Sunday, January 15, 2012

Poetry is Not Systematic Theology

Yesterday I saw a video via a friend's facebook wall. It's called, "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus || Spoken Word".  I thought it was DOPE. I'm not surprised that it has hit a whopping 9.3 million views on Youtube! Talk about viral. He uploaded it only 4 days ago.

Refreshing and On Pointe
The guy in the video, Jeff, produced a video of a well-written spoken word that really hit to the core of some major church issues.  I thought it was refreshing, poetic, and on-pointe. And I liked the fact that he presents the gospel at the end.  I checked out his other videos and from what I can tell, this guy's got Reformed leanings (which I personally like). He's got a good head between his shoulders.

A Blogger's Scrutiny
Then today, I see a few people posting up an article on facebook by Pastor Kevin DeYoung from the Gospel Coalition in criticism of Jeff's spoken word:
Does Jesus Hate Religion? Kinda, Sorta, Not Really
I'm sure that any pastor that has the honor of blogging for the Gospel Coalition is smart and has many good points to make. But just because Kevin's got all the "right" answers doesn't make his blog entry right. I read through the article and my heart burned to speak up in Jeff's defense and to affirm his video. If for any reason, as a local church pastor I wanted to clarify to my church members where I stand on it.

A Spoken Word is Poetry Not Systematic Theology
I'm sure everyone, including Pastor Kevin, understands that a "spoken word" is poetry... not systematic theology. So I was a bit irked that he was scrutinizing Jeff's spoken word line by line as if Jeff had written a theology paper! Jeff's main point was not to present a careful exegesis of a Bible passage or a comprehensive theology, that's the gift and calling of guys like N.T. Wright and Wayne Grudem. Jeff's main point was to poetically express our generation's frustration with the religious shells handed down to us in most denominational churches that masquerade as Christianity. Let's face it, there's a lot of "religion" in our denominational churches with the appearance of godliness but with very little power (namely the Holy Spirit or anything supernatural). It's no wonder young people are leaving denominational churches en masse.

Opposing the Religious Spirit
If you read between the lines Jeff isn't rhyming in opposition to "religion" per se but to the "religious spirit"; the religious spirit that the Pharisees were filled with. The same spirit that continues to infiltrate churches today.  I've observed that the religious spirit consists of actual demons.  And in my humble opinion, they're the most wicked of all. They don't just attack from the outside, they infiltrate the church's structures and infect from the inside. Read the gospels again and notice the tone of Jesus towards the religious spirit. The rebuke is vicious and public.

Matthew 23:13-15, 33 (NIV), "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces... You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are... 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?"

Does Jesus hate religion? Well consider this: he calls the religious leaders of his day "hypocrites" four times in chapter 23, then calls them sons of hell (huios in the Greek), serpents, brood of vipers, and then implies that they will not escape being sentenced to hell!  Think about who Jesus is talking to.  He's not talking to the Hindus, Buddhists, and Mormons of his day.  He's talking to the religious leaders of institutional and cultural Judaism who sat at the places of honor!  That's the equivalent of our seminary graduates, Bible scholars, and pastors of today. I'm not implying anything here. I have tremendous respect for many Christian leaders. I like to think our John MacArthurs and the Pharisees are worlds apart. But still, it's a sobering thought.

What An Amazing Poem
Bottom line: I think Jeff's tone and emphasis are closer to Jesus' than Kevin's. And I think Jeff's spoken word is aimed at the right target. Jeff, you'll probably never read this but from one brother walking in sonship to another, stay JUST THE WAY YOU ARE. Stay in relationship with the mentors that God has already placed in your life and you're gonna go from glory to glory. Looking forward to your next video.

And to Pastor Kevin, much love to you sir. Your concerns are legit but I think they're misplaced. Nothing personal on you. But I simply had to put out a voice to celebrate and applaud what this gifted young man put out. God is using Jeff's creativity to reach millions of people already. I wish church leaders would learn to embrace and not to stifle it.

Sometimes I get disappointed by my beloved Reformed friends. They love preaching about grace but have a hard time practicing it.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Christian Tribute to Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs: innovator, entrepreneur, & visionary.

Say It Ain't So
Thursday morning, Oct 6, I was on my way to seminary classes here in Seoul when I saw a text message on my iPhone 4 telling me that Steve Jobs passed away suddenly. I couldn't believe it. I checked my news apps but because the story just broke I couldn't find any articles confirming his death. In my heart I felt immense sorrow at the thought of losing him, like an uncle passed away or something. Then my heart sank when it was confirmed on Apple's web site and I saw Steve's portrait with the words
"Steve Jobs 1955-2011". 

The Whole World Mourns
Within a few minutes, as I was tweeting the story, twitter and facebook began to explode with updates. There was no need to wait for late night news shows or the morning paper, within the hour the whole world discovered that we lost an extraordinary leader.
"The world has lost a visionary. And there may be no greater tribute to Steve's success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented." (President Obama's fb page) 
"A visionary who changed the way we live, an innovator whose products brought joy to millions, a risk-taker who wasn't afraid to challenge the status quo." (House minority leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Obama hails Jobs as brave, bold and talented - CNN)  
"Steve, thank you for being a mentor and a friend. Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world. I will miss you." (Mark Zuckerberg's fb page) 
"The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had... I will miss Steve immensely." (Bill Gates, Microsoft Chairman) 
Almost as if Steve knew that his time was coming, he stepped down as CEO in August and handed over the leadership mantle to Tim Cook (very few leaders both in and out of the church do this). Then the day after Tim gave his first keynote speech and introduced the iPhone 4S, Steve exited the stage for good.

Pastors Honor Apple's CEO
Looking through my tweets, I was surprised to find that lots of pastors and Christian leaders were unafraid to pay tribute to Steve.  

"Tonight when I left a prayer meeting at our church I found two text messages (on my iPhone) from friends telling me that Steve Jobs had died. I was surprised at how sad I felt at the news. My prayers are with his family and friends." (Joshua Harris, Pastor of Covenant Life) 
Our Edison departs. Steve Jobs said, "I was lucky- I found out what I love to do early in life." This was Gods gift to him and thus to us. (Lance Wallnau, Speaker and Author)
"Steve Jobs, the Thomas Edison of my generation. Miss him already." (Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback)  
"Steve Jobs we will miss you." (Erwin McManus, Pastor of Mosaic)  
For me, the tweets and article re-postings were a surprise because I know there are a lot of "religious" pastors who would refuse to honor Steve because he wasn't a Christian and in his youth used to identify himself as a Buddhist. Is it right for a Christian leader honor a former Buddhist? Well I don't know if it's right or wrong but I choose to honor him because although Steve wasn't a born-again Christian, I believe his life was filled with the fingerprints of God. 

Here's my take.

Steve's life story is a picture of the gospel
Steve unveiling the Mac in 1984.
If you didn't know, Steve started Apple when he was 20. In ten years, the company grew to a value of $2 billion and 4000 employees (source: Stanford speech). But that same year (1985) he got fired from the company he started.  After being devastated, he started from scratch and built Pixar and NeXT. A decade later when Apple was on the brink of collapse (1997), Steve returned to serve as the CEO of Apple and then totally revived the company (famous Think Different video that marked Apple's turnaround). The growth has been incredible to say the least. Today the company is worth $351 billion (briefly surpassing Exxon Mobil as the most valuable company in the world) and has 47,000 employees. We must take mental note: Steve's story is quite unique. I believe God has given us his life to illustrate a picture of the gospel.  In my humble opinion, I think Steve's return to Apple was one of the greatest comebacks in all history. And in Christianity, our faith's foundation rests on the greatest comeback ever. Steve did not have a college degree which tells me that God can choose the seemingly foolish things in the world to shame the wise. The young Steve had vision but made mistakes and had an abrasive personality so he was fired. But Steve made changes and eventually he was invited back to Apple. Can't you see the gospel message in all this? Steve's story gives people who've hit rock bottom hope. It seems so clear to me. Steve's life isn't a Buddhist story, it's a Christian one. And I'm pretty sure I know who the Author is. It's not about karma and reincarnation, it's about grace and redemption.

Steve's strategy teaches us about church planting
With my co-workers at the NYC SOHO store
on my last day of work in Dec 2002.
Shortly after Steve returned to Apple, he began to open up brick and mortar stores. Many thought this was a stupid move because computer companies (e.g.: Dell) at that time believed online orders would make physical stores obsolete. The stores had a slow start but Steve stuck with his vision of seeing Apple stores not only be a place to buy Mac products but a place teeming with life. In 2002, I got hired by Apple and helped open up their biggest flagship store to date in NYC SOHO. It was a huge success! I'm not exaggerating when I say this but I learned more about church planting by watching Apple open up that store than I have in reading articles and books on church planting by Christian authors. Steve had a way of breaking ground and then sending a team to establish new stores in the hardest to reach places. I personally believe that God placed insights of church planting into Apple stores. Consider how far they've come since the NYC store. Apple has been able to setup 357 stores in 11 different countries with "many more" coming (Tim Cook announces impressive Apple Retail Store numbers). Just as God put the revelation of apostolic ministry into Rome's expansion strategy (the term "apostolos" was actually a term that was already in use by the Roman Empire), I think pastors can learn a lot about church planting by humbling themselves and studying a secular company's approach to opening new stores. 

Steve received and applied Biblical values
In 2009 I was in Sydney getting some repairs done and inquired of a "Mac genius" what his employment experience was like. Just like my own personal experience, he confirmed that it was quite amazing. I was wondering what possibly could account for Steve's change from his former tyrannical ways. The genius guy told me that while on a visit to Cupertino he overheard that Steve's metamorphosis may be attributed to the influence of a group of Christian CEOs that Steve met regularly with and it seemed they had spoken into his life. We have no idea if Steve ever considered becoming a Christian because of this but despite Steve never praying the sinner's prayer, I believe the word of God was still established in Steve's heart and mind.  And it changed him into a better family man and CEO.  I observed it personally, the company culture is clearly filled with Christian values. This is what advancing the kingdom is all about. As representatives of Christ, we got to teach and lay biblical values in business, government, education, and the arts. Many successful business leaders will tell you that Christian values are the best foundations on which to grow a business. Getting people saved cannot be our only goal, we need to teach and disciple people with biblical principles even when they don't come to Christ! Or else these systems that affect millions will be full of corruption and darkness.

Steve Didn't Even Have the Anointing!
From the invention of the Apple II to the MacBook Air, Steve's creativity had an inexhaustible quality.  You would think a man and his team would run out of ideas after awhile!  But not Steve. At every Apple presentation he always had something more amazing than before. And for me that speaks of God's infinite creativity and glory than it does about any of Steve's abilities. If Steve without the anointing could do that, God's people can do immeasurably more!

Thanks Steve
Lastly, Steve had an amazing ability to take something complex and make it simple and available to all. And isn't that what we try to do with the gospel to an unbelieving world? I don't know if you see it but I see it and I glorify God for putting it together and I don't mind honoring the man through whom it came.

Thanks for the amazing ride Steve. You'll be missed.

(source: Jonathan Mak of Hong Kong)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Praying for Brothels to Shut Down

Something that foreigners find surprising about Korea is that there are so many brothels here. Prostitution became illegal over a decade ago but the government does little to close down this multi-million (perhaps billion) dollar business. Many brothels have gone underground but they are still conspicuously advertised. They can be found in Shillim and Itaewon, where my church campuses are located, Gangnam, Yongsan, Gongdeok,... everywhere.

Although many brothels have gone underground, there are still a few areas where open and public red light districts exist. I remember in 1998 (visiting Korea as a college student before prostitution was made illegal) driving through an area of Seoul with my uncle and cousins and being shocked as we made a wrong turn into a red light district that was half a mile long!

Praying to End the Enslavement of Girls
One of the "open" red light districts still around is located near "Young Deung Po" station. Over the past 4 years my church, New Philadelphia, has been praying relentlessly that these red light districts would close down and be replaced by family friendly businesses (so that it also effectively ends pimps preying on and enslaving Korean girls). I have often shared the testimony of NYC's 42nd Street transformation. How as the churches in that area prayed in the late 90s, the peep shows and XXX video shops closed down and were replaced by Disney stores in a matter of a couple years.

One of my church leaders who leads a ministry called "Unearthed" regularly leads prayer walks through red light districts of Korea (and Asia). They step over these properties, claiming Christ's dominion over them. They even occasionally speak with the working ladies, pimps, policemen, and customers, gaining insight into praying more effectively or ministering to them.

The Breakthrough
A few weeks ago, a few church leaders felt led to do a prayer walk through the Young Deung Po red light district. They prayed and they spoke with local policemen inquiring why more wasn't being done to crack down on the "open and public" brothels (it's something "Unearthed" has done several times before).

Over this past weekend, some of the leaders noticed that the brothels were being patrolled by police, preventing customers from going in. The fact that the police decided to do something about it was a huge answered prayer. My leaders posted up facebook posts celebrating the victory.

Public Protests
The brothels fired back by posting up huge banners in protest against the crackdown. Yesterday, the protests escalated into a public demonstration where 400 brothel workers took to the streets and marched upon the nearby Times Square Mall. Some even attempted to cover themselves in flammable liquid and burn themselves alive before onlookers stopped them. Although we rejoice in the answered prayer, our hearts break for the brothel girls and the hopelessness they find themselves in.

Who's Truly Responsible for This?
"The sex workers accuse a nearby department store of pushing police to take such measures. Police deny the claim." -AP

I'm not sure if the above accusation is true but one thing is for sure, the police were definitely being consistently "pushed" by a bunch of praying foreigners demanding the shutdown of these brothels. When it comes down to it, we believe that God is ultimately responsible for the new measures. Unfortunately for the girls in these brothels, many of them have nowhere to turn to. Because of the "shame stronghold" on Korea's culture, they would never think of returning to their families for help. Also, the pimps have a systematic way of threatening family members so these girls have nowhere to go.

My prayer is that safehouses will be setup for these girls to find refuge in and get a new beginning. But I won't be surprised if nothing is done about it by the Korean gov't. The protests from yesterday were nowhere to be found in any of the major Korean media outlets as it's something Koreans would rather ignore than confront.

Nevertheless, we are continuing to pray to disallow all forms of human trafficking and prostitution in Korea. We hope you join us as various ministries highlight and expose the magnitude of modern day slavery.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Revival of the Blog

XangaBack before facebook, there was a furiously popular online blogging site called Xanga. I heard Xanga is still around but not many people are on it anymore. Two reasons led to their demise. One was their poor decision toward an annoyingly cluttered interface. And two, facebook.

Facebook has taken the world by storm since 2005. Everybody and their
mother is now on facebook!  Literally, my 1st generation, computer-
challenged mom is now on facebook looking at all my pictures!
For those who don't know, Xanga used to be where everyone went to rant, rave, post the latest news, complain, vent, and gossip. Xanga is also where online stalking got established as a normal habit of internet usage.  Back in my Xanga days, I had hundreds of subscribers and I would obsess over posting great entries because I sought eprops and comments like an addict obsesses over his next hit. Once I got 136 eProps and 70 comments on one entry (although I admit that it was my engagement story entry and most people were congratulating me)! But starting in 2005, facebook took the world by storm and Xanga simply did not have the anointing to keep up. As I write this, I honor Mark Zuckerberg for blessing us with a great, uncluttered platform in which to connect with friends and family. But after spending countless hours looking at pictures, videos, status updates, and wall posts, I have found my soul gravitating back toward blogging (blog is short for web log, it's like an online journal). Facebook is great but in it there is no real space to express oneself deeper than a status update. You can write a "facebook note" but those get rarely read because the formatting options are so dead (and people's facebook attention span is about 6 seconds).

Blogger's interface is really smooth, bug-free, and
easily customizable!
I feel like the world is ready to swing away from tweets and status updates.  There will always be a place for short updates but people are yearning for depth in their social interactions.  If good bloggers will seize this moment, I believe quality and helpful blogs will once again find a place right next to the most popular twitter accounts.  And with smartphones being the latest craze, I'm confident good bloggers will find even more readers than there were in the good 'ole Xanga days.

I've tested out tumblr and twitter and what can I say?  I was not sold.  I plan to utilize those accounts but I've chosen blogger as my main platform.  Since so many people have a gmail account, I think blogger will be the most popular.  And in my humble opinion, I think it is the easiest to setup and most customizable and beautiful of all the blogging platforms I've tried.

So here it is y'all, welcome to my new blog "Favor Like a Shield".  There will be lots of personal entries but because I believe I've been blessed to be a blessing, I also plan to post up helpful content: things like tutorials, tributes, product reviews, restaurant reviews, travel advice, articles about life in Korea (where I currently reside), interesting viral content, personal thoughts, and advice/wisdom for life - content that businesses, magazines, newspapers, and Hollywood may not get to.  Bottom line: I hope you find this blog a blessing and a site worth coming back to!

A recent picture at a TGIF in Korea with my wife and friends.