When Life Gets Wild, God is Good

Hello Church,

Elder Matt here. As our church’s 7th annual Summer Saturday Program is fast approaching, it is important that we remember how our Lord Jesus Christ considers and sees the children.

In Luke 9:46-48, Jesus’s disciples are arguing who amongst themselves is the greatest. Jesus responds by taking a child by his side and says,

“Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is the greatest.”
Luke 9:46-48

Jesus is saying that whoever loves the low, the poor, the sick, the widowed, the suffering, the forgotten, whoever enacts mercy and justice will be great in God’s eyes. And although some children today are the most cared for in the history of mankind, there are still many children today who are not as loved and cherished as they should be. And so Jesus is saying that among the greatest are CEM teachers, SSP volunteers, and anyone else who serves the destitute and defenseless. How amazing is it to take part in such an endeavor and task that our God sees as weighty and great?! To be part of God’s plan in forming new friendships and planting seeds of the loving gospel of Jesus Christ into the hearts of little ones...YES!!! The children in SSP, and CEM, and everywhere are important and cherished by God, and we should believe the same too. No matter how many or how young or old, every single child is worth our time.

Working with children is always a difficult task. If you are volunteering, know that despite kids being uncooperative at times, and the craziness that comes with leading and teaching children, God is with you. As you have experienced mercy from God numerous times, show mercy and compassion to these children. Be their friend, even if they don’t want to be your friend, lol!

And if you are unable to participate at SSP, we humbly ask that you pray with us. Let’s give thanks to God for this opportunity, and here are three things that you can approach God’s throne of grace for:

Pray that whoever God brings to us, that the Holy Spirit may work and stir the hearts of the children, and the parents, to hear and believe that they are in need of a savior for their sins, and that Jesus loves them and is the only one who can forgive and change them, and give them hope, renewal, and acceptance from God. (Rom 3:23-24 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.)

Pray that God would grant all of the volunteers the faith to trust that God is present with them as they work for and teach the children. That despite their tiredness and weakness, God will be their strength. That they have nothing to offer, but that everything comes from God. (2 Cor 2:9 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.) 

Pray that as a church we will be welcoming, caring, and celebratory towards children. That even after SSP is all done we can continue the good work of teaching the gospel to the children and see the value and weight that this has in the eyes of our God. (Luke 9:46-48)

Bottom line, lets all pray that God’s will may be done.

When life gets wild, God is good!


Lent 2019: Embracing Death in the Land of the Living

was crucified, died, and was buried.
The Apostles’ Creed

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about human flourishing. What makes a human flourish? What does real flourishing look like? One prominent Korean scholar and writer made a keen observation that one tragic reality of this world is that people don’t think about death anymore. He thinks it’s tragic because human flourishing takes place when we truly embrace death. I deeply agree with him but how do we embrace this truth?

Our family watched a fascinating documentary about Pacific salmon a few weeks ago. One amazing fact I learned is that it only takes a few drops of water from their stream of birth in the ocean for salmon to find the path to where they were born. Their journey upstream is plagued by hungry bears and birds. Their lungs don’t function properly in fresh water so they get less oxygen as they get closer to their home. Thus, the moment they embark on their journey, the dying process begins. When they make it to their birth place and lay their eggs, all that remains is to await their last breath. This death brings life not only to hungry animals but also to the whole forest. The flourishing of the ecosystem depends on their dead bodies. All three of us were awestruck by the life and death of salmon, by their determination, bravery, and instinctual sacrifice. The image of a dead salmon completely absorbed in the soil and becoming the source of food for plants and trees captured my imagination and kept me thinking about the fascinating cosmic design for flourishing encapsulated in the life and death of a fish. 

Today is Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter. This is the day Jesus’s body embraced death. Jesus’s body in the tomb. No voice from heaven. Everything stopped. The disciples likely spent the day in fear or in immense grief. We, thankfully, can spend this day contemplating the world of darkness that would exist without the hope of the resurrected Jesus. Jesus died and conquered death. By the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have been moved from the land of the dead to the land of the living. Our eternal life is sealed. However, that’s not the end of the story. 

Now we are invited by the indwelling Holy Spirit to this profound paradoxical truth that embracing death will lead us to true living and flourishing. That’s what we should also think about on this day. Jesus strongly exhorts us: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.” (John 12:24-26) 

This is the picture of true flourishing for us: embracing death in the land of the living. Christian writer and speaker Andy Crouch, in his book Strong and Weak, describes embracing death as “relinquishing power and authority, embracing a position of unequivocal vulnerability.” Where our selfish passions and desires die (Gal 5:24), we will begin to see our lives truly flourish. Jesus calls us to a life of flourishing, life lived to the full, living rather than merely existing. He wants us to flourish so that the rest of the world can flourish. How will we respond? 

Prayer (from Psalm 27:13-14)

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD
        in the land of the living!
Wait for the LORD;
        be strong, and let your heart take courage;
        wait for the LORD!
Amen


Lent 2019: Flushing Art Tours / Part 3

This is part 3 of a 3-part series.
Please see part 1 for context.


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.


Lent 2019: The Lamb Has Overcome

Have you ever had a great conversation with friends about what they’ve given up for Lent, all while hoping they don’t ask you the same? Or cringed in the awkward silence when they do ask, and you’re forced to admit you’ll still be consuming processed sugar and/or social media all through Easter? Have you ever wondered if your friends or church leaders secretly judge you as a heathen for not fasting? I have done all of these things―because I didn’t give up anything for Lent.

To be completely honest, Lent caught me by surprise this year. After a few days of berating myself and brainstorming options for fasting that suspiciously started to resemble self-improvement tactics under the guise of spiritual discipline, I ultimately decided against it.

The story easily could have ended there: the forgetful Christian neglects to prepare for the most important season of the faith, feels guilty, and then walks away questioning the legitimacy of their faith and their love for God. It’s certainly a practice that I often find myself slipping into easily. But thank God for grace―for while our sins and imperfections are unending, Jesus does not walk away from us; his love for us is never in question. God accepts us not because of our ability to complete the “to-do list” of being believers, but because of His loving mercy and grace.

It’s a fundamental concept that I struggle to accept on a daily basis, but God has been using this Lenten season to help me relearn this truth and deepen my understanding of His grace. He assures me that my salvation is not dependent on my ability to give up bubble tea for 40 days (though don’t get me wrong—fasting is a meaningful discipline that I still aspire to practice). He reminds me that His limitless grace enables me to offer the same to others, no matter how many times or how severe I feel the grievance may be. He also convicts me of my pride when I only consider the instances where I’m in the position to extend grace, because I most certainly need it from others more often than I can likely imagine.

In a song that has become somewhat of our Easter anthem (if you guessed “Forever (We Sing Hallelujah)” by Kari Jobe, you are correct!), a clear celebration of victory comes through in the chorus as we jubilantly sing, “Forever He is glorified, forever He is lifted high.” But this season, I am reassured and encouraged by the quieter bridge: “We sing ‘hallelujah,’ the Lamb has overcome.” Jesus has overcome death on the cross for every sin that we have and will continue to commit. He has overcome our doubts and overwhelms us with His love and ceaseless grace. He has overcome every obstacle that might keep us from Him, and He gives us hope.

Prayer, from Psalm 103

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
   slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
   nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
   nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
   so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
   so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
   so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.


Lent 2019: Flushing Art Tours / Part 2

This is part 2 of a 3-part series.
Please see part 1 for context.


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.


Lent 2019: Learning Helplessness, Cue to Rest

I had once read an opinion piece from the NYTimes: a personal account in a German hospital that was more or less a commentary on America’s overuse of painkillers — and even more profoundly on the function of pain. She was preparing for a hysterectomy and was asking (or pleading) her physicians for any prescription of painkillers. Beyond the ibuprofen, of which she complained was for headaches and not organ removals, she was prescribed rest, tea, and drinking coffee slowly. The philosophy was to tune in to the discomfort, since they are important cues from the body to rest and recover.

The most difficult part of her recovery process wasn’t the pain. It was the boredom, the deep desire for distractions, and the dread of sitting in pain for the long stretches of time. Taking painkillers would have allowed her to seek distractions, unhindered by the pain of movement and action.

This same attitude permeates my practice of fasting and self-denial. I am counting down the time until it is over (someone once told me that the passage of time is more bearable when counting down rather than up). As an avid planner, I pack my days with activity after activity to avoid boredom and indulge in distractions. I find myself grateful for the days when I have work, because in my busyness I fail to notice the discomfort of my hunger.

The hardest days are always when I sit still. 

With a fasting period as long as Lent (and especially as we near the middle of it), it is important for me to have those reminders to tune in to my discomfort, not seek painkillers to mitigate it. I need those reminders not to just “get by” nor desperately strive to make things easier. I am reminded to rest.

I identify with the NYTimes author when she writes, “I know how to sleep but resting is an in-between space I do not inhabit.” When I fast, there’s an in-between space I traverse that feels adversely foreign. As pain is the body’s mark of vulnerability and weakness (and thus, a physical cue to rest and heal), discomfort in my fasting is a mark of my own helplessness (oh, the many many things I unfortunately depend on). It’s a space I am programmed to avoid using education, work, and sometimes even faith to build my competency so I’d never need to ask for help. For me to fast without distraction and to sit and dwell in my discomfort is to learn helplessness. It is my spiritual cue to turn to God in admission that I need His help — my cue to find rest. 

As we’re seeing hints in our study of Ruth in community groups, our ultimate rest is found with our Jesus, our Redeemer, and discomfort in fasting serves to remind us of this. It drives us towards this truth. We, as Christ’s church and redeemed bride, can find our rest because he redeemed us in our helplessness through the cross. The LORD indeed has granted that we find rest, and it is well with us. 


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.