Pastor Eugene Cho encourages followers of Christ to take action on social issues – and not just talk about them – in a discussion based on his book, Overrated: Are We More in Love With the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing It? (Part 1 of 2)
Pastor Eugene Cho: I remember saying, "God, I'm so angry at You right now, because I feel like I've lost control of my life." I remember saying that prayer and I almost felt the Holy Spirit nudging me in my heart saying, "Yes, finally you realize you don't have control over your life."
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John Fuller: That's Pastor Eugene Cho, reflecting on a trying season in his life as he wrestled with God. This is "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and today you'll hear more from Eugene about how you can trust God in the midst of your questions and how you can have a heart for others and how you can live out your faith authentically.
Jim Daly: John, it's so easy for us to get distracted in our prioritization of life. Sometimes we pursue things that aren't really in the Lord's interest. They're in our interest and I think that's okay to a certain degree, but the Lord wants us to think more of some of those things that are on His heart, like the poor and how we reduce poverty. Those are big almost overwhelming challenges. We're busy trying to pay down the mortgage, take care of the retirement account and I think God wants us to engage our culture, to love those around us and to share the Gospel in a way that, you know, puts a hook into someone's heart and I'm looking forward to today's discussion, because that's the kind of program we're gonna have today.
John: Yeah, I think there's gonna be a practical application, as well, for those of us who, like you and me, Jim, have children in the teens or preteen years, because there is a certain idealism that accompanies those years. You know, we want to change the world.
Jim: And then chaos hits.
John: Well, yeah and we've gotta help them not just think it through, but model it well for them and we've got a guest to help us do that today, to think it all through. Pastor Eugene Cho is the founding pastor of Quest Church in urban Seattle and he began an organization to alleviate global poverty called One Day's Wages and we'll hear more about that today, I'm sure. He's also written a book called Overrated: Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World?
Jim: Eugene, let me welcome you to "Focus on the Family."
Eugene: Thank you. It's so great to be here.
Jim: You describe in y our book a personal confession. I always like those, John, personal confessions. What were you getting at with that personal confession? What "ah-ha" moment did you have?
Eugene: It's possible that someone who's listening to the radio show right now would be hearing the title of the book and think, "Oh, this is another author who has seven tips of how to, whatever the blank might be."
Jim: Love your spouse, whatever it might be.
Eugene: Right and I think those books are important. They have a place. For me, this book really is a confessional. It's really me kind of baring some of the vulnerability of a person who has a platform, who's a pastor, a preacher, a blogger, who travels to conferences here and there. And after a while, I began to realize that I think I was more in love with the things that I was saying, rather than actually living those things out.
And I think that's the challenge for us as followers of Christ is, maybe to make it a little bit more broad. Are we more in love with the idea of following Jesus than actually following the teachings of Jesus? Is He just our Lord and Savior or is He also our teacher? Is He also our rabbi, someone that we're seeking to emulate because we're disciples. We're disciples of Jesus.
Jim: Well, and that impacting of our life is what it's all about. I remember somebody once saying to me, you know, the evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit is a changed life.
Eugene: That's right.
Jim: And a changed life demonstrates things differently than someone who's not changed. I mean, that's pretty self-evident.
Jim: But talk about that. I agree with you, that we fall into a trap of comfortableness. Talk about why that occurs, why we get together in our tribe of followers of Christ and then many of us get comfortable there and we stop stretching ourselves. We stop allowing God to stretch us.
Eugene: Yeah. You know, I think there's a difference between being comfortable and being complacent. And I think, for those who are listening, I wouldn't knock comfortable or being comfortable as a bad thing in itself.
Jim: So, we don't need to feel guilty –
Jim: --for comfort.
Eugene:--no, not at all. You know, if we're listening in our comfortable couches right now, we shouldn't be deprecating ourselves for that. But for me, the distinction between comfort and complacency is that the latter, we stop listening to how God is stirring our hearts and sometimes, God calls us to areas of discomfort and challenge. That's part of the journey of life and the journey of discipleship and that's what concerns me, is that after a while, I think the things of this world and because we as Christians, live in this world, we can easily fall prey, I think, to the slow seduction that goes on in our world, where, we might be tempted by materialism and might be tempted by this complacency thing and we stop listening to the Holy Spirit speaking, stirring our hearts.
What I often tell people is, the same God who spoke to Abraham and Jacob and Isaac, this God is still speaking to His followers today. The question then is, are we listening? And how are we listening and are we obeying to those convictions?
Jim: Well, and the other question is, what does the wax in our ear look like? I mean, what makes up that inability to now hear the Lord? What blocks the message? Take us back, 'cause I want to talk about your life experience as a child. You learned so many good things, as I read the book Overrated. You referenced your parents, which of course, [at] Focus on the Family, we're all about that. Talk about the contribution your parents made to your life, your understanding of the worldview that you possess.
Jim: How did they help shape you?
Eugene: Yeah, gosh, is it okay to cry on the radio show?
Eugene: 'Cause it's possible that I might cry. There hasn't been a time recently where I'll speak of my parents and not start weeping and it hasn't always been like that to be honest with you. Perhaps like others, I went through some incredibly painful turbulent stages, particularly in my teenage years, where my parents were enemies, No. 1. They were my nemesis. They were the reasons or the people that I needed to blame for all of my pain and woes in my life.
Jim: You're speaking to the parents of teenagers right now—
Jim: --including me and John.
Eugene: So, maybe that resonates a bit, but you know, I'm 44 now and as I'm growing older, I'm beginning to see my parents in [a] different lens and I am just awed. There's oftentimes I have a hard time finding words to capture the emotions I feel for my parents. I love them. I honor them. I bless them.
My father is turning 80 soon. My mother's not that far behind. A few memories come to mind for me. My parents were both born in what is now called North Korea. My father was 6 when his father, my grandfather told him, "Hey, son, it's time for us to run away." And he tells the most craziest stories of having to flee away from bullets that were coming from a Communist army that was growing, if you will.
And so, in short, they grew up as children of a Korean War. And they grew up in extreme poverty. They were so poor. My father shares a story of his job as one of six siblings was to go to restaurants, to their garbage bins and to gather used egg shells. That was his job, to gather as many used egg shells from garbage bins.
And he would take it to my grandmother and for days they would grind these egg shells down and they would then pour it into boiling water and it was their source of milk or calcium, if you will.
Eugene: And so, because I saw my parents grow up in that or at least share their stories, that has really informed how they've sought to live their life. That was the reason why they grew up saying, "We want something better for our children."
And so, when I was 6, they made the crazy decision, despite not knowing a single word of English, to get on an airplane, to fly across the world and to emigrate to San Francisco. I did not know we were emigrating and so, when I got off the airplane for the very first time, you could say I had a[n] immense culture shock.
Jim: Do you remember that day?
Eugene: I do. I remember crying pretty much the entire flight and it's probably one of the most painful formative experiences of my life. But when I look back, even though it led to some really painful years of my life, I now understand why my parents did what they did and it's really out of love.
I'll share one more experience with you. When I graduated from college, I'm the youngest of three sons, when I graduated from college, I saw my father weep for one of the very first times in his life. And I wasn't quite sure what was going on and it was an odd foreign experience for me, because my father is this classic stereotypical Asian man, who keeps his emotions to his heart.
Jim: Buttoned down.
Eugene: Buttoned down and he says to me, I'll say it in Korean first. He says, (Speaking in Korean). Which means, "Eugene, now that you have graduated from college, your father can now die in peace." And it made sense why they labored so much for their children, to leave all that was comfortable in Korea—family and friends—because they wanted the best for their children. And in some ways, it captures the heart of our Father in heaven, who wants the best for His children, who wants His followers to know God's heart and God's character.
And so, my father and my parents, they may not be demonstrative in their faith, but I have learned so much from how they sought to live their lives.
Jim: Oh, now I'm in tears hearing that. That's a beautiful story, the love of a father and I just think that's the way it should be. Talk about that tenacity though. You talk in the book about needing tenacity. How does a person gain tenacity? What does the Lord desire and what does He put us through to get us there, to have a tenacious spirit?
Eugene: Yeah, well, I would first begin by saying that we, as Christians, maybe we need to take a step back and look at the Scriptures. Look at it from a biblical theological lens and I'm not quite sure for those who think that if we're followers of Christ, it's meant to be easy. 'Cause I'll meet followers, I'll meet Christians who think that if Jesus is in it, if God is in it, then it's supposed to be blessed and it's supposed to be an easy journey and I'm not sure where we find that in Scriptures.
I think oftentimes we tend to have kind of an isolated lens by which we see certain stories, meaning we don't get to see the whole story or we choose not to see the challenges that come.
So, for example, Jesus had difficulties in being obedient to the Father—the Cross, the Golgotha. When I think about the Apostle Paul, when he was being shipwrecked, that's an example of being tenacious. When he's in jail, that's an example, that when we're following our convictions, it doesn't mean that it's going to be easy.
So, I would just first begin by telling people, let's read the Scriptures in its whole and see that, wow, being a follower of Christ doesn't entail that everything is going to be a straight line, a rosy journey, if you will.
For me, I think one of the ways that I've learned that, not just through reading the Scriptures, but seeing it modeled through my parents. I think this is why family is so important. We see it modeled on a daily basis. My wife, who's a marriage therapist, sometimes she tells me how exhausting it can be in the home and we talk about this together, because we're teaching our children the same lesson again and again and again, meaning we say the exact same thing in different ways many different times.
And it's a reminder that it takes so many different reinforcements of the same thing. It's even more powerful when you model that for one another. So, when I see my parents, who wake up at 6 o'clock in the morning to open the grocery store, Royal Pine Market. That was our family grocery store in San Francisco, at 7 a.m., to eat all of our meals in the grocery store, because we had to. To close the store at 11 p.m., to go back home at midnight, to go to bed and then to do it again at 6 a.m. the next morning.
And it's not because they wanted to. It's because that's what they had to do in order to survive and to pursue the convictions that they had. And they were open Monday through Saturday. Sunday was the day for church. Did I like it? No. I had complaints. I thought I had reasons for good counseling in the future.
But when I look back and I realize the heart behind it and why they did what they did, I am just so moved by that. That's perseverance. That's tenacity. When I look at my parents and I'm not criticizing them, there isn't a bone of creativity in them. They're just not creative people. They weren't really able to, I think, foster that part of who they were.
But what I do just admire about them is strength of perseverance and tenacity. The reason why I want to talk about that is, I look at my children. I look at my generation and I think that our generation today might be one of the most brilliant, creative generations in the history of the world. The access to resources that we had is stunning and amazing, the information that we have in our SmartPhones, for example.
So, I would affirm, encourage our current generation. What concerns me about our generation is, where we excel in creativity, I think we're really faltering in the aspect of perseverance and tenacity.
Jim: That's well-said.
John: Well, some thought-provoking insights from Pastor Eugene Cho on today's "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. And you can find out more of his thinking and his personal journey in his book, Overrated and the subtitle is very descriptive: Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World? And whether you're walking the spiritual journey as a single or you're married or you have kids, this is all applicable to every one of us, I think. And you can find out more about the book and a CD or a download and our mobile app at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Eugene, I so appreciate what you just said there. There is that brilliance, I think, in the up-and-coming generation. How old are you, just so our …
Eugene: I'm 44.
Jim: Okay. So, the younger generation and its leadership I think are brilliant. I would agree in that creative approach. I think a desire, a deep desire to live out the Gospel in a more realistic way is present in that generation, yet that tenacity to push through I think is a big question mark and they'll learn that over time.
In fact, when you came out of seminary, you had a vision to build a church and you had that experience where perhaps you could say, ideology or that zeal as a young man, as a young pastor was tempered a bit with what God truly wanted to do with you. Talk about that.
Eugene: Sure. Well, I think you said it well in terms of our ideology or our idealism. You know, we have a certain perception of how things ought to be or how we want them to be. And so, I was, I think at that time, 30-years-old. My wife, Minhee, was also 30 and she was pregnant with our second child and we had a crazy idea/conviction to plant a church.
And so, we left our position in the suburbs of Seattle. After serving there for several years, we said, hey, we feel it's time for us to enter into urban Seattle to plant a multi-ethnic, multi-generational church. Would you bless us? And they said, "Okay, go for it."
And so, we went forth and being a planner that I am, I spoke with some people. Made an Excel sheet of things that we wanted to do and lo and behold, nothing turned out the way that we had mapped it out and that was tough in itself.
And then the practical challenges came. For example, how do we pay the mortgage when we don't have a job? How do we deal with medical bills when we didn't have insurance? And those were really difficult things and eventually, I had to look for a job and looked for eight months. Could not find a job for about eight months.
Jim: At 30.
Eugene: At the age of 30, with a Master's degree. I discovered very quickly that a Master's of Divinity degree is useless to society.
Jim: In fact, you got turned down by Taco Bell, right?
Eugene: Taco Bell, Starbucks, I mean, people had no idea what a Master's—
Jim: The talent.
Eugene: --of Divinity degree was or when they found out that I was a pastor, looking for work, they were just scared. Like, what's your agenda? Why are you here?
Eugene: And it was incredibly humbling and eventually, I still remember this this story. Minhee had just delivered our second child. Trinity is her name and I was at a Barnes & Noble store in Linwood, a suburb of Seattle to pick up a photo book to help record and capture the photos of our second child.
I went to the restroom and I'm walking back out and I was still unemployed at that time, wasn't quite sure how we were gonna navigate all the bills of medical and deliveries and such. And I exit the restroom and I run into one of my former congregants at Barnes & Noble. And he says to me, "Pastor Eugene, it's great to see you. How are you doing?" And I'm gonna just confess it right now. I kind of lied. I wanted to give him this image that things were perfect and that I had a job and the church planting was going well, 'cause that's what I had told this church, that I was gonna leave this church and plant a church and God was gonna bless it.
And after a couple of minutes of just skirting the question, I said, "Actually, John, it's been a little challenging. It's been very tough. We're grateful. We just had our second child, but I'm looking for a job." And John looked at me and the conversation went towards a direction that I just did not imagine. He said, "Well, Pastor Eugene, this might be a little awkward, but I could offer you a job right now." And I said, "I'll take it." (Laughter)
Jim: Before he even said what is it.
Eugene: I'll take it. I didn't even care. I needed a job.
Eugene: And he explained, "I'm here at Barnes & Noble. I just landed the custodial services job at this store. Would you be interested in being the custodian here?" And I said, "Yes, I'll take it." And God's sense of humor, two days later I'm cleaning that very bathroom that I was using a couple days earlier and it's not that, that job is beneath me. That's not what I'm saying. The reason why it was such a challenging season was because it was the farthest thing from my mind.
Jim: It wasn't in your plan.
Eugene: It wasn't in our agenda.
John: What does that have to do with planning a church anyway, Lord? Right?
Eugene: That's right, but, you know, I learned so much about character, about perseverance. And when you're at the store at 6 a.m. in the morning at a 40,000-square-feet space and no one else is there except you and you're vacuuming and dusting, you know, you realize at that point, you're not performing for anybody. You're not preaching. You're not doing liturgy. You're not leading worship songs, so what do you do but to pray. And so, God really taught me so much.
Jim: Let me ask you this, 'cause there are some people still in this economy that are suffering in that same way. They may not be looking to plant the church. They may just be moving from job to job, but they've been out of work for a long period of time. How did you not become bitter toward the Lord? I mean, you had a grant plan and you thought the Lord was on board with you to plant a church, to get it rip roarin' and save lives and see people come to the Lord and here you are, cleaning toilets. How did you fight that temptation to say, "God, what are You doin'?"
Eugene: Yeah, well, no, I would be lying on this show if I said I didn't struggle with bitterness. That if you were interviewing me during that time, this would be a radically different tone for our radio show. I might be throwin' a couple things and dropping things down a little bit.
But I would like to think that in our relationship with God, there is room and space for us to wrestle. There's room and space for some of our emotions. The good thing is, I don't think that's where God wants us to be and He doesn't want us to stay in a place where we're hardened or bitter.
I think when I struggled, God really heard my prayers. God heard some of my anger, if you will. I remember saying, " God, I'm so angry at You right now, because I feel like I've lost control of my life." I remember saying that prayer and I almost felt the Holy Spirit nudging me in my heart saying, "Yes, finally you realize you don't have control over your life."
Eugene: And it was a lesson about surrendering.
Jim: Do you think that is certainly one of the top goals the Lord has for each of His sons and daughters, that we get to that point where we realize we're not in control?
Eugene: Yes and in the word "surrender," submit, obedience, I think God loves us so much. You know, I mean, and you and I, we've all heard this before. God loves us so much that He loves us where we are, but He loves us so much that He also wants us to move closer towards His heart. And I think part of His heart is for us to learn about surrendering, about obedience. So, I would absolutely agree with that.
Jim: Yeah. I think, you know, the Lord makes it pretty straightforward. I think it's simple for us to understand, not that He is simple. But when you look at our own earthly fathers and for those of us who are fathers and mothers, you want the best for your children. Sometimes that means you have to pull back in order to not spoil them, in order to give them a little bit of appropriate boundary, so that they can learn the things that they need to learn, to be more successful in life.
Jim: And what's such an irony when we are going through difficulties, I think that's often what God is doing for us as our heavenly Father. He's sayin, "You know what? I'm not gonna make this too easy for you, because you'll miss the very lessons I want you to learn."
Eugene: That's right. Well, I wonder if this is why James, for example, has the audacity to tell us that trials has [sic] a purpose, that struggles, that they do have a godly purpose to it, to develop character in our lives.
Jim: That is so true and Eugene, we have started the discussion, but we've got more to talk about. I want to come back next time and talk about One Day's Wages, which was an effort that you began, I think kind of born out of this experience of your unemployment. I'm not sure, but let's pick up the conversation, if you can stick with us and come back to that. Eugene Cho, author of the book, Overrated: Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World? Can you stick with us?
John: And if you've resonated with Eugene's message, then get a CD or instant download of this two-part conversation. We'll include tomorrow, as well and also a copy of his book, Overrated. You'll find those and our mobile app at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.And the book really reminds you of God's heart for justice and how you can pursue the dreams He's placed in your heart.
You know, today's program reflects one of our core missions here at Focus to engage the culture for Christ, to be a beacon of hope for marriages and families. And one mom shared recently how we're helping her do that. "Thank you," she said. "As a mom of two little boys, your daily radio program has saved my life, my kids, my marriage. You guys are our family heroes and on top of all that, God used you to bring my husband to know Christ."
Well, wow! We are humbled that God would use Focus in such a way and we're only able to reach families like hers because of your prayerful financial support. Your donation of any amount to this ministry makes a big difference in the work we're doing and so, please partner with us today. Make a donation of 25, 100 or $500 dollars. We'll thank you for that gift of any amount by sending a copy of the book, Overrated and trust that you'll enjoy reading it and perhaps sharing it with others in your church or neighborhood. Donate at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-A-FAMILY.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, and tomorrow, you'll hear about a crazy situation Eugene got himself into.
Eugene Cho: And this businessman from the U.K. comes to see the home and he says to me in his British accent, which I'm not gonna mimic, he said, "Eugene, I love your home. I need it for 10 weeks. I'm willing to pay $10,000." And this was on a Wednesday, but he then says, "But we need to move in on Friday."
John: Oh, my. (Laughter)
Jim: And you still haven't told your wife yet.
End of Clip
John: You'll hear more about that situation and what happened when Eugene did tell his wife tomorrow, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.
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Eugene ChoView Bio
Eugene Cho is the founder and lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle. He is also the founder of One Day's Wages, a grassroots movement dedicated to alleviating global poverty. Eugene recently released his first book, Overrated: Are We More in Love With the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing It? He and his wife, Minhee, have three children.