopting our kids from Korea when they were infants. Today, these joys of our lives are 10 and 8 years old respectively. I also serve on two boards committed to bettering the lives of kids. Oasis USA works in NW Pasadena tutoring at-risk students falling behind in school while being part of a global family involved in the poorest communities in some of the poorest countries in the world. Solidarity, right here in Fullerton, is committed to loving a neighborhood by sharing Christ through after-school programs, mentoring, bible studies, and community development. I have even traveled to places like Africa and India to see first-hand how kids living in the most squalid and challenging conditions triumph with amazing hope.

Yet, somehow I've still missed it.

A few weeks ago as I was making my way through the gospel of Mark, I came across two passages that hit me like a ton of bricks. It's not like I wasn't familiar with them, maybe that was precisely the problem. But this time, there was something different I was seeing.

In Mark 9:33-37, the disciples are arguing over who among them is the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus tells the Twelve, "Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all." Then Jesus takes a little child in his arms and places the child among them and says, "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me."

In those days in that culture, children held little intrinsic value - they were "last." Yet Jesus turns the disciple's world upside down and tells them that if they want to be great, they must be very last. This clearly meant that serving children (who were last) made you "the least of these," but in an inverted kingdom, also greatest in the eyes of God.
For Jesus, greatness did not come through a manner familiar to the disciples (and to us), namely climbing the ladder of success, power, or fame. Instead it came by welcoming a child made in God's image and serving them. What makes this teaching all the more remarkable is that it in the first century, parenting was a task generally fulfilled by those seen as inferior, namely woman and slaves. Jesus was saying that serving children is the way to being a servant of God.

Of course that Jesus makes his point by literally putting a child front and center, shows us where children stand in God's heart. In essence, our discipleship depends, at least partly, in our relationship to kids.

Farther along in Mark 10:13-16, these same disciples were apparently shooing parents away who were bringing their children to Jesus to be blessed (did they really not get it?!). To put it bluntly, Jesus got really pissed about this. He said to them, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And then Jesus goes on to place his hands on the children and blesses them.

Here Jesus makes two important points. First, the kingdom of God exists for the children. It is their inheritance. And secondly, they are the models of how to receive it! Talk about elevating the honor and importance of children! This of course begs the question about what Jesus meant exactly by "receiving the kingdom like a little child," something he does not explicitly explain. In context, it seems to mean simply willing to come to him knowing he is good. Something the children in the passage do.

I have to wonder how many times I have "set aside the children" in order to do the "real stuff of the kingdom," how many times I have been guilty of preferring what was happening in the main sanctuary to what was taking place with the kids ministry downstairs. Fortunately, we have a great kids staff. Certainly I haven't ignored the kids, but for me it shows up more in the implicit ways where I have not always "put the children among us" in thought or practice.

In years past I have put the blame squarely on the fact that I didn't grow up in the church. And this is true, I didn't. The parenting of my own kids and the pastoring of a church with kids is a complete experiment and on-the-job training as far as I'm concerned. But I suppose by this point, I have run out of excuses.

For all my preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God, somehow I have missed the startling but simple truth that investing in kids is essential to living in it. To invest in them is to be very last and therefore participating in the most important kind of ministry. To allow them to teach us is paramount to receiving the kingdom ourselves. I am not suggesting we make children idols, which parents in this culture tend to do. But it does mean realizing that welcoming children is to welcome Jesus himself.

I am wondering if the call of my generation is not, god-forbid, delayed adolescence (where we ourselves never grow up), but instead active involvement in the development of real kids who will grow up to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. Maybe our destiny lies not in what we make of our own, but by how well we equip the next generation to live in God's kingdom to come. Maybe our reward is not the ability to accumulate more meaningless stuff, but the privilege of giving our lives away in order to see little ones reap a future spiritual harvest we could only imagine ourselves.

In the end, maybe it means the greatest thing we could do with our lives is to take a little child in our arms, give them a hug, and bless them. And do it often. It doesn't seem like much, yet maybe it means the whole world.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Anderson Quote of the Month

Part of a continuing series featuring a post of theology from my favorite professor

"Is Judas the betrayer of Jesus also the unbeliever who sells his soul for thirty pieces of silver? Is the sudden and tragic death of Judas by his own hand a just punishment for his sin of unbelief? Does Judas forfeit all that belonged to him as a follower and disciple of Jesus through that single act?

"If we answer yes to these questions, then what comfort and hope will we have in our darkest moments when unbelief, if not betrayal, comes down like an iron curtain between us and God? Does dialogue with God depend upon our faith, or upon HIs coming to us in the darkness and solitude of even our unbelief? What was never verbalized between Judas and Jesus was written by John: "By this we shall know that we are of the truth, and reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything" (1 John 3:19-20).

"The reconciliation between Jesus and Judas is at least possible from the perspective of the resurrection of Christ, for death no longer has the power to sever humanity from the bond of God's choice through Christ. The resurrection of Jesus Christ means that He is the "first-born of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth" (Revelation 1:5). Death no longer determines the fate and destiny of any human person. Our destiny is finally determined by God, not by our sin nor the consequence of that sin.

"Questions about the fate of those who die without coming to know during their lifetime that Jesus died and was raised for them must not be allowed to displace this truth: death as the enemy of all persons has been overcome in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are many ways of dying, but only one kind of death. And the power of this death over the fate of humankind has been nullified through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

"This is not a declaration of universal salvation outside of personal knowledge of Jesus Christ. However, it is an assurance that God, not death, determines the fate of the living.

"God does not will "that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). Because of Christ, death is no longer an obstacle to God's intention to save those who are perishing. We entrust the fate of all who die into the hands of the God who raised Jesus from the dead, and before whom all live and die.

"This is good news to those who have the opportunity to hear and believe while still living. "God seeks what has been driven away" (Ecclesiastes 3:15).The gospel according to Judas reminds us that there is always an invitation that death cannot remove: Come home - all is forgiven!"

- Ray S. Anderson "The Gospel According to Jesus" p. 81-82 (NavPress)

My Reflection: In class, Dr. Anderson would invariably share insights like these that he wrestled with in real-life not only as theologian, but also as pastor of a local church. These thoughts emerged for him in responses to people dying, either at their own hands or presumably without knowing Christ. Providing comfort to the family of the deceased or facing a funeral to officiate, he would ponder what his response would be. I have borrowed and integrated my own approach to such situations praying for even a small measure of the grace and hope I have found in Ray's own experience, teaching, and ministry.

As such, all funerals I officiate are as a minister of the gospel of Christ, and therefore "Christian" funerals. Regardless of the faith or lack of faith of the deceased, I affirm the hope made real in Christ who has overcome death. But this does not mean "I put everyone in heaven." Whenever I officiate the funeral of someone who was an obvious follower of Jesus, I say we have full assurance through the Spirit that the person enjoys eternal life with God. When the life of the person was more ambiguous, but a known confession of faith occurred at some point in their life, I nevertheless uphold that decision and give the person the benefit of the doubt. But when a person neither confessed their faith in Christ nor displayed any evidence of being a believer, I don't put them in heaven, but neither do I put them in hell. This is where Dr. Anderson's theology is so helpful. The destiny of people is not mine to decide nor pronounce outside the assurance we find in Scripture of those found "in Christ." Instead, as Anderson says, because of the resurrection of Jesus, death is no longer the determiner of our fate, Christ is. It is He who will determine the fate of all who die. As he would put it in class, there are still decisions to be made after death, and Jesus will make them! Because Jesus is far more compassionate, merciful, and just than any of us could ever be, this is a real hope for those swimming in the despair of traditional constructs in which death seals our fate. On the flip side, if Jesus' stories are any indication, I think many will be surprised in the end by his decisions. Some will be there who had no idea, while others won't be who simply assumed and never doubted (Luke 14:15-24, Matthew 25:31-46). In the end, "
We entrust the fate of all who die into the hands of the God who raised Jesus from the dead, and before whom all live and die." Including ourselves.

Lent Begins

I'm grateful for the small group of people who observe Lent each year and invite the rest of Epic into this liturgical season by spearheading prayer gatherings, discussions, and a blog. Lent, of course, is the 40 days culminating on Easter marked by fasting and prayer (and often repentance and almsgiving). The 40 days represent the time of temptation endured by Jesus in the desert (Matthew 4:1-2). Dorene and I have observed Lent for many years now, and delighted that our children have joined us. Each Lent, I am conscious of my pathetic groanings and "enormous" (think dramatic sigh here) sacrifice over little inconveniences and luxuries that have too easily become "needs." My kids fair so much better than me, and enter into the season with surprising willingness and gusto, sacrificing far more than I do. Meant not out of self-indulgence, but self-disclosure, here are the Doi family's fastings for Lent '08:
  • Do: desserts (her annual deprivation)
  • J-Boy: furikake, candy, Nintendo DS
  • C-Girl: candy, soda, french fries
  • Kev: coffee (my annual deprivation), beer, wine (the latter two because as my son pointed out to me recently, "they're drugs!")
While in recovery, blessings from the Lord this Lenten season.