From the BART.

There’s a kind of

Deep melancholy

When leaving a place

You have left

home for.

As you rush to pay

More attention

To everything,

To the people,

To the views

You’ll see no more.

It’s a sign of a

Good journey when

a bit of home

Gets left behind as

You knock on

Your own door.


Nothing to Hope In.

Today, I shared something with my church that may or may not have shaken them up regarding my work in the youth ministry. I think I caught a lot of the people in the room off guard, and, on my end, I regret not voicing these feelings sooner. It hasn’t been the easiest time ever finding community at the church I grew up in—a surprisingly common experience, from what I’ve heard—but it’s also led to the deep experience of learning how to focus on what God is doing in times when my own needs aren’t being met. While some may question why I would keep going to a church that I felt didn’t meet my needs, I think it’s worth noting that the Christian life isn’t always about our own needs. A lot of times, it’s about being humbled and invited into deeper growth and reliance on God; it’s a bit like putting yourself in handcuffs and throwing the key away. (That’s an inside joke; looking at you, Modus.) But it can be difficult to keep one’s arms raised during the struggle; even Moses had to take a seat and get some help.

The point is, in sharing my perspective on the ailment of the church in the area I am most acquainted with, I learned that I am nothing to hope in. There were many moments on Saturday evenings when elders would reach out, bright-eyed, and ask how I was doing and encourage me to continue doing the good work of youth ministry, and today, I felt like I had really disappointed them. My mom (for whom I am deeply thankful) has been faithful in reminding me that the only person I serve is God and to not worry so much about pleasing others or thinking about how they see me, but I am learning that it is a very difficult, uniquely human aspect of church ministry. I want to make the elders who taught me in Sunday school proud. Whenever I stand up to speak in front of the church, there’s still a remnant of the really timid, on-the-verge-of-tears, young boy from years ago. This is not to say that I am immature (though in many ways, I still am); this is, in my estimation, an honest account of how the transition period in a young servant’s life looks. It’s not easy saying hard truths as a kid.

However, in saying today that with respect to the youth the church is sick, I hope I have not been misunderstood as making a judgment rather than a diagnosis. I said what I said partially because there is a dull fire shut up in my bones, and I have grown weary with holding it in, but also because sickness is still a sign of life. Too often, we take statements like “the church is stumbling in this way” or “the church is sick in this way” or “the church is weak in this way” as assaults rather than verifications that the church has breath. I believe that as long as there is life in the church, in a person, in a community, there is hope for God’s redeeming work. Sickness becomes praise, weakness becomes triumph, and sorrow becomes peace in light of the redemptive aspect of God’s actions. I often sadly share about picketers telling event-goers that they’re going to hell not because of how offensive their methods are (and they are offensive) but because they have put people (who may be innately and unknowingly craving the riches of the Gospel) in hell before they have even had a chance to be drawn by true grace. I wonder if we are too quickly defeated in our relational encounters and our experiences of life’s natural rigors, forgetting that though people may intend to harm us, God intends things for good to accomplish the saving of many lives (Gen. 50:20).

To close, I just want to say that I still love the church I grew up in. The church has been a model of faithfulness. Many members in the church have served longer and seen more than I have. I want to cooperate in what God has planned. I want the youth to know Jesus as their Savior, as their Friend, as their King. The church may be sick, but Jesus is the Great Physician. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

“fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isa. 41:10 ESV)


As he looked around the room, he saw faces. Unsure of how familiar they were, he tried to scan through the names he knew, but found he knew none. He felt his heart start to race, but what was it to race? Was it to erase? Was it to regain pace? Was it to replace? In a daze, he sat down, only to find he was laying on his stomach. He blinked. The room went black-white, and he squirmed right, throwing himself at anything solid; he needed to hold onto something, but he just kept falling in place. Losing composure, he tried to yell, but quickly bent over, ashamed at the thought of his own voice. What did he sound like? Could he speak? Should he speak? Becoming more and more disturbed by his own existence, he felt he did not belong to a world such as this. Everything went right so long as he remained a shadow. He detracted from the world, a negative, a minus, a subtraction, a distraction, a destruction, a reduction. The opposite of light, he hardly knew what light was besides the blinding he encountered now. What was it to live well? Well, live first, then worry about living well. Could he live? Should he live? His sight was a thousand mirrors, each bending the light until his sense of self was reflected a thousand times over, facing right, left, and up. If he looked down, he would drown in recognition. He hated what he knew and who he knew, but all he knew was to appear cheerful and the only person he knew was himself. He thought about jumping, but talking himself down from the ledge was followed by visions of the suffering he still had to endure because that’s all he could see ahead of him. The paper stacks, silver coins, moving metal objects, spaces filled with linen rectangles and wool sheets exhausted him. He was tired of what he desired. Loathing hate, his joy rang hollow as he found himself empty of substance, content, and content; he was substantially discontent with the moving parts of his consciousness. In a soft whisper, he echoed the sound of a still night, seeing stars for the first time as understanding. He didn’t know what to say to make things right, didn’t know if things had gone wrong, but he still felt the wave of apologies washing him, bathing him, caressing him. Shame and embarrassment were his solace; joy and delight were his guilt-ridden tribulation.

He remembered the smiles, the miles, the trials, the styles of living, of giving himself to another. Sunny nights and still days created canvases of nostalgia for paint to artfully express the colors in memories. Sense was lost as sensing remained; emotions warped as motion reigned. A flower, a card, the ocean, a tree, a road, the lake, the fulfilling silence of comfort and enough. He had lost it all before him, but before him now, he used to take it for granite, etching fondness into stone to carry him through the rest of the way home. At night when one pair of eyes reflected blue light back into the dark, he would remember. He would sigh, then he would sleep, a smile tracing itself upon the memories that his heart would keep.

Super Bowl Christianity.

pats eaglesPhoto courtesy of Philadelphia Eagles – Kiel Leggere

Here’s a link with 43 verses in the Bible about eagles: They show why the Philadelphia Eagles were definitely going to win.

Today was Super Bowl LII, and it was the first time I had some younger brothers from my church over to my place to watch the game – it was the first time one of them had ever watched the Super Bowl. My cousin and I took them to Sprouts to shop for ingredients, and it was a good time to get some relationship building going not only because it’s valuable to invest in the younger generation, but also because they’re just genuinely awesome younger brothers whom we both taught in Sunday school. We made guacamole and had a taco bar going with some brown butter kale (don’t knock it ’til you try it), sautéed onions, pico de gallo, skirt steak (seasoned with salt, pepper, and fajita seasoning, cooked on a cast-iron skillet and finished with a squirt of lime), tortilla chips, corn, and a homemade corn salsa.

But before all of the feasting and beasting (looking at you, Nick Foles) happened, some thoughts occurred to me as I was driving them from church back to my place. Christians who happen to get deeply emotionally invested in the outcome of a game (like the Super Bowl) are often criticized for doing things like “praying for their team to win” or even saying things like, “_______ is the Lord’s team.” We also love when athletes profess their faith publicly, but sometimes turn blind eyes to the actions that they take that are less than Christ-like. I actually think the criticism is fair, and I agree that Christians should really stop doing absurd things like the aforementioned because it reflects a pretty serious misunderstanding of the Gospel in how we approach others. Nevertheless, I’d like to use the Eagles as a fulcrum for the point I want to make about how Christians ought to engage with sports in faith.

Here are some testimonies from the Philadelphia Eagles’ players. (PLEASE watch it, it’s actually really cool and encouraging, and I think we could all stand to learn from what the players have to say on how to reach their neighbors.)

Now, I can see the temptation on the Christian’s behalf to say, “Well, it’s clear why the Eagles won—they’re a praying team!” I want to resist this intuition. It suggests that there is a competing component within the faith of one team or group of people relative to another team or group of people; believing something like seems to suggest that “more faith leads to rewards now,” when we as Christians should be focused on storing up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). What we as Christians should be praying about in sporting events like the Super Bowl is not that the team we support would win games, but win hearts. At the end of the day, praying for another team to lose could very well amount to praying the sorrow of a fellow brother in Christ on the other team. This ought not be so. Instead, as Christians, we ought to examine where our treasure is; is it really in the momentary glory of triumph? (I know some might say that I’m downplaying the significance of this first Lombardi for Philly, but I’m searching for a deeper purpose than even that.) Even more, how does God look upon the players on that field? I may be stepping beyond the truth of Scripture here, but it doesn’t seem blasphemous to say that He cares for every player on the field. He knows their needs, their shortcomings, and their struggles—and He deeply loves and cares about each of them. The players all have families that they’re supporting, and it’s often too easy to use the television screen as an occasion to forget that these players are made in the image of God.

When Christians point to the faith of the Philadelphia Eagles, I hope they don’t use their on-field success as a measure for their faith. And for the Philadelphia Eagles themselves, as they continue to have their prayer meetings and Bible studies, I hope that their honest prayer is that in all things, God would get the glory, victory or otherwise. Whether they are successful or not on the field is of little eternal significance. What’s of lasting importance is that they continue to be faithful stewards of the platform that God has given them and set their minds on things that are above (Colossians 3:2).

Having said all this…#FlyEaglesFly. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (Romans 15:13 ESV).

ertz divePhoto courtesy of Philadelphia Eagles – Drew Hallowell

The Spirit of the Gospel.

Today, at my church, we had an open sharing service during which people gave testimonies somewhat connected to the theme of “the spirit of the gospel.” This is something like what I might’ve said if I had the time and the space to do so.

It’s been a while since I’ve shared anything, and I think it’s because I often feel like disappointment or disagreement follow soon after opening my mouth. Nevertheless, with regards to the spirit of the gospel, I’d like to think that the Lord has been teaching me about how the gospel overcomes. 2017 was had its fair share of disappointments. I started a college/post-college ministry at this church in which young people might have been able to discuss topics that interested and challenged them that weren’t traditionally available for discussion during youth groups or Sunday services. This was met with mixed reactions of outward encouragement and thinly veiled suspicion from some people here. Not too long after the group had been established, a large majority of the college/post-college aged individuals found work elsewhere or went back to school. After having expectations of finally finding community here that would be vibrant and challenging, I found myself feeling very isolated at church, especially during youth group on Saturday nights – I sobbed behind the steering wheel as I drove home one night because in a “youth group” consisting of five other middle/high schoolers and eight people over the age of 30, I came to terms with the reality of my loneliness. There’s nothing quite like feeling like you’ve built your house on shifting sands.

Fall 2017 was a semester in which I felt like I had fallen short in most of my personal relationships. Having been told that this semester would closely mirror the workload of a PhD program, I decided for once in my life to put school first. I had no idea that I would be worrying nearly every day about whether or not I was keeping up enough with the people I cared about in my life. Some days were so filled with work that I would not have time to reflect on the health of my relationships; the days following were usually filled with guilt and anguish about who I should reach out to first. I was not able to be as present as I would have liked with friends I kept in touch with online, and I would often catch myself in the middle of conversations just going through the motions. The price of doing well academically was a hollowing out of my relationships with others. As I wrestled with all of this, the weight of hearing people from church tell me that they didn’t want me to go to bible school or seminary bore down even more on my heart. There’s a constant clash between vision and voices, and 2017 was an embattled year for sure.

I watched and listened as a humble seven members of this church were singing hymns at 10:05 in the morning. In the testimonies of members of the church, I found it more and more apparent why people were less and less willing to engage with Christians. The tension between not caring about numbers in the congregation and being a fruitful congregation was tangible this year. I saw that many times, the way we spoke about our experiences and attitudes towards non-Christians demonstrated a departure from our own origins in Christ – His love and His love alone. We were quick to cry out against their practices, their thoughts, and their attitudes without stepping forth into the challenge of self-giving and discipleship of the nations. Listening to other perspectives was given second place as we pointed to our knowing the truth as a kind of justification for being an unhearing and unseeing people. Many times, I found myself wondering if we were the enemies of the gospel given the way we portrayed how Christ came to us in our sin. Forgetting that grace, mercy, and love overcame hearts bound by sin, we put on the hardened armor of salvation that was forged by the death of Christ for the sake of intimidating civilians without presenting them an opportunity to experience God’s absolute beauty.

In the midst of these trials (among many others), the Lord revealed that the gospel overcame in each circumstance. In my failure to lead and establish a post-college ministry, He led me to have a burden for the youth group that met on Saturday nights. He placed a conviction in me to see that “youth group” ought not to be in quotation marks – it ought to be for the equipping of the younger brothers and sisters in the church. Though some of the older ones in attendance sat stone-faced during youth groups, a desire for the gospel to be appropriated in the lives of our teens placed a glow on how I was orienting youth groups. As the middle/high-schoolers engaged with the book of James on their own terms, I saw them begin to think more and more about the influence of the gospel in their lives. In my failure to maintain my personal relationships as rigorously as I would have liked, I found that there was comfort in knowing that my academics were oriented towards the advancement of the gospel in future classrooms. Without this hope in being an ambassador of His kingdom in academia, I would have long counted my academic pursuits worthless compared to the relationships I valued. (I continue to hold onto hope that the truly valuable friendships have withstood this trying period.) Finally, with our failure to show love and mercy to those who might be traditionally considered “problematic” to the church, I learned that the gospel is capable of withstanding all assault. If we think that the gospel we preach is weighty, has value, withstands objection, and is, above all, true, why do we hesitate to bring it to those who need it? And when we bring it, why do we think we either convict or compromise? Alienation is not bound up with faithfulness when it comes to preaching the gospel, and I believe that our gospel is one worth sharing because all of the desires of the human heart are met by the gospel – it is precisely what the world is looking for but cannot accept. And so, I have been encouraged by the Lord to engage with a variety of different conversations – particularly ones I myself do not care much for – to see that the gospel overcomes in all circumstances. In fact, not only does the gospel overcome, but it also fulfills whatever is lacking to the utmost because it is founded in the perfect love of God. The spirit of the gospel, then, is one of overcoming; we ought not discourage one another from engaging deeply with the culture around us because there is simply no other way to test the foundations on which we’ve built as Christians. Our Lord is faithful to keep us as we share the gospel, so may 2018 be a year in which we give of ourselves, loving as Christ loved so that when the times come to a close, we will not have missed an opportunity to deeply engage with the souls around us, pointing them to the One who fulfills their every need.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” | Titus 3:4-7 ESV

Moving Along.

Of the people we meet, the friends whom we greet

how many do we see still remain?

The memories sweet, our hearts feel complete,

yet there is occasion for pain.

When tears are our shower, we see the last hour

of bonding that we’ll recognize.

It’s not in our power, this thing that’s gone sour –

it’s too late for us to realize.

So we try to forget, we stuff down regret,

shake off all the dust of what’s gone.

We’re sorry we met; our eyes aren’t wet.

We move along but never on.

Halfway Done, Halfway Full.

As the youths say, it’s been a minute. With the last “Submit Assignment” button I’d ever see during the Fall 2017 semester, I continued to breathe normally. No sigh of relief, no deep inhale of accomplishment. Perhaps it was because I realized that this semester was a balance between guilt, apologies, and hard work to get my mind off of the first two.

I numbed myself quite a bit to what I was going through this semester. I tried to bury my experience of anxiety, stress, and insecurity beneath more work than I could handle. Many times, waves of guilt and fear would pass through me as I wondered about the health of my friendships, especially with those who lived farther away. Would they even notice if I couldn’t keep up with them as frequently? Would they understand? Would they care to check up on me once in a while? Oftentimes, it felt like I was forgotten. But for those of you who remembered me (you know who you are), I love you all, and I honestly couldn’t have gotten through the darker parts of this semester without you reaching out.

There were moments when I felt like my pursuits were entirely self-centered; nothing was harder to listen to than hearing my old Chinese school principal’s wife tell my mom that she had many years of hard work ahead of her because she saw that I wouldn’t be able to provide for my parents. Each dinner with my parents that I missed made me feel like I was just a tenant in the house rather than a son, and it was no fault of my parents’. They have been beyond supportive, encouraging, and understanding during this time, and if I ever make it to parenthood, I hope to be half as loving as they are.

I thought about how I ought to apologize to my professors with the work that I was turning in, unwilling to rely on excuses about having four classes (three of which were philosophy classes) but secretly hoping that they might understand my circumstance. At times, it felt like I needed more time, but at others, it felt like there wasn’t enough time in the world to help me out of my predicament. It felt like I needed to find my way to more fortitude and just stop being a baby about things; people have worked far harder than I have and have done far better despite their circumstances.

Beyond all this, this semester has made me grateful for the friends that I’ve made at Biola. Shoutouts to Heritage Cafe—there are just too many great people who have passed through those sliding glass doors. It won’t be the same without some of you, but I do hope to see you around! Come visit me at the RSA desk in the library if you can. To Pity Hugs: you’ve been a constant anchor for my mental health, indulging the moments when my sense of humor would betray the helplessness of my perceived situation. I’m excited for what y’all are going to do in the years to come. To Carl: thank you for mentoring me without even trying to; I find myself constantly thinking about how you would respond in circumstances where I’m interacting with people, and it’s a blessing just trying to see the world from your perspective. To Luke: I will never forget the legend of the Friendsgiving Turkey and the moment I received the gospel of brown butter. Really excited to see where you end up, and if all does not pan out, just wait for me a little and we’ll start that coffee&beer place. To Tim: it’s always amazing being in your classes. Thanks for being gracious and encouraging all the time and for teaching in a way that is clear and straightforward. Your passion for the truth really does come across in your teaching.

Despite feeling like I had my soul snatched by the sixty-plus pages I had to churn out, reflection has given me a chance to be grateful. God has been faithful in walking alongside me this semester, as He always is, and He’s brought me into a deeper appreciation for spending time with Him as well as being with His people. This has been the hardest semester of my life, and yet at the end of it, I feel a quiet confidence that the Lord knows what He has planned for me. Through many moments of going through the program for myself, He has been gracious to bring me to a place of mindfulness both of Him and of His will for me. As I look onwards to what He has, I just pray that He continues to keep me faithful to the path He has set me on and reveal His mercies to me day by day.

Hebrews 13:15-16 “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.

She came home that day uncertain,

seventeen years removed.

The furniture had changed

in the kitchen,

in the living room,

in the guest room.

The quietness was welcome but unfamiliar.

She walked, she walked, she walked

until she reached the oft-abused doorknob.

Tears sprang to her eyes as she remembered

what it was like to be a little girl again.

She is nineteen now,

and his ghost – it remains.

Farewell to the Scottage.

The past four days, I’ve had the pleasure of being in Colorado with some close friends. Though it’s been a while since I’ve actively seen patterns in my life, the theme of this trip was a resounding “learn.”  Being in Estes Park at the Scottage – a wonder in its own right – was as close to being in a different world as I could be, and I realized that there was learning to be done as soon as I got off the airplane.

  • The elevation will snatch your breath away from you as soon as you try to try, leaving you breathlessly in awe of the majesty surrounding you.
  • Hummingbirds will land on your finger if you are situated where they usually perch to drink greedily from hummingbird feeders.
  • Male hummingbirds make obnoxious noises (as do grasshoppers when they fly).
  • Aspen leaves sound cool when the wind blows through them.
  • You can actually see stars at night (and if you’re lucky, lightning striking far-off mountains).
  • A wide variety of mushrooms grow everywhere; you can eat the puff-balls, but avoid the other stuff.
  • Wearing a rain jacket over bare skin is surprisingly helpful for staying cheery despite tumbles into a frigid river.
  • Tubing is awesome, even if you fall in the river.
  • Sunscreen is no jodan.
  • Putting band-aids on and then duct-taping over it will help you ignore popped blisters over the course of the nine-and-a-half mile hike (according to Apple Health) to the top of Mount Ida.
  • You can actually hike to the literal top of mountains.
  • The continental divide is the place where if water falls on one side, it goes out to the Pacific; if it falls on the other side, it goes out to the Atlantic.
  • Puzzles are sometimes necessarily group efforts.
  • It can actually hail on you near the top of mountains.
  • Rocks provide great cover from wind, if you can find them in just the right configuration.
  • Pika are amazing.
  • Nice-u and nice-u janai.
  • Maple syrup is somehow better warm.
  • “Warm” can be pronounced like “arm” with a “w,” or “war” with an “m.”
  • Hammock World grows on you.
  • Never try to re-make the Chosen One; once you throw it across the river, leave its memory behind to become a legacy lest you be pierced by a false prophet – huh?

The list goes on and on; I’m far too tired to record the rest of the factual knowledge I learned.  However, beyond the random facts here and there that I learned, I learned a bit more about myself.  During the hike up Mount Ida, I spent quite a bit of time slowly making my way up the mountain.  Having never been exposed to such biting wind and dry, cold, oxygen-deprived conditions, I found myself switching between being able to socialize and enjoy the hike and mechanically putting one foot in front of the other until the temporary goals that I set were reached, agonizing at each moment about holding back the rest of the group.  The times I found myself alone were spent deep in earnest, complaining prayer with pushback from myself regarding the fortune of my circumstances.  I went through the joy of being in creation and being humbled by God’s creation to despising the many stones that had made the ascent up the mountain possible in the first place.  Having nearly destroyed my ankles at least fifteen times, the only anchor I had was that at the end, I would look back on it as blessing.  And I do now consider it a blessing!  I realized how fickle I was in relating to God on that hike, and at the end of the day, all I could say was that God has provided just enough strength for each step, bringing companions to me when the morale was low.  It was quite a bit more soul-baring than I expected to encounter on the mountaintop.  The best part about all this was that I had read Psalm 61:1-3 the night before the hike, which reads:

Hear my cry, O God,
    listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you
    when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge,
    a strong tower against the enemy.

Thank You, Lord, for Your infinite wisdom in drawing my soul closer to You.

However, the lesson that I count myself most blessed to learn was encouragement, patience, and hospitality.  During the hikes that I went on, I encountered an abundance of encouragement in the subtlest of ways; sometimes it would be a direct, “you’re doing great!” but other times, it would just be a welcome into casual conversation that forgot the rigor of the hike.  The provision of home-cooked meals day in and day out was coupled with a joy to serve that I had rarely seen in my life, and it made the mealtimes that much more life-giving.  When mushroom-hunting, it was always a pleasure being guided to a large mushroom waiting to be discovered despite never finding many on my own.  The list, once again, goes on and on, but who can complain about such an abundance of God’s nature being manifested in part within men and women?  The people I met and spent time with at the Scottage were all tremendous in spirit and gentle in nature, and I’m sorry to have left so early.  Nevertheless, being at the Scottage was, is, and will forever be one of my fondest memories.

“Oh, the Lord is good to me

and so I thank the Lord

For giving me the mountain trails,

the parents help that never fails

The Lord is good to me.”