Lent 2019: Flushing Art Tours / Part 1

I recently started a project called “Flushing Art Tours” in which I invite other Asian/Asian American Flushing residents to share their perspective on the neighborhood and engage in different hands-on ways to slow down, observe and reflect. I invite one person who then invites another person forming a small group of three. Each person chooses a place in Flushing that is significant to them for any reason, and then at the site they lead an activity that helps the group share in that person’s perspective. For this Lenten season, I’ll be sharing the contents of the first walk of the project with hopes that it will help us to slow down and reconsider the places that we may pass by regularly and see the different ways that people from our community are shaped by them.


When we talk about the Flushing community, what do we mean? Who would represent it? The recent immigrant, those who moved in during the 80s and 90s or their children, or those whose families have been here even longer? What places do we think of first? Is it the frequently visited restaurant, or that place on the third floor with no sign outside? We may all walk around the same places, but depending on who you are, your joy may be another’s sorrow. The comforts that draw many to this neighborhood may also partly mask over things that repel people and make it a difficult place to live. 

I want to see how Flushing residents, starting with Asians/Asian Americans, relate to their neighborhood and to do so in a way that people can learn from each other. Perhaps because of the diversity and constant change, it can be difficult to point to strong consensus or collective consciousness about cultural/neighborhood identity or even its assets and needs. However, getting a feel for these things is a necessary foundation to determine what actions might be needed to help the broader neighborhood flourish.


Lent 2019: Wretched Man that I Am

I have a tendency to start things enthusiastically but not finish strong; like a match that burns brightly when first lit but quickly dies down to an ember. Along with others at church, I decided to give up something for Lent. The first few weeks were exciting as we shared with one another about our fasts. But now as we enter the fourth week of Lent, I feel the adrenaline wearing off and it’s not as exciting anymore.

I’ve always loved the rush that came with trying new things or starting new projects. It’s helped me grow in my career where everything is fast moving and you have to adapt to changes very quickly. But when it comes to my personal growth and my relationship with family and friends, that mentality doesn’t help me at all. Instead of moving on, I need to slow down and stay in the moment rather than looking for the next new thing. 

When it comes to my messy and dark issues, I will do everything I can to distract and numb myself so I don’t have to deal with them. It’s only in the past few years where I’ve learned to sit and face what Paul calls, “the wretched man that I am.” — not to wallow in self-pity or shame, but to see Jesus in my sin and filth as much as my salvation and joy. 

Becky and I do our devotions with Tim Keller’s Songs of Jesus, and we recently were on Psalm 38:9-10:

O Lord, all my longing is before you;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
My heart throbs; my strength fails me,
and the light of my eyes-it also has gone from me.

That is a prayer from someone that knows how to sit in the mess and cry out to God within it. It’s a prayer that I’ve been too scared to pray. But this Lenten season is challenging me to slow down and be present for all the moments, both good and bad. 

As we look ahead to Good Friday, I think about Christ at Gethsemane, the night he was betrayed and how he sat in his own tears, sweat, and blood. He reached deep into his humanity and held onto the ache and fear of going to the cross. 

It was our sin that drove Christ to the cross. He knew that we alone could not bear the weight of our brokenness so He went through the suffering that was meant for us. He stayed in the darkness and overcame it so that we can be in the light. Because of the resurrection, we can now “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” We no longer have to be scared of seeing our faults, or wish that we can just get Lent over with and move onto the next thing, because we are “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Prayer: 

May I never lose the wonder
The wonder of the cross
May I see it like the first time
Standing as a sinner lost
Undone by mercy and left speechless
Watching wide eyed at the cost
May I never lose the wonder
The wonder of the cross

— Vicky Beeching


Lent 2019: Embracing Lament

We are excited to explore the Lenten season this year as a church. It is a season that postures our hearts for Easter through practices of fasting, prayer, and generosity. Join us as we ruminate in this season together and share reflections every week.


I’ve been experiencing this season of Lent with prayer and fasting against a backdrop of pain, suffering, and grief within our congregation. I’ve spoken to many who are dealing with sickness, depression, loneliness, doubt, discontent, financial instability, violence, marital woes, and loss.

When we deal with pain, usually there are two reactions: withdraw or ignore. We withdraw from God, community, friends, church, and people that love us; we turn inward and think we are the only ones going through these difficult times. Or we pretend that everything is okay and ignore the real issues that we are facing. How many times have we told ourselves that everything is in God’s plan and everything is going to be okay? Or how many times have we heard Romans 8:28, that “God works all things together for good,” abused?

As we’ve been studying in our community groups, Naomi was a woman who understood grief. At the start of the story we learn her husband and two sons died. She is left with nothing and ends the first chapter, saying, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

As the story continues, we see her make a complete change when Ruth, her daughter-in-law, meets Boaz and their family is saved through Boaz’s kindness. Here Naomi says to her daughter-in-law, “May he [Boaz] be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!”

I won’t spoil chapters 3 and 4 (attend a CG if you aren’t already!) but we can learn a lot from these brief interactions. Naomi did not isolate herself or shy away from her grief; she did not pretend that everything was okay. She leaned into her suffering and was real with how she was feeling. Naomi cried out to God in her anger and despair and God responded on his own time, gently reminding Naomi through Ruth and Boaz that she has not been abandoned.

I don’t know where you are right now but I hope to encourage you to dwell in the difficult times you are going through. God is present even in the darkness. Cry out to God. Be angry. Weep. Engage with God and be honest with where you are. Honestly I can’t say that everything will be okay and we’re all going to get fairy tale endings. BUT, I do know that Easter is coming which is a reminder — more than that, an assurance — that one day Jesus is coming again to redeem the world. Just like Boaz was Naomi’s kinsman redeemer, we have Jesus as our eternal redeemer. Our current plight is just like our Lenten fasting, and denying ourselves makes Easter and the coming of Jesus all the more sweet as we anticipate the greater glory to come.

Prayer, Psalm 13

    How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
        How long will you hide your face from me?
    How long must I take counsel in my soul
        and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
    How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

    Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
        light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
    lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
        lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

    But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
        my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
    I will sing to the LORD,
        because he has dealt bountifully with me.


Lent 2019: Fasting that sees

We are excited to explore the Lenten season this year as a church. It is a season that postures our hearts for Easter through practices of fasting, prayer, and generosity. Join us as we ruminate in this season together and share reflections every week.


After this first week of Lent, much of my conversations with you all have centered around fasting — what we have decided to give up — and how that has affected our devotional and prayer life. But in the back of my mind, I've been thinking about how fasting and prayer ought to connect to the third practice of the season: generosity.

To be honest, it is much easier for me to practice fasting and prayer than it is for me to practice fasting and generosity. 

Fasting and prayer is safe; I can do it by myself. But that is not the fasting that scripture calls us to practice. Isaiah 58 calls to question the kind of fast that I safely practice:

Is such the fast that I choose,
    a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
    and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
    and a day acceptable to the LORD?

"Woe is me because I can't have ice cream / fried chicken / bubble tea" is incomplete. There's no doubt we will feel the physical affects of fasting, but it should not end there. The LORD continues through Isaiah's words:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

It's that last line there that gets me. Generosity involves people. People are complicated. Their situations are messy. The truth is I'd rather hide from others in pain. Avoid eye contact. Walk away from the stench. Go to the next subway car. Move to the far side of the sidewalk. New York has trained me to turn a blind eye. I'd rather not see them. I have contentedly grown a heart of stone. 

The invitation to practice generosity in the Lenten season is an invitation to transform a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. It is not merely cutting a check for a good cause (that may be a practical part of generous living but it is never the heart of it), but cutting our hearts to be shaped more and more like Christ's heart. Jesus placed himself with broken people to see their needs and let them know they are seen. 

John Ortberg writes, "Allow yourself to see need and eventually you'll want to help. Maintain your distance and you probably won't." As we seek to be like Jesus, may we enter into generous giving not only of our finances, but also our time and presence to be with others and see them.

Prayer:
Lord, help us to see. Forgive us for walking around our city blind to our own flesh crying out for justice. Enable us by your Holy Spirit to follow in the footsteps of your Son to walk alongside the marginalized. Give us generous hearts to love others as you have loved us in Christ Jesus. May your name be glorified in us. Amen.


Lent 2019: Ash Wednesday - formed from the dust

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season. We are excited to explore this season together for the first time this year as a church. In the next few weeks we will welcome some new voices from our church body to share their reflections during this Lenten season.


For much of my life, I've always put the invisible parts of faith first: theological doctrines, understanding of grace and salvation, acceptance of Jesus as the savior, etc. But I gave very little attention to actions and the physical and tangible dimensions of faith. In fact, I stayed away from it.

If anyone ever prescribed a spiritual discipline to follow, I would easily slap a "LEGALISM!" sticker on the practice and declare, "This isn't in the Bible!"... and that's how I originally approached this season of Lent. 

This is more work.

This is a system imposed on my freedom.

This is works-righteousness!

I imagined that those who enslave themselves to Lent-like constraints must be the saddest Christians in the world. But I had not experienced the power of those words that are pronounced upon believers at the start of the Lenten Season:

All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 
—Ecclesiastes 3:20 (echoing Genesis 3:19b)

To return to the dust is an invitation to rest, not to work. To live into the words we love to sing in In Christ Alone:

When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

We cease trying to "make it" for ourselves, and we put into practice a kind of surrender that recognizes that it is only on Christ that we stand. Every day we are trying to make ourselves; we want to shape our own lives and define our own success. Yet the invitation to return to dust is to allow Christ to shape us; to surrender our efforts and allow his perfect effort to conform us into his image.

The ashes we receive is not merely a smudge, but it is shaped into a cross, recognizing that only in our surrender to dust that we can be made in his image. As we enter into this season together, it is my hope that we will see how he is shaping us to be more like him.

Prayer:
Loving Father, give us rest as we enter into this Lenten season. Holy Spirit, help us lay down our burdens; free us from trying to be something apart from you. May we welcome you to form us again from the dust into the image of your Son as we follow him in his death that we may realize his glory. It is in his name we pray. Amen.