Monday, June 29, 2009


this week, my mom and dad celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. nearly 200 family and friends from around the country came to town and packed out the great room of the ritzy sharon heights country club to eat, laugh, sing, speechify, and otherwise celebrate my parents' big day.

the day was a testament to many things:
  • the musicality and showmanship of nephew jm, niece m, and the entire h family.
  • the creative artistry of my sister k and affable, humorous, upfront mc stylings of my brother b. those two did a ton of work to make the day a great one.
  • the deep loyalty of some long-time friends. one of the great moments of the day was when "uncles" c and b invited my dad up for a song they wanted to dedicate to him - "oh Lord, it's hard to be humble."
  • the courageous, enterprising, persevering spirit of the generation that immigrated from china.
my brother, sister, and i each had the opportunity to offer a few words to honor mom and dad, sharing our recollections of some of the best of what they have shared with us. the grandkids - all six that can talk - also expressed their appreciation. all of them were great, and m and i had a number of folks come by to compliment b and n for being so poised and well-spoken. lots of talking, but all of it reasonably entertaining.

my father surprised some of us by concluding his words of appreciation by singing a love song to my mom - "the way you look tonight" (acapella, no less) - still the romantic, after all of these years.

i was reminded of more than a few interesting facts about my folks during the trivia game - that my dad's nickname was 'loverboy' (so christened by my mom's dad!), that he had had more than eight steady girlfriends (!), that my mom was only 12 when they met (he was 16 and didn't notice her much, other than that it was remarkable that a 12 year old could drive a big oldsmobile!), and that they had written to each other pretty much every day when they were apart during their courting years. amazingly, my mom still has all of the letters he sent (sometimes, more than one a day!).

all in all, it was a wonderful tribute to my parents' love for one another and the fruitfulness of their generous friendship. here's to you, mom and dad - in honor of your long partnership and in the hope of a future that continues to be filled with significance and overflowing joy!

two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. if one person falls, the other can reach out and help. but someone who falls alone is in real trouble. likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. but how can one be warm alone? a person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.
ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

worth celebrating

my baby turned 17 today. this is n, displaying a special gift (le petit prince) at her birthday dinner. shortly after this, we started in on a sampler italiano and the unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks. n enjoyed her favorite olive garden meal, the 'tour of italy' -- a colossal plate of lasagna, chicken parmiagana, and fettuccine alfredo. by the time everyone's order arrived, we had at least a week's worth of food on the table!

during the meal, n shared about her most memorable adventures as a 16 year old -- going on her first cruise, taking solo trips to l.a. and hawaii, suffering through the flu with mom and dad during the big winter snow-in, and much more. she talked about how much she had enjoyed being 16, despite all of the hardships of the past year, as well as some of what she is looking forward to as this new chapter unfolds. one of the top priorities: discovering where she'll be going to university.

i know i'm not quite objective about these things, having believed that both of my daughters were beautiful genius children from the beginning, but as i listened to her sharing, it was hard not to be impressed by her maturity and good humor. she's a playful thing, and enjoys being flamboyant, knowing that it tweaks mom and dad just a little. then in the next breath, she's sharing about her first experiences of having someone look up to her and of the need to be a good role model to the little ones in her life, a responsibility she embraces with an earnest sincerity.

m's aunt s likes to say that "you can never be too beautiful, too smart, or too rich, and two out of three ain't bad!" when i consider n's future, i'm pretty sure she'll be all three -- at least in the ways that really matter.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

too much, too little, too late

[with apologies to johnny mathis and deniece williams]

the last two weeks have been a blur. after an uplifting time of equipping at the covenant church plant training in late may, i returned to renton with a renewed sense of direction and hope. we learned a lot that may come in handy in the future. but for now, it will have to wait.

this past weekend, after a month of hard discussions, long special meetings, and behind-the-scenes conversations, our congregation formally decided to rejoin our mother church (lighthouse christian church) for the purposes of recuperating, re-tooling, and God-willing, eventually re-launching. that last part is not guaranteed, and if it does happen, it's not certain that we'd be the ones leading it. for now, the timeline for a re-launch is undetermined.

this is not the setting for recounting in detail all that's happened, but as you can imagine, it's been a difficult season. hurt feelings have finally been expressed. doubts have been shared about my giftedness and even my character. criticism has been given about my leadership. decisions (judgments?) have been made. the dust is still settling, but what we know for now is that the bridge has collapsed, at least in its current form and at least for now.

it'll take a while to untangle what went wrong. but there is some substance to the critiques, and i already know that there are many ways i want to grow from this experience. i am determined to work on personal weaknesses that have hindered my leadership and effectiveness. i am painfully aware of rookie church planter mistakes that i made, and hope that if we ever get the chance to do this again, i would at least be able to avoid some of those. and i have been recently reminded of the spiritual atmosphere in which we find ourselves -- and the need for focused, fervent prayer that breaks the strongholds. no doubt, there are issues that others need to work on as well, but i'll let them write their own blog posts on exactly what. :-)

even with our troubles and shortcomings, God has been gracious. some good things happened during our 16-month first run, including a couple of people who came to Christ, children who have been nurtured and encouraged to seek God in ways that make sense to them, and some very encouraging testimonies of the Spirit's transforming work. we had some wonderful moments; one of my recent favorites was our all-church retreat at camp berachah, where bruce hansen gave messages that people are still talking about and where we bonded in ways that were clearly supernatural.

still, it's hard to escape the feeling that this was a spiritual spanking. our final discussions were marked by more division than unity, more heat than light, and all too little grace. nothing is ever wasted in the economy of God, and so i know that somehow, he will redeem it all. now it's time to rest -- then back to the drawing board in prayer, in God's word, and in deeper partnership with one another. please pray for us. the battle is not done.

for our struggle is not against flesh and blood,
but against the rulers,
against the powers,
against the world forces of this darkness,
against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
therefore, take up the full armor of God,
so that you will be able to resist in the evil day,
and having done everything,
to stand firm.
ephesians 6:12-13

Monday, June 01, 2009

church plant training

recently, we were given a wonderful gift. the evangelical covenant church invited us to be a part of their church plant training -- at their expense, with no strings attached, even though the bridge is not a covenant church (though we are covenant friendly!). they offered the trip to me and up to three members of our church. so on may 27, three of us (me, m, and bridge pillar ng) packed up our bags and headed for minneapolis, mn for the four day training.

the training was well-conceived, informative, and very practical. i really wish that i had done this before we started our church, as i am certain that we could have saved a lot of people a lot of trouble! hopefully, the adage is true -- "better late than never."

among the things we learned there:
  • there was a strong emphasis on church planting as a work that depends on God. for that reason, prayer cannot be incidental -- it must be central.
  • they encouraged us to have a single verse or passage that encapsulates our vision and values for the church. they used the hebrew word 'zera' (seed) to communicate this idea of a compact package that carries the entire dna of the new plant -- vision, core values, and even the name of the church can be derived from the zera. it didn't take long to see how this process was better than the complicated and piecemeal one i led our team through.
  • they emphasized the importance of having a church that is evangelistic from the very beginning, and shared statistics that demonstrate that churches that begin this way tend to grow evangelistically, while those who have few converts in their early formation tend to have few throughout the life of the church. sobering stuff. for this reason, they strongly encouraged assembling a launch team that is highly missional and outreach-oriented.
  • they used the metaphor of the lifecycle of a biological plant to describe the necessary phases of a viable church plant: seed (vision and values), roots (a healthy launch team), leaves (preview service stage), branches (strengthening core ministries), fruit (bearing fruit and going public), orchard (becoming a church planting church). the steps and the reasons behind them made a lot of sense. i found this both helpful and painful, as it was not hard to see where we (mostly i) had made glaring mistakes that are costing us.
  • they made the strong case for planting churches that address the emerging reality that america is becoming increasingly post-christian, post-modern, and multi-ethnic. their deep commitment to the whole gospel, reaching the unreached, and missiological flexibility reminded me that i really like the covenant church and want to continue to learn from them.
how we apply these things in a setting where we have already planted, already have a congregation (albeit a small one), and already have a mission and core values is not entirely clear to me. what is clear is that God is calling us to lay down our lives in faith that he will produce a harvest.

unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies
it remains by itself alone
but if it dies
it bears much fruit

john 12:24