The Lie Of Racism

It is absurd to me that in 2021 we still have to speak out against racism and violence toward people based on their ethnicity. I grieve with and for the families of those killed in the shootings this past week in Atlanta. Regardless of the motivation of the killer, the impact of these killings for the Asian-American community is profound. Combined with the rise in hostility and violence toward Asian-Americans this past year, the effect is that it feels like we are under attack, and that I or anyone of my ethnicity could be victimized in this present societal climate.

As a Christian, I know that this violence and hatred is based on a lie. The lie is that certain people groups are less than other people groups. I know from Scripture that all people have a common ancestor, that we are originally one race. Cultures are different, but all people are made in the image of God and therefore have divine worth. This means we all have the right to life and dignity. A person is not less human than I am just because they are different.

In Christ, there is hope for unity. Just as the early Christian movement brought together Jews and Gentiles, male and female, slave and free and made them one in Christ, I believe that the best hope for equality and unity in our time is Jesus and his church. But it isn’t automatic and it won’t be easy. Let us look to root out the sin of racism in our own hearts, in our own families, in our own church.
It’s not just racism. We are a nation plagued by sexual immorality, violence, and division. The consequences of these sins is dire. The cost is human lives. These people had a right to live:

Daoyou Feng

Hyun Jung Grant

Suncha Kim

Paul Andre Michels

Soon Chung Park

Xiaojie Tan

Delaina Ashley Yaun

Yong Yue

Their right was snatched away through violence enabled by the dehumanizing effect of sin. The fact that the killer was religious shows us that even in the church, sin continues to lurk.

Let us do the hard work of true repentance and of prayer for one another. But even more, we need to constantly live in the freedom, grace and truth that Christ offers. Let us fight hatred with love. Let us turn back darkness with light.

-Pastor Steve

Presence And In-Person Worship

Coming Back to In-Person Worship

One of the things many of us really miss during this pandemic is simply physically being with other people. I think this is a huge motivator for why people want to come back to in-person worship. As good as the online video experience has been, it will never be a substitute for being three feet away from another person, seeing them in 3D, hearing their voice (the actual soundwaves coming out of their mouths, not just a digital representation through headphones), and being able to shake their hands or give them a hug.

When we took a poll via our email newsletter a short while ago, over 80% of people responding said they would come back to in-person worship if we opened back up. It was clear that most people are ready to worship back in the sanctuary. Consequently, our Church Council formed a task force to come up with a plan for how to do that safely.

But when the task force began the conversation about what “coming back” would look like, we realized that there were still a lot of moving pieces to account for that could really change what in-person worship would look like. As of right now, the powers that be are still recommending that we do not sing during worship. As of right now, unless the state and county say differently in the next couple of weeks, we will still be masked up, distanced, and avoiding contact.

So what would be the draw of coming in person? Why is it that people would still take the trouble to get out of their pajamas and make the drive to the church campus to worship? I think it mainly comes back to this idea of PRESENCE.


There are a couple of ways to think about presence. For one, as I said in the beginning, people miss being physically present with each other. But there is also the reality of the presence of God, the experience of being present in a sacred space for a sacred purpose with other people of like mind.

Now, on the one hand, God is present everywhere. The Psalmist writes,

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7, ESV)

The answer is, “nowhere.” There is nowhere we can go to remove ourselves from the presence of God. So God is present in our homes. God is present on Facebook Live or YouTube Live or Zoom. God is present when we’re driving down the street. God is always with us. The problem is, we’re not always present with God.

I’m sure you’ve seen a group of friends eating together at a table in a restaurant (back when this was a more common occurrence), but they’re all on their phones. You wonder, “Why are they even together?” They are technically present with each other, but they’re not truly present. They’re somewhere else, on Instagram or in a chat app, engaging with someone else besides the people they are physically present with. And so while yes, the presence of God is everywhere (praise God for that!), we’re not always aware of his presence. It takes intentionality of will to get off our phones and be present with God.

And this demonstrates a deeper reality of God’s presence. Jesus said,

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20, ESV).

While God is everywhere, there is a sense in which he is especially present when we gather intentionally in the name of Jesus. Christ is present when we are present with one another in his name. Now yes, this can and does happen online. But the fullest expression of this will always be when we are bodily present AND spiritually present. Contrary to what people might think, the Christian faith is not abstract and intangible. It’s flesh and blood. It’s holistic and integrated. It invites the engagement of the whole person, all of us with all of God. I think that is what we are missing, and what we are looking forward to when we think about resuming in-person worship. It’s about being present, physically and spiritually, as whole persons, with one another and with God.

Worship in the New Normal

What exactly that will look like is secondary. Maybe we’ll be able to sing. Maybe we won’t. Maybe we’ll be six feet apart. Maybe we’ll be shoulder to shoulder. Who knows what the world will look like next month? The point is, and the important thing is, that we are present with God and with one another, that we can experience and feel the tangible glory of God settling on us during praise, or feel the rising communal conviction as we hear from the Word of God. It reminds us that God is real, that people are real, that we are real.

The task force continues its work of preparing safety protocols for in-person worship. But because things are fluid and changing, it is difficult to pin down an exact re-launch date at this time. We realized that there’s no rush, because as much as in-person worship is coming back, online worship is not going away. In fact, the online space will continue to be a growth area and a mission field. We realize that many people will permanently worship online, or primarily worship online, coming in-person occasionally. And we have to be ready for all of those scenarios. We want to make worship, whether in-person or online, a great experience, and we want to figure out how to integrate the two more.

These are confusing and exciting times. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know that things are going to change. And we have a rare opportunity to figure out what that change is going to look like as we reimagine worship and the church with God. The good news is, no matter what, God will be with us, always and everywhere.

Churches Are Essential

President Trump just announced that he considers churches to be essential.

I’m glad for that. I believe they are. I believe nothing is more important than our relationship with God and with one another. I believe that matters of the spirit affect all of life in profound ways. When we are strong and healthy in spirit, we can have healthy societies and lives.

With that being said, I want to urge us to be wise in how we proceed. We should be led not just by the president, but by the love of Christ, the Spirit of God, and with wise council, including heeding the guidance of medical and scientific professionals.

I look forward to worshiping in-person. However, I have also been enjoying worshiping online. Each has its own strengths. The online experience is diminished in some ways but enhanced in other ways. We are reaching more people than we did when we met primarily in person. Our understanding of church and the possibilities of mission are expanding. We are experiencing creativity and innovation in how we share our faith. As odd as it may seem, I do not feel less connected as a congregation, just differently connected.

If we were to restart in-person worship immediately, it would be with strict distancing guidelines. We would be six feet apart. There would be no mingling or fellowship time before or after worship. There would be no congregational singing or live band. Everyone would be in masks. People over 65 would be urged to not attend. Children in worship would be difficult to have. It would be such a diminished experience, I would actually prefer to worship online at that point.

Then there is the matter of witness to the world around us, to our neighbors. What does it communicate if we rush to reopen and people become sick? I think this would be harmful to Christ’s reputation in the world.

The fact of the matter is, we are not closed as a church. We are still worshiping. We are still helping those who are struggling and hungry around us. We are still meeting in online home groups. We still have Bible studies. When we are able to understand church as spiritual connection rather than as simply geographical gathering, we realize that the church can still be the church without a building.

Nothing will replace in-person worship and fellowship. We need this. But we will proceed with wisdom and love rather than just our own need to gather. I hope we can gather soon. We will prepare the sanctuary to reconvene and think through the guidelines we will put in place to do so. But let’s not rush this.

Praise God that we live in a nation where we can worship freely. I praise God that churches still have an essential place in our society. I rejoice because there are still people of faith all over our nation. May we all make ready to move forward into a new and better normal by the Spirit of Jesus.

Reflections on Annual Conference 2022

Reflections on Annual Conference 2022

It is always a sad and sobering portion of Annual Conference when the vote comes up to discontinue churches. This year, the Annual Conference voted to close El Monte First United Methodist Church and First United Methodist Church of Huntington Beach, otherwise known as Surf City United Methodist Church.

El Monte First UMC had been in decline for the past fifty years. Eventually, the congregation was less than twenty people worshiping in a sanctuary built for three-hundred. They decided to discontinue as a ministry and the Annual Conference confirmed this by vote in a plenary session.

Surf City UMC did not want to decline or close. They wanted to find ways to be a vital congregation. However, they did not have a clear sense of purpose beyond survival, and without a sense of purpose bigger than itself, a church cannot, and perhaps should not, continue.

We will probably see more and more churches be discontinued over the next few years. But the hope is that as some churches close, others will receive assets and resources that are freed up in order to continue to grow in vital ministry. We are in a season of continuing transition. The churches that will survive and thrive are those that have a clear sense of purpose bigger than themselves.

In other news, we have elected three candidates for consideration as part of a new class of bishops in our denomination. They are the Revs. Dr. Cedrick Bridgeforth, Sandra Olewine, and Dr. Tom Choi. Many of you may know Pastor Tom as one of the previous pastors of this congregation when it was Los Angeles KUMC and Ascension Ministry. Please pray that the voting bodies will have God’s discernment in electing our new bishops.

I will continue to be at Annual Conference in Costa Mesa. It is different this year as it is a hybrid online and in-person event. Many people will be completely online while others will be in-person and online. It is reflective of a new-normal for society as this is how many of us in this country are doing pretty much everything, whether it is work or play or shopping.

May God guide his church to continue to adapt and change as society changes, while remaining faithful to the unchanging truths of his word.

This upcoming Sunday, June 5

It’s Pentecost Sunday, a day where we celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit to the church. We are praying that God’s power and presence would be filling the worship time and that each person that comes will experience God in a living way. We will have a special testimony as well that we believe will be a blessing to you. We will celebrate Holy Communion together so be sure to come in person if you are able, share in the fellowship of God with his people through the Holy Spirit.