Fighting Fire With Fire.

A bad habit that has been pointed out to me (and that I’ve noticed) is that I tend to put myself down in the few sermons I’ve given. When trying to understand why I make the self-deprecatory jokes that I do, my pastor wondered if it was because that was my way of dealing with my anxiety; I think there’s actually something to that. From my perspective, I’m no worthier of delivering the sermon than the people seated in the Chinese Evangelical Free Church of Santa Barbara pews (err, chairs), and those jokes are my way of being honest about how I feel positionally before God’s people.

As of late, I’ve begun to feel quite a bit of anxiety about what lies ahead. I am planning to apply for PhD programs in philosophy, and the same feelings of unworthiness seep into the potentially fruitful (though rarely utilized) downtime I have as a grad student. Instead of making self-deprecatory jokes to a congregation, however, I internalize the sentiments and begin to feel less and less qualified to even think about applying to the programs. Just this evening, I spent 26 minutes in a wild mental scramble, looking at different culinary programs and seeing if they would be financially responsible. I ended up stepping back and reach out to my best friends in the program (you know who you are, love you both!). As the delirium faded, I woke up to the fact that maybe I was so easily pulled towards something so drastically different because it was something in which I still felt competent. The philosophical tool of “running the reductio,” as some call it, led me to see that I would likely feel the same, if not more, incompetence upon enrolling in culinary school.

And that’s when I realized that philosophy has been a gift that God has given me. I don’t mean this in the sense of God making me a gifted philosopher, but God has made me a son with gifts. Knowing the nature of my heart, He provided me with the right kind of tool to see just how deceitful the heart is above all things, and how desperately sick it is (Jer. 17:9). It’s not so much that He desires for me to master (or doctor) philosophy or become a leader in a particular subfield of it, but regardless of how things all turn out, He saw that it was a way for Him to minister and speak to me. Philosophy—though it largely has not been reassuring—can be therapeutic; the anxiety that came from feeling inadequate was remedied through the same thing I was anxious about. It led me to remember my first desire in studying it: to show, by my works, my faith in the power and reality of the Gospel.

I recently purchased a “Morning and Evening: Daily Readings by C.H. Spurgeon” devotional, and today’s morning passage said this:

You carry the cross after Him. You have blessed company; your path is marked with the footprints of your Lord. The mark of His blood-red shoulder is upon that heavy burden. ‘Tis His cross, and He goes before you as a shepherd goes before his sheep. Take up your cross daily, and follow Him.

Do not forget, also, that you bear this cross in partnership. It is the opinion of some that Simon only carried one end of the cross, and not the whole of it. That is very possible; Christ may have carried the heavier part, against the transverse beam, and Simon may have borne the lighter end. Certainly it is so with you; you do but carry the light end of the cross, Christ bore the heavier end.

And remember, though Simon had to bear the cross for a very little while, it gave him lasting honour. Even so the cross we carry is only for a little while at most, and then we shall receive the crown, the glory. Surely we should love the cross, and, instead of shrinking from it, count it very dear, when it works out for us ‘a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory’.

“The world behind me, the cross before me; no turning back, no turning back.”


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)


I’m just tired; I’ve got some work to do; I’m fine; I don’t know what you’re talking about.

He went with, “I’m just a little tired,” because it was the most convenient half-truth to tell at the time.  It felt like he could do nothing right that day.  And he knew – he had been told, really – that it was all just an overreaction to a single negative situation, and his programed response to it was to catastrophize.  Nevertheless, he didn’t care to fight back tonight.  He joked about physical exams earlier, realizing too late that she was anxious from her latest checkup.  The doctors were taking an uncommonly long time to return the results to her; in fact, self-diagnosing led her down a dark corridor with the walls closing in on all sides, stopping with just enough room for her to tuck her knees into her chin and hope beyond grace that it was all just catastrophizing.  He hadn’t meant to lead her by the hand back to the corridor.

How selfish he was, letting his regret show on his face, putting her in a place of regretting her openness about her very real issue while fighting to steady the darkness from encroaching upon the rest of her night.  And the way he left, making a big show of just how much he regretted making the joke, all the while leaving her ashamed and thinking – wrongly – that maybe she was being a burden on other people.  Maybe he was putting prison bars where freedom walked, giving in to the whispers of doubt about just how good of a friend he actually was, and none of this was happening at all.  He wanted to feel guilty about what had happened – he deserved to bear the responsibility for his mistake because he was supposed to be a good friend.  It was the most convenient half-truth to accept at that time.

The retreat inwards began, but he didn’t notice.  He just needed to get through to the end, and he would be home free – free from ruining anymore of his relationships, free to be silent, free to not live underneath the expectations that others had come to own.  He would just run from it all because after all, he was just a coward who couldn’t face his reflection when it surrounded him.  All he did was lie, sell himself as better than he really was, believe in his own lies, and continue manufacturing selves.  Positivity was his most polished mask, and his heart had accumulated enough of his half-truths to believe it owned a single, reliable shard of honesty.  At the end of the day, he was weak.  He wanted to be strong; he wanted to be reliable; he wanted to be honest; he wanted to be kind; he wanted to be free to know who he was and where he stood without the ground collapsing at the slightest nervous shift in weight from right to left, plunging him into the frigid and lonesome below.  He was catastrophizing.

Another mistimed joke, and he found himself lost.  Why was he? Had he not realized that he could have tried not belittling people around him for once, just so that his own crudeness could find a measure of stability?  Was it impossible for him to understand that who he was just didn’t fit who he thought he was?  He was pitiful.  He’d go home and paint something – painting would do the trick, what with the silence and the focus on making something really intricate so that he would just forget seeing his own face stapled onto his friend’s disappointment.  He knew that it had been a rough week for him, but he let his own charm poison the vial even more.  What a wreck.  He really didn’t know who he was at all.  All this time, he had the ridiculous idea that he had been doing him a favor when he himself was the burden.  Is it only now occurring?  He probably thought he was an idiot for even trying to show him in the most explicit way that he wasn’t the friend he thought he was, and here he was, thinking that he was saving him from the shadows.  There wasn’t a thing right about him.

He dove into the dark of the ocean, colliding with the side of the boat on the way down.  Abrasions didn’t matter anymore at this point; he wasn’t even sure he felt the slick, dull, trauma anymore.  I can’t do anything right. I’ve heard that one already.  Why are you wasting your time? Be honest about your mistakes.  You’re the reason we’re here.  Are you still here? Haven’t you grown up yet? Jeez. Get a grip. Move on. Stop worrying so much.  Time will tell.  Why didn’t you say anything? You disappoint me.  Where is the surface?  Don’t be a baby.  Where are you going?  You don’t understand.  Why am I here? You’ll be fine.  I can’t feel anything anymore.  Who’s fault is that?  You made this mess, you fix it.

His heart pounded and every beat felt heavier and heavier and slower and slower he felt it in his head and in his eyes until he was realizing that he was trying to breathe in deeply he was trying to breathe in but his lungs weren’t enough for him and he saw that it was dark except for a single moon far away though far from him and who he was and where he needed to be so he breathed less hoping to reflect on things more and realize that it was just catastrophizing it was just in his head it wasn’t going to be that bad it couldn’t be that bad what was going on he hadn’t felt this way in a long time but he couldn’t find his way out except to talk to no one about it because that’s who understood him best.

I can’t breathe.  Just let me wake up.


Crimson Snow.

As snow falls from the sky, the ground is

painted red with a dripping smile.

The jaws within rend again and again

as the fight goes the full mile.

Paul says I do not do the good I will to

do, but that which is evil I do;

oh, wretched man that I am, suffering

the scourge of things I cannot subdue.

I try in human might to paint the

sky a different shade,

but on the purest snow, crimson

war is quickly made.

The battle rages on, and all I can

do is just to pray,

and listen for a word from Him

who holds my every day.

Fight the Urge.

It seems like they’re all gone now.

Every time I open the blue box, how

the green dot goes to mobile;

it’s getting hard to stay noble.

FIghting off persistent coughs

of a future habit hard to stop.

A red and white envelope of paper

buy one now, to use for later.

With friends, no thoughts fly

to what I should be able to deny.

Yet alone, the struggle is close at hand

My ego striving against the id’s demand.

“All writers do it, it helps create,”

my mind says to try and deviate

from what I do not want to do.

A whisper in my ear, “It’s true.”

A secret desire, borne of the night

in daytime spent trying just to fight

the shameful appeal of the world.

My conscience consistently curled,

bent at the edges where it would not lose

holding onto morals it could not loose.

Lord Jesus, I need you here in this moment

to guide me away from my sin’s strong torment.

The lips utterance are tears of crocodiles

as the mind still lingers on that which defiles.

Just try it once, and it won’t be that great –

a statement spoken with bitter hate.

For self-destruction is made of self construction

Ashes fall down from purity’s reduction.

God, help me, and help me to want Your aid

lest I fall in the subtle grave I have made.

Day by Day.

The leaves plunged in summer yellow were paired with various hues of green, causing a distinct, but aesthetically pleasing portrait of nature’s simple sketches.  The shadows of the leaves on the wall reflected the perfection of each leaf’s design, more or less in keeping with each other in a uniform array of yellow-greenery.  The wind that gently blew over the heads of the stems proved the plant fickle, as it bounded upwards and downwards in an inconsistent fashion.  The once red, now weathered pink, brick wall provided a soft backdrop for the plants.  Solid green leaves marshaled themselves at the feet of the tall, standing plants, providing a miniature canopy for any insects or lizards desiring refuge from the  summer sun.

The car gave a gentle lurch backwards, the gears shifted, and the low whine of the garage door was heard.  Then, with a mechanical purr, the car surged forward smoothly, guided by the driver at the steering wheel.  The red glare of the brake lights flashed as the car eased to a crawl before the speed bump, gently bouncing up on down on the white obstacle plastered on black asphalt.  The car turned the corner and was gone.  Day by day, this routine continues at 7:35 each morning.

That God designed the leaves goes without saying.  The vivid hues of coloring reflect the life within that life-giving Spirit.  However, for all things man-made, the colors are constrained to either violently dull tones or merely black and white.  Something within the soul of man desires to tear the suit of routine apart; that the safety of what is known has now become too yawn-inducing for him, and in an attempt to create a new vivacity in living, he needs to turn elsewhere to restore the thrill of living.  His mind roamed to sports, reading, and drugs as alternate routes to shaking up his current journey.  Yet, it was inevitably the last one which had the greatest appeal.  If only he realized that indulging in the wonder of God’s radiant creation would be enough to make a daily routine ever filled with new discoveries and appreciation, he would have avoided the self-destructive end to which he led himself.  Imagination can here fill in the blanks with the life of secrecy and deception that followed.

Bury Me.

Sitting here, with heart heavy as lead

Forgetting all of the verses I’ve read.

Uncomfortable with the very chair I sit in

Uncomfortable within God’s own presence.

His light burns bright within my soul

Boring into me a fast growing hole.

Fleeting thoughts of fury fast flutter

about the concealed deeds of another.

Why had he not told me straight

what he did behind the closed gate?

I thought I made it clear to all

that I showed every place I might fall.

Yet this transparency, it seems,

is only truly achieved in dreams

where men all think and do as I.

Oh, how I scorn my own pride!

Yet, of my own, nothing can I do

to try and become wholly true.

Self-hate soon blossoms, a thorny rose

Turning sweet poetry into dry prose.

A slower pace of life, a weight upon my heart

a constant taste in my mouth that seems so tart.

What is art, but a means for me to flaunt

my ego and my “skill” in showing what I want?

Kill me, O God, bury my sense of self!

Put all my past memories on a bookshelf.

I hate what is within me,

I cannot let it go.

Yet what is found so simply

I cannot seem to know.

How desperate a mess I’m in

Surrounded by my vile sin,

not seeing a clear way out

barely room within to give a shout.

So now I ask, oh God above

fill me with Your own pure love.

This heart of mine is filled with defect

and only Your life can fully resurrect

the will to live again.

And so I ask, bury me now

That I might not live out “Holier than thou”

and learn to love again.