Suffering as a Grace

As 2015 comes to an unexpected close, I am struck by how quickly this year passed and also thinking about how much the church has grown through our study of Romans and also now moving through our call to pray and pray through psalms.

As I write this, I am enjoying some time with the family as we ventured into the city for a staycation. Nico and Noah are filled with wonder and I see a very big turning in the life of our sons that they are beginning to be spiritually formed. I look at them and my initial and default mode is to to go into full gear to provide for them the most that they can experience in this lifetime. So we take them to museums and teach them about the wonders of God’s creation, we take them upstate to see the fall foliage, we teach them to ride their bikes and scooters. Nico is learning to play piano and Noah is learning to play air guitar.

I also want to protect them from some of life’s difficulties liking getting wet in the rain, remedies when they are ill or hurt. But there are emotional pain too, when their stuff gets taken from other kids or them getting picked on. I remember one time at a church Christmas party, this bigger boy try to bully Nico; Nico stood up to him, I was so proud but also worried that there will be days that he will not be able to protect himself. But in more sinister world, I want to protect our boys from real evil that is out there.

But as I prayed and reflected on the Psalms, and also on the larger Biblical narrative, it is latent with God’s people suffering. They are not insulated from the real evils of treachery and evil as they are sinned against and also their rebellion has lead to dire judgment from God. Yet, I see that in those dark moments in lives of the God’s people, there is a turning; a realization once again of God’s mercy and grace to them.

I thought about that as two article this week helped me consider how important suffering is. One is a great article from my friend Cameron Cole called” There Is No Crown Without a Cross for Your Kids” and a discussion with Tim Keller, D.A. Carson and John Piper on “Thousand Sorrows Teaches a Man to Preach.” Each of these articles reminds me of how precious sorrow could be in shaping our gospel character. We often try to avoid suffering and insulate ourselves from any threat of pain but when we look at scripture, is really the most cogent way the gospel engages and moves us from the cognitive affirmation of the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace to a deep experience of God’s goodness in the midst of some of the darkest encounters with sin.

So, I think back on the years God has brought me through unbelief, betrayal, loss, despair, desperation and moments of wanting to walk away from ministry and faith altogether, it was then that God exposed me for who I was. A man grasping for my own ownership and throneship. I wanted to be God and yet, there was this rich experience of joy that it was a grace to me to go through it so there is a greater confidence of the depth that the Gospel is renewing and bringing me closer to promise of the King who is making all things new again.

This year has not been an easy one for me as God confronted a lot of my pride and my exquisite ways I have navigated through my public life with little reflection on my private discipleship of obedience towards the cross. But as God would have it, He loved me so much He wrecked my health and my effectiveness in ministry. So, I paused, and in a moment of despair, I repented and in that moment of clarity, I saw that all this mess was a grace to me. So the story is not over and God is still forming this stubborn heart towards a deeper understanding of His word and His Spirit to lead me to a deeper prayer towards the Father. So, now I see so clearly that God brings these sorrows as a way to grow us and in that we can lean upon Christ and the cross. I learned to see that God is moving so that I can thank, and love him not simply as a doctrine but as my redeemer. Sorrow and suffering has brought me to God and this faith to endure and mature. It goes beyond just thinking but it moved me from my mind on the eternal truths revealed in the biblical story to the person of Christ and his work on the cross for humanity. Suffering has made it possible—and helpful—to think about the biblical truths that make our suffering exposes to our convictions to these truths. By His mercy it moves me to reorder my loves and relocate my glory, turning my affections and attention to the One who brings meaning by bending suffering to his glory and to draw me into intimacy with God as reflected in His nature. God chose the way of love in through the Cross; and we can bring our crosses to Him because He has shown how he can relate and also overcome the darkest moments.

One pastor told me, “everyone agrees and affirms the theology of Paul and Jesus but nobody wants to emulate their suffering.” I agree that we should not pursue suffering but rather we should not create such a buffer of comfort that we can’t grow in our dependence when we have despaired and cried…it is in these moments that the light and balm of the gospel runs deeply. That is what marks Christians is not how moral they are but rather how joyful they are in the deepest sorrows. Even when the grave is upon us, We cry but we do not cry without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Also when we go through suffering, we have such a tremendous empathy for those who go through suffering, we don’t just spout out Christian platitudes because we know that they are very cold comfort, rather we empathize, we weep and we can see that their pain is so very real.

So I prayed that this is our reflection as we close out the year…that we find praise for the good, the bad and the ugly for God is working. Do you have any regrets? God is working. Any anxiety about this past year, God is working. Any uncertainty upon the future? God is working. But not only is He working but He is close. His sovereignty is always intimate and always good. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He is Lord. He is Love.

At the right time Jesus will return and to make things news. He will come to establish his kingdom on earth, restoring comprehensively all things and wiping away every tear. The end result will be so overwhelmingly good and perfect that even the worst suffering we’ve endured will seem beautiful and perfectly holy in light of God’s final act of redemption.

That is true hope that is given to us through the word and the person of Christ.

Prayer Prompt (taken from the Worship Sourcebook)

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
God of the ages, we praise you for all your servants,
who have done justice, loved mercy,
and walked humbly with their God.
For apostles and martyrs and saints of every time and place, who in life and death have witnessed to your truth,
we praise you, O God.
For all your servants who have faithfully served you, witnessed bravely, and died in faith,
who are still shining lights in the world,
we praise you, O God.
For those we have known and loved,
for teachers and colleagues and friends,
for parents and grandparents, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, for all who by their faithful obedience and steadfast hope
have shown the same mind that was in Christ Jesus,
we praise you, O God.
Keep us grateful for their witness, and, like them,
eager to follow in the way of Christ.
Then at last, bring us together
to share in the inheritance of the saints in light,
through Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.

"I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation,
from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Thank you for joining us in praying where you are today and I hope to see you soon as we worship each Sunday as a body of Christ serving our Flushing community.

Remaining in Him,
Peter Ong

One Solitary Life

Dear Church,
On Christmas day, the world will collectively celebrate one life that has changed the course of history. Wherever your faith is, it is undeniable that the birth of Jesus Christ has marked the world in such a way we cannot dismiss it. There is probably no other day that has as much expectation as December 25th with so many families preparing for that morning of great expectations. In the Gospel of Luke Chapter 2:6, the birth happens and the arrival brings about promise, peace and praise. Yet the promise would come through this child’s one solitary life.

In a sermon preached by Dr. James Alan Francis called “One Solitary Life,” Dr. Francis gives us a perspective that shows us the measure of the life of Christ:

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, 
the child of a peasant woman. 
He grew up in another village. 
He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. 
Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. 
He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. 
He never held an office. 
He never had a family. 
He never went to college. 
He never put His foot inside a big city. 
He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. 
He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. 
He had no credentials but Himself… 
While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. 
His friends ran away. 
One of them denied Him. 
He was turned over to His enemies. 
He went through the mockery of a trial. 
He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. 
While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. 
When He was dead, 
He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. 

Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today, He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that were ever built, and all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon the earth as powerfully as has this one solitary life.

So how are we to respond to this arrival? What do we offer? This child who is God is not asking to barter with him. God doesn’t want you make excuses. Your best offering to him is a plea. There are times in life when everything you have to offer is nothing compared to what you are asking to receive. What could a man offer in exchange for this child’s life?

What can we give so we can receive salvation? So there are no games. No haggling. No masks. Just ask for help to believe. And Jesus, who loves the honest and pleading heart, is giving himself to you by entry into humanity. Let’s not forget this as we gather for Christmas. Pray that sense of wonder won’t ever escape from us.

This past Sunday’s sermon I urged us to consider the purpose of Christmas as a day not only about the promise of peace but the person of peace. This is a day for us to remember that God looked at the world and saw the mess that judgment and fear has done to us. The creator made himself vulnerable to his creation. God became a participant in humanity and this child who had little feet and toes. He had eyelashes, fingernails, hair and within his tiny ribs was a heartbeat. But this child was not simply be adored like so many babies. This child would be on mission to the cross and that heartbeat would stop one day at cross on calvary. This child would have the shadow of the cross before Him…yes, this child who was the divine King entered into the world in a feeding trough (wood), he would be a son to a carpenter (wood) and he lost his glory so we can have glory forever. He lost his peace so we could have peace so we can be a peace to all people. He couldn’t even be born in a decent room so that you can dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Look at this child and what he did for you. Won’t you trust this God who would do that for you… Can you trust Him with your fears? Do you see what the angels said and what the shepherds were praising? To the degree you ponder this and treasure the truth of His arrival, your fears will surprisingly turn to praise. When you see that this child will pursue the cross because in that pursuing of the cross, He will rescue us. That this child’s blood will reconcile to Himself all things…as scripture tells us.

“and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you  continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”

Colossians 1:20–23.

So the purpose of Christmas is a person who made peace through his sacrifice of a solitary life but it is filled with so much significance because of the person and work of Jesus Christ on the cross and his power over death through His resurrection. It is in this resurrection that seals that promise of that child came to be savior of the  world but as I often remind myself and others, “the story is not over.” On this side of eternity, Christmas is still a promise. Yes, the Savior has come, and with him peace on earth, but the story is not finished. Yes, there is peace in our hearts, but we long for comprehensive peace in our world. That is the story to come, that there will an eternal peace that will every hint of brokenness will be flooded with full restoration. Poverty will be forgotten as the land will be filled with abundance.

So as you open the gifts and see the smiles that comes from it, remember the greatest present we have is God’s presence to us today and the age to come. When we can see him in full glory.

Prayer Prompt

Arise, shine: for your light has come.
O God, we live as if the light
had never defeated the darkness in the world or in us.
And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
We confess that we ignore the Christ
you sent to be among us, to be in us.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. We’ve kept the birth of your Son confined to the Christmas season and do not yearn for his birth each moment in our waiting hearts. And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.
Lord, you came to us in the fullness of time.
Forgive us for not opening our eyes to your coming.
It’s time that we prepare for your coming.
Let the earth ring with song. Let the light break forth.
Let us all rejoice in the miracle of love.
Let Christ come into the fullness of our time. Amen. 
—based on Isaiah 60:1-3

From Worship Sourcebook

Portraits of Grace: Stephanie (2 of 2)

Portraits of Grace is a snapshot into the lives of the people at King's Cross Church. As "kingdom minded, kingdom people," we recognize God's work in every detail of our lives. We invite you to meet the people of our church.

Photo by Stephanie Yung

It was really great going back to Kenya in March with our whole family. Rehema is named for the Swahili word for mercy and compassion, and also after the children’s home and school I worked with in Kesogon. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to use these relationships and experiences to teach my daughters that the world is bigger than just what they can see- that there is a body of believers all around the world, about the lives and needs of other people. I hope that it will teach them to love people who are very different from themselves. When we went, Rehema wasn’t shocked by anyone’s skin color or how different their lives were from ours. She just played with kids and did the things she loved in the context of Kenya, and she was loved by all the people that we love there. It was a great experience.

Portraits of Grace: Stephanie (1 of 2)

Portraits of Grace is a snapshot into the lives of the people at King's Cross Church. As "kingdom minded, kingdom people," we recognize God's work in every detail of our lives. We invite you to meet the people of our church.

Photo by Minnow Park

As a parent, you face fears about raising your kids “right”. I was raised in a different culture from my parents and there’s a lot of leftover angst and issues there that I worry will get handed down in my parenting. I worry about developing a good mother-daughter relationship with my girls. I worry that they may not stay in the church. When you have kids, it feels like they’re the biggest thing that you can mess up. That being said, I find freedom in the truth that our kids do not ultimately belong to us — that their achievements, happiness, security are not the end all of our lives. It is so easy for the good things in our lives to become idols and my kids are something I have to give up regularly in order to turn over control of my life and to place my trust in God.

My Soul Magnifies the Lord

This past Sunday, we heard a familiar Advent passage from the Gospel of Luke where Gabriel appears to Mary with startling news: she’s going to be the mother of a child who will known as the Son of the Most High. Even more than that name, this child will continue the line of David—he will be a king! But not just any king—The King—for he will reign forever and his kingdom will know no end (The whole passage is Luke 1:26-38 if you want to go back and re-read).

Now immediately following this, Mary rushes over to her cousin Elizabeth’s. Elizabeth was “barren”—everyone knew that; but that strange messenger Gabriel said to her, that even her “barren” cousin Elizabeth in her old age is carrying a child! So in joy, awe, and perhaps mixed with a little fear, she rushed over to her cousin’s for she wanted to see at least part of the fulfillment of what Gabriel had said to her. The baby in Elizabeth’s womb jumped for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice and Mary, seeing confirmation of Gabriel’s words, expresses her own joy and breaks out in song:

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
 For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
 and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
 from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
 he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
 and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
 and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
 in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
 to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

(Luke 1:46-55)

I recount this narrative for several reasons: (1) In this season of Advent, to remind us of the King to come. But also (2), to look at this account and Mary’s responsive expression—this psalm (since we are studying prayer through the psalms at the moment)—to inform our prayers. In her encounter with Gabriel, she understands what is to happen to her and she accepts it with humble awe.

But could it be that Mary struggled with knowing in her mind and “knowing” in her heart just as we often do when we live our faith? She knew she would bear the child but the child had not yet come nor was she showing any signs of pregnancy.

How could she teach her heart which seemed out of sync with her faith in God’s promise?

She looked for signs of the promise. As I re-read this story over and over and try to live into Mary’s experience, I believe that her encounter with Elizabeth (and John the Baptist in her womb) taught her heart to hope in a way that complemented her knowledge of what was to come. It was an experience that deepened that longing for what was to come, and with high towering praise and humble deep gratitude she burst out in verse praising God for what was to come as if it were already here.

In this season, as we collectively practice this longing for the King to come, and especially at a time when the world seems to be unraveling, what are the tangible reminders that the Kingdom, though not fully here, has its grasp on this broken world? Do you see it in your work? In your family? Perhaps you find a taste for the kingdom to come in the meals with you community group. Or in the good friendship and conversation with a good friend.

Today as we pray together, my encouragement is that we set aside time explicitly praise God for his promise and its coming fulfillment as we see the signs of the promise in our every day lives. May we join with all the saints who have longed for the promise—with Mary herself as she also longed for its fulfillment—in the coming of Jesus, whose means “The LORD is Salvation.”

Portraits of Grace: Hannah

Portraits of Grace is a snapshot into the lives of the people at King's Cross Church. As "kingdom minded, kingdom people," we recognize God's work in every detail of our lives. We invite you to meet the people of our church.

Photo by Minnow Park

I was born in Tianjin, China- a city of 14 million. I’m the only child because I was born in 1980. That was the first year of the One-Child policy in China. When I was 28 I quit my job, gathered my savings, and left for the United States. If I go back to China now I would probably have more job opportunities and better pay, but there’s freedom here. In China you can’t say certain things and can’t even worship freely. I could only go to certain places to worship there- like underground churches. Coming to America was a journey of wholeness for me- and I hope to live up to my full potential here.

Advent: Come Let Us Adore Him

Dear King’s Cross Family and Friends,

This past Sunday, we started our Advent Sundays. Advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming” or “arrival.” This four-week season of reflection and preparation for the Christmas season so we can fix our hearts and eyes on the arrival of Jesus. As many of you experienced during Thanksgiving, a good celebration requires proper balance of preparation and expectation for us to fully enjoy it. There is the preparation to travel to homes where feasts were prepared and also eaten. As soon as the meal is finished, the Christmas trees are set up and then right after Black Friday is upon us as we seek the best deals. There is a great quote that sums up our ethos during this time:

“Because only in America, people trample others for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have.” — Unknown

Advent is a gift to us to consider what is the greatest gift to the world. As I shared this past Sunday, the greatest present/gift we can gain from someone is their presence. But Christmas is something staggering is not only God came to give us His presence but the manner in which He came was in humility. He draws himself to us not in the spectacle of majesty but in meekness in a manger. It would serve us well to consider the implications of that shapes this season. It is marked by the grace of this historic moment. It should make us marvel at the wonder of how God recognized that through our moral achievement we will never “get to” God but rather came to us through grace. Through unmerited love for us and if we believe this, it should cause us to marvel and to take a deeper consideration for the things have take so much weight in our hearts. The infinite became finite so we can know the depths of His love.

So as we take a pause this season where the hustle of Christmas shopping, parties, and preparations can overshadow the Advent season; let’s pray that we recognize how much this can take us out of sync with the beauty of this quiet scene of God arriving. It could mute this moment with all this noise and busyness.

This past Sunday I was reminded by the power of God’s invitation to see his face and Apostle Paul states, “We are beholding with unveiled faces the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 3:18. Jesus came to us in the face of a child. This child who will grow up and will have the shadow of the cross before him. This face who will one day be spat upon and also struck with blood flowing down from this brow from a crown of thorns. Christ went, and the moment of his death on the cross, His blood poured out, immediately the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom, the veil that separated the face of God from the people.

This is the glorious absurdity of the gospel. The most beautiful human became the most grotesque, mauled and at the cross; humanity’s worst of assault on this beautiful Christ. Christ calls out and mediates on our behalf by stating “Father, Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do…” He is presenting himself on our behalf. That was God’s way of saying, “Do you want to know what the cross is about? Do you want to know what the gospel is about? Do want to know what the Christian faith is about? Do you want to know what life is about? He died so you could see God face to face, so you could know Him personally, so the barrier could be gone, so instead of me just being a boss or a taskmaster but I could be your Father.”

Let’s take a moment to prepare our hearts for this season to receive Christ and I believe that our heart aches for this narrative. We are so desperate for a pause for unsustained demand for perfection but we want grace and Advent is centered on the arrival and this arrival had a face. A face with flesh that is undisputedly affirm that grace has arrived. We can sing “peace on earth” has truly come and Christ is the prince of peace because he took on the full weight of our sins so will arrive again to full make that song true.

Prayer Prompt
“Living God, I confess the slant of my heart to hate you and my neighbor. But that sounds so harsh— I’m not that bad, am I God? Yet if I am brutally honest I see that I’m in deeper than I dare admit, unless I am born again by your Spirit. Fill me with the greater hope this Advent season that in Christ’s love I am on my way to new life. In the Savior’s name, amen.”

Reinders, Philip F (2013-02-26). Seeking God’s Face: Praying with the Bible Through the Year (p. 25). Faith Alive Christian Resources.

Thank you for joining us in praying where you are today and please consider using this Advent resource from John Piper of Desiring God Ministries for your advent reflection. It is my hope that you can take time each day approaching Christmas to reflect.

Please come to our service on Sundays to prepare for this season as we come and let us adore him.

Remaining in Him,
Peter Ong