Church, Culture, Justice, Politics

Photo Journal: My trip to Israel & Palestine

I visited Israel & Palestine this past June during my sabbatical. What I saw, experienced, and learned opened my eyes and heart in a way few trips ever have.

This wasn’t a pilgrimage per se. But as a student of the Bible, I was interested in exploring the lands where the biblical stories unfolded. But also as a lover of history and politics, I also wanted to learn more about the reality Israel and Palestine. Even by calling it ‘Palestine’, I am making a political statement. My tour guide, Sami, was a Jerusalem-born Palestinian Christian—a double minority—and I’m grateful for his invitation to see his home through his rare eyes.

If you’ve been following me on Instagram, this is just a compilation of my posts…

You’ll notice I began my trip feeling more like a tourist. Please also forgive the occasional Warriors posts—this was during the NBA Finals! Notice also my strong Anabaptist bent as I visit these illustrious church buildings and shrines. And my poor Instagram skills. But as the pictures progress, you will see how my experience evolved.


Church, Culture, Politics

Thanksgiving in a Divided World

Those who say our country is more divided than ever forget that there was this little thing called the Civil War. The Civil War is the bloodiest war we’ve ever fought. And 11 states so detested Lincoln that they literally seceded. Talk about #notmypresident.

But in 1863, Lincoln did something remarkable. For the first time ever, he issued a national day of Thanksgiving. States had their own days, which were different. But this was the first national one.

Why was this remarkable? We were in the midst of a frickin’ Civil War! And 1863 was the bloodiest year of the war; and victory was still uncertain. Even so, Lincoln called on the nation to give God thanks for the relative peace and abundance that existed outside of the theatres of civil conflict. This wasn’t just silver lining, this was fact.

I personally don’t know if our country will ever be as united as we think it should. I hope for it, but honestly, I don’t know.

But I do know that Jesus commands the Church to be one. That’s right, we are called to be one with the brothers and sisters we like, but also the elitist or racist ones we don’t; who’ve hurt us. It’s messy business; individuals and communities have to listen, forgive, and change. And in the absence of change, we will have to love Jesus enough to accept each other. It’s hard work, but it’s not optional.

And Church family, if we can’t be one, don’t even dare ask our Nation to be one. But if we can figure out this unity thing in Jesus, what a gift that’d be to our country!

But being one must start with the heart, with desire. And I can think of few things that soften our hearts towards God and one another as Gratitude. And so…

I thank God, that despite this bitter election, we will have a peaceful transition of power and relative unity compared to so many other nations.

I thank God, that despite the continued fascination of the American church with political and economic power, we still lead great work in caring for the poor, the unborn, refugees, those in prison, those in forced labor, those affected by natural disasters, those suffering grave injustices, those who don’t yet believe, etc. in the US and abroad.

I thank God for my neighbors.

I thank God for all the unspectacular believers who will never make the news and who have no illusions of “making a difference”, but still made daily choices this year to love their families, to be good neighbors, to stand up to bullies, to share the gospel in word and deed.

I thank God for the Warriors and Andre Ward! And the many local and national diversions and sources of even temporary happiness that are available to us and all people regardless of their station in life.

I thank God for daily bread, clothes to wear, roof over my head, and indoor plumbing. And enough that we were able to replace some broken items this year.

I thank God for my church. We love each other. We’re small but strong in faith, hope, and love. Why our footprint is bigger than our foot, I can only credit Jesus.

I thank God for the Dragon’s Den. You’re my third family. You’re OUR third family. RIP Sifu Nico.

I thank God he called me to be a pastor. I’ve never felt the burden, but also the privilege of that as much as this year.

I thank God for my family. My wife still likes me. My kids still look up to me. These are miracles! My parents, siblings, and in-laws—we have great relationships. This is a blessing.

“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.” —Abe

What do you thank God for?

Church, Culture, Politics

Trump is Elected: A letter to our church

Dear Great Exchange Church,

America is not the kingdom of God. And this election had reminded us of that.

I’d like to warn us of two dangers and offer a few thoughts on what it means to live under Jesus as king.

First, if your candidate won, you have reason to rejoice, but I caution against over-jubilation.

I came to Christ at a church that identified Christianity with a certain brand of conservative politics. And it was dangerous because it breeded hypocrisy, made us blind to injustice, but mostly because it caught us up in a narrative that if only we took America back for God, by voting for the right leaders or laws, then God would bless us or he’d make America great again.

This of course should have made us ask when did this country belong to God? When we slaughtered natives and stole their lands? When we enshrined slavery into the Constitution? Or when we preserved the subordination of women? Or when we excluded Chinese or interned Japanese-Americans? America is a great nation for a host of reasons, and has produced some truly great Christian leaders, but we should always be wary of selectively nostalgic tellings of history. And even if it was great, was it great for everybody or even most people?

In any case, this political view encouraged us to seek worldly power in order to make America into God’s kingdom (again). It is not. So if your candidate won, you may have reason to celebrate, but this man is only our president, he is not our king. And our hope is not in what we can make of this nation.

But for those who are dismayed by the election of Donald Trump, I also caution against too much despair, or too much “if only…” thinking. The Christian left on the face of it seems like a good corrective to the Christian right. But the error is the same, but instead of placing our hopes in a conservative America, it’s placing our hopes in a progressive America. If only we had enough social justice, or more progressive leaders or laws, then God would bless us. And the Christian left can be just as power hungry.

Being sad or angry is justifiable. But being overly dismayed suggests that our hopes are pinned too tightly to the politics of this world.

I do believe Mr. Trump poses a special danger to our country and the least of these. But we should not be surprised when our nation or it’s leaders disappoints us.

And if we needed further proof that we can’t place too much hope in our country’s politics: Without much notice, assisted suicide is now legal in California for the terminally ill – including those who are mentally ill. And the death penalty was reaffirmed by a majority of voters. Brothers and sisters, this is not what the kingdom of God looks like.

Does this mean then that we should withdraw from public citizenship and focus only on “spiritual” things? No. We should still engage our world to the best of our ability, but as people whose primary citizenship is in God’s kingdom, not America’s. We are called to live in this world well, incarnationally, but knowing full well we don’t ultimately belong to it’s leaders, or its politics.

So what does it look like to live under the kingship of Jesus in this nation?

1. Pray for President-Elect Trump and his Administraton.

2. Seek the Common Good. What’s good for all, especially the most vulnerable, will ultimately be good for you. Buck the political trends of fear and self-interest. Both Jeremiah and Paul taught us to seek the peace of our city because peace floats all boats. And peace promotes the flourishing of the gospel. And it’s an expression of loving our neighbor like good Samaritans.

3. Be a Prophet of Peace. The work of peace will sometimes call you to speak up, to take a stand, or even take action. Worshiping Jesus as King is dangerous business. Don’t be afraid. Do it peacefully. But be aware what kings have historically done to prophets.

4. Build the Church and Your Family. The early Christians of the Bible didn’t and most Christians today still don’t live in democracies. Most were and still live under persecution. Most had no access to the levers of political power. Let’s not be so full of ourselves. Building good or just societies are outside the reach of most Christians. We should do it. But our primary calling isn’t to build America but to build the church. Jesus said that our unity and sacrificial love is what will inspire social change. But unity and love is hard work, even harder when we have differing political views in a divided country.

And the same applies to our marriages and families. Don’t underestimate the power of a Christ-like marriage or making little rascals for Jesus.

Advent is just around the corner. And Advent means the coming of our King. Let’s prepare the way by waiting not for some president or some law, but by watching out for our King—and living like it.

Pastor Brian

Church, Culture, Politics

How Christians Should Vote

As a (non-white) evangelical pastor, it’s not uncommon for me to see stuff on my feed about “how Christians should vote.” But this is actually a strange and complicated question. Let me rattle off a bunch of reasons:

1. Voting was not even in the imagination of the early believers. Christians, like most people in those days (and most people today!) didn’t choose their rulers. Most people in history were slaves or peasants.

2. Not only did Bible-time Christians not have the right to vote, most were persecuted; the opposite of political power.

3. Around 300 AD, when Christians finally got political power by some wacked stuff that happened to the Emperor Constantine (He saw a vision of the Cross leading him into battle—which, guys, the cross was how Jesus was killed, not how he will kill others! Hence: whacked), the Church lost its identity and we ended up with fancy clergy and churches and crusades. That’s why people became monks, to disconnect from the system.

4. There are really just two types of passages in the New Testament (NT) that speak about the rulers.

4.1. Those that ask us to pray for peace and live lives of peace. You can tell these guys were living under hostile governments. The idea is: If there is peace for everyone else, there will be peace for us and peace for the gospel to flourish.

4.2. Those that are critical of rulers for being cocky, oppressive, and persecuting. But even for these people, the idea was never “vote them out of office”, because, again, that didn’t exist. Instead, prophets wrote poems for the people to recite that promised these rulers would one day meet their Maker. Most Christians believed that justice was out of their hands (they had no power), but that the God of Justice would one day make things right.

5. The NT never thought about how to establish a Christian society (whereas the OT did, a Jewish one). The NT was about strengthening a viral network of tiny little living room societies, called churches, who were a part of something much bigger: God’s Kingdom.

6. The clarion call of the NT is not whom we should vote for, but simply that Jesus is Lord. And in a world that said Caesar is Lord, it’s no wonder the early Christians were deemed disloyal and even unpatriotic.


With the above in mind, I think we need to be much more humble and honest about the reasons for our vote.

Christians, most likely, you are voting the way you vote because of where you live. Or because of the media you consume. Or because of your demographics. Or your education. Or just because you’re liberal, moderate, or conservative. Not purely because of the Bible. If I’m honest, that’s true for me. Check it.

We are just as prone to voting for self-interest as anyone else. Check it.

At our best, we vote as an expression of loving God and loving our neighbors. But in reality, it’s not always that clear which is the more loving choice.

And there’s always the law of unintended consequences. Politicians lie. Or discover governing isn’t like campaigning. Or laws look different in practice than on paper.

I believe we should take our votes seriously. I believe as members of a democratic society, we should do our best to build a better society. I believe we should debate. And I do believe (collectively), our votes can make a difference. But as the late Rich Mullins once sang, “O, we are not as strong as we think we are.”

So I believe, if we want to take a biblical perspective, these three things remain:
1. Pray for peace and live like it
2. Love your neighbor like a Good Samaritan
3. Seek God’s Kingdom first

Church, Culture, Justice, Parenting, Race, Spirituality, Theology

Review: At Home in Exile by Russell Jeung

This is a truly unique book. And the best book I’ve read this year. Part memoir / sociology / theology / Asian corny hilariousness. It’s funny, it’s educational, it’s deeply moving.

Russell moves into and ultimately finds home in the Murder Dubs of Oakland. But it’s not a triumphant American superhero story. Nor is it a sappy romance about ‘the poor.’ It’s a complex, humble story about how he found community, identity, and ultimately Jesus in his mostly Cambodia refugee & Latino neighborhood.

It’s a story that asks: What if Jesus wasn’t as much an American superhero, but more like a Chinese Hakka exile (his ancestors)? What if Jesus was more like my Chinatown grandma than that powerful hipster pastor I’m always jealous of? He re-explores things like MISSION, JUSTICE, COMMUNITY, FAMILY & CALLING through this lens.

I finished this book richly proud of my Chinese ancestry, broken over the plight of disenfranchised non-model-minority Asians in the Bay Area, hopeful about what God is still doing through amazing yet mostly “invisible” people, but challenged to live my faith in a way that may run counter to the power and reward structures of our world.

Church, Culture, Race

I’ve been asked if I know Francis Chan. And the answer is: As well as I know Jeremy Lin.

Recently, there’s a been a spate of incidences that have made a number of us Asian American Christians feel…not 100% part of the Body of Christ.  And so in response, this open letter has been circulating (click to view & sign):


Rachel Held Evans, a prolific Christian blogger, who is white, has posted this letter as well and has been asking Asians to share about their experiences.  Here’s what I wrote:

I’ve been asked if I know Francis Chan. And the answer is: As well as I know Jeremy Lin.

I’ve been asked why “you guys” only hang out with other Asians. Or what’s up with the “Asian invasion”. Which is such an interesting question from my now-enlightened white Christian friends.

I’ve been treated as the “Asian friend” (c.f., the gay friend, the black friend, etc.). It’s a little weird being a relational accessory. Curiously, I get this more often from my enlightened liberal friends.

I’ve had white friends demonstrate their faux-rage at how deeply offended THEY are at bigotry towards Asians. It’s great to have empathetic friends; but at times, it feels like they’re over-compensating.

Occasionally, it’s riled me up. More often, it offends or elicits a quiet eye roll. The reality is that if you are used to being the dominant culture – it’s hard to see the people and the world in any other way. E.g., I am a male, most of the time I am just enjoying my male privilege without a thought. This is why I appreciate Louis C.K.’s bit on how he loves being a white male – so honest and yet provocative.

So while I pray and seek dialogue for the sake of inclusion and righteousness, I realize that we need patience and the Spirit’s power – it’s hard to see past your own experience (especially if you’re used to being in charge).

I support this letter because it is honest, firm, and still loving. I’m not generally convinced it’s particularly Jesus-like to DEMAND justice and mercy; better to DO justice and mercy. And pray that the Spirit will use our Christ-honoring means to bring about a Christ-glorifying end.

Church, Culture

Jumping back in

I used to blog all the time. As in at least daily. That was years ago. The reasons…well, I’m not sure it was a 100% conscious choice. But that’s another story.

But I’d like to jump back in, not because I miss the intellectual exhibitionism, but because I miss having the same level of creative conversation as I enjoyed years back when I was more e-prolific.

So with that somewhat unnecessary preface, the thing that’s been on my mind for a while is the changing cultural landscape of suburbia. And more specific to that, it makes me think of how that impacts how we envision what a follower of Jesus would like like in this emerging suburbia…as well as what does outreach/mission look like in this changing landscape?

I used to hear people bash suburbs all the time as this disgustingly vanilla mass of homogeneity, of settled boredom, and whatnot. And hey, there’s still some truth to that. But in my corner of suburbia, I’ve noticed an accelerating “urbanization”. First of all, in the Tri-City alone, 80-120 different languages are represented. There are very few good “American” restaurants, but we have amazing Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Mexican, Afghan, Filipino cuisine, among others. And within those cuisines, there is rather broad range of diversity. Second, there is a much greater mixture of low-income and high-income than most people realize. From my house, for example, a 1-minute drive will take me to both the most expensive as well as the most dilapidated low-income house in the city. My local Safeway plaza is quite literally every bit as diverse in every sense as any urban public space I’ve been in. Third, with a constant influx of new residents from other parts of the state, nation, and the world…and residents who are commuting to Silicon Valley, SF, and often times travelling abroad quite frequently, we have a population of people who have an increasingly larger worldview. Fourth, city planners are trying to re-craft suburban life more into high density centers, modeled after urban living. Near my house, for example, the plan is to create a city center that has four major public transit hubs, downtown-style retail, business space, apartments, lofts, parks, library, and other shopping stuff all together within walking distance of each other. I could go on, but you probably get the picture.

Back to my point, I think that there are challenges and opportunities in the life of a disciple that we don’t often explore. But I haven’t had that many people to think through this idea with, so I’m not really sure what those things are.

And I think that evangelism in this context is incredibly challenging. But, again, something that is rarely addressed because most talk on evangelism either assumes you’re a hip city-dwelling bohemian…or a boring clone in a homogeneous suburb.

Looking for more interesting conversation…