Fighting to be Still

Pastor Rob gave us a very good word to consider this past Sunday from Psalm 146 in anticipation of this week and all the anxiety many of us may be experiencing regarding the election. Yes, as citizens and members of society, we are called to "submit our ballots," yet, as believers, we are not called to "submit our hopes." Still I find it difficult to completely detach myself from this contentious election race. I've focused my attention to some books. I've played several games of AmongUs. I've joined some fellow anxious saints in prayer. I've been running around trying to distract myself with anything to not see the live updates. And I was convicted in my busyness to slow down.

Psalm 46 ends with the familiar line, "Be still and know that I am God." If you're feeling anything like me today, I encourage you to stop where you are and take a solid few minutes to read and let this psalm get into the core of your being today.

Psalm 46

To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A Song.

    God is our refuge and strength,
        a very present help in trouble.
    Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
        though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
    though its waters roar and foam,
        though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
    
    There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
        the holy habitation of the Most High.
    God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
        God will help her when morning dawns.
    The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
        he utters his voice, the earth melts.
    The LORD of hosts is with us;
        the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
    
    Come, behold the works of the LORD,
        how he has brought desolations on the earth.
    He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
        he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
        he burns the chariots with fire.
    “Be still, and know that I am God.
        I will be exalted among the nations,
        I will be exalted in the earth!”
    The LORD of hosts is with us;
        the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

This psalm describes the raging nations of today so well. We make all this noise, and somehow distract ourselves into thinking and believing that this -- this -- moment is the ultimate moment. But this psalm lays down the truth that it's not; the LORD merely utters his voice and everything melts.

The lead up to the familiar "Be still..." line shows a God who brings desolations on the earth. He allows our nonsense to ensue until all is dust. Perhaps only when we let the chaos and restlessness in our hearts stop, can we finally recognize who is God. God is found in the stillness. And we need to fight the noise of today to seek that stillness. Slow down. Slow down so you can keep pace with God. Slow down so you can hear his voice. Slow down so we can discern his leading in this tumultuous time.


So Great a Cloud of Witnesses

Today is Halloween, or as the church has historically recognized, All Hallow's Eve or All Saints' Eve -- the day of preparation before All Saints' Day. The church has had a rich history with death and what it means to those in Christ, but it is lost to many of us today. Since death seems nearer to us in these past months of pandemic, I believe we can draw richly upon the witness and testimony of the church that has lived out its faith through the observance of All Saints' Day.

When I first watched Pixar's Coco, a film about Día de Muertos ("The Day of the Dead," which is concurrent, perhaps not coincidentally, with All Saints' Day), I was surprised that the portrayal so accurately captured aspects of our Christian hope associated with death. The observance of this holiday typically takes the form of celebration, rather than mourning -- acknowledging that death is not the end and those who left this earth before us have not left us completely. In the story, Miguel Rivera, the main protagonist goes on a journey between the land of the living and of the dead and discovers a richer understanding of himself, his family, and the beautiful and storied inheritance he has as a member of his family. While it is unlikely that Disney/Pixar would put an explicitly religious backing to their films, we in the faith know that it is because of Christ, the living and the dead are not forever separated, and we live out our faith "surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12).

In the Apostles' Creed, we affirm this in the line, "I believe in... the communion of saints," which confesses the truth that both the living and the dead share a fellowship in Christ that cannot be broken. Our practice of communion (The Lord's Supper) touches upon this truth every time we partake; we do not partake alone, but with all the saints present, past, and future. At the table, every time we eat this bread and drink this cup, we do it with all the saints -- including those recently departed -- proclaiming the death of our Lord until he comes again in glory.

I know for many of us, there are many whose presence is sorely missed. As the holidays approach, the heavy presence of empty chairs in our homes is a weight we'd rather not bear; the idea of observing All Saints' Day seems too painful in light of our grief and fresh wounds. For some of us we'd rather keep feeling that pain, because we think without that feeling, we'll lose what we have left of those who died. Sometimes we only dare to take sips of our grief for fear we'd be overcome with despair and spend all our grief at once and then forget. In Pixar's Coco, Hector, a character from the world of the dead, explains the conflict to be resolved when we says, "If there's no one left in the living world to remember you, you disappear from this world. But you can change that!"

But the gospel that proclaims the communion of the saints gives us a better promise and hope than Hector's. The lives of those we have loved do not exist based on our keeping of them in memory; surely there may come a day when we will adjust to our grief and "move on" in some form or another. The gospel gives us confidence to mourn and grieve deeply because it is Christ who remembers our names and knows each of our souls better than we know ourselves. Because of Christ, we can mourn deeply and fully, not worrying if we will drown ourselves in our grief or expend all our sadness at once because we are completely sustained by the grace of God.

I invite all of you to observe All Saints' Day. Not to focus primarily on our friends and family who have passed, but to turn that longing-for-their-fellowship to worship of our loving and gracious Savior who sustains our communion. In both the Apostles' and the Nicene Creed, we affirm the resurrection of the dead/body and life -- full and vibrant life -- in the world to come. Our Savior and fellow saints cheer us on in faith. "Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith."


On Individual and Institutional Racism

Dear King’s Cross,

I, along with our session and pastors, wanted to help put some theological clarity as to what and why we feel convicted to denounce certain evils and injustices that we see in our present day and land. I hope that in reading this, it will hopefully give clarity where there might have been ambiguity, and reason where there has been a sense of skepticism.

RACISM
In 2004, our denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America was just starting to come to grips with ways we had promoted and aligned with racism particularly towards Black Americans. The definition given, states, “racism is an explicit or implicit belief or practice that qualitatively distinguishes or values one race over other races.”

Therefore, the inherent evil and sinfulness of racism is that we are distinguishing, favoring, judging and categorizing people and people groups by their particular physical features, particular ethnicity, cultures, and characteristics that God created, sees, and calls equally good, beautiful, honorable, and resplendent with His divine reflection. In other words, because God imbues his own glory into the uniqueness of being human, when we treat one another with anything less than the honor and dignity he has spelled out in Scripture, we are ultimately making judgement calls and estimations of God’s worth, beauty, and honor. That’s not to eclipse the real and tragic damage racism has on people—but I say that to show how offensive and personal God takes racism. When we are not in the wonder and awe of God’s character, we are bound to demean the realities he shows up daily in our lives through people.

INDIVIDUAL AND INSTITUTIONAL RACISM

One of the questions people at our church are wondering about and could be struggling with is the concept of institutional or systemic racism, (which are not precisely the same thing, but I am using them interchangeably here because they both refer to larger, culture-shaping means such as the education system, justice system, media, etc.) Institutional Racism is often seen as the systemic, unequal distribution of resources, power, and opportunity in favor of one race over another. Whereas, Individual Racism is often thought of as the acts and thoughts and beliefs that individuals harbor.

I think there is a very unhelpful “either/or” mentality when it comes to these notions of racism, which only sees two options:

  • Some people believe that racism is only an institutional problem. But the problem with this is you are relieving individuals from the responsibility of being good citizens, and bringing change to their lives.
  • On the other hand, some people believe racism is really just an individual’s aggression and bias towards those different than themselves. However you’re failing to see the greater cycles of culture that continue to influence and shape the way we see and treat and oppress others.

For many of us, because we don’t see a third option, we tend to go with whatever option makes us look less ignorant, and more informed and compassionate. However—how much of our responses are shaped out of genuine love, and not fear? Fear of being wrong, fear of being seduced by a political agenda, fear of being a bigot, etc.

I’d like to propose a third option. It’s the option I believe God lays out consistently from beginning to end in Scripture. The fact is, God always holds both individuals and institutions responsible for sin. From the first fall of Adam and Eve, you have individuals being held accountable for their actions—and yet, the entire institution of humanity is corrupted. In Joshua 7, you have a man named Achan, acting out of greed and breaking societal rules God set in place for Israel. And while he and his family have to face the consequences of his sin—it’s not before all of Israel experiences loss and breakdown and failure in their campaign.

For some of us, I can understand that the implications of Institutional Racism may seem outrageous. We love America and American culture—and the implications of Institutional Racism would mean admitting there is a malicious and grotesque mindset, pervading so deeply behind every chapter of our history. How could we ever take that sitting down? I get that, accepting this, paints a bleak alternative reality compared to how some, if not many, of us grew up seeing and understanding America.

However, it seems to me that the Bible actually paints a far darker picture of human beings than maybe we’ve been paying attention to. Somehow, I wonder, if Satan has painted little flowers and puppies throughout our bibles, when it’s really the story of the desperately tragic state of humanity’s wallowing in vile filth and corruption—from the individual human heart, (Jeremiah 17:9) to the cosmic and spiritual forces of darkness ruling over principalities, powers, and institutions of this present world (Ephesians 6:12). This is why we need a powerful Savior.

And something we have tried to stress in our proclamation at King’s Cross is that Jesus is not merely your individual savior—he is a kingdom savior, for a kingdom people. He is coming to overthrow not just your and my petty individual rule of our own hearts; he has come to overthrow the rules and authorities and principalities and yes, institutions of this world. He will bring all things under his good and righteous reign.

Friends, that is the gospel of the kingdom. That allows us to pursue individual reformation, while seeing that there is a constant need for Jesus to come in kingdom power to restore broken institutional standards made by broken, sinful people.

So, yes, because we believe the whole gospel that says the whole world is broken. Therefore we ought not be surprised or utterly crushed when we find human institutions failing us. The idea that a human institution (including the institution of American law and governance), where mere humans are the ruling heads and authorities could be free from bias, greed, slavery, and racism—ought to sound wrong to Christian ears.

We see how some people have come to the conclusion in our day, in a fit of despair, that the enemy is actually the very existence of institutions, themselves, and these people have turned to various forms of anarchy. But as Christians, we know of only one institution that has the power to repent and turn from its wrong doing. The Church is the only earthly institution that has its authoritative headship in someone who is absolutely perfect, and in whom we can completely trust.

Now, the Church body is composed of sinful broken people like you and me—and that means we have the potential to fall and fail just as hard as anyone else—and we do quite often. But when we are aligned to his will, and walk in the ways of his Holy Word, we begin to reveal something that the world is starving for more than ever, in this present age. And that means there is hope in this dark world as we live out the grace of Jesus offered to any and all who would see they are in need of so great a Savior.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Rob


The EmbRACE Study / 02

This is our second post in our monthly church-wide study called EmbRACE, a repentance and study on race, society, and culture. You can find the first post here.


Revisit our foundational calling.

As we start our second study this week, we must not forget the foundation for bearing with one another in love from the first study. We will come back over and over to remember it is Christ who has brought us together. So no matter how different our views may be, we are called to strive to bear with one another for the sake of the gospel. Before you begin on any "hot topics" we must remember to recommit ourselves to the gospel and to one another.

Separation, Assimilation or Embrace.

From our second EmbRACE sermon, there was a calling on us to not give into two typical ways that society tends to deal with diversity: (1) separation: maintain a "negative peace" by minimizing the likelihood of conflict, (2) assimilation: require that those who are different conform to a particular way of life. Instead the gospel calls us to embrace one another because of our differences and celebrate them. The end of all things points to worship by "a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb." (Revelation 7:9).

In John 4, Jesus enters into a private (1-on-1) conversation with a Samaritan woman. The text highlights how taboo this was in the dialog and the framing of this conversation (for example, see v.8, 9, 27) By entering into this situation, Jesus put his reputation at risk -- even his disciples were confused. But through his actions, Jesus shows us that our confidence in the gospel frees us to move boldly into unpopular spaces. As we follow Jesus, we are called to count the cost while looking at Jesus. For "the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." (Matthew 13:44). The cost may be high, but Jesus assures us it is worth it. Jesus calls us to associate with the lowly, to seek the sheep who have wandered off, to embrace the outcast and, in so doing, find God more fully. As we seek to live out this implication of the gospel to embrace the other, we become more like our perfect savior who came to seek imperfect and sinful people like ourselves.

Can the church be a place where we recognize and welcome people and trust that the Spirit will do his work in those who he calls to himself? It could be that even those who we'd consider the last to come to faith will ultimately teach us much about our loving God. This Samaritan woman, because she was welcomed by Christ who dared to break social and cultural norms, becomes the first evangelist in the Gospel of John. "In Eastern Orthodox tradition, the Samaritan 'woman at the well' is called Saint Photini and, as Eva Catafygiotu Topping writes in Saints and Sisterhood, she 'occupies a place of honor among the apostles. In Greek sermons from the fourth to the fourteenth centuries she is called "apostle" and "evangelist." In these sermons, the Samaritan Woman is often compared to the male disciples and apostles and found to surpass them.'" (from The First Female Evangelists)

It is my hope that our church can grow in our love and capacity to welcome those who are different. That we would not let our doubts about how receptive or unreceptive we can be hinder the work of the Spirit among us. May God expand our hearts to love as Christ has loved us.


The EmbRACE Study / 01

It is a repentance

This week, our church will be starting a monthly study on racism, systemic injustice, and white supremacy. We've called this study EmbRACE: a repentance and study on race, society, and culture. Now it is first called a repentance because we do not study this as a an external subject; we recognize from the start that talking about race in America requires that we acknowledge, not just to study the problems out there, but also in here -- in ourselves: the narratives we grew up with, our ideas of power, our ideals of beauty, our assumptions about the world.

Striving for unity in Christ

Our first study this week may seem only tangential to the hot issues in our national discussion, but for us it is foundational. While public discourse is becoming increasingly divided and antagonistic, that should not be the nature of the church. God calls us to unity, bearing with one another in love -- the love that we have through Christ. As we move through the various studies, and as our nation continues to grapple with the issues, we will likely find new ways to demonize those who seem to be the enemy. We will find new depths of anger or despair, but the gospel calls us to resist becoming self righteous and seeing ourselves better than others who may not share our views. The gospel calls us to a robust, deep, and enduring love. It calls us to be like Christ, to listen well, to bear with one another in love, to outdo one another in showing honor.

This is difficult, yet we must pray for strength to live into it as we engage in these studies. It is my prayer that as we go through this series of study, we will strive to keep a repentant posture even as we fight for justice. It is in this posture that we recognize that our strength is not in our outrage or zeal, but wholly in Christ.


Cheap Worship

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is well known for coining the term "cheap grace," a fallacy in our faith where we think of grace as "the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost!" Alternatively, he urges the Church to pursue costly grace: "Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field... It is the pearl of great price... Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ." In essence, Bonhoeffer calls us to not take our discipleship -- our following Christ -- lightly. There is a costly sacrifice involved; a regular offering given. We are not to treat our discipleship as something that can be discarded and picked up whenever we want -- it is costly!

David modeled this kind of costly discipleship in his worship. In the very last chapter of 2 Samuel, David is called to worship the LORD on a particular plot of land belonging to Araunah the Jebusite. But this plot of land was a threshing floor, not a place with an altar for worship. Araunah, recognizing that David was the king, happily offers the land, sacrificial animals, and additional worship supplies to David for free so he could build an altar and offer a sacrifice. But David would not accept this offer from Araunah; he says to him, "I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing." So David pays full price for the land (he would not accept any kingly discount!), builds an altar, and worships the LORD.

But this example should lead us to examine ourselves today: Is our worship costly? or is it cheap?

By now, most of us have already fallen into new patterns for worship; we've adapted to Zoom and virtual/remote worship. But I think it is worth our time to pause and consider how we have been shaped by these new norms.

One of the great losses we have with Zoom worship is the lack of a practiced corporate identity. There is an essential togetherness that is present when we are physically together. We sense one another. We hear one another's voices -- both in liturgy and in song. We notice when people stand up, sit down, raise their hands, drop a water bottle, rush out with a crying infant. We notice when people are distracted (and if we're honest, we also notice when we are distracted and attempt to hide our feed-reading and double-tapping from those around us -- we know we shouldn't be doing it!). Whether we realize it or not, just by "going to" church, we are active participants in one another's spiritual formation -- encouraging one another, just by our presence, to engage and be attentive to our God; through our actions, we are saying to one another, "We're worshiping together." We inherently (we don't have a choice!) "give up" our individual rights when we meet in person. But all this is lost on Zoom.

When we attend virtual service, we have a level of autonomy not present at an in-person service. Rather than having to give up our individual rights, we get to keep them. We don't have to get dressed. We don't need to travel or even leave the house. No one notices our silence if we abstain from liturgy or song (we're supposed to mute ourselves!). We don't have to been seen. Mics on mute; cameras off. Worship at home is easy! There's an intoxicating power that comes from being able to turn a worship service to God on and off.

I recall early in the pandemic I was in a gathering of ministers and lay leaders from around the city where our main speaker was so overjoyed at the convenience or in-home worship! He started going on and on about how we need to adapt to the times and move on with technology and the future! He even went so far as to say he hopes things stay this way; "Look at all the people you can now reach!" "There's so much untapped potential on the Internet!" I believe this thinking is seriously misguided; it incorrectly postures us into thinking that worship should cater to our comforts and conveniences. It forgets that when God called us to himself, he called us to belong to a people. When we attend a worship service, it is not a service to worship ourselves.

There is a voluntary giving up of our comforts so that we can direct one another to worship Christ. Honestly this isn't that costly compared to other times and places. But in our culture and society that elevates individualism above all else, it is not an easy thing to give up. My hope is that it is the least we can do as we try to discipline ourselves at home to embrace our corporate identity as a church. May we practice giving up for one another that we may point one another to worship God. Every Sunday morning, may we have a heart like David: may we dare not offer to God that which cost us nothing.

Postscript: If you're curious, that piece of land that David bought from Araunah the Jebusite shows up again in scripture. This costly piece of land is the site upon which David's son, Solomon builds the Temple to the LORD. David's faithful and costly worship becomes the foundation -- literally -- upon which all of Israel and Judah worshiped the LORD.


Sing to Your Soul

These days we find ourselves locked at home, physically disconnected from friends, family, and community. It’s been difficult. Challenging. Our work is strained. Our relationships are tested. We’re managing — or at least trying to. We’re making the best of our circumstances.

But Sunday Worship is the time for the church — even if we’re scattered on Zoom — to reset. We gather to realign ourselves to the truth of the Gospel when all week long we may have aligned ourselves with other goals: scarcity, loneliness, helplessness. But one thing we lose in this day of online virtual worship services is the real feel of the community encouraging one another in the Gospel. This is especially apparent when we gather to — online — to sing.

How easy it is to watch the singing on the screen rather than participate.

It might feel awkward to sing in our apartments, especially if we’re just one of a handful of voices — every out-of-tune note or early-entrance-become-solo clearly heard by all. Maybe we think it’s easier just to listen to those in the call singing. But don’t give into that. Sing!

Surely, I can remind you, “God cares about it.” Or I can tell those of you who are parents, “Your children are watching and learning about worship from your example.” These are both true. But I’d put forward to you that…

Your soul is listening.

There’s a well known refrain in the psalms (scattered throughout Psalms 42 and 43) that goes like this:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

Here the psalmist is ministering to his soul. This part of us is really all of us. It is in our soul — our very being — that we are united with Christ. But our souls are “prone to wander” as the hymns put it. And now, when all is stripped away from daily routine, our souls are raw. Every grim announcement and every sliver of hope tugs our souls this way and that; they toss us to and fro in the stormy waves of our present situation.

So as we gather tomorrow to worship; resist the temptation to sit idly and watch. Sing! Remind your soul where our hope lies. Remind your soul that even if all gives way, there is a sure Anchor that keeps us steady in the waves. It’s the Anchor that we can never lose because He holds onto us.

Sing! So your soul will not despair.

Sing! They your soul may know the Hope that keeps us even now.


Praying in distress

Church,

During times of distress and trial we are called to pray. Prayer is our strong tether to the one who is sovereign and keeps all things in order when everything around us feels like chaos. Today I reflected on the following verses from scripture (bolded text, mine):

Psalm 18:1–6

I love you, O LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies.

The cords of death encompassed me;
the torrents of destruction assailed me;
the cords of Sheol entangled me;
the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called upon the LORD;
to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.

and Exodus 2:23–24

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.

During these times we may feel like we’re at home… alone… disconnected from others and disconnected from God. I expect when the novelty of video-chatting wears off, we’re going to desire real connection deep in our bones. We’ll begin to recognize what a state we’re in… and we’ll start crying out… and we’ll wonder if anyone’s listening.

Scripture tells us over and over that God is not deaf to our cries. The model from scripture calls us to cry out for God to save. It’s possible we may feel comfortable in our homes and we may think, “I’m fine even while the world is in chaos outside.” But this is a farce.

If there’s anything our current situation has taught us, it’s that we’re more connected than ever. The plight of our neighbors is intimately connected to our own. We cannot “look out for number one” at the expense of our neighbors. So church, we are called to pray.

Pray for our health care professionals that are being swamped right now with work. They are our soldiers on the front lines putting themselves at great risk for the sake of the public. From what I hear from my contacts, they are tired, stressed, and in need of support and prayer.

Pray for our civic leaders who are having to make extremely difficult decisions regarding the welfare of the city. Though we are often quick to criticize, most of us do not bear the weight of responsibility that our leaders face. They need wisdom. Let us pray that God would give our leaders wisdom to know how to navigate the storm we find ourselves in.

Pray for your friends and neighbors. Many of us are anxious and fearful of what’s to come. No matter how many reassuring words we hear, the unrest in our stomachs seems unending. Pray for strength and boldness to overcome fear and panic. Pray also for those who are sick or most at-risk. They are all around us; some are fighting for life right now. God, help us now.

El Roi, the “God who sees,” look upon the distress of your people and rise to action. We need you now more than ever. As our daily comforts are stripped away, help us turn to you and rest in you. Help us to know in our hearts, not just in our heads, that you are the Sovereign Lord. Have mercy upon us. Amen.


Worship Formation During Covid-19

Like many congregations in our city, our church leadership has been evaluating what to do for Sunday Service.

Should we cancel service?

Should we “not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing?”

Maybe divide up into small house churches and give house leaders an adapted service to lead!

Maybe just do a live stream!

People who are very vocal on the matter seem to have already arrived at the best solution: “We should definitely cancel.” “Let’s continue to meet in faith! (with some precautions of course!)” “Online would be best. Imagine not having to find parking!”

I don’t know if they’re able to be so vocal because they’ve already had endless thorough discussions and I’m only seeing the result of hours of discussion and meetings. But I know whatever our church ends up doing (and at the moment, it seems like we’ll do a live-streamed minimal service), the concerns underneath still linger for me.

What is our public witness?

No matter what we decide, there is the ever present public witness of the church on display. While the news and news feeds are rampant with misinformation and fear-mongering, how does the church witness to the hope of the gospel? Do we feed into the fear, throwing off all other concerns “just to be on the safe side?” When fear and panic set in, most of us automatically go into self-preservation mode. We stock up on rice and toilet paper. We ignore those in need because we see our own needs more dire than they really are. We “pass by on the other side” to avoid injury to ourselves.

I am not advocating that we mindlessly and foolishly run headfirst into dangerous situations; we are not called to seek danger — we are not called to be stupid. But what does it mean for us in this period of social upheaval to live for others? What does it mean to lay down our lives for our friends and neighbors?

In the early church, there were two great epidemics — one immediately after the other — that wiped out a large portion of the population. While there was mass panic and flight from the city centers, Christians stayed behind to care for the sick and the poor. Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria, one of the early church fathers who lived through this period, praised the efforts of those Christians, many who died caring for others:

Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead.

This was in stark contrast to how “the heathen” responded to the outbreak. Dionysius also wrote,

The heathen behaved in the very opposite way. At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease; but do what they might, they found it difficult to escape.

This powerful witness lingered in the hearts and minds of the public.

This powerful witness lingered in the hearts and minds of the public. Even when Emperor Julian (commonly known as Julian the Apostate) tried to squash out the faith by providing alternate services to the poor to serve the gods, he wrote of his frustration with “the Galileans,” being unable to counter their witness:

Those impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into the agapae, they attract them… Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity… See their love-feasts, and their tables spread for the indigent. Such practice is common among them, and causes a contempt for our gods.”

I hope that we can rise to the challenge to be the Church during these times. While we must be cautious, may our caution not hinder our witness. We do not want to be the foolish congregation that further spreads the contagion and endangers our neighbors. But we are also called to live by faith, rather than by fear. It is my hope that the Gospel will compel us to live our faith before others that all will see and know Christ.

Jesus, help us. Give us wisdom to discern and act. There is much confusion and anxiety; we confess our need for you to lead and direct us. Give us hearts that are willing to follow even into the places where we are spent for the sake of others. Help us to follow you in your death and resurrection that we may “shine [like stars] as lights in the world.”

How are we being formed by the new normal?

Another great concern is how our congregation will readjust to the new normal. If we’re doing an “online service” how will this affect the weekly and daily life patterns of our congregation? We are habitual creatures, forming habits and being formed by habits all the time. How can we offer guidance when the seeming “convenience” of WFH and online worship leave a vacuum of order in our schedules?

Can an online worship service be a manifestation of the church gathered? I’m not sure. I am not saying that it can’t happen; I’m just saying that a recorded service (the default for most online services) is a poor substitute for the church — if a substitute at all. If the aim is merely making sure our members get some good teaching, we could just send them some podcasts, or a YouTube playlist and be done with it. There are times when we reduce corporate worship to theology consumption (often via sermon); this is especially true in our tradition that tends to value knowledge, systematics, and education over wisdom, nuance, and practice. The former you can get on your own, the latter requires relationship.

I’ve seen this pattern repeatedly in my time with the church. Meetings merely become venues to get information and get on with our lives and respective ministries rather than opportunities to practice love and fellowship with others. Growing up with a fairly conservative Christian upbringing, the question often posed upon church gatherings is what makes Christian fellowship different from a mere social gathering? And the glib answer usually involves some form of Christian instruction or practice like a devotional sharing or prayer. But I’ve witnessed an issue that’s equally concerning from the other end: people who go to meetings (that are full of Jesus-mentions and theological teaching) but these people are there to get quick answers and logistical instructions without recognizing other humans in the room who need fellowship — social relational connection — and without recognizing that they themselves are humans that need fellowship.

The issue of getting people to recognize the corporate body of believers — the people, the community —in the existing in-person Sunday service is hard already. An online service (as I currently imagine it to be) would be even harder. In our culture, convenience and efficiency are highly esteemed, but there is nothing convenient or efficient about the gathering of people. The messiness of the church gathered resists efficiency; efficiency doesn’t build relationship. You never want to get to know someone who is always in a rush to be somewhere else or do something else. The mystery of the Gospel is manifest in the church gathered (or the “hermeneutic of the Gospel” as I am fond of quoting from Newbigin).

The challenge for us in this interim period is to work out a way for the church to be expressed while we maintain “social distancing.” I have no idea how. One day when we have Ready Player One virtual halo worlds, maybe that would be more straight forward, but that’s not today. The longer we do this compromised worship service, the more we will be seduced by the convenience of “doing church” from the comfort of our homes. For some (not all) I suspect it may be hard to go back. New patterns will form and habits will undoubtedly set in. Just last month I left for a trip with my family for a little over a week. How easy it was for my weekly rhythms to be completely lost when I got back.

Holy Spirit, who lives and breathes in us, we ask you to breathe into your people as we are scattered about our city. Stir in us a longing for one another every time we meet. Give us love for people. Release us from selfishness. Give us discipline to form and develop habits that form us more and more in the image of Christ.


Practical Ways To Give

We've talked a bit about giving in our sermon series the past few weeks, so you might be wondering, "ok--so how can I practice and grow in giving?"

The Old Testament will tell you that God had the Israelites consider giving their time and wealth to two general categories: Spiritual Flourishing, (through giving to the Levite priests,) and  Physical Flourshing, (through giving to the sojourner, widow, and the orphan.) God is saying--it's not enough to just give to one--your love through generosity needs to be considering a wholistic approach to caring for others. 

I wanted to share a few of our official partners that our Diaconate team has been working with, along with some christian organizations and missionaries we either support or have ministries that effect our city and local Flushing community. In each of the links you can learn more about their mission and see how to possibly give some of your time and wealth to the work God is doing there. 

Missionaries: Mark and Rachel Kim and family - The Kims are missionaries to Japan and are serving at Christ Bible Institute to train future Japanese pastors. 

Missionaries: James and Nanci Long and family - The Longs are serving in Jakarta, Indonesia, based in their church there, Providence Fellowship Church, and ministering to many refugees in their city. 

Missionaries: The Watanabe Family - The Watanabes are working with the church planting orginization, City to City, to help foster new churches and pastors.

Garden of Hope - A local organization focusing on serving, caring, and rebuilding the lives of people who have been exposed to domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking; specifically targeting its services towards the growing Chinese communities.

Borough Pregnancy Center -  BPCC aims to inspire life in those experiencing unplanned pregnancies through comprehensive, compassionate care.

Open Hands Legal Services -  Through legal means and support, this organization's vision is to uphold the cause of the poor and oppressed in NYC.

Center For All Abilities - An organization with sites in Manhattan and Flushing that supports individuals with autism, pervasive developmental disorders, Down syndrome, sensory integration disorders, and other neurodevelopmental disorders, and individuals with emotional challenges as well. 

Some final thoughts are:

  • Don't feel like you need to give to all of these. Consider your own story and heart. Ask God what area He is calling you to joyfully give to His kingdom?
  • Ask yourself (and your spouse if you have one,) "am I giving in a way that wakes me up?" It's easy for us to give in portions that don't effect us--but the Bible teaches us that we should not only give in such a way that brings good to others--but also do so in a way that wakes us up from the clutch of greed and apathy. 
  • Set your mind on the prize--we're kingdom people, and our thoughts need to foster an imagination of what the kingdom should and could be when God's story is complete. The exciting part of giving in these ways is that, we can trust He is using these gifts and acts of generosity to bring His kingdom further into the world.
  • Lastly, consider praying about how to grow in generosity toward the local body of Christ. If you're a member of KCC, then consider the ratio of your time and wealth given. If you're not a member, we're going to be having classes at the beginning of the Fall season, and we'd love to invite you to consider joining yourself to this particular body of Christ.