You can’t say IT IS FINISHED and don’t know what IT is! – Bishop T.D. Jakes #ProjectGideon

Under ConstructionFor two days, my wife and I had the unique opportunity to join 500 young leaders from across the country and the world for a mentorship program entitled “Project Gideon”. Under the leadership and vision of Bishop T.D. Jakes, this two-day mentoring intensive serves to identify the core of who we are and pursue our God-given vision with intentionality. During the course of one session, Bishop Jakes made a statement that was written on my heart: “You can’t say IT IS FINISHED and don’t know what IT is!” The room of emerging leaders nodded and voiced their agreement. My vocal AMEN was mixed with conviction and a challenge: “Ryan, do you know what IT is?”

In John 19:30, Jesus is recorded crying out “It is finished!” as He was crucified on the cross. This statement is one word in the Greek: tetelestai. In the context of the Scriptures, Jesus literally cried out “The price is all paid!” What price? Jesus had finished the work the Father gave Him to do. He gave up His life that we may be saved from our sinful nature and have abundant life with Him. He knew His mission, His calling and His assignment. Without a shadow of a doubt, Jesus knew it was finished once and for all. Jesus is a leader who knows when the job is complete.

In many respects, our daily routine dictates whether a job is complete or incomplete. The items left undone have a direct impact on our day, our future and those around us. We may even pride ourselves in completing our checklist for the week. But, like Jesus, our lives and those around us depend on whether our vision and/or assignment is complete. There is an argument to be made that our work is not complete until we reach eternity. But, our goals and vision points should not stay perpetually in “incomplete” status until eternity when the lives of this generation hang in the balance. It’s hard to confess that the lack of discipline and forward thinking has left many visionless.

I concluded with humility that I am under construction. The destination is clear but the roads need to be paved, the lines need to be painted, and the potholes need to be filled. And you may be in the same place. Sometimes we may be driving too fast to realize that God wants to “pave our roads”. Admittedly, I don’t even like being in the middle of construction, especially during rush hour traffic. “Shouldn’t this be done already?” or “Why would they do this work now?” have come out of my mouth from time to time. In order for a highway or building to have a strong foundation, it takes time. You cannot rush the process of quality.

Rushing the construction God is doing in your life is bypassing critical work in your character. The temptation to reach your destination quickly is strong, especially in our culture of “get quick” methods. But, like an expert engineer, God’s construction in your life considers every possible contingency or issue that may arise. When tough times come, you can rest assured that your foundation is strong enough to not only endure but overcome! I pray that you embrace the “under construction” label. Don’t begrudge it or dismiss it. Watch God make all things new in and through you!

Bailey was not only a pet; he was a member of our family. – Ryan

Yesterday, my family had to say goodbye to Bailey, our family dog for 13 years. In the recent months, his health had been declining from cataracts to a collapsed trachea. After losing his ability to walk, Bailey became increasingly frustrated and agitated. He wanted to walk, run, play and do the things he was used to doing. Now, it was time to say goodbye. Via FaceTime, I was blessed to join my family in saying goodbye at the local veterinarian. No doubt, February 7, 2014 was a tough day. Bailey was not only a pet; he was a member of our family. To honor his memory, I want to share some lessons I learned from his life.

Lesson #1: The Ministry of Presence

Bailey did what he was created to do — be a dog! As a part of his nature, Bailey knew instinctively when to come around you without any prompting. I remember the long days of college and seminary when stress levels were beyond human comprehension. As I was working or decompressing, Bailey would walk in my room and sit. He knew I needed his company. And he didn’t have to say a word. His presence was enough. Every holiday or family gathering, Bailey was in the center of the action (hoping to get some food too)!

Bailey had the ministry of presence. He was just…there. How we could all learn from this. Sometimes, we feel the insatiable need to say something or do something. Bailey taught me in simple ways to just be there in the moment.

Lesson #2: It’s Not That Serious

Admittedly, there are times when I can take life’s situations way too seriously. Bailey didn’t have time for that! The simple things gave him pleasure…good eats, nice weather, sitting in the sun, playing with his toys, and lapping up lots of water. When I would see Bailey, I would always say, “Man…what a life!” In my joking around, I realized a real life lesson — don’t take yourself so seriously. Enjoy every moment. This life and the time we have is precious.

Lesson #3: Move Forward

As I type these words, tears come to my eyes. Since my start at Seton Hall University in 2000, Bailey has been a part of every life moment — classes, work, transitions, family deaths, graduations, moving, and my own wedding (we had him wear a doggie tux at home). This Yorkshire terrier had the biggest of hearts in a tiny frame. But, he moved forward after bouts of sickness. Watching in real time was surreal and reminded me that life keeps moving forward. We cannot stop even with our futile attempts to do so.

Our family will mourn Bailey’s loss. We will cry and grieve. In the midst of the tears, we thank God for the gift of this small dog who brought large smiles to our faces everyday. Thank you Bailey for being you and in the process, learning from you. Thank you for a great 13 years. We will never forget you!

You are loved for who you are, and not merely what you can do. – Koo Chung


REFlectionsKooChungKoo Chung has a long list of titles: recording artist, touring artist, musician, worship leader, songwriter, producer, photographer, husband, friend, and creative partner. He’s gone on to produce five solo albums and tour around the country, collaborating with artists like Derek Webb, Andrew Peterson, and Jars of Clay. Koo’s resume and list of achievements are too numerous to outline here.  But, it is his humanity that provides an inside look of how to grieve well, hope in the midst of struggle and remain a dreamer surrounded by despair. In the first REFlections interview, it is my great honor to present Koo Chung! 

RF: As a music artist, you have explored various creative directions. What would you consider your most creative moment? Why?

Koo: It’s hard to pinpoint one creative moment, but I would have to say that the most creative moments have always happened in the context of collaborating with other musicians/artists. I love teaming up with people who enjoy thinking outside the box and aren’t afraid to spend some time to achieve excellence by exploring different ideas. Most recently, the most rewarding collaborative process was song-writing with my friend Mike Schmid who helped in co-producing my latest album “Brick by Brick”. It definitely sounds different from my previous work, and I can easily say that it’s my favorite out of all the albums I’ve worked on.

RF: Koo, you’ve been very transparent about your seven-year hiatus from music, detailing it as a period of “life happened”. What were some lessons that you’ve learned during that season?

Koo: The biggest lesson I learned was that you need to know yourself well. Simple as that. The better you know yourself, your boundaries, limits, weaknesses, strengths, and what makes you feel alive – the better you can take care of yourself and be better equipped to maintain meaningful relationships in your life. When all of these are in tact, you’re so much better set up to go out and do what you’re created to do. Not sure why it took 7 years for this to happen for me, but it did.

The other half of this is that yes, “life happens”, and things won’t go our way often, and we’ll experience loss & tragedy. To say you need to roll with the punches is more for small inconveniences. When you face life changing scenarios like losing everything you have, or the death of loved ones – the only thing you can do is to try to grieve well. Look the pain right in the eyes, then when the dust settles a bit – process. Thankfully, one of the ways I was able to process was by writing songs.

RF: How did you incorporate those lessons in your new music featured on “Brick By Brick”?

Koo: I’ve been very candid about my personal life, namely my marriage, in this album. The one thing that might have suffered the most due to not knowing myself well enough, not setting good boundaries, having a stifled music career, & the experiences of loss (loved ones as well as material possessions) was my marriage. The one good thing I can say about loss is that it makes you realize how finite life is, and simply put, I experienced an urgent wake up call to appreciate who and what I have, and to love well with the remaining time I have left on this earth.

Many of us experience similar things, but feel incredibly alone because we think we’re the only ones. When this happens, we isolate ourselves and oftentimes, things get even worse because of it. Part of writing “Brick by Brick” was simply because it was one of the best ways I knew how to be introspective about everything I experienced, and because I loved the idea of creating these thoughts in music form – keepsakes, if you will. But the reason I went ahead with recording and releasing this album to the public is because I wanted to encourage people to remove their masks, and risk being vulnerable so we can love and accept each other better when it comes to the dark and gray areas of our lives. The only way I felt I can initiate this was to remove my own mask first.

RF: How has your faith in God developed you to the man you are today?

Koo: Faith has been the greatest gift, especially in the darkest seasons of my life. When I say gift, I mean it almost literally. It’s not that I have always had a great amount of faith, but it’s that I was able to notice frequently how faithful God has been, and how He has never let go. Therefore, if my life choices, and everyday actions could speak they would probably say, “This is for you God, because I can clearly see Your love and faithfulness in my life. At times it’s as tangible as Your protection and provision, and at others it’s an abstract idea. I want others to experience this, and if I can help reach others with this amazing love, then I’m happy to be Your instrument”.

RF: If money or resources were not an issue, what would you endeavor to do right now?

Koo: I can honestly say that it wouldn’t look incredibly different from what I’ve done in the past, and what I’m doing now. The only difference would be that some of it would be done on a larger scale. I’ve had recording studios in the past and currently own some recording gear, but with unlimited resources, I’d build an amazing recording / rehearsal studio and offer it as a resource to other artists I believe in (of course I’d use it myself as well, to go in and record whenever I need to). This studio would come with an amazing engineer I have hired full time, because I am not a fan of learning programs like ProTools, and understanding outboard gear. If I’m at all knowledgable about technology and equipment now, it’s only because it was a means to an end in the past.

I’d put together a band and would continue touring with my wife, Jinny Kim. The specific purpose or message for the season might change from time to time, but I love the idea of being able to communicate and connect w/ friends and audiences throughout the world especially in the form of music.

When I’m not doing this, I’d be back home trying to get better at my craft, practicing, reading, writing, and of course I would always stay involved w/ my local church’s worship ministry.

So yeah, not entirely different from what I’ve been doing.

RF: What do you consider your greatest success? Why?

Koo: Every once in a while when I meet a younger Asian artist/musician for the first time, I am surprised and incredibly honored when they say to me that they have heard of me, and that I have “paved the way” for artists like themselves. When I was in my teens and twenties, there were still not too many of us putting ourselves out there in the music world (here in the US, that is). A large part of why Asians never pursued their dreams of becoming an artist was because they didn’t feel like they could succeed in the US, or that they didn’t have the blessings of their parents who immigrated here and worked hard so that we can have a good education and be “successful”. We are not all wired however, to have the same kind of academic or corporate success. There are many incredibly gifted Asian artists who can impact the world in great ways. I’m relieved to see how things have changed in the past two decades, and thankful to have played some small role in it.

RF: There are those who are reading this blog that are at a crossroads. They may be conflicted about how they should proceed on a dream or a goal for the new year. What words of encouragement would you offer them?

Koo: Recently I spoke with a friend who said that she intentionally chose not to do something she loved full time because if she did so, it would begin to feel like work and that she wanted to always enjoy what she did. Another friend told me about his experience with an artist he knew that had no backup plan whatsoever, because not doing music was a foreign concept, and not an option. This artist ended up having a hit single on national radio, and continues to do music now. In both examples, their motivations were purely based on how they experienced doing what they loved. Their actions were not determined by a desire for fame or for financial success – and I would say that these two things often hinder our approach to achieving our dreams and goals.

Bottom line is, if you love and believe in something – pursue it. Put in your time, practice, make mistakes, put yourself out there – especially if you believe in the message of what it is that you’re sharing. If you’re not at a place where you can do what you love full time, then work – earn money – but don’t be discouraged or think yourself a victim for having to do so. Learn what you can from your current job. If you’re paying attention, there’s always something valuable to learn. I didn’t want to work at Starbucks forever, but when I did, I learned many aspects of management and cultivated important people skills.

Continue to prioritize and carve out time to do what you love, and if one day it becomes your livelihood, be thankful and set appropriate boundaries in your life so you continue enjoying what you do. Never forget to prioritize important relationships in your life. Love well, and have fun along the way – life is too short. You are loved for who you are, and not merely what you can do.

— REFlections Interview —

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