Entrepreneur. Social Justice Advocate. World Changer. Survivor.

That describes my friend, Steve Hardgrave, who’ll be speaking at a luncheon in downtown L.A. hosted by the church I work for, Union Church.

Six times a year we bring together those who live, love or work in downtown L.A. to discuss how we can integrate our faith and work. With 500,000 people working downtown everyday, this is a strategic opportunity to begin a movement of Christians who are purposely seeking to bless the city in which they live. Steve wants to help us take action on ways we can do that in our everyday lives.

Steve has spent significant time both in Mexico and India using his skills and resources to develop new financial networks that give access to the poorest in the world. He is a committed Christian who has worked with at-risk youth in Santa Monica, helped develop a thriving college ministry in L.A., is an active leader in the social enterprise movement, and is a pragmatic dreamer who is actively changing the world. I get to be his friend. You’ll quickly become his friend once you meet him.

The great thing about Steve is that he believes that you can change your world right where you’re at. He sees the beauty and brokenness of Los Angeles and gets excited just imagining what a handful of Christians can do if they got together and work with everybody regardless of faith in order to purposefully bless the city.

Each week that I share at our new 11am worship service I say that we are a church seeking to “Love God and Bless the City.” One reason I think that God has called my family to serve in L.A.–and particularly in downtown–is that there are 500,000 people who converge on downtown everyday who have the potential to impact our city in a positive way. These luncheons are geared to helped Christians consider that God has brought them to L.A. for a purpose to bless the city, not necessarily to bless themselves.

So I hope you’ll come if you are the Southern California area that day. You’ll be glad you joined us.

Click here to sign up for this FREE event.

Downtown Professionals Luncheon #2

A couple months ago I hosted the first Downtown Professionals Luncheon at Union Church for those who live, love or work in downtown L.A. I didn’t know I would have several drive long distances joining the 70 in attendance who had backgrounds in business, law, education, art, social work, entrepreneurship and not-for-profit organizations that service downtown and the greater L.A. area. No matter if people drove a long distance or walked from their offices, all had an enriching time learning about the 7-11 Principle and how God has specifically called them to seek the blessing of the city.

Some Christians think that the only way to stay true to their faith is to remove themselves from the city and culture that God has placed them in. Other Christians assume that if they want to engage the city then they will have to give into the larger cultural values that might be antithetical to the gospel. But Jeremiah 29 says that God wants us to engage the city but stay true to Him. As Tim Keller says, “Your work matters to God.  God matters to your work.”

On Wednesday, Nov. 9, we will have a second luncheon to continue a discussion of how God wants to integrate your faith and work. Please RSVP and join dozens of other Christians who are seeking to Love God and Bless the City right where God has placed them.




A Word for Kiersten and Blake

I had the privilege of officiating the wedding for Blake Robertson and Kiersten Johnson last week. Using the Colossians 2 passage they chose, I shaped a message about the new song they would be writing with God’s help as they become husband and wife. Below is what I shared with them as their family and friends listened:

The Scripture read today talks about singing. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

Singing has always been central to followers of God throughout the centuries. Not only are we instructed to sing songs about God and to God, I believe we are to remember that God himself is a singer. Zephaniah 3:17 says that God sings over you. That means God is a singer. He likes to hear music and He likes to make music.  I believe that God had you in mind when He made the world. Before you were born, you were already on His mind.

Listen to these lyrics from the song “I Will Show You Love” by our friend Kendall Payne that will be performed in just a few minutes:

I am on your side
Though the wind and waves
Beat against your faith
You were on my mind
When the world was made
Trust in me my child

This song you have chosen is about God’s unbreakable love for you and how He had you on His mind at the creation of this world.

I believe that at creation God sang the world into being. Genesis 1 should be read as a song. In fact, all of creation is His song. Ephesians 2 says that each of you are a song of God, literally a work of art shaped by God. So when you come together as husband and wife you aren’t just marrying your best friend, you are marrying a work of art! Now sometimes you won’t see your spouse as a work of art and instead you’ll think you married a piece of work! When the dirty clothes don’t land in the clothes hamper and the toothpaste isn’t squeezed properly and one of you would rather go out with your friends instead of hanging out at home…it’s hard to remember that each of you is a work of art and not a piece of work!

But the privilege you get as husband and wife is to help your spouse discover how beautiful they are in God’s eyes and help them to see the better self that God has intended them to be. We’ll never be perfect this side of heaven, but God wants to keep shaping each of you more and more into His likeness: more compassionate towards the poor, more giving with your resources, more ready to forgive, more courageous to speak up against injustice. Though we’ll never attain perfection this side of heaven, as each of you help the other to remember they are a work of art each day, you’ll help them become the person that God had always intended them to be.

Marriage is a great shaper of our lives and you each get the privilege of seeing the beauty of who God has intended your spouse to be and then work hard to help your spouse become that person: that person who is more loving, kind, giving, creative, free and selfless. Marriage is the great furnace of God’s refining process.

Your job as husband and wife is to see your spouse as God’s work of art, God’s beautiful song. Your job is to help your spouse remember that they are God’s song. Because when you forget how loved you are in Christ, you’ll start trying to feel loved by other things. When you forget that you are a beautiful song of God then you’ll start looking for beauty and strength from money and achievement and impressing people. When you forget you’re loved by God you’ll try to win arguments instead of making a compromise. You’ll demand your rights instead of seeking the best for the marriage. When you forget you are God’s work of art you’ll start trying to make your job or your bank account or your body or your resume make you feel important and beautiful again.

But when you remember that you are God’s work of art then you are already beautiful! You are already eternally significant! You are already precious in God’s sight. So don’t let your spouse forget that they are a work of art in God’s eyes, that they are a beautiful song of God that will one day be complete when Christ returns. Your job is to remember amidst all the imperfections that your spouse is a song of God that God has created and that one day will be completed when Jesus returns.

Blake and Kiersten each one of you is unique with different family histories and different stories that make you who you are. As you come together as one you are combining two different songs. It’ll take time to create your own song but know that God is the great songwriter and He knows how to make it all fit together. Bear with each other as you figure out what key to sing in, as you decide which lyrics to keep and which ones to add and which ones to change. Healthy marriages don’t try to force one spouse to fit into the other’s song structure. Healthy marriages seek to make their own unique song from the lyrics and melodies of their own individual song. And God will help you write this new song as You continue to listen to Him, finding your identity not in what you do or what you have or what people say about you but who you are in Christ. You are making a brand new song so enjoy the process and give grace to one another as you stumble along. Enjoy marriage and all the growth that God is going to bring to you through becoming husband and wife.

Let’s pray:

God thank you for bringing Kiersten and Blake together this day. Each is a beautiful song of Yours and when they come together help them to write a brand new song as husband and wife, one flesh from two people united by Your Spirit. Amen.


One Question to Consider for the Next 30 Days

Meeting with a group of leaders recently who love, live or work in downtown Los Angeles, I asked them to consider this one question: Why are you in LA?

Lots of people to move to LA for the weather, to make money, to get famous, for a job and for many other good reasons to help improve and further their life. But Christians must consider if God brought them here not to further their lives but to further God’s kingdom. Perhaps God has brought you here, not to make your name great, but to make His name great. This led to three sub-questions about how Union Church can partner with leaders in LA:

1. How can Union Church help you bless the city?

2. How can you help Union Church to bless city?

3. What can we do together to bless the city?

But the essential question to ask yourself is: Why are you in LA? I challenged the group to take the next 30 days and ask themselves this simple question. Bring this question before God. Ask other people about it. Journal about it. Facebook it. Reflect on this very very simple question about why you live where you live and to consider if you live there for a greater purpose than pursuing your own dreams. Perhaps God has placed you here for a purpose beyond your limited vision yet using every aspect of your skills, education, network and resources.

At Union Church we are trying to ask questions that aren’t focused on blessing the church but how we can bless the city and the neighborhoods that we find ourselves in.

If we truly believe that God has called us to the cities in which we live then we begin to have the perspective the God hasn’t brought me to this place to bless myself and to make my name great but to bless the city and make His name great. We begin to get a new set of eyes for our neighborhood. Our eyes hear things differently. Our feet take us to different places. We might even get to know the names of our neighbors!

So many come to cities to get something from it but Jeremiah 29:7 tells us to be part of the prospering and blessing of the city, bringing the holistic shalom of God into every ordinary aspect of life.

This is the 7-11 Principle that I’ve shared about before. “You don’t get 11 until you do 7.” You don’t get the blessing of God until you are a blessing to your city.

God blesses those who bless the city in which they live.

So what brought you to the city in which you live? Perhaps God has brought you there, not just so you could advance your life, but so that you could advance God’s kingdom and make His name great.

Will you join with us the next 30 days in asking why God has placed you in this very city you’ve found yourself in? Perhaps God has an idea He wants to share with you about why He’s placed you in this city at this time with your unique talents, resources and connections.

Asking this one question could change your life and it will probably change your city for the better.


Sermon video from speaking at Bel Air

I had the privilege of returning to my “home” church in Los Angeles, Bel Air Presbyterian Church, where my wife, Kati, and I helped minister to hundreds of college students and young adults during our time there. Pastor Mark Brewer and I did a team-teaching format at all three services talking about God’s heart for the city.

Tim speaking with Mark Brewer at Bel Air Aug. 14, 2011

Can L.A. become a great city?

The Greater Los Angeles area makes L.A. one of the great global cities of the world following only Tokyo and New York City in significance. It’s the media capitol of the world that likely has more impact creating culture than any other city. So in one sense it’s already a great city because of its global influence. But can L.A. become the greatest city for Christ?

This is the mission of Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, our wonderful partner supporting the new efforts at Union Church to reach downtown L.A. and its surrounding neighborhoods.

I get to share at Bel Air at all three services on August 14 about my family’s call as missionaries to downtown L.A.. They’ll hear me share about the 7-11 Principle and why our call is personal, strategic and biblical. They’ll also be invited to work with us to bless the city as God commands us to do in Jeremiah 29.

I am excited to join with other Christians who seek to to live in L.A., not to make a great name for themselves, but to make a great name for the God they worship and serve.

Going to those who might never come to church

I had the privilege over the past several years to spend some time with a professional tennis player, David Martin, who sees his time on the Tour as an opportunity to minister anyone he comes across. I’ve often told Dave, “You are the only pastor most of these people will ever meet.” Dave has taken that responsibility to heart and seeks to be a loving presence who is ready to share about Jesus on and off the court. Recently a church in London highlighted Dave and produced this video.

David Martin — pastor to the tennis world

Our church in downtown LA realizes that we can’t simply expect people to show up at our church. We are prayerfully having conversations about what it might look like for us to engage the neighborhood in a way that reflects how Jesus would.

How do you see your own vocation as an opportunity to reveal God’s love in your everyday lives and encounters with people?

The Power of Words

Our church finished a four weeks series on Acts 2 and the Holy Spirit coming on Pentecost to the disciples who had gathered for prayer. When the Jews in Jerusalem who were celebrating the Pentecost festival heard them speaking in various foreign languages from their homelands it caused them to ask, “What does this mean?” This was pre-work of the Spirit before the 3000 became converted (pre-evangelism?). I was surprised by the Spirit’s work which causes people to ask questions about God that led to putting their trust in God.

Most scholars recognize that the Spirit’s actions in and through the disciples on Pentecost 2000 years ago was a reversal of the Tower of Babel where language separated people who sought to glorify themselves. At Pentecost, God uses language to unite people who sought to glorify God. Pentecost is the undoing of Babel. So we see in Acts 2 that God’s first miracle in the church is the “healing of words” as Tim Keller points out.

In my diverse community in downtown L.A. I am glad to know that even in the first church God was speaking a clear message about unity amidst the diversity. Union Church has the young and elderly (just like in the Acts 2 church–but that’s for another blog topic), the homeless and the working professional, black and white, Asian and Hispanic and people at all stages of life. We want to a church that shows the diversity of L.A. and of our neighborhood as a sign of the coming kingdom of God. None of us should forget that God has always wanted to bring salvation to all the nations, even though he started with a mono-ethnic church (Jewish) to start it all. We need our churches to reflect the diversity that we experience Monday through Saturday. I hope our church and others will buck the trend of Sunday morning being the most segregated day of the week in L.A.

I’m also challenged to see the Spirit doing a miracle not only of languages but of healing words. Words are powerful so how strategic for God to doing healing work here because words truly have the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). I asked a group of young adults tonight to think about the worst words even spoken about them. No one can forget painful words directed at us. No one forgets the pain of words that we have longed to hear but never heard like “I love you. I’m proud of you. I’ll never leave you. I forgive you.” Words have the power of life and death. God has come to heal our words. We have been given the power of life and death by the way we use our words. We can give life if we listen and obey the Spirit.

Lastly, I am struck by how the Spirit wants to use us to raise questions. What if our church caused the non-Christian to ask, “Could this really be true?” Revolutions have started with questions like the One Campaign: “Should where you live determine if you live?” Jesus was an expert in asking questions.

Perhaps the Holy Spirit wants to do a whole new thing with our language:

Bringing diverse groups together to worship and glorify God

Healing our words so that relationship can be mended and we can be made whole.

Eliciting spiritual curiosity from non-believers: “What does this mean?”

May God’s Spirit send you out this week with healing in your words.


Overlooked patriots

I see myself as a missionary to downtown Los Angeles in my role as pastor of Union Church in Little Tokyo. With a missionary mindset I am seeking to hear the stories of the church community and surrounding neighborhood. Myself not being of Japanese descent (I am a third/fourth generation Chinese-American), I am just beginning to learn of the stories of the people who have built and sustained Union Church for nearly a century. I am working to listen to the stories of the people and the ways the church has impacted the neighborhood in big and small ways as an extension of their call to serve Christ.

On a recent waking tour of Little Tokyo I was reminded of the numerous contributions the Japanese Americans made not only to downtown L.A. but to the greater Los Angeles area and throughout California. Their contributions have had national and international impact as well as the following story of the 442nd Battalion demonstrates.


My friend Steve Yamaguchi summarizes the story well:

“This is the Story of the Rescue of the “Lost Battalion” — a group of 260 National Guardsmen from Texas, how they were trapped, surrounded by ferocious German troops in the Vosges Mountains in France, and how they were saved in October of 1944.

Every effort to rescue them had failed, so the tenacious and accomplished 442nd infantry (all Japanese American volunteer soldiers) was ordered to liberate the Lost Battalion. In spite of seemingly impossible odds, the 442nd broke through the lethal German firestorm and liberated the Lost Battalion. 211 of the 260 Texas guardsmen were saved. Of the 442nd infantry, 216 gave their lives and 856 more were wounded while liberating their Texan fellow soldiers.”

These brave and highly decorated Japanese Americans volunteered to serve even though many of their own American-born families were being held in internment camps. Though treated in many ways as non-Americans and enemies of the U.S., they were determined to prove their loyalty to the country they were born in (yes, all of the 442nd were American born) even as their government took away their rights, their property and their dignity during this disappointing chapter in American history.

As Americans celebrate Independence Day, I want to encourage people to remember the story of the 442nd Battalion. It forces us to reject the opposite poles of romanticizing the U.S. as the world’s savior or demonizing the U.S. as the world’s oppressor. Though many of you may have already heard this story, I find that most Americans are largely unaware of the incredible sacrifices these Americans made in serving our country in World War II and the immense confrontation they faced of serving their country even though they themselves were treated as enemies before, during and even after the war. I’ll spare you from theologizing too much but I think there’s a story about Jesus somewhere in here. The amazing thing is that this story actually connects to the neighborhood I work in now. What redemptive stories are in the communities where you work, live, shop and play? As I watch fireworks this weekend, these Americans are some of the faces I want to remember as I thank God for the freedom we experience in this nation.

Do you live in a least-churched city?

This is one of the reasons why I’m in L.A. trying to develop a multi-generational, multi-ethnic and multi-socio-economic church in the heart of downtown.

Some statistics from DJ Chuang

Downtown L.A. in particular has grown so much (27,000 new residents since 2000 and conservatively estimating another 10,000 in the next 10 years), that you’d need 20 more churches of 300 persons each just to keep up with population growth! Yet there aren’t nearly enough churches in downtown L.A. to reach the growing and existing population. We need more gospel-centered churches to join us.

By 2050 nearly 67% of the world will live in a city, so cities–not suburbs–are where people are moving to. This is not only a global trend but is happening in North America as well. Young people in particular are moving to downtown urban centers in major cities in the U.S.

We need churches wherever people are, including suburbs, but because people live so densely in cities the need for new and/or revitalized churches in cities is of the utmost importance.

Is the city you live in one of the least-churched? Does your church commit resources to helping plant and/or renew churches? Ask your pastor what his/her vision is for reaching younger generations who are choosing to live in least-churched cities and downtown city-centers. Find out what percentage of people go to church in the city you live in and what churches are actively reaching out to the unchurched and de-churched.