Four Years Later, I’m Back! Reflections on the Past and a Vision for the Future

It has been well said that “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”

This pithy quote oversimplifies life because it overlooks important things such as experiences, trials, and most importantly, the grace, providence, and power of God. However, it does give us two helpful categories to consider when reflecting on the past. We are changed at least by these things, though usually by much more.

I last updated this blog back in 2011. There are a few reasons why I went MIA, but just because the blog has been silent, does not mean that nothing has changed or happened. God has been exceedingly kind to me since the last post. I have had the opportunity to read scores of books and meet a host of new people. In many ways, I know I am a much different person now compared to my college days because as Glinda sings, “Who can say if I have been changed for the better? But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” God often uses the people we meet and the books we read as His providential ordinary means of grace to conform us into the image of His Son. Surely all credit for change ultimately returns to God.

So much has happened in the last four years! I graduated from college, moved home, and started working full-time for the government. I was able to spend my first full year (and then some) with my adopted sister. Through many unexpected opportunities, I have been able to grow in my Christian conviction, character, and competencies, though it has not been without challenges.

2015 was a particularly crucial pride-destroying, paradigm-shifting, and competency-honing year. There were definitely a lot of books, many new friends, and a few but substantial doors opened by God. Here are three things that stand out in particular (with pictures!), though many more could be listed:

I experienced a small taste of bi-vocational ministry.

At the beginning of 2015, I stepped into an interim youth director role at one of our church plants which met in the afternoon about 35 minutes from where I live. I had been teaching and preaching there for their combined junior and senior high group between two to three times a month as 2014 came to a close, but transitioned into a role where I taught two Fridays a month and preached three Sundays a month through July. It was the first time I had a chance to go through an entire book of the Bible (Colossians) and I learned a lot, both good and bad, through the process about myself and ministry. I also led the time of singing. I do admit, it is a bit strange to put down the guitar and then say, “If you have your Bibles or smartphones, please turn or swipe with me to …” The youth became very dear to me, and I hope to return to them soon.

preaching at agcc
It was not usually this dark.

This was also a season of life when my work as a government analyst  ramped up. A member of our team left so I moved into the role as the main liaison between the most difficult division in our department and our office during an unusually complicated budget cycle. I learned a lot of technical details related to my position during those seven months and think that helped justify them giving me a leave of absence instead of asking me to resign when I told them I got into an out-of-state program. I recently returned and will be working there for an indefinite amount of time.

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Through all of this, I still attended Chinese Grace Bible Church on Sunday mornings and was committed to a few week night meetings. I served as a ministry intern, a high school small group leader, the occasional youth speaker, and an adult Sunday school teacher.

I am very thankful for the opportunity to expand my capacity to work hard and to be involved in the Lord’s work in this way. I know I will look back and see that God used this season for the good of His people and to prepare me for future endeavors. I have deep suspicions that, for a variety of reasons, bi-vocational and tent-making ministry will become increasingly common in America over the next 10 to 20 years and is a capacity I am open to serving in.

I moved to Portland for a pastoral residency program.

The bi-vocational ministry phase of life came to a rather abrupt halt when I applied and was (surprisingly!) accepted into a four and a half month pastoral residency program at Hinson Baptist Church in Portland. Maybe my time out there will come out in another post since it would take up a disproportionate amount of space in this one, but for now I am comfortable saying that it was a life-changing experience. It was the first time I had moved somewhere where I did not know anyone and my first time in a predominately Caucasian church, but more importantly, my time there left an indelible mark on my philosophy of ministry moving forward.

So what did I do in the program? Many church internships for aspiring pastors put them to work in the church for a small stipend, but Hinson’s program functioned more as a time to marinate in study and observation … for a small stipend! Along with four other guys, we read over 5000 pages on ecclesiology and wrote over 250 pages of papers on various topics. One of the most instructive parts of the program was when we would discuss our papers with the senior pastor, Michael Lawrence, once a week for nearly four hours. He would press us on our analysis and reflections to help close the gaps in our thinking, recognize the weight of the pastoral calling, and see with increasing clarity that the church is God’s plan to make the Gospel visible to the world and the heavenly powers.

hinson residents fun
I was the only guy who wasn’t married in his 30s with kids (three had theological training), but our common bond as aspiring elders and pastors made our fellowship sweet and fun. I had never spent so much time with a group of guys before and count them as dear friends in ministry.
hbc residency books
There are a few books missing, but here is a bulk of our reading. Thankfully, we only had to read some sections out of a few of the books. I reread the entire Harry Potter series while I was out here to maintain my love for recreational reading …
hbc internshi papers
Some guys hinted that they wrote more in four and a half months than in all of seminary combined …

We also attended all elder meetings, staff meetings, and service reviews as well as any kind of workshop, conference, or event the pastors attended/taught/coordinated. I even had the opportunity to co-speak at their youth retreat, which was a blast.

hbc youth retreat
I trust that we were all encouraged. I know I was!

Essentially, we learned about the church as we observed the daily life of pastors committed to working out a particular philosophy of ministry. I am deeply thankful for the vision of Hinson’s leadership to invest their time and resources into future church leaders, most whom will not stay long term at the church. I am confident that the residency program, unlike my bachelors degree, will grow in value as I grow older and serve in ministry.

But ugh … I am decidedly disappointed at how little this section communicates about the program and what I learned, but will conclude here for now. If you have any specific questions about my time here or are even interested in applying for the program, don’t hesitate to contact me~

I gave in and got a smartphone.

I know, I know – I was supposed to be the one to hold out until Jesus’ second coming. This kills me inside. It really does. It feels weird. In some ways, it feels wrong. If this was not such a potentially massive change in lifestyle, it would not have made it into this post. I have been faithfully using the Envy II since I was a senior in high school. I miss using a physical keyboard, having a 315 text inbox, and a more simple lifestyle. Yes, I am aware that I do not need to join Instagram/Snapchat and check sport scores during the sermon, but for me, having a smartphone goes much further than superficial self-discipline. What many fail to recognize is that new technology is not merely additive, rather it is ecological. To illustrate this point, introducing new technology into our lives is never a mere cherry on top of a sundae, rather it is more like a drop of dye in a bottle of water and is shaken afterwards. To quote one of my favorite contemporary philosophers Taylor Swift, “Everything has changed,” for better and for worse.

However if there was any time to make the switch, I think the dusk of 2015, for a number of reasons, was the right time to do it. Hopefully all of my fears will not be realized and I can use this thing well to the glory of God. I am nervous, but hopeful. One of my nonfiction reading niches looks at the effect of technology on human interaction and Christianity, so I am sure this topic will come up many times in this blog’s future if things go according to plan.

So what is possibly going to happen on here moving forward? Well, I have two goals.

  1. I want to write a little on some thoughts and truths that have deeply impacted me that I think could encourage readers, particularly Christians. 
  2. I hope to stretch myself by writing thoughtful interactions with non-religious non-fiction books from a Christian worldview.

It would be weird to write about different people I have met on a blog – I figure it is much safer to talk about books I have finished. The internet is filled with Christian book reviews and recommendations from Christians to Christians, so you won’t find a lot of that here unless something really stands out. I think I have an unusual appetite and growing curiosity to explore topics beyond theology, yet we know there is no subject in the world untouched by the lordship of Christ. I want my posts to address the unspoken interaction but important relationship between the Gospel and culture/history.

Nonfiction reading has changed me more than I know and challenges me to think spiritually. I hope this exercise will help me be a more attentive reader, a more discerning Christian, and deo volente, a clearer communicator and an encouragement to the church.

It is good to be back, though I have no idea how long my stay will be. Here goes nothing. Happy 2016!

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