YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE A CHRISTIAN TO BE LOVED

You don't have to be a Christian to come to Cultivate Church. In fact, we welcome and encourage it. Our mantra is "Love lives here." We don't just make a loving home for Christians. We also make a loving home for non-Christians. We're making a loving home for people — period.

I first meet Larry during our welcome and hospitality time before our worship gathering. I think he is a Christian because he shares his expert knowledge of the Scriptures. I also notice that he is very nice and friendly. I politely excuse myself and get ready to start the worship gathering. Jade, our worship leader, is taking a week off so I fill in for her. I start leading worship and play a song by Elevation Worship called, "Uncontainable Love."

As soon as I end the song, he asks, "How long have you been playing the guitar?"

I respond by saying, "I think I've been playing for over 10 years."

He says, "Ah, nice!"

After that, I transition and play two more songs. I play "All This Time" by River Valley Worship and "What a Beautiful Name" by Hillsong Worship.

The music comes to a close and I go into teaching. If I remember correctly, I think I was teaching on the story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.

After the worship gathering, we get a burrito from Chipotle, but cross the street hang out at Argo Tea at W 26th St. & 7th Ave. with the rest of the group. I sit by Larry and get to know him better. I find out that he is really big into politics. I also find out that he is a Jewish Atheist. The reason why he knows so much about the Bible is because of his Jewish background. In fact, he even knows more about the Scriptures than a lot of my seminary friends. Although he doesn't believe in the claims the Bible, he still respects the Bible and applies moral principles from the it. Our hangout at Argo Tea comes to a close, but Larry and I decide to hang out on another day.

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A few days pass by and we meet up again in Chelsea, Manhattan. I take him to Joe Coffee in Chelsea and we talk some more. We also go to The High Line, Chelsea Market, and Union Square. During this time I'll never forget a conversation we have.

He says, "When I came to your church, I wasn't really a big fan of the music. The preaching was okay." I keep listening and lean in.

Larry goes on to say, "...but I really enjoyed the people. They were so nice, kind, and loving! I definitely want to come back and hang out with you guys!" As he says this last part, I burst with joy on the inside!

I respond to him by saying, "Larry! You have no clue how much that means to me! That's actually the win for us! That's why we always tell people that 'Love lives here' at Cultivate Church. We want to make sure that no matter who we are with or where we are, people will always walk away from us without being able to deny that we showed them the love of Jesus. It's that simple. Thank you so much for the feedback!"

All of us at Cultivate Church stay in regular contact with Larry. We don't just love Christians. We love non-Christians also. We actually keep it simple; we just love people. Following Jesus is only real if it supernaturally happens between God and the person God is pursuing with His love. I don't want to be a distraction to that or try to manipulate the process. The way I look at it, if I can convince Larry to follow Jesus, Larry can also convince himself out of following Jesus. It's not my job to convert him; that's between Larry and God, even if Larry doesn’t believe in God. However, it's my job to love Larry with no strings attached. It's my job to be his friend with no ulterior motives. It's my job to encourage Larry as he is trying to figure out this difficult journey we all experience called life.

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No matter where Larry ends up or who he becomes, I look forward to loving him and getting to know him more and more as time passes by.

The best is yet to be.

 

If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 CSB)

LESSONS I'VE LEARNED FROM SERVING TWO DISCIPLESHIP PROGRAMS

Ever since I've moved to NYC, I've been able to observe a few discipleship programs. I just want to highlight a couple that I've gotten the privilege to serve. 

When I was at NYSUM, I was able to serve the students going through City Reach Institute.

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Today, I am serving interns at Covenant Mercy Mission.


I look back at these pictures and realize that I miss every single one of these students at City Reach Institute. I also look at pictures now of the interns at Covenant Mercy Mission and realize that I'm going to miss these people also. I've had good experiences with both of these teams. Here are some lessons I've learned from serving both of them. I am applying these lessons today.

Some people grow where they plant themselves, but other people will feel like they are rotting. These people chose to plant themselves and grow roots with you. They will rot if they feel neglected. The best way to help your team grow and mature is to love them. Do this by listening to them. In fact, listen twice as much as you speak. Also, make sure you learn from them as much as — if not more than — they learn from you. One practical way to apply this is to accept their invites. You can't go to everything they do for fun, but leave margin in your schedule to accept at least a few invites a month that they give you. This will allow them to feel loved by you through sharing quality time with them. When you work with them, they "have to" be with you. However, when they invite you to spend time with them outside of work, they are telling you that they "want to" be with you. Don't take that for granted. In fact, cherish it.

Don't force it to happen; let it happen. Be open to how you'll spend time with them. You will have a different dynamic with each individual of the the team. If you study the leadership of Jesus, you will observe that He was the same way with His disciples. Some of your team members will need you to be their their counselor; you will always find yourself talking about deep emotional issues with them. Other members of your team will just need a friend; you will end up just talking about hobbies or personal interests. Some members will be very distant; they might not open up and talk as much, but they do at least need quality time from you. They probably just need a lot of time to be introspective, meditate, and pray. Some of your team members need a teacher; you will spend most of your time answering all sorts of questions and they will feel loved by you through your patience. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit is sovereign over their spiritual lives. It's your job to give them a safe space to build a relationship with God, no matter where they might be spiritually. Be available and encourage them as they take their steps of faith toward God.

Give them your best instead of your leftovers. As you plan out how to use your time, talents, and treasures, make sure to prioritize them in your calendar, programming, and finances. They came to build your program. It's your job to build your people. They'll come for your vision, but they'll want to stay for your heart. Your skills might build great projects, but your heart is what builds great relationships. So don't just give them your gifts and talents; give them them your love, care, time, vulnerability, transparency, and attention. Budget out a certain amount of your salary to take them out to eat, have coffee, grab a snack, or get some dessert. This is a great way of making sure you don't burn out your people, but that you keep your people burning with passion.

Love covers a multitude of sins. Be quick to apologize. You are not infallible. You are imperfect. You are a sinner saved by the grace of God. If you are a saint, it's because of God and not because of you. You can't be a perfect sacrifice, because only Jesus is your perfect sacrifice. However, you can be a living sacrifice. Be transparent and humble yourself. When you are your best self, point them to the grace of God. When you are your worst self, also point them to the grace of God. Just don't live a double-life. When you are transparent about your personal struggles, you give your team the chance to invest into you also — let them. If they don't understand your struggles, you will cause distance between you and your team. Helping them understand your personal struggles will make it easier for them to follow and trust you. You will be surprised how much grace your team will show you. Show them grace also.

Above all, keep your love for one another at full strength, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8 CSB)

A FRIENDSHIP IS RECONCILED

I'm now an urban missionary with Covenant Mercy Mission, a non-profit ministry serving the pressings needs of people in Chelsea, Manhattan. Before I started working for Covenant Mercy, I was heavily involved at a place called NYSUM, which is an acronym for New York School of Urban Ministry. It was at NYSUM, where I got to know Christian Barr.

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At NYSUM, we naturally become good friends. We have a lot of small talk when we first meet. After awhile, we start wanting to hang out outside of work. We agree to have our first hangout at the Starbucks on Steinway and 31st St. in Astoria, Queens. We have amazing conversation there. We talk a lot about our love for Jesus and our love for people. We open up about our personal joys, struggles, hopes, and fears. We really hit it off.

Time passes on and I continue to get to know Christian. I learn that he is a very positive person. He loves Jesus and he loves people. He has a joy of the Lord that isn't easily broken; it radiates everywhere he goes. He loves to laugh. He always has a great attitude and treats everyone with kindness. He is also a huge encourager and champion of people. I love listening to the dreams he has for making a difference for God.

For the longest time, I have a dream to start a church in NYC. I feel led to stop talking about this dream and actually start doing it. I feel like it's time to take my next step of faith. I don't wait for the perfect scenario. I don't start with money, resources, a network, or a launch team. I decide that God is my launch team. All I have to start with is the Holy Spirit, my Bible, the gospel, and the love of Jesus. I know that those things will be enough for me to start a church if I'm truly called by God.

I start church planting and Christian is one of the very first people who believes in the dream God has put in my heart. He becomes one of the first core team members of Cultivate Church. Although we already spend over a year getting to know each other. We never have done pastoral ministry with each other until now. We get into a lot of small disagreements about leadership philosophy. Later, these small disagreements start turning into emotionally charged disagreements. I can't speak for Christian, but at this time in my life, I am very dogmatic about leadership; I'm also very intense about the mission I feel God has given me. I start making building Cultivate more important than building my friendship with Christian, which is a mistake.

We get into one last disagreement and part ways. I am very sad over this and spend a lot time in my room weeping over this loss for a few days. I don't just lose a ministry partner; I also lose a friend. Christian is also very hurt by our broken friendship. We both need time to heal.

After awhile, we become very civil when we see each other, but the intimate fellowship we had as friends is lost. We become distant toward each other and we both move on. I continue with Cultivate Church and Christian eventually joins The Grace Place.

Ironically, I become good friends with The Grace Place. I babysit their kids. I also become their interim Kids Director for a short period of time. I see Christian there, but nothing has changed much since we last see each other. I eventually leave NYSUM to join Covenant Mercy Mission and my schedule, priorities, and obligations change because of my new day job there. As a result, I have to step down from helping The Grace Place with their kids.

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Out of my heart for The Grace Place, I continue to build a friendship with Stephen Perumalla, their pastor. Time passes on, but I still run into Christian from time to time. When I see Stephen, I always ask him how Christian is doing. I realize that I still miss Christian and I want things to be right with him. This is largely influenced by the way God loves me. I break God's heart all the time, but God continues to pursue and want me anyways. This kind of love from God drives me to pursue Christian. After one of my coffee talks with Stephen, I feel led to ask Christian to meet over coffee.

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After contacting Christian, I find out that he has been healed like I have been healed. He agrees to get coffee with me. We end up meeting at the Starbucks where we first had coffee together. I apologize to him, explain myself, and share about how much God has helped me mature and grow since we first did ministry with each other. He also does the same. One thing that I love about this meeting is that the intimate fellowship we have with each other is restored. We are now reconciled as genuine friends.

Last week, he was a guest speaker at Cultivate Church. This week, I got to lead worship at The Grace Place; Christina also helped me and she did an awesome job! Christian and I have gotten to do ministry with each other 2 weeks in a row. In sense, I don't feel like he ever left my team. He might not be at Cultivate Church anymore, but he is now at The Grace Place. Lord willing,  I believe Cultivate will team up, partner, work, and be friends with The Grace Place for a long time.

The best is yet to be.

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Everything is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed the message of reconciliation to us.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf: “Be reconciled to God.” He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

(2 Corinthians 5:18-21 CSB)

MECCA GETS BAPTIZED

On a very chilly winter Sunday in January 2017, I walk the streets of Flatiron District and meet Mecca and her friend Alyssa sitting on the sidewalk at the corner of 23rd St. and 5th Ave. near the Flatiron Building. Next to them is a restaurant called "Eataly." They are homeless. I become instantly concerned about them because I worry they might become trafficked by a pimp. I stop by to kindly warn them about sex trafficking and they let me know that they are being careful. 

I start to have friendly conversation with them. After awhile, I give them a flyer inviting them to my new church plant called, Cultivate Church. They see our Jesus logo on the flyer and they instantly trust me more because of it. I can tell they are open and ready for God to move in their lives. As result, they accept my invitation. On the way to church, I hang out with them at a couple of fast food restaurants.

We finally arrive at Stepping Out Studios, where we are having church. I play on the guitar and sing a song by Mosaic MSC called, "You Are Mine," and I can see Mecca and Alyssa crying. After the music, I start preaching on Psalm 23. I look at them and can see them focused and engaged with the message. I use Psalm 23 to share the gospel. I finish the message and give an invitation. They both raise their hands and respond. I play more more music and I can see them crying again. I can tell they are experiencing God as their Refuge, Strength, and Hope.

After the response time, we all sit in a circle to get to know each other better. Mecca and Alyssa open up more and share with us their struggles and how they feel God moving in their lives in the present moment. Nearing the end of the worship gathering, we encourage them and pray for them.

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Alyssa eventually moves back to Arkansas, but Mecca stays in NYC and joins our team at Cultivate Church. I start to get to know Mecca more and find out that she is separated from her husband, she lost her kids, and she is taking steps to get her kids back. She misses her kids dearly. I am an ex-orphan and my mom never got the chance to get me back. I decide that I'm going to help her accomplish what my mom didn't get a chance to accomplish for me. At this point, Mecca is living in a homeless shelter.

Time goes on and she moves from a homeless shelter and into an apartment. This is a huge victory! I'm so proud of her! She also grows more in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. I learn more about her spiritual history and I think she was actually saved and born again when she was a kid. She even has had life-changing encounters with God since then. However, she stopped pursuing God for a long time and I believe she renewed her commitment to follow Jesus when we first met. I also believe that God is now using Cultivate Church to help her become a more fully devoted follower of Jesus. She is a prodigal daughter of God.

She eventually wants to get baptized. We try to get her baptized on multiple occasions but they fall through. About a year passes by, we gain more team members, and we finally get to baptize Mecca in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn — now with a small church family to celebrate with her!

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Recently, she calls me on the phone to tell me that she gets her children back this month on July 30th, 2018! I yell with excitement and encourage her! We gotta throw a big party for her and her children now!

The best is yet to be for Mecca.


Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

(2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV)

ALONE TIME WITH GOD

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I recently took some time off of work to visit my friends, Paul & Naomi, out in the country in Meadville, Pennsylvania. On the day I leave the city, I take the Megabus on 34th St. and 11th Ave. I start the trip with a yummy egg sandwich with avacodo on whole bread a friend made me. It was awesome! I also pack some delicious trail mix and grapes to snack on that another friend made me. I feel so blessed! I sleep on the bus for about 4 hours, off and on, and it is glorious!

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I get to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Paul meets me to pick me up with his car. We drive a couple of hours and catch up on the way to his home in Meadville. When we finally make it to his home, Naomi serves us a delicious ham dinner. Their son, Dan, was also with us. Afterward, we go out on the porch to talk and wait for the stars to come out.

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The next day, I wake up to some of the best homemade scones I've ever have and drink coffee. I sit on the porch to enjoy the sunlight and view of the countryside. I spend the day hanging out with Paul, taking naps, reading, and exploring the countryside on foot. I also spend most of the day barefoot, which feels nice! In the evening, Paul, Naomi, Dan, and I have a picnic with yummy hotdogs, blueberry pie, strawberry pie, and smores over a campfire. I end the day gazing at the stars, which shine a lot brighter in the countryside than they do in the city.

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On the final day, I wake up to a delicious egg and bacon breakfast. I say my goodbyes and head back home to NYC with Paul. Naomi and Dan stay behind. As much as I need some time off, I can't wait to get back into the city. And I kept thinking of this quote by Seth Godin:

Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don't need to escape from.

I realize the truth of this quote when I finally land in Washington Heights, NYC. Ironically, I'm so grateful to be back in polluted air, crowds of people, and busy traffic. This is home for me. And there is no other place in the world I would rather be. NYC is my permanent staycation, at least as long as God allows it to be. I live in a city that I never want to escape from.

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I feel physically refreshed and renewed from this trip. However, as I walk down the sidewalks of Washington Heights, I realize that I also need spiritual refreshment, which comes from uninterrupted alone time with God. This week, I am in the middle of restructuring my lifestyle habits to keep myself refreshed — not just when I go on mini-vacations, but also when I'm on this long-term staycation I experience every day I get to serve God in NYC.

I have some lessons I'm applying from this mini-vacation in the countryside and transitioning back into the city this week. I would like to share them with you. To give you context around these lessons I'm applying. I'm a New York City missionary who is living with a community of people. I run into people when I need to brush my teeth, use the bathroom, or take care of laundry. I don't get much privacy. In the Psalms, David often asks God to be his Refuge. As I'm applying these lessons, I'm learning how to make God my Refuge.


WAKING UP EARLIER

My body is naturally waking up a lot earlier since I've been back in the city, which means more sun. Getting sunlight is good for you, because it prevents fatigue and depression. I also wake up feeling recharged as well, which hasn't always been the case. I think this is due to the fact that I got to spend a few days in fresh countryside air and I got to purify my body from polluted air — not to mention my dusty room (which is my fault). My friend, Nick and Steven, recently got me an air purifier and it works wonders!

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Also, I was a night owl because the hours after midnight were the only hours I could get uninterrupted time to be alone with God or accomplish tasks on my todo list. If I tried to wake up early before work hours, people would often knock on my door, contact my phone, or interrupt my alone time with God. The same thing would happen during the hours after work. However, since I had a lot of time to ponder my lifestyle habits on my road trip, I decided to change my strategy. This leads to my next point. 


TAKING OUT MY SIM CARD

Instead of going back to my night owl ways to avoid being interrupted, I now simply take out the SIM card out of my phone and go outside. This also allows me to continue taking pictures. A lot of times I'll even leave my phone at home. I don't just do this in the morning; I also do this to respect my personal Sabbath (all day on Tuesday). Sometimes I'll even do it at night when I really need to focus.


MY NEW PRIVATE NUMBER

I mainly take out my SIM card to draw boundaries between my work life and my personal life. Therefore, I now have a private number I can use over wifi to contact friends that have nothing to do with my work. Although I love my alone times with God, people refresh me also! I definitely don't want to isolate myself from life-giving friends.


PARKS

The funny thing is that I really don't have to go out to the countryside to experience nature. Lately, I've been more intentional about taking walks through The High Line. Central Park is also a great place to experience nature!


BOUNDARIES

One thing I've noticed is that people respond to me differently when I tell them I need to pray, study the Bible, or spend alone time with God opposed to telling them that I have an appointment or an errand I have to run. When I tell people I have an appointment or run an errand, people usually understand and quickly accept my answer. However, when I tell people, especially Christians, that I need to spend time with God, they usually give me a blank stare or they'll try to peer pressure me out of it. I restructured boundaries in my life because I stopped expecting people to understand the importance of putting God first through prayer and study.

If I don't make God my priority, someone else will make their own priority for me. This is why I have to be more intentional as follower of Jesus in NYC.

Yet He often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.

(Luke 5:16 CSB)

OIL CHANGE

I got to hang out with Steven, Jessica, Chérie, and Nick last night. They are our summer urban missionaries this year at Covenant Mercy Mission. I took them out to Greenwich Village. We spend an hour figuring out where we all want to go out to eat. It is hard coming to an agreement at first, but we all put our heads together and decide on Chipotle. It's hard to go wrong with Chipotle!

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At Chipotle, we have our "oil change," which is a fun term we all use for our weekly team meeting. When it comes to taking care of a car, an oil change is severely important because a car will soon burn out and die without an oil change. We call our weekly team meeting an "oil change," because it is a time we can open up about our struggles and difficulties in a safe space and work them out together before they crash our team. However, it's also a time where we can celebrate the joys and victories we've gotten to experience recently. Lastly, it's a time where we can spiritually encourage each other and help each other grow closer to God as a team.

We get done with our oil change and I take them out to see Washington Square Park. We get there and the park is showing a free outdoor movie. It's really cool! The park is crowded. We walk through the park and check out the Washington Square Arch.

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We then take the train back to Chelsea, Manhattan, where we all live. We have fun conversations on the way.

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We get back home around 10:30 PM, talk a little more, and Chérie initiates a group hug, which I think is pretty cool! We say our "good nights" and head to our rooms for bed.

Lights out.

Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful. And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.

(Hebrews 10:23-25 CSB)

PREACHING WITHOUT NOTES

Some questions to ask yourself to help you preach without notes:

1. Why is this worth our time?

2. What's the problem?

3. Why should we care about this problem?

4. What's the solution?

5. What's the point?

6. What do we need to do about this?

7. What will be the outcome of our lives if we do this?

UNCONVENTIONAL TITLES

I love unconventional titles. For example: Bob Goff calls himself Chief Balloon Inflator and Blake Mycoskie calls himself Chief Shoe Giver. For the summer, I'll go by the title "Lead Disciple Maker," measuring success by the Great Commission.

The best is yet to be. 

THE FATHER'S HEART

The heart of Cultivate Church has always been the Father's heart since the beginning: a family for orphans, a champion of single parents, a home for the homeless, prosperity for prisoners, generosity to the poor, and empowerment for women.

God in his holy dwelling is a father of the fatherless and a champion of widows. God provides homes for those who are deserted. He leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious live in a scorched land. God, when you went out before your people, when you marched through the desert, Selah, the earth trembled and the skies poured rain before God, the God of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel.  You, God, showered abundant rain; you revived your inheritance when it languished. Your people settled in it; God, you provided for the poor by your goodness. The Lord gave the command; a great company of women brought the good news... (Psalms 68:5‭-‬11 CSB)

ANYWAY

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

— Mother Teresa

MY FAVORITE HANGOUT SPOTS

FOOD

Bánh Mì (Authentic) // Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli // Chinatown, Manhattan

Bánh Mì (Modern) // JoJu // Elmhurst, Queens (also try the bánh mì fries)

BBQ // Butcher Bar // Astoria, Queens

Boba Tea // Ten Ren Tea & Ginseng Co. // Flushing, Queens

Brunch // Citizens of Chelsea // Chelsea, Manhattan

Chai (Unsweet) // Kabab King // Jackson Heights, Queens (only $1)

Chai (Sweet) // Merit Kabab & Dumpling Palace // Jackson Heights, Queens (only $1)

Chicken & Waffles // Amy Ruth's // Harlem, Manhattan

Chicken Wings // BonChon // Chelsea, Manhattan

Dumplings // Vanessa's Dumpling House // Union Square, Manhattan (bring cash)

Empanadas // Mama's Empanadas // Astoria, Queens

Hot Dogs // Gray's Papaya // Upper West Side, Manhattan (bring cash)

Italian // Carmine's // Times Square, Manhattan

Juice // Vitality & Health // Astoria, Queens

Phở // Saigon Shack // Greenwich Village, Manhattan

Sushi // Izakaya MEW // Midtown West, Manhattan

Tacos // Los Tacos No. 1 // 2 Locations // Midtown & Chelsea, Manhattan

Tacos (Fish) // Los Mariscos // Chelsea, Manhattan

Thai // Pochana // Astoria, Queens

 

PIZZA

NY Pizza Suprema // Midtown, Manhattan

Prince St. Pizza // Soho, Manhattan

Joe's Pizza // Union Square, Manhattan

$1 Pizza // 2 Bros. Pizza // You can find this spot all over. (bring cash)

 

BURGERS

Shake Shack // Flatiron District, Manhattan

New York Burger Co. // Chelsea, Manhattan

The Rail Line Diner // Chelsea, Manhattan

Bareburger // You can find this spot all over.

 

BAGELS

New York City Bagel & Coffee House // Astoria, Queens

Murray's Bagels // Chelsea, Manhattan

 

DESSERT

Vaneiro's // Lower East Side, Manhattan

Amorino // 2 Locations // Hell's Kitchen & Chelsea, Manhattan

Milk Bar // Chelsea, Manhattan

Grace Street Coffee & Kitchen // Koreatown, Manhattan (their beignets remind me of being in New Orleans)

 

COFFEE SPOTS
with Electric Outlets

Bean & Bean // Chelsea, Manhattan (my go-to spot for getting stuff done)

Ace Hotel (Stumptown) // Flatiron District, Manhattan (open 24/7)

Kellogg's NYC // Union Square, Manhattan (Yes, this is the cereal company!)

La Colombe // Chelsea, Manhattan (BYOH: Bring Your Own Hotspot)

The High Line Hotel (Intelligentsia Coffee) // Chelsea, Manhattan

Queens Kickshaw // Astoria, Queens (open late)

 

COFFEE SPOTS
without Electric Outlets

La Colombe

Stumptown

Blue Bottle

Think Coffee

Irving Farm Coffee Roasters

Birch Coffee

 

COFFEE SPOTS
Random

Joe Coffee // Columbia University, Upper West Side (for the window view)

McNally Jackson Books // Soho, Manhattan

Wyckoff Starr // Bushwick, Brooklyn (stop by as you explore the best graffiti in NYC)

Ninth Street Espresso // Lower East Side, Manhattan (I go here when I'm in the projects on Avenue D)

Milk Bar // Chelsea, Manhattan (go here if you want to get a sugar rush)

Tous Les Jours // Koreatown, Manhattan (open late)

Everyman Espresso // Union Square, Manhattan

REX // Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan

Kinship // Astoria, Queens

Matter // Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

 

INDOOR SPOTS TO MEET GROUPS

'ESSEN // Midtown, Manhattan

Paris Baguette // Midtown, Manhattan

 

OUTDOOR SPOTS

The High Line // Chelsea, Manhattan

Chelsea Piers // Chelsea, Manhattan (a great spot for running!)

Washington Square Park // Greenwich Village (sit on the steps in front of the waterfall)

Gantry Plaza Park // Long Island City, Queens

 

LOCAL MUSIC

Rockwood Music Hall // Lower East Side, Manhattan

 

VOLUNTEER
Contact these non-profits in advance to plan a visit.

Metro World Child // They have sites all over.

The Relief Bus // They have sites all over.

Bowery Mission // Bowery, Manhattan

NYC Rescue Mission // Chinatown, Manhattan

The Father's Heart Ministries // East Village, Manhattan

The Legacy Center // Glendale, Queens

Holding Hands Ministries // Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

POTS (Part of the Solution) // Fordham Manor, Bronx

Covenant Mercy Mission // Chelsea, Manhattan (looking for long-term volunteers)

 

SPACE FOR RENT
for Creative Types

Simple Studios // Chelsea, Manhattan

244 Rehearsal Studios // Columbus Circle, Manhattan (when you need a full band, especially bass and drums)

Champions Studios // Midtown, Manhattan

 

BARBER SHOPS

Chelsea Park Barbers // Chelsea, Manhattan

GOING BACK TO MY ROOTS (PART 2)

In my last post, I talked about going back to my roots in preaching. In this post I want to talk about how I feel like God wants me to go back to my roots in music, especially in songwriting.

I love my worship team so much at Cultivate Church.

Jade, our worship leader, is a professional jazz vocalist. However, she also sings with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, so she is influenced by a lot of soul and gospel music too, especially in the way she leads worship for us. I've always looked up to The Brooklyn Tabernacle, especially ever since I read "Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire" by Jim Cymbala.

Stella, our music director, is a professional jazz composer and pianist, who is a Berklee graduate, which gives her huge credibility in the music world. I underestimated God on this one. I never thought a Berklee graduate would ever collaborate with me! Here are some screenshots from this site that I took of some musicians who you might recognize from Berklee:

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I am so so so blessed to have these two on our worship team at Cultivate Church! Now I am not bragging. If you know my journey, you would know that this journey has beaten me up, down, and all around. Church planting has put me in the most challenging season I've ever experienced. If anything, I publically mention how awesome Jade and Stella are to keep myself encouraged!

Also, if you know my journey, you would also know that I started off in ministry leading worship, very heavily, in fact. When I wasn't leading worship, I was playing original music and covers in coffee shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, events, and festivals. My background is mainly in acoustic music, like folk, rock, and pop. Lastly, I've been influenced from a little bit of soulful music like jazz, blues, and r&b. Because I'm in the church world, I also sing and play a lot of alternative rock songs from mainstream worship bands like Hillsong, Bethel, and Elevation Worship.

In my meetings with Jade and Stella, I'll pitch songs to them from bands like Hillsong, but they'll respond back with, "Twon, we don't want to sound like Hillsong or Bethel or Elevation." And you know, I've been thinking to myself, "They're absolutely right."

I say all of that, because I'm completely resetting myself when it comes to music, especially songwriting. I'm going back to my acoustic music roots. That is what I'm going to start contributing to our band. They, on the other hand, will contribute their roots in jazz, soul, and gospel music. I'm excited to see what continues to come out of our music sessions!

Right now, we have enough original songs for an EP. We just have to refine them and figure out our sound.

The best is yet be. 

GOING BACK TO MY ROOTS (Part 1)

I've been taking a break from a lot of my activities lately to spend more time alone in prayer. For the past month or so, in my alone times with God, I feel like God has been telling me to go back to my roots, especially my preaching roots.

My first preaching mentor was Dr. John A. Nixon, Ph.D., who is now the Senior Pastor of Bayside Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, VA. I mention his credentials because his intellectual influence had a great impact on my standard and foundation for preaching. What stood out to me about him was not how intellectual he was, but how objective he was in his interpretation of the Scriptures. He tried to be unbiased as possible when teaching the Scriptures and often challenged me when I had a bias. If he was biased, he was biased toward being Biblical.

I say all of that because I predict my ministry will be going through some changes.

The heart of my ministry is not changing nor the mission or the message. However, my approach and style is changing. Let me explain:

When I first to moved to NYC, I labored immensely on mastering the art of simplicity, especially in communication. As a result, this led me to focus hard on practical application in my preaching style. The people I was serving didn't need academic or scholarly knowledge of the Scriptures; they needed emergency 911 application. I had to be straight to the point with them or I would lose their attention quickly. When I tried to be more informational with them, it was actually an obstacle to them or a "turn off" because they were down in the dumps. Many of the types of people I was serving were homeless, had addictions, and mental illnesses.

Even the mature Christians I preached to didn't like scholarly preaching because it came across as pretentious to them. Many of these mature Christians were in the outer-boroughs. If they were in Manhattan, they were in the slums of East Harlem. In short, I was fighting a lot of emotional and physical battles when I first came to NYC.

Kim Fobes, my English professor at the University of Mobile, taught me something in class that I'll never forget. She said, "Application is the highest form of knowledge." This was a spiritual seed that was planted in me that grew into something that helped me communicate to a lot of people effectively. What she said made perfect sense to me, because if you know exactly how to apply the knowledge you've attained, this means you've thought about your knowledge to its final conclusion.

When I first moved to NYC, I was focused on a certain type of people. Now that I've settled in Manhattan, I'm now focused on a neighborhood, especially in Chelsea. A lot of people in this neighborhood don't have emotional or physical needs, but they definitely have intellectual needs. With that in mind, on top of fighting physical and emotional battles, I am now learning how to fight intellectual battles in my neighborhood. 

So be patient and bear with me. I'm going through a transition — kind of like the awkward haircut phase when you go from having short hair to longer hair. Now this does not mean that I'm swinging the pendulum. I'm not trying to balance out my preaching between being intellectual and practical. My heart is to give people the highest measure of both.

SEEKING GOD

Seeking God takes first priority over serving God. Seeking is primary and serving is secondary. Burnout happens when you stop seeking the God you are serving.


But *seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness...

// Matthew 6:33 CSB (emphasis added)


But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone? So tell her to give me a hand.

The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.”

// Luke 10:40-42 CSB

THEOLOGY

Don't let your theology of God bow down to the size of your sin and problems. Instead, make your sin and problems bow down to the bigness of your theology of God. The bigger your intimacy with God becomes, the smaller your sin and problems become in light of His grace, Truth, power, and victory.

The more you get to know God through His Word, the more you'll fall in love with Him. The more you fall in love with Him, the more you'll treasure and protect your relationship with Him. A high view of God fuels your love for God with the power to kill sin and completely walk away from it before it kills you, your future potential, and your relationships. This is what it looks like to love God and hate sin.

Lastly, you won't just speak to God about the size of your problems, especially facing evil, you'll start speaking to your evil problems about the size of your God.

HOLDING TIGHTLY

Your eternity isn't secure because you hold on tightly to Jesus; your eternity is secure because Jesus holds on tightly to you. You can treasure Jesus, because He treasures you first.

My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.

// John 10:27-28 CSB