Mexicali 2015: Team Bethel

My daughter just returned from a short term missions trip in Mexicali, Mexico. Below is the lip dub they made to remember the trip. Great job, Team Bethel!

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He Knows My Name

Some years ago, worship leader, Tommy Walker, wrote a wonderful song called, “He Knows My Name.” Below is the story of what inspired the lyrics.

The story behind the writing of “He Knows My Name” is one example of what God can do if we will follow through in obedience to Him. My pastor, Mark Pickerill, wrote a sermon of the same name and asked me to write a song to go with it. In the process, I thought it was turning out to be one of the worst songs I had ever written, but I just went ahead and finished it, knowing the greatest enemy of songwriters is unfinished songs. I also kept going because I had the sense in that moment that this would be a simple act of obedience to God. The inspiring part of the story is the testimonies of people all over the world that have been touched by my feeble little act of finishing what I started.

In 1997, I met a 7 year old orphan in the Philippines named Jerry. Everyday he would ask me, “Tommy, what’s my name?” I have to say, not many people on this earth knew this abandoned, extremely poor boy’s name — but I got to tell him that someone much greater then me did and I got to sing to him and many of his orphan friends this song. In the end I turned the song into a prayer saying let the abandoned, nameless, friendless and forgotten say… “He knows my name!” There is nothing more powerful then to know and declare that the God of heaven knows us and loves us…

Below are two videos of the song performed. The first one is of Tommy Walker singing it and the second one is of orphans with special needs singing it in China. Frankly, I prefer the second one. Sounds much sweeter.

Be sure to watch until the 26-second mark when their voices join in unison. By the way, the cute little one in the front row, sporting the yellow pants is my daughter Eden six years before she became to be a part of our family. Proud Daddy moment. Humor me…

The Best thing I ever ate: Butterball



No, it’s not a turkey. It’s a delectable dessert baked fresh every day at one of my favorite local bakeries, Some Crust in Claremont, CA. It might look like an ordinary cookie but don’t let it’s modest appearance fool you.

The texture of this golden medallion is hard to describe. It’s firm outer crust protects a rich, yet light inner shortbread-like cake laced with a faint vanilla sweetness. If you’ve ever eaten a homemade madeleine cookie, it’s very similar but more cookie-like. Despite having the word “butter” in it’s name, the butterball is not oily or dense. Yet, when you take a bite, the cookie literally melts in your mouth blending perfectly with the powdered sugar that dusts the entire dessert. Some Crust’s selection of “Monkey & Son” dark, rich coffee complements the butterball perfectly.


I must admit that the overall experience of eating at Some Crust might enhance the flavor of anything I eat there. It’s a classic establishment that has been serving the community since 1916 and the owners have done well to preserve its original personality. I like places like this. Places that have history and character. I don’t mind paying slightly more to have a treat here rather than at a large franchise bakery like Panera Bread.

Whenever and wherever I travel, I always want to eat where the locals eat not only because it’s usually more authentic and tasty but also because it subtly connects me with the location’s past and present culture. Some Crust is strategically located in the quaint side of Claremont appropriately called “the Village.” The Village attracts many students and professors since it’s only a five minute walk south of the renown Claremont Colleges. Some Crust Bakery is a favorite local hangout for many of them. Over time, it’s become one of my favorite places to study and has recently become a favorite place to bring a “study buddy” from home.


There might be better desserts out there but none with such a great name with a perfect texture and blend of flavor served in such a uniquely charming location. All of which helps to make the butterball the best thing I ever ate

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DSC00080This is Rudy. Obviously, he was ecstatic to have his picture taken. I have always enjoyed photography but recently my interest has narrowed to focus more on street photography. Since I will be doing more traveling in the near future, I wanted to learn how to creatively capture the people, culture, architecture, landscape and even animals that I encounter. I am definitely not a professional but have enjoyed learning a new technique and creative perspective. One of my favorite street photo blogs is by Eric Kim. He has a depth of knowledge and shares it in a down-to-earth way.

Classic photojournalism is shot from a 35mm perspective. There is a reason the old film rangefinders would come standard with a fixed 35mm lens often with a max 1.8 aperture. It was unassuming, fast and able to capture people in the context of their natural environment. I am currently using a 30mm f2.8 pancake lens attached to a compact mirrorless body for my street photography. It’s the closest I could come to a small 35mm given my limited parameters of size and budget.

It’s easy to get caught up with the equipment but in the end it always comes down to the image. How can you capture your environment in a way that is both accurate and memorable? For a very brief time, I was interested in shooting landscapes but lost interest in capturing backdrops without people. After having children, I was interested in shooting close-ups and portraits. But again, over time I lost interest because cute faces are nice but eventually I wanted to remember the circumstances surrounding the photo. What makes street photography unique is that it records people in context. Context is vitally important. Without it, we fail to capture the moment because life doesn’t unfold in a vacuum.

Take for example, Rudy. His face is very ordinary but captured in full context, it makes for a more meaningful picture. He’s tightly tethered to his owner’s chair on a busy street where no one’s paying attention to him. No wonder he looks that way!

RudyContext is key not only for photography but also for growing in love. Love always has a context. This may not sound profound, but it is for me. Subconsciously, I assumed growing in love happened instantly and quietly, almost in private. That if I simply asked God to make me more loving, he would somehow pour “love juice” in me and “tada!,” I’d be instantly compassionate. But love rarely develops that way. It forms within a tapestry of people and relationships. More specifically, it mushrooms in the tension and conflict of these relationships.

If a tender heart is my prayerful desire, then the Father will often allow me to be in relationships where love is not natural or easy. This is not limited to my enemies but most often includes my closest friends. No matter how good the relationship is, eventually there will be tension. Suffering in relationships is love’s context. At times, my contexts have included, adoption, marriage, fatherhood, pastoring, sonship, brotherhood and friendship.

This paradox makes love feel awkward. The harder things get, the more I realize how loving I am not. The more I realize this, the more discouraged I get. The more discouraged I get, the more frustrated I get that God is apparently not answering my prayer. Yet, it is when I finally come to the end of myself that I truly begin to beg for God’s love to flow through me. Owning my inability is an invitation for God’s love to slowly fill the deep voids of my heart with that which I lack desperately. Surprisingly, it’s just when I think my heart is hopelessly wilted that God’s love sprouts from the ashes of my scarcity.

This shouldn’t surprise us. God’s love for us was not sealed in a Heavenly vacuum. The context of the Father’s love was the pain of this broken world. God became flesh and dwelt among us. He lived with us. He suffered like us. He died for us. So if we want to love like He does, then why wouldn’t our path be similar to his? Why wouldn’t it include suffering, sacrifice and surrender? This is the way of the gospel. It is the shape of love.

What I appreciate about street photography is that every day life is the backdrop. Rather than a clouded studio background, street photography captures people in everyday settings. While it is nice to have photos of birthdays, weddings and trips to Disneyland, those moments are not what fills out most of life. Street photography forces us to stop and remember the unique gifts of the ordinary in life. In that case, every moment can be a special occasion worth capturing.

Because love bubbles up in the affairs of daily irritations and annoying conflicts, growth can happen anywhere and anytime. All of life can be the context for God’s love to grow in you. In fact, in the most trying seasons, growth can be subversively continuous. No wonder it’s so exhausting! If you’re currently in one of those seasons, remember what may feel like a problem may very well be God’s answer to your prayers. Rather than fight it, instead embrace it. It might be the context of love God has tailored just for you.

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Conferencing Tuxedo

Photo on 2-23-15 at 10.55 AMHere is a a preview of how I will be dressed for my next video conference call. Why so debonair? Why not? I have a job with an important, world-wide ministry. In fact, I’m going to suggest that tuxedos become standard issue at seeJesus.

What’s that you ask? No, there’s nothing fishy going on. What do you mean my tux looks a little “flat”? I like my suits pressed…heh, heh. It’s a little too uniform? No, it’s not a uniform!…It’s um…a tuxedo…a tuxedo conferencing bib. Yes, it is!


Photo on 2-23-15 at 10.59 AM #2OK, not quite all is what it seems. After reading my last blog post, my mom happen to see this bib online and just had to get it for me. It is literally an adult bib for mealtime made of water-resistant, terrycloth but she thought it would serve me well as my new conferencing bib. I will probably need to use it in both ways.

When I got dressed this morning in my bib, my children laughed and were wondering where I was going. I told them “to work, where else?” Wow! Just one more perk of working at home in a virtual world. Thanks Mom!

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Conferencing Bib

With my new job at seeJesus, I have been doing more and more phone and video conferencing. Some friends (all guys) have joked that I just need a “conferencing bib” for online meetings and the rest of the day I can look any way I want. Thanks be to God for giving me a wife who insists that I continue to dress and smell decently while working in my “corner office” partly for the sake of simple decency and partly for the sake of the others who still “work” downstairs in the same “building.” If it wasn’t for Sonia, I’d probably end up like John Clayton at ESPN.

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Learning From Sam

My wife’s brother, Sam, has a cognitive delay. I have written about his specific limitations in the past, so I won’t revisit the details. An over-simplified description (not diagnosis) is that Sam is high functioning in many ways but has a simplified perspective of the world similar to that of a young teenager.

I don’t see Sam often as we’re separated by 400 miles of California coastland but when I do, we often go out for coffee or breakfast to “socialize” (as he likes to put it ). Sam is very open about his struggles, fears, likes and dislikes. In many ways, I considered our times together as an informal opportunity for me to disciple him but over the past eighteen years, I realize more often the roles are reversed. In Sam’s child-like faith, he disciples me.

Pastor Lee Jong-rak of the famed “Drop Box” says,

“Disabled children teach many people, change many people, and help people reflect upon themselves, which is why they are the educators of society.”

Sam is not a child but he is disabled and he is an educator. He teaches me to slow down. He teaches me core theology. He teaches me to be child-like that I might inherit the kingdom. He teaches me to worship.


First time I met Sam…oh, so long ago

Yesterday, Sam tutored me in the car while we were driving to pick up his brother from the airport. He was feeling really bad about a reoccurring sin that he currently wrestles with. He said, “I don’t know why I keep doing that (sin)! I don’t want to do it but I do.” Sam has read the entire Bible many times so Romans 7 could have been flowing from his heart or his memory. Either way, I could identify with his frustration with the old self. Sam wondered out loud if his sins were really forgiven even though he does the same thing over and over again. I reminded him that grace, not works, saves and secures his salvation. That was the limited extent of my discipling. Then we subtly switched roles.

Sam: “I think maybe because I’m slow, I can’t understand why God would keep forgiving me over and over and over again.”
Me: “It’s not because you’re slow, I think most Christians, including me, have a hard time believing that.”

Sam: “Yeah, a normal person wouldn’t do that. If I hurt another person over and over again, he would stop forgiving me a long time ago.”
Me: “You’re right.”

Sam: “That’s just craa…”
Me: “Crazy? That’s crazy?”

Sam: “Yeah, that’s just crazy love!” (no need to read Francis Chan, Sam already gets it)
Me: “It is! Do you realize when we were singing ‘Amazing Grace’ yesterday, that’s what we were singing about?”

Sam: “Yeah…”(looking off into the distance)

Sam looked pleased. It was the satisfied look of child-like wonder. Like rediscovering the vibrant beauty of a rainbow following a few rainy days. His response moved me to pause, look up in the sky and worship as well.

Yesterday, Sam taught me that God’s grace IS truly amazing. That His forgiveness is NOT normal. And that His love is just PLAIN crazy! As he did so, I discovered that a mini-van on the 101 fwy could be sacred space if I would just allow God to disciple me through the faith of my brother-in-law. Too often, I am too busy and too informed to behold God’s greatness in everyday life. I thank the Father that He sent Sam into my life to gently shame my shallow wisdom that I might rediscover the beauty of His grace. I can’t wait to see what Sam will teach me next…

(By the way, Sam gave me full permission to share our conversation. Thanks, Sam!)

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The Corner Office

I never had aspirations to make it big in the corporate world, but even I know the underlying goal is to eventually get the corner office with the windows on the top floor of the building. Today, I have achieved that goal! Behold, the glorious seeJesus office on the West Coast! (cue the triumphant trumpets)


Thanks to my wife and daughter who made today festive!

Yes, it’s not in a skyscraper but it is on the top floor of my building. Nevermind that it’s on the second floor and happens to share the same address as my primary residence. Yes, it’s not a space used exclusively for office purposes. It’s more of a “multi-purpose” room. What’s that in the bottom left corner of the picture? Part of a bed frame? So, maybe it is. OK, not quite what corporate America had in mind but I am happy with my new office. It’s easy to get to. There’s no traffic, unless there’s the occasional dirty laundry on the floor that I have to step over.

It has everything I need to get started: a laptop, a printer/copier, a phone, a calendar and even paper clips! But it’s not just what’s in my office that’s significant but what my office represents that is. It represents a new ministry assignment. I have completely transitioned from serving as Pastor of Lifesong Community Church to serving as Director of seeJesus on the West Coast and East Asia. It represents a new stage in life. I am now working out of the home as a missionary to the West and the East. It represents a new challenge. I am doing something I’ve never done before and fundraising 100% of what will be needed for my position.

Twenty years ago, even four months ago, if you would have asked me what I would be doing when I hit “midlife,” I would n-e-v-e-r have told you this. I sometimes tell people if you gave me one hundred sheets of paper and told me to write one hundred different creative story lines about how my life would unfold, I guarantee you that I would never be able to write the one that actually happened. God writes great stories. Ones that have personal depth, unexpected suspense, rich irony, sovereign purpose. Need we look further than the story of Jesus? Let alone the entire redemptive narrative of the Bible?

As I look back on my life, in some ways, I see how God had been preparing me for such a time and assignment like this. In other ways, I am still a little shell-shocked by this change. Either way, I am confident that His call is clear and His purpose is glorious. I know the story is still being revealed and I am excited to see what He will write next. I don’t know what the next chapter will entail but I know it starts in the corner office on the top floor of the building that overlooks my back yard. What more could I ask for?



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Dear Amanda

Brilliant proposal video made by a great guy for a special girl. Congratulations Brian and Amanda! Check out the rest of the story here.

Dear Amanda from Arbella Studios on Vimeo.

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The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Tsukemen

On the Food Network, there is a show called, “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” Last Friday, I ate coconut fried chicken at Cha Cha Chicken in Santa Monica which according to Iron Chef, Michael Symon, is the best thing he ever ate. Maybe the expectations were too high or maybe I was there on an off-day but the chicken left my culinary hopes lingering. I have to admit, the chicken was good but certainly not the best I ever ate.

Later that same evening, Sonia and I got a late night snack after the Drop Box premier with my brother and sister-in-law. They know the area very well and are quite the foodies so we headed over to Seoul Sausage in West LA only to discover it was already closed. Fortunately, a few doors down is a little place called Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle. Long name for a ramen house. But not just any ramen house. One of THEE best places in LA for ramen according to most food critics. Apparently, people sometimes wait over an hour to get a chance to eat their speciality. What is it?



Tsukemen is the modern day version of a traditional Japanese staple. A sort of deconstructed ramen. The noodles are thicker and stiffer than traditional ramen and are kept separate from the broth until you choose to dip them in the heavenly demi-glaze-like broth of pork goodness. Practically, it keeps the noodles from getting overcooked so you can slow down to savor the heavenly combination of the rich pork fat flavor (over 60 hrs of stewing), the al dente noodles and the bright juice of fresh lime to achieve that elusive “umami” balance of flavor. I ordered the works which came with a soft boiled egg and tender, thick slices of Japanese-style char siu (think dark, soy-flavored pork belly rather than bright red pork shoulder). There was little room for the two bowls that made up my order because tons of condiments crowded the table. I had no idea what they were for, but I confidently added them all as if I knew what I was doing. Freshly ground sesame seeds, dark pickled tsukemono, crushed red pepper, pickled ginger and something called “tonkotsu sauce,” a tart, spicy flavored oil. Put it all together and it was truly the best thing I ever ate

…that is until I eat the next “best thing I ever ate.”

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