Month: July 2011

Speaking and Teaching

Speaking & teaching are two of my greatest passions. I am open and available for speaking & teaching at churches, camps, conferences, parachurch groups, campus ministries, etc.

Please email me at farewelltothesea@gmail.com with any inquiries.

You can listen to weekly teachings I give at Fuel, the college & twenty-somethings ministry of Church on the Hill in San Jose, California, by clicking this link: Fuel podcast

In addition, you can view video clips from various teaching and speaking engagements on my Vimeo page.  It is a work in progress and will be updated over the next few months so please check back now and then.

Another candle on the cake

Tomorrow’s my birthday, so it’s time to put another candle on the cake.  The cake is starting to run out of room.  Thirty-two candles seems to be a bit much.  The aesthetics are off with so many.  Maybe 32 cupcakes with one candle each would be better.  But then again, that’s a lot of cupcakes.

I still vaguely remember when my birthday was something to look forward to, a sign of progress, another step toward that ever elusive driver’s license.  Then, it was another step toward being legal, purchasing alcohol, renting a car, and so on.  Now?  No idea.  Is there anything one can do at 32 that one couldn’t do at 31?  Probably not.

My wife enjoys plucking white hairs from my head.  This has been happening more frequently the past few months.  I go to a chiropractor every Monday morning.  When I miss an appointment, I walk at an elderly pace for a while.  In college I felt most alive between 10pm-2am.  These days I’m dosing off on the couch by about 8:30.

Most people older than me either shake their heads in knowing contempt, or chuckle with an “oh how little you know” smirk when I mention my frustration with aging.  Most people younger than me just laugh and confirm that I am quickly and swiftly closing in on senior citizenship.  Either way, all of us, young and old, are marching toward the grave, taking step after step in the same direction every moment of every day.  But it’s not as hopeless as it sounds.  Aging isn’t so bad.

2 Corinthians 4:16-17: “…do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

In some ways, every day is a birthday.  Every morning we awake and are born into the newness of what lies ahead.  No matter how redundant, trite, or mundane your life may feel, each breath you breathe is new and different and a gift.  And though we are getting older, wasting away, new life awaits.  I don’t just mean at some point in your future, on the other side of death.  New life awaits in each moment, as your old life dies.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  Every moment lived is a moment emptied out from our present and lodged into our past.  But that empty void is filled with something better, something more eternal, unconfined by the boundaries of time.  We are filled with the unending life only God can offer.  So maybe we ought to embrace aging.  It’s the road by which we journey toward the eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

But then again, I’m only 32.  What do I know…

In Christ… seriously?

My sophomore year of high school, I happened to like a girl I met at church.  I wasn’t certain about her feelings toward me but she was always nice and seemed fairly interested.  So one day I pulled her aside, told her how I felt, and asked her to be my girlfriend.  Her response was odd.  “Jay, I’m so sorry.  I just don’t feel that way about you.  But I love you in Christ!”  ……..  You love me in Christ?  What does that mean?  How then do you feel about me outside of Christ?  As a Christian, is there even such a thing?

I am of the opinion that the phrase in Christ has been much abused by Christians.  I’m not pointing fingers here.  I’m just as guilty as the next person.  I’ve used the phrase countless times to protect myself in case what I said was either too insincere left on its own or too intimate to share without the protective umbrella of existence within the person of Jesus.  In Romans 6, Paul presents a crucial dichotomy in the Christian life.  In 6:11 he writes this: “…count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  If viewed only metaphorically, this verse would essentially amount to a shift in paradigm or worldview.  Paul would be stating that because of our relationship with Jesus, we are to begin seeing our sinful pasts as being dead and buried, while seeing our futures as being fulfilled under the loving watch of our Father God through the sacrifice of Jesus.

But maybe there’s more to it than just that.  Maybe there’s another way to see it.  Maybe Paul meant that we are now in Christ in a literal sense.  And maybe he is teaching us that when we surrender ourselves to Christ, something actually dies.  The sinful, flawed humanity we previously wore is killed and it no longer takes up residence in us.  And maybe Paul is writing that we now begin to exist in the kingdom of God with our whole being; the kingdom as it is here now and as it is to come.  In other words, we are reborn here and now, and this rebirth will be fully realized, actualized, and manifested at some point in the future when God fully restores the whole of creation.  I cannot help but read passages like Romans 6 with a mystic’s eye.  Regarding the Biblical passages where Paul writes that we exist in Christ, Gert Pelser writes: “Paul must certainly be talking about a reality that lies beyond the reality of this world ruled by natural senses.”  I agree wholeheartedly.  The idea of being in Christ only makes sense to me when I let go of reasonable, logical, human sense.  You see, I’m crazy enough to believe that Christ actually resides in us and we in him.  I can’t explain it to you in scientific or mathematical terms.  Even art, poetry, and song can’t do this truth justice.  We don’t have colors vibrant enough, words eloquent enough, and notes lovely enough to adequately express the reality of existence in Christ and his presence in us.  But I believe it to be true in the realest way possible.  It could very well be that this truth seems foreign and nonsensical to us, not because it is so unreasonable and illogical, but rather, because it is more real than any reality we’ve ever known.  When God first created the world, he walked among us (Genesis 3:8) and when he recreates, restores, and redeems the world again someday, he will again walk among us (Revelation 21:3).  But for now we live in between those two moments.

So today, take some time to explore the reality that Christ is closer than you think.  He is not a distant idea or an unattainable ideal.  You are in him and he is in you.  This truth can change the whole of your existence and open wide the possibility of entering into an timeless and new reality that exists outside the borders of beginnings and endings.

Fears, futures, courage, love

I turn 32 in a couple of weeks and I thought I’d be much more fearless at this point than I am.  Maybe I’ll lose some man-points for admitting this but it’s true.  For a while I was under the impression that fear was just a hitchhiker riding along during my twenties, waiting to be dropped off at thirty.  Not so.  Fear’s still journeying right alongside me and it seems intent on sticking around.  I think fear might be a theme universal to all human stories.  We are smaller than we like to think and it’s a scary thing navigating our way through this giant world.  Mostly, I am fearful about my future.  While spending my late teens and early twenties trying to “find myself”, I understood my future as a static reality to be captured the moment I figured out exactly how to get my hands on it.  I viewed it as a fixed destination, awaiting my grand arrival.  The truth is, all of our futures are carrots on sticks leading us on, seducing us with promises of grandeur and achievement.  But our futures move right along with us.  They dangle there in front of us at all times, just beyond our grasp.  They exist on the pendulum of time, teasing us with their occasional swings toward us, only to swing away from our desperate reach.  And all the while, we fear we’ll never grab hold with any sense of finality or accomplishment.

But I am hopeful.  I am hopeful because, while fear will always be a part of life and my future will always remain just a step ahead of me, I have also discovered the remedy: courage.  Courage doesn’t rid us of fear but it can propel us past it.  Nelson Mandela once said: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”  Courage is often difficult to bear.  It’s heavy and its weight can become wearisome.  But courage is weighty because of its power to overcome and it is well worth carrying at all times.

On June 11, 1963, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Malcolm Browne captured one of the most enduring and haunting photographs of all time.  During a peaceful protest against the government regime’s persecution of Buddhists, a Vietnamese monk named Thich Quang Duc sat in the middle of a busy intersection in Saigon and, surrounded by his fellow monks, onlookers, and police, proceeded to burn himself alive.  Browne’s photograph of Duc’s self-immolation has become one of the iconic works in photojournalism history.  You can google the image if you’d like but please know, it’s very graphic.  Thich Quang Duc’s act, as extreme as it was, reminds me of the strength of the human spirit.  Regardless of your personal, political, or religious opinion, there is no denying this man’s commitment and conviction.  I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to live life with that sort of singularity.  I found myself staring at the photograph today, pondering what sort of world this would be if more of us could give ourselves to a single thing the way this man gave himself to his cause.  How many dreams could we realize and how many hopes could we fulfill if we’d live with the sort of courage that would compel a man to step willingly into the fire himself for the sake of freeing others?

Nobody is fearless.  That’s a lie, a facade, a charade put on by insecure people too afraid to let others know that they’re afraid.  Fearless people don’t exist; only courageous ones.  And courage has the power to lift us toward something greater than all the rest: love.  And in love, there is no fear.  Love is fearless.  1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love.  Perfect love drives out fear.”  The  most courageous thing we could ever do is love.  To love is to step into the fire for another and to give of ourselves without expecting anything in return.  To love is to protect and cherish, even as we ourselves are in harm’s way.

So today, live courageously.  When fear surrounds you, step boldly into the fire, give your entire being to something greater than self, and jump headfirst into the reality that courage is the remedy and love is the only fearless thing on earth.


Reading: ORTHODOXY

I first read G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy almost a decade ago for a theology class I was taking in undergrad.  For me, a funny thing often happens to books, even great books, when they’re assigned to be read for a class.  They begin to feel like obnoxious weights to be lugged around for the duration of a quarter or semester.  And I lose all appetite when it comes to enjoying the text; instead, I just chew and swallow as quickly as possible.  This was true of Orthodoxy the first time I read it.  But giving it a second reading now, without the pressures of having to extrapolate enough meaning to comprise a 1,500 word essay on the matter, has been thoroughly enjoyable.  Chesterton states early in the book that his purpose for writing it is to “attempt an explanation, not of whether the Christian faith can be believed, but of how [he] personally has come to believe it.”  While I have never had a particular liking for apologetics in the classic sense, I have been captured by the exquisite way in which Chesterton presents his case for the all-encompassing truth found in the inexplicable wonder of Jesus Christ.  This is necessary reading for all who are interested in engaging the connection between God and the coexistence of truth & mystery found strewn throughout the fabric of the human experience.  

We are your tribe

I was called all sorts of names growing up.  Gook, chink, nip, you name it.  I vividly remember being angered to the point of tears a few times in elementary school because of racial slurs thrown my way.  In middle school, I had my fair share of fights because of arguments that started with sly comments about my ethnicity.  And I was by no means just an innocent and helpless recipient of derogatory torment.  I spewed my fair share of racist venom too.  We were all complicit and we were all wrong.

For a long time I felt as though I was a walking dichotomy of sorts.  I was under the strange impression that to be an Asian-American was to be split into two halves, as though the hyphen separated two distinct and opposed ends of my being.  But I have come to realize over the years that the two identities are deeply connected, interwoven, and even embedded into the other.  I’ve learned that I cannot be truly American without being fully Asian, and vice-versa.

It’s been interesting to read numerous Christian blogs the past few days about the need to repudiate any sort of national or even ethnic identity and trade it in for a strictly Christian one.  Here are some grossly generalized statements some of these bloggers make: We are Christ followers and nothing else.  Nationality and ethnicity are secondary.  Only Christ is primary.  While these are interesting ideas, they fall short because they neglect something deeply important within the Christian narrative.  They fail to recognize that the whole of human existence is a part of God’s creative ordering of things.  And everything plays a critical part in painting the picture of both our individual stories and the larger, overarching, macro story of God and the world he is creating.  I recognize that some of the tension arises as a Christ-centered response to the oppressive power wielded by some national empires both in our current context and over the course of human history.  I agree that as Christ followers, we cannot stand by and allow injustice to befall other human beings in the name of national pride or progress.  This is what Hitler did and it is quite possibly the vilest of evils.  But this does not give us reason enough to completely do away with all sense of national or ethnic identity.  This would be to throw the baby out with the bath water.

In passages such as Ephesians 2:19 and Philippians 3:20, Paul writes that we are to find our citizenship in heaven and in the family of God.  This is a beautiful statement and we ought to fully embrace this new identity Christ offers us.  But this does not preclude our national or ethnic identities.  I do not believe that heavenly citizenship means we will someday be reduced to a generic, conformed ethnicity in which everyone looks, talks, thinks, and acts the same.  When Jesus taught his disciples to pray that God’s kingdom would come and will would be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10), he was not asking them to pray that God would give everyone the same colored skin or a universal language.  Rather, I believe firmly that our heavenly citizenship and our inclusion in the family of God actually works to illuminate our current national and ethnic contexts.  It gifts these old identities with a fresh resonance.  In Revelation 7:9, the writer paints a beautiful picture with his words, describing his vision of the culmination of God’s redemptive action in the world: “…there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”  God redeems and rescues the world and the image we see is a mosaic of national, ethnic, linguistic variety.

So today, on 4th of July, as our nation gorges on hot dogs and sets off fireworks, regardless of your opinion on our government’s policies and agendas, my hope is that you would find some time to embrace and celebrate what is good.  You are American, like it or not.  God decided to write your story here.  And with all of our faults, failures, and moral shortcomings, we are your tribe.