By Pastor Jason
I feel obligated to tether all these musings to the hot topic of the day. I can’t help but wonder if the constant reinforcing and reminding could also be detrimental. So I wanted to take a break by uncharastically forcing myself to enumerate the ways that God has blessed me. It’s one thing to have a natural bent of gratitude, but it’s another thing to be grateful at a time like this. Inspired by last night’s prayer meeting, I wanted to exercise those muscles of thanksgiving.
I’m thankful for the pruning that God has done in my life. Though it may be uncomfortable it is necessary. This Summer has thrown a wrench into my plans and my process but the gracious disruption has forced me to reckon with some of the subtler sins. Not as flagrant nor external as some, the more furtive heart issues would never have been dealt otherwise. One clear example of this came in the form of my love for reading and learning; while being stuck at home allowed me to consume voluminous amounts of books, I really had to ask myself, what is the source of this obsession? Is it simply because I like to read or am I overcompensating for something else? By God’s grace, I realized that this voracious appetite stems from deep insecurities of being found as a fraud or being less knowledgeable than the next pastor. The unpeeling of unhealthy layers and facades have been a vexatious yet powerful process.
I’m thankful for our church. To be clear, I’ve always been thankful for our church. I’ve been almost too transparent in the ministry potholes of my past and so Christ Central has been somewhat of an oasis for this weary wanderer. But as our physical and social ties have been abruptly severed, we were forced with the challenging task of trying to maintain relationships. It’s been hard. Though we are faced with a lot of difficulties, I am thankful that we are still trying. We’re still pushing. We’re still fighting. When I am alone with my thoughts, I am doomed; I become the product of my worst kind of pessimism. I am a walking self-fulfilling prophecy, only to perpetuate and cement my jadedness. Yet, when I see your faces on Zoom or receive an unexpected text thanking me for the Olive Leaf, I am reminded that it is truly integral to my own growth that I do it in community.
 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!  Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?  And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (ESV) Ecclesiastes 4:9–12
I’m thankful for the deepening of our yearning to congregate. I grew up at a church where there was an unhealthy theology regarding spiritual disciplines. Fasting, in particular, had a special something about it. As an avid lover of food, this was not just challenging but confounding. You’re telling me that if I don’t eat food somehow God will be more inclined to hear my prayers? They made it seem like fasting was spiritual steroids that would fast track your petitions. Despite my suspicions, the only thing greater than my love for food is my fear of Man. And thus, I played nice. I fasted every Good Friday, sometimes lasting until Easter Sunday. The hankering to break my fast for a bowl of Frosted Flakes was very much real. During those times of fasting, the yearning was so palpable (and painful) that it left me in a constant state of desperation. The heightened sense of anticipation did not relieve me of the current pain. The unrealized fulfillment had two blessings. First, it forced me to be faithful and sober in my relationship with God. It was a lesson that God is greater than even the basic need of food. And though I went through the gamut of emotions in my prayers (and self-loathing on my Xanga), I landed on a redemptive note of trust and acknowledgement of the Lordship of Christ. Second, the heightened anticipation only made the realized fulfillment that much sweeter. Trust me when I say that I am an adversary for hype; great expectations are the fuel for disappointment. Yet, when it comes to the things of the faith, I am fully convinced that this time of yearning is good. And when we are able to meet, worship, and fellowship together, it will be that much sweeter. And I am thankful for this time, to create a deeper longing and a deeper trust in God.
By Pastor Jason
They say that the Christian life is a marathon and not a sprint. Either way, I wince at the thought. I prefer a brisk power walk with corresponding vigorous arm movements. I’ve never experienced the runner’s high but more of a runner’s death. And by death, I mean a death to all desire to run.
Many have joked that July is the proverbial halftime of 2020. There was a hope that as we entered into the second half of the year that things would get better. Much to our chagrin, it seems that things are, at best, the same. We’re now wondering if the light at the end of the tunnel is really the exit or if we’re so far gone into the caverns of 2020 that we’re seeing spots. It reminds me of the absurd games I’d play as a child; I’d try to hold my breath for the duration of the tunnel, only to be on the precipice of passing out at the end. All I got out of it was lightheadedness and fewer brain cells.
The Apostle Paul compares the Christian life to that of an athlete, specifically a runner1. Unlike my desperate attempts to draw pithy connections, Paul is conveying the truth that our spiritual legs must be continually churning. They must be active. We must be moving forward. But what is your ultimate deterrent in forward progress? Has the fatigue gotten to you? Are you distracted? Has your trust waned? I answer in the affirmative of all three introspective questions.
What is most troubling in my own spiritual headspace is that I am so adept at diagnosing the problem. I can tell you that I am fraught with virtual fatigue and in desperate need of community. I can tell you of my evanescent convictions to gird up my loins and dig deeper. What is lacking is not self-awareness but perspective and obedience. Prolific are my laments but how seldom are my rejoicing in God’s sovereignty! I find myself stymied in my own quicksand of disenchantment and I am at a loss of both a desire and ability to run the race that lies before me.
The call to worship from a few weeks ago was Matthew 11:28-30 and it bears repeating:
 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (ESV)
If you’re feeling inconsolable or even irreparably battered from the erosion caused by the relentless waves of the year, may you find rest in Jesus Christ today. Take a breather. There is no need for a verecund persona or a brave facade here. All that is required is an admission of weariness and genuine faith in Christ. We must not get so rubbernecked by our own shortcomings but gaze upon the source of rest in Jesus.
The call to run is never taken off our plate. We are still called to fight the good fight and run the race. We are called to endure and persevere. But this is where the order of operations matters: the call never starts with the capacity to withstand nor our threshold to just hold on. If our works are never bracketed and founded upon, through faith, the person and work of Jesus Christ, then we will be stuck in our exhaustion. We can never dream of following through. Rather, Jesus is the well in which we return to, only to find a second and third wind. I assure you that I will never run a physical marathon. I won’t even sprint to catch an elevator. But as my weariness grows, His grace is more. May you find rest in Christ today so that you can continue to run this race for God’s glory.
1 Philippians 2:16; Galatians 2:2; 5;7; 2 Timothy 4:7
By Pastor Jason
As a delusional idealist, I struggle immensely with perfectionism. I am not just my own harshest critic but a withholder of grace. I mistake self-destructive talk as humility, telling myself it’s better to err on the side of being hyper castigatory. If I’m being honest, there hasn’t been a sermon or a blogpost in which I walked away feeling satisfied. The walk back to my car after every college large group is one of the darkest moments of my week. I go over the sermon with a fine-toothed comb, dissecting and second-guessing. I rue certain phrases. I suddenly doubt the logic and outline. I cringe at the forced jokes. Sometimes, I don’t even start the car. I just sit there, enveloped by the darkness and accompanied by the silence, wondering what I just preached.
God is gracious, however. I do recover quite well, to a point where I get up the next day to start the process over again. If I struggled with perfectionism then, COVD-19 has really exposed me to the folly and futility of perfectionism. In the best way, God has aided me in loosening my white-knuckled grip on the White Whale that is impeccability. But there are times when even my zeal for theology runs out and the only thing I can grasp onto is the single thread of God’s gracious calling.
I try to read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, at least once a year. Though it is a book about writing, I would argue that it is so much more; it inspires me, not just to create, but to live. To survive. To thrive. In one of her chapters about her struggles to write, she, too, wrestles with perfectionism and the oppressive obsession to impress people.
Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life...Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground - you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it's going to get. Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move.
You can easily switch out writing for living and the principle still applies: we need to embrace the mess. We mustn’t, however, love the chaos so much that becomes our goal; rather, we take life day by day, or bird by bird, and learn and grow from it. One could argue that out of the mess comes a renewed sense of self, maybe even purpose. It allows for things to come into focus. It humanizes us. We aren’t TI-83+ calculators, able to perfectly spew out answers and measure asymptotes. In the most neutral sense, the tensions and mess create space for creativity and growth. But ultimately, the mess releases us from the Azkaban of self-reliance and puts us back in the healthy context of complete dependence on God.
I came across a profound analysis on the film Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and if anything, you should read it for its incredible writing. Though the takes are scalding, the author argues that the film is actually good, not because of its alignment with the franchise’s ethos, but in its delineation and messy dissonance.
And the resultant mess [of The Last Jedi] — the splatters, the ripples, the broken glass, the unfolding mutations — changes our understanding. It frees Episode IX from fitting a known pattern. It frees us from knowing what’s to come — we are gloriously, wonderfully lost. Just as the characters are themselves lost. I pondered that this film could’ve just as easily been called The Lost Jedi, because that’s how it feels…Everyone is lost. Everyone is failing. The entire movie presents us with failure after failure: characters trying to do the right thing and missing a step…[I]t’s broken, yes, but into new shapes, new tastes. It’s failure in the way a mirror is broken: one image becomes many, distorted and new and beautiful in its way. It’s failure as the butterfly effect. It’s failure as Yoda tells it: the greatest teacher, failure is.
This failure of these characters is a success for the film.
It’s a mess in the best way. Because in that mess, the patterns are lost, the expectations are destroyed, the tropes are broken and bent. For the first time in a long time, I had literally no idea what was going to happen, and that felt like madness in the best way…
In being lost, we have become found.
The last line is perhaps the greatest “A ha!” moment for me: I can never experience the joy and peace of being found if I don’t feel the void of being lost. The mess is never the end but it sure is a good means for a great story for an even greater purpose: to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.
By Pastor Jason
I wrote this piece several years ago but I thought it appropriate to repost it in light of J. I. Packer’s passing.
Back in 2011, I was deciding on which seminary to attend. I did not have the luxury of a Sorting Hat and this is not a decision to take lightly. I wasn’t just picking a hat that matches with my outfit. After much deliberation, I had decided to attend Regent College. The basis? One man: J.I. Packer. He was the author of perhaps the most influential book in my life (it was that or anything Calvin and Hobbes related). After hearing that he had stepped down as a full-time professor, I decided to take my “talents” elsewhere.
To be honest, Knowing God was a bit too dense for me as an angsty 16-year-old. Similar to C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, it was just a bit above my pay grade. I was filled with more confusion than convictions. For me, the title of the book sat a little funny in my stomach, kind of like milk a few days past its expiration date. How is it possible to know everything there is to know about God? But after the second, third, and fourth readings, the book is still pertinent, profound and powerful. He argues that there is no higher calling and joy than the pursuit to know God.
What makes life worthwhile is having a big enough objective, something which catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance, and this the Christian has in a way that no other person has. For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?
I used to be incredibly frustrated with the fact that God cannot be fully known. Knowing God felt like an act of futility. But it is the very fact that the knowledge of God is inexhaustible that makes Him God. Packer has left an indelible mark on my passion for theology. The reason why Packer made such an impact on my theology and worldview wasn’t just in the exhortation to know God, as a sterile pursuit of intellectual currency, but how knowing God would be the key to understanding the very world that we live in. In other words, knowing God filled in the blanks of the unknown and gives purpose to my existence.
Knowing about God is crucially important for the living of our lives. As it would be cruel to an Amazonian tribesmen to fly him to London, put him down without explanation in Trafalgar Square and leave him, as one who knew nothing of English or England, to fend for himself, so we are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about the God whose world it is and who runs it. The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know about God. Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfold, as it were, with no sense of direction, and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.
It is a sad day to write about J.I. Packer. He is the author of over 300 books, journal articles, book reviews, dictionary entries and other publications. His ministry has had a profound impact on generations of scholars and pastors alike. Recently he was diagnosed with macular degeneration that has robbed him of sight. He can no longer read or write. But in an interview he did with The Gospel Coalition, he is still encouraged that God can use him for His glory. When asked about his diagnosis, Packer responds, “God knows what he's up to, and I've had enough experiences of his goodness in all sorts of ways not to have any doubts about the present circumstances. Some good, something for his glory, is going to come out of it.”
Asked if he had any last words to the Church and Packer responds as only he knows how: “Glorify Christ in every way.”
As the title states, Packer may be losing his sight, but he is surely seeing Christ. There is a man who knows God. I am eternally indebted to the writing ministry of J.I. Packer and I pray that as I grow as a minister of the Word that I, too, may make it a priority to know God and to love him with everything that I am.
By Pastor Jason
I have lost count of the days since we have been relegated to anchorite status; like the Tom Hanks character in Cast Away, at a certain point, enumerating the days seem to be more disheartening than productive.
In my furtive attempt to get the church to be more learned, I wanted to share a timely reflection from my readings from Adolphe Monod’s book Farewell to His Friends and Church. Monod was a French Protestant preacher in the 19th Century whose life was shortened by a terminal disease. In his last days, he would preach sermons to his friends which are transcribed in this short work.
In the book, six of the chapters are titled “A Dying Man’s Regrets”, which seem especially haunting and morose, but the reflections are more exhortative than irreparably remorseful. In one specific reflection, he shares his thoughts on the use of time, especially as a Christian:
“How much time, how many opportunities are lost by idleness or unbelief—by negligence or selfishness—by self-will or hesitation—by love of sin, or by a thousand other causes.”
This is not an arbitrary reflection as Monod wrote this under the heading of regret. For him, every waking moment was all the more precious knowing that his death was imminent. And yet, he realizes the fragility of the will. I want to share two of his reflections on the subject.
First, time is not something that is a given and promised but a gift from God.
We must be deeply impressed with the conviction that we are not our own— that our time is not our own, but, like all the rest we have, belongs to God, and it is consequently in God that we ought always to seek what we have to do in order to fill up the time He gives us, and take advantage of the opportunities that He offers us. (Monod, 50)
And by proxy, said time is to be seen as precious and perhaps fleeting. Seeing time as a gift or an entrusted responsibility should drastically change how we spend it. It is tricky not to fall into a legalistic mindset when it comes to the economy of time. There is a strong correlation between my inefficient use of time and how I view it in relationship to God. But the goal is not efficiency in itself; the hope is that both the usage and matter are embedded in a heart that understands that time is indeed a gift and an opportunity.
Second, Monod encourages a diligent seizing of all opportunities that arise. Seizing opportunities is a discernment and relational issue.
The true art of seizing the opportunity is the Christian art of having the eyes always turned towards the Lord, and thus being ready to undertake each work as He provides it, and when one work is done, to go on to another. (51)
I struggle with this one. Opportunities can smack me in the face and I would categorize it as a coincidence and simply sidestep. Or, for a lack of a better word, disobey. My lack of opportunistic exuberance is a commentary on my intimacy with God. It is the paralysis by (over)analysis, the delusions of self-reliance that makes me hyper-dependent upon my own metrics rather than a heart that wants to just say yes.
At the risk of sounding lugubrious, God has graciously rebuked me through the words of Monod. And though the bight of this stream we call 2020 is nowhere in sight, we must not let lassitude win. We must grip tighter onto the truth of God. And He has, by His sovereign grace, given us a lot of time for us to glorify Him. But we are not left to our own faulty devices. We have the perfect model in our savior, Jesus Christ, who used every moment to obey and glorify God to the point of the cross. Let us, then, treat every moment as the precious gift and opportunity that it is.
By Pastor Jason
I partially chose this title to plug one of my favorite Steven Curtis Chapman’s songs with the same name. As someone who holds a certain disdain for CCM, I will never refuse a good Steven Curtis Chapman-centered playlist.
On this Independence Day, I actually want to talk about dependence. While autonomy and freedom are vaunted ideals, it can also be a fool’s errand, particularly as a Christian. Not only is dependence on God a prerequisite to understanding the Gospel, I would argue that it should be the perpetual posture of the heart of the believer. I know, scalding take.
2020 has been quite a year already and we are now entering the second half. Between COVID-19 and the social/racial injustices in our country, our mettle and heart have been tested. On one hand, it’s been an important process to learn and to prune. It exposed some of our sin and our hearts have been purer for it. I also know, unfortunately, that time can be the fertile ground that breeds complacency and perhaps even apathy.
I feel that time has softened my passion of late. The furnace that was once blaring has now decrescendoed into a sad scattering of embers, only good for S’mores. I feel this especially in the private caverns of my own heart. The helplessness of my estate forced me to pray. It was a necessity. I needed to express my feelings of lost-ness to God. But after a few months, time has sanded down the spiritual edge and prayer now has become a heartless gesture bound by my title as a pastor and a Christian.
Do you feel like your prayer life has taken a hit of late? Have you always struggled to pray? I answer in the affirmative for both. I am quick to confess that I struggle with prayer yet I have done nothing to improve on that weakness. I sharpen my own theological acumen regularly. I read the Word with much vigor. I even love to fellowship, believe it or not. Yet I have struggled to pray. I’ve tried different methods like writing them out or even praying through the Bible, but I always seem to be justifying my sad prayer life by telling myself that it’s the quality, not the quantity that matters. I don’t need to tell you that the quality was not there either.
Tim Keller, in his book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, rebuked me (as he usually does) with the hypocrisy of a prayerless life: “to fail to pray, then, is not to merely break some religious rule--it is a failure to treat God as God.” Knowing that intimacy is as important, if not more important, than intellect, Keller also states that “prayer turns theology into experience.”
This is absolutely devastating. As a theology geek, I have dug myself into such a delusional pit of self-reliance, feeding only on the morsels of knowledge that I have accrued. Yet I find myself asking, why do I still feel so distant? Why does God seem like an abstract figure and not an intimate Father?
J.I. Packer in his book Praying: Finding Our Way Through Duty to Delight, answers this problem: prayer. This post is starting to become more of a gratuitous quote-and-tell, but it’s so good not to share.
How can we turn our knowledge about God into knowledge of God? The rule for doing this is simple but demanding. It is that we turn each Truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God.
People use prayer as a last ditch effort as the shot clock is running down. When every avenue is exhausted, we throw our hands in the air and say, “welp, all I can do is pray.” How sad is our theology on prayer! We pray, not because we are helpless (though this is true), we pray because we find hope in God. The power of prayer, a phrase that is so misused and misunderstood, is not in the discipline itself but the person in which we direct our laments and thanksgiving. It is a plea, an expression of our dependence, that God will do God. And we act like praying “let Your will be done” is the key that unlocks the manifestation of God’s will when it’s really an expression of humility and submission. A prayer for my heart to align with His.
And that’s where I want to be: a heart that is so wonderfully dependent on God expressed through a regular and robust prayer life. May God revive this heart yet again.
By Pastor Jason
I came across a familiar story in Luke 17 where Jesus heals ten lepers but only one returns to thank Jesus for the gracious healing.
 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.  And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance  and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.  Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice;  and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.  Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (ESV) Luke 17:11–19
This piece is not meant to be a convenient one-to-one application during our times during COVID-19. Though we can insert a joke about how the lepers were practicing sound social distancing protocol before it was cool (v.12; “ who stood at a distance”), there is a deeper truth that I want to uncover, at the very least, for myself.
The stark contrast between the desperate pleas and the deafening silence of the nine lepers that did not return is telling. It reveals that the ultimate goal of the heaping of praise to Jesus, as they called him “Master”, was to be healed. Whether it was because they wanted to reintegrate themselves within the community or just fatigue from being sick, it is painfully evident that Jesus (and the rightful worship that is due) was not the primary objective. It was a pretense. I can imagine that once they were deemed to be clean again, their first response was to tell their friends and family. They probably organized gatherings to celebrate the occasion. They weren’t able to physically break bread and do life with one another. One’s first reaction reveals the truest desires of the heart. Does any of this sound familiar?
Then you contrast the Samaritan, who by reputation should not have even been a part of the conversation, become the recipient of the gold star. His first response is worship.
 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice;  and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.
Mind you, this is before anything official was declared. This was prior to any ceremonious declaration of the proclamation of his cleanliness. Before he could reap the benefits of the newfound identity and health, he rightfully worships Jesus.
What will be your response once the cloud of quarantine is lifted? Will your first response be a fastidious and frenzied restoring of normalcy? Many people look forward to the day when they can congregate together. They look forward to dining out and going bowling. They long for playdates and fun outings. And many of us will not even think to look back and thank God for His providence. Many will only be so fixated on the fixed problem only to neglect the very purpose of existence: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
So consider this a reminder: when some semblance of normalcy is returned, do not forget the hands that have healed.
By Pastor Jason
I don’t take pride in many things but if you were to press me on the issue, I’d probably point to my Bible knowledge. Or it was. Long gone are the days of a puffed up chest of a prepubescent version of myself just killing it in the Bible trivia game. Weirdest of flexes, I know, but it was the one thing I could hang my hat on. The platform was irrelevant; whether it was Bible Baseball, Bible Jeopardy, or Bible Trivial Pursuit, you name it, I would be the MVP of the Sunday School (Most Vain Protestant).
By God’s grace I have experienced a precipitous fall from, well, grace. In my pursuit of knowing God, it shed light on how vast my ignorance really was. Each day continues to be a steady battle to reconcile a healthy confidence in my theological training and a humble heart that mimics that of Christ’s. Each day I fight tooth and nail to strike the perfect balance of truth and love.
I admit that my vigor in the pursuit of knowledge is an overcompensation for my own insecurities; there’s always a faint humming in the back of my head, a reminder of the ever-present fear of being found out as a fraud, or worse, a hypocrite. This truth was exposed in the very first class of seminary; while others were furiously taking copious notes, I was looking up every other word of the lecture. Barely able to gasp for air, I somehow convinced them to give me a paper saying I have mastered the arts of divinity, which sounds more like a class offered at Hogwarts.
Knowledge is a good thing but it is only as good as how it is utilized. In my younger days, my knowledge was mere minutiae. My ability to regurgitate factoids was just that: a faithless facade. It did not behoove me to a certain Christ-centered ethic. This proved that my knowledge was not only useless by damning. Later, my knowledge of God certainly grew in its depth and sophistication but not in the areas that I had hoped. Again, this knowledge paired with certain titles and certificates, puffed me up (1 Cor. 8:1). Rather than using my knowledge to edify, I wielded my newfound tools for justification to judge others.
Semper Reformanda or “always reforming” is something that I found much solace in. While I might be more polished and refined compared to previous, more primitive iterations, I still have a long way to go. The intent behind the mantra of “always reforming” should never be seen as a burdensome call to be self-reliant in the pursuit of meticulous self-improvement. How futile and harrowing is the task of a sinner to be better! Rather, I know that God is the one in charge of my change. As the timeless classic goes:
He’s changing me, my precious Jesus.
I’m not the same person that I used to be.
Sometimes it’s slow going but there’s a knowing
That one day, perfect I will be.
By Pastor Jason
I feel you.
This was the common refrain of close friends that tried to console me, the inconsolable. While I appreciated the sentiment, I would find myself frustrated by the “one size fits all” type of aid that would be dispensed to me. The vagueness made it seem like my friends did not care. The lack of thoughtfulness, maddening. I would think to myself, “they have no idea what I’m going through.”
Empathy is a word that is being thrown around these days and I believe it to be a noble aspiration. If it were as easy as just speaking it into existence, consider me more than a proponent of that idea. But this is where I see the disconnect between simply declaring it (*cue Michael Scott “I declare bankruptcy!”) and actually being empathetic. I wonder if people use empathy and sympathy interchangeably.
I admit that I might be splitting semantic hairs, but I think the meticulousness of language shows intent and intent reveals the heart. The question I’ve been asking myself is this: can I truly empathize with those that are suffering from people that seem worlds apart?
If pity says “I see your suffering” and if sympathy says “I care about your suffering”, empathy says “I feel your suffering.” Or “I share in your suffering.” This is where I find myself feeling helpless: I don’t think I can ever truly feel the full brunt of the suffering of my African American brothers and sisters. I have accrued helpful intellectual knowledge and I have emotional responses to it, but I lack a certain lived wisdom.
I’ll be there for you.
Consider this yet another platitude that was said to me as a youth. Aside from being the lyrics to the theme song of a criminally overrated 90’s sitcom, it was yet another pretentious offering to help without much follow through. It sounded nice and my ears tickled, but I was still stuck in the muck and the mire. In the progression of the desire to help, the final form is compassion. In the gradient that is engagement, compassion is my best intention realized. I admit that I reduced compassion to a mere expression of a desire to help but there is a very real, tangible call to execute. Compassion is the climactic culmination of our acknowledgement (pity), sorrow (sympathy), and maybe understanding (empathy).
Consider it, then, your own personal thermometer of your heart. When you see evil and injustices in this world, do you see it? Do you feel something for the offended? Unlike a checklist however, the immediate result is not the ultimate reality. If anything, these present snapshots are to be considered as a progress report of our own trek up the summit that is sanctification.
While I’m carrying an unimpressive C- in the life course of emotional intelligence, all my empty promises and stale convictions can leave me in utter despair. Without faith, my personal evaluation of where I am currently at with all this will only exacerbate my feelings of helplessness.
But I find solace that God is compassionate. Unlike my macaroni art of compassion, God’s version is supremely gracious and perfect. Jesus Christ is the highest form of God’s compassion. Jesus sees it (Mark 1:41). He feels it (John 11:35), He shares in it (Mark 15:34), but ultimately, He rectifies it (John 13:90). And when He vows to make all things new, it is not just a flighty attempt to say that He’ll do His best. No. He will do it. He has already done it. It is through this lens, then, in which I no longer see my call to be compassionate as a heavy pickaxe as I begrudgingly chip away at a stubborn piece of stone in hopes of finding a shard of something of value. Rather, it is with humble incredulity in which I respond to the call to be compassionate as a recipient of the unmerited compassion of God.
By Pastor Jason
An apt refrain of the times, I recently reread D.A. Carson’s How Long, O Lord: Reflections on Suffering & Evil. I actually picked it up as a way to process my thoughts during COVID-19, but providentially, this book has been a providential source of consolation during the social unrest. Though he may be a giant in Biblical scholarship, the book is rife with soothing pastoral words. And even though the book was first published in 1990, his words still ring true today, namely because suffering and evil seems to be so prevalent.
He opens up one of his chapters with a profound yet rebuking question: “when we suffer, there will sometimes be mystery. Will there also be faith?” One might argue that mystery, or the unknown, is the grounds for faith to be lived. We can talk a big game about our faith in the abstract, yet faith is tested in the unrealized. It is materialized in the unanswered questions.
But we all have a temporal threshold when it comes to our faith, don’t we? We have our own “best by” date. We will wait so long as it fits our parameters and optics. Outside of that self-conjured expectation, everything else will feel like abandonment. I’ll be honest, during these uncertain times, I want to fire, salvo after salvo, encouraging truths (ideally delivered in alliterative or palindromic phrases). I want to be the erudite one, being able to answer any and all questions regarding any topic, topping it off with a Gospel cherry on top to allay all worries and fears. But I just can’t. I lack the words and the wisdom. Where do I return my M. Div?
When we suffer, there will sometimes be mystery. Will there also be faith?
You have to appreciate the tension that Carson proposes to the believer; mystery can easily lead to idleness. Mystery can even be deflating. But for those that pledge allegiance to Christ, mystery is not a dead end but a cul-de-sac in which we reorient our gaze upon God who has all the answers. Carson affirms the inevitability of the struggle with uncertainty but also presupposes that mystery is hardly an excuse of unbelief. But if we are to dig deeper, where do you place this faith? The payoff (or lack thereof) is in how you answer that pointed question. As confrontational as that might be, we all can use a come-to-God moment where we, at least to yourselves and God, be completely honest without reservation. If you can’t be honest now, to deal with potential potholes in your faith, when can you ever?
When we suffer, there will sometimes be mystery. Will there also be faith?
Sometimes we relegate faith to the back shed, only for it to accrue cobwebs. We use the word only in the spiritual or even mental sense. But the Bible speaks of faith in tandem with works. I understand that trying to do something when we’re floundering in the mystery seems unwise, but I would argue that simply speaking “faith” into existence without any follow through is just as harmful. And this is where we depend on the convictions that only the Spirit can posit. We don’t get swayed by what is trending nor do we rely solely on the emotional flavor of the day. Rather, we sit in silence and in patience, waiting for the Lord to lead us, to burden us towards a direction. I would never dare to be an expert on the universal ethic of the Christian at a time like this, but I do know that faith is never sterile.
When we suffer, there will sometimes be mystery. Will there also be faith?
One can take that question and look inwardly, trying to muster up a mustard seed of faith so that mountains can be moved. But the answer is never inside of us. We can push until we’re blue in the face, but faith is never self-manufactured. If anything, our hearts, as John Calvin would say, manufactures idols. Where can we find this faith? Carson offers up a thought: “To be useful, faith depends on the reliability, the faithfulness, of its object...For faith to be praiseworthy, it must repose in a faithful God.”
It may be difficult to look away from the painful sufferings of this life and the subsequent unanswered questions. We might be so rubbernecked by the mysterious carnage that we are unable to see what lies ahead. While there is suffering and mystery, there will also be faith as I shift my focus away from the suffering and onto the Cross of Christ. Without faith, this mystery is the cause of dread. But with faith, we know how this story will end. We don’t have all the answers to the questions that haunt us but we place our faith in Christ who grounds our faith because of the redemptive love that we can never be stripped from us.
By Pastor Jason
I must confess that I am struggling mightily to string together the right words for such a time as this. Inundated with opinions and a fervent call to action and everything in between, you might find yourself in a place of fatigue or, even worse, desensitization. As if COVID-19 wasn’t debilitating enough, the reminder that racism is still rampant should lead us to lament and repent. But I’m not here to reinvent the wheel; nothing is new under the sun. I do, however, want to reconcile the helplessness we might feel with an encouraging word.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6 (ESV)
This line from the Beatitudes can be so oft-quoted that it can become blasé. If we are to interpret the Beatitudes as an if/then proposition, it is both encouraging and damning. At first glance, we can read that verse and come away thinking the solution is to redirect our hunger towards righteousness. Easy. Not only is this folly, but it is futile; as time will continue to test our mettle, maybe our verve, a self-reliant spirituality will lead you to one conclusion: you will never, on your own, desire righteousness. And in that sense, we will never be satisfied.
Please disregard my cringeworthy attempt to be tweetable, but that is perhaps why it’s called the Beatitudes and not Doatitudes (patent pending). Jesus is not providing a road map; he is not laying out a set of commands. Rather, he is describing someone who is a true disciple. He is describing someone that belongs to the Kingdom of God. Therein lies the rub: it is truly a blessing, then, to be satisfied of a deeper need than just the material and the immediate.
The virus has exposed us of our deepest, fleshly deficiencies. It has magnified our idols. It has forced us to confront just how much we have fallen short of the glory of God. And while this time of introspective repentance has taken place, we are also reminded that sometimes even our own self-maintenance can be self-centered. Sometimes the spiritual health checks that we do can be so burrowed in a one-track mind that it can morph into the toxic, gospel-less mindset that starts off with “what must I do…”
So how do I go from a hunger and thirst that is self-centered to one that desires for God’s righteousness to be realized? If we learn anything from the Beatitudes, character trumps giftings. Your ethos is more important than your pathos.
Before we desire to see a systemic change, we must first change ourselves. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones offers this still relevant commentary on The Sermon on the Mount:
“The terrible, tragic fallacy of the last hundred years has been to think that all man's troubles are due to his environment, and that to change the man you have nothing to do but change his environment. That is a tragic fallacy. It overlooks the fact that it was in Paradise that man fell.” (Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount)
What Jones is stating that lasting and meaningful change is never outside in, but inside out. Before you sign any petition or before you repost someone’s provocative tweet, can we take a moment and pause? Can we pray the words of David as he desperately cries out to God to change his own heart (Ps. 51:10)? We must start here.
The injustices that we see, as many have opined, is not new. It should not be shocking, even. Yet, if we desire to see changes, we must not only be concerned of the carefully curated caricature who put out into the zeitgeist, but also be ones who deeply care about the ultimate wrong of sin being righted by Jesus Christ. Let us continue to pray that we hunger and thirst for righteousness, and find solace in that this hunger will be fully satisfied upon Christ’s return. Until then, we cry out, “come Lord Jesus, come!”
By Pastor Jason
Depending on the context, six years can be considered either a long or short period of time. Six years of schooling may feel like an eternity but six years of marriage can also seem like an eternity (in a good way). But this week, we celebrate six years of existence as Christ Central Presbyterian Church!
Having been here for only two years, I feel the least qualified to wax poetic on the rich history of our church. So many other people have participated and travailed over the years. I am certainly reaping the fruits of the labor of so many that have come before me. In some sense, I feel like the scavenger that arrives to the party unfashionably late, missing all the festivities, only to gorge on the delectable cake. If we’re being specific, a DQ Blizzard cake.
In the mere wisp of time that I have been here, the manifestations of God’s faithfulness is conspicuous. From the effusive testimonies on this week’s podcasts to the collective love for the church and its members, it is clear that God is working in and through us. Even though I may be relatively green, I am no stranger to the frequently dispensed qualms of church members. As the trite truism goes, there is no perfect church.
But that’s where God’s faithfulness is even more amazing; when you have two competing forces, God’s faithfulness and human fallibility, it is God’s will and not human expectations nor strategies that wins out. And though we try our best to discern and to exercise wisdom in every situation, there are many times we struggle, or even worse, succumb. Left to our own devices, we would push for our own agenda to self-aggrandize. The saving grace in running a church, as crude as that phrasing sounds, is that God is in control despite our failings and flailings. And so when we celebrate six years of God’s faithfulness, we aren’t celebrating the number of years of ministry as if we are celebrating someone’s birthday; rather, we rejoicing and recommitting to another year to submit ourselves to the will of God and trust Him in the scary space that is the unknown. In other words, the brand we are promoting is not ours but God’s.
Ultimately, my hope is that when we use verbiage like “God’s faithfulness” or “God’s blessing”, we refrain from using it circumstantially. The unfortunate thing about the Christian lexicon is that such accolades only appear when situations are favorable. Absent is such language in times of suffering. But we have to, as Christians, hold onto the truth that God’s faithfulness is not to be celebrated once a year or when times are good; we have to celebrate God’s faithfulness because that is who He is. It is in His character to be faithful. There is no other alternative. God is not any less faithful when we don’t feel the warmth of His love. God is not less gracious when our church might have some low points. This might sound patronizing, but the truth is that we sometimes allow circumstances to cloud our theology to a point where the cacophony of suffering is louder than the joy of our salvation. And that is what we try to preach every Sunday: while we celebrate six years of God’s faithfulness at Christ Central, we ultimately rejoice in the zenith of God’s faithfulness--the sending of His only son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins so that we may be saved.
Faithfulness, like a fine wine or a good cheddar, is best experienced aged. One year of faithfulness cannot hold a candle to ten. Ten years of steadfastness cannot be in the same room as fifty years of consistency. In this flexing contest, there is no one like our God. He has always been, continues to be, and will forever be faithful to His people.
 Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds. (ESV) Psalm 36:5
By Pastor Jason
Welcome to another installment of Pastor Jason’s Unsolicited Book Club™. In my recent rereading of Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary, I was floored by just how timely and applicable the book was in my current season of life. Warren successfully articulates the power of capturing the sacred in the ordinary. What seems to be an almost prophetic word in a time like this, she writes, “everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.” When I read that, I uttered an audible “amen.”
This analogy hits a little too close to home because, well, my home has a sinkful of dirty dishes. I abhor doing the dishes. I don’t mind buying the groceries, cooking the meal, and basking in the mirth of the moment. But when the laughters linger into lulls, we know what lies ahead: the dishes.
And to push the comparison even further, the example of doing the dishes perfectly captures the absolute pedestrian and uncelebrated nature of the grind of perseverance. Everyone is sharing their food but no one is sharing the aftermath. It is both aesthetically unappetizing and it taints the beautiful ethos that we are so meticulously curating for our social media neighbors. The dirty dishes serve as a memento of the good times that was just had and a reminder of the grueling task that lies in the imminent future.
Finally, if you grew up doing the dishes in an Asian American home, you know that the dishwasher is a misnomer; its presence is there to merely act as a glorifying drying rack. Personally, growing up in a Korean family, doing the dishes required a healthy amount of elbow grease, to combat the hardened fat of the Kalbi that remained on the plate. Oh, and you can forget about the dishwashing gloves. It was your bare hands, a sponge, and maybe two drops of Kirkland Signature dish soap. I would argue, with stats, that the dishwasher is actually more efficient, but my mom would not have any of it.
I want redemption, both immediate (physical) and eternal (spiritual). This time of quarantine has neutered any semblance of exciting and unpredictable oscillation. And unlike The Curve, staying home has flattened the excitement curve of my life where I am found meandering mindlessly through most of my days. But worst of all, this insipid existence has seeped into my spirituality. How do I climb out of this rut when my desire for a revival and my determination to persevere and put in work are at two very different levels?
The answer is, well, not revolutionary. If there’s anything I’ve gleaned from this book, it is to recapture the magnificence of the menial. The power is not found upon the disciplines themselves, for that’s a gospel-less theology. Rather, it is in the consistent and constant, nose-to-the-grindstone type of ethic that beautifies the ordinary. We must, then, not look at the deeds as the answer or a distraction even. We have to view them as a doxological response to the incredible love of God. It is only then in which a new wondrous shine is put on the act of doing the dishes. But the truth remains: there are many days, if not most, in which our approach to the dishes is more begrudging then joyful. Seldom are my days in which I am operating from a heart that is profoundly impacted by the Cross of Christ and the subsequent obedience is easy and blissful. No. Many days, I realize that I need to do the dishes. And in an ironic twist of fate, as we wait for the restoration of all things, it is in the mundane act of doing our dishes in which we find our daily revolution. We are revolting against our flesh and emotions. When we do that, we stave off complacency and spiritual staleness. I hope that we all can find beauty in doing our dishes daily.
By Pastor Jason
I’ve been pondering, for quite some time, how to string together the perfect set of words. At a certain point, unfortunately, words can only do so much and language has its limitations.
It’s natural, even instinctual, for us to look inward as calamity rises. We are acutely aware of how COVID-19 has affected us, personally and communally. We are trying to brace for the devastation that will be left in this virus’ wake. We’re all trying our best and that’s all we can do.
The virus has put a screeching halt to all things like graduations and weddings. It has unapologetically shut down regular sources of joy like corporate worship. But do you know the one thing that it hasn’t capped? The wreaking of havoc of sin.
While social gatherings have been put on pause, sin and its effects seem to run amok. I’m not referring to the increased irritability of people as they wait in line at Costco.
Ahmaud Arbery is yet another victim of racial profiling. It is another tragic story in the litany of stories of racism in America. We can retread the same old tale, denounce its injustices, and pound our chests until the cows come home, but this post isn’t about that. There is a better platform for that, especially as Asian Americans, to discuss the racial/social aspects of this incident. The point of this essay is neither a political one nor a humanitarian one. There are experts that can better eloquently speak to those facets of this situation than I. This story is a reminder that even during this time of shelter in place, that there is a more harrowing virus that we have quietly neglected. Experts have called COVID-19, a novel virus, but for those that know of the narrative of the Bible, we know that there’s nothing novel about the spiritual virus of sin.
All this to say, while we are under the dome of being quarantined, we can sometimes get into the mode of burying our heads into the sand. We ingest the “ignorance is bliss” mantra and we think that what we don’t know won’t hurt. But in reality, we needed to be reminded of the real pain and sorrow that sin comes with. Sin is not just incidental displeasure we bring to the Lord but a condition that we tend to mollify, if not justify. I believe that an integral part of the human experience is to feel the pangs of death. To feel the harrowing shadow of sin. To shutter at the desolation of it all. We need to be reminded of our humanity. From the wonderful to the woeful. And it is in these momentary pricks of the finger and the subsequent pooling and trickling of the blood, in that we deepen our yearning and need for Jesus.
I have been reminded quite a few times of just the transient nature of my existence. Not only was I grieved over the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, I was also shocked to hear the death of Darrin Patrick, a gifted pastor who I had known from my time in St Louis. At 49, he leaves behind a wife and four children. And to top it all off, Ravi Zacharias, a Christian apologist who has left an indelible mark on my own spiritual formation, sent an ominous update on his Facebook page:
We have just learned that while the tumor in my dad’s sacrum has been responding to the chemotherapy, the area where the cancer metastasized has actually worsened. His oncologist informed us that this cancer is very rare in its aggression and that no options for further treatment remain. Medically speaking, they have done all they are able.
The tentacles of sin and its reach are far and wide. It has affected all of us and it will continue to do so. The prognosis of the situation does seem bleak. And despite our best efforts and intentions, we sometimes allow our present sufferings to engulf the truth and joy of our salvation. But we must not let that happen. I don’t mean to say that we mustn’t feel sad, but we must not let sin win. We must not lose hope. We must hold onto the single thread of Christ’s victory over sin. Though its reverberations might feel faint, it’s there. We rejoice both in the atoning work and reigning status of Christ. We sing hallelujah over our forgiven sins and the ultimate vanquishing of it.
The recurring motif of The Olive Branch is one of redeemed anticipation but that’s precisely the call of the Christian. We cannot do it on our own. When the pain gets too much and our hope on its last legs, we cry out, “come Lord Jesus come!” We cry out for a hastened return for our King. We know that through all of this, that there is one who sits on a higher throne. In the meantime, may these reminders lead us to heighten our anticipation and deepen our devotion to God.
By Pastor Jason
A new normal, or so they say. It’s an admirable aspiration, as we attempt to aspirate it into existence. We try to make sense of the rubble, but it’s deeply confounding. Frustratingly so. And if this is the new normal, then I don’t really want to be a part of it. The sudden halt to the blissful merry-go-round that we call life not only caused a violent whiplash, but it dislodged something within all of us. Like a misaligned rib bone, things have become increasingly uncomfortable and laborious.
But that’s the thing: this is not normal.
And so I’ve been asking myself these questions: what if we aren’t called to necessarily normalize or make sense of the chaos? What if, at least for this moment in time, we are called to merely wade in the murky waters of the unknown?
To sit in dissonance doesn’t seem like the pastoral pearl that you’re accustomed to receiving. It almost seems like an elevated way of saying “it is what it is.” But here lies the fork in the road: will you take the path of resignation or the path of anticipation? This spiritual “choose your own adventure” will force some, if not many, to pause and take inventory. Or at least I hope it does.
On one hand, resignation feels good because the pretense is gone. It is the unhealthy view and application of God’s sovereignty so that you can absolve yourself from the tall task of living a life of faith. But the red pill, as difficult as it is to swallow, is to trust. To believe. To have faith that a greater day is coming. I am not talking about the day when I can go to the grocery store sans mask or finally sitting down and eating at a restaurant as opposed to my car; I am referring to a day when all things will be made new, as God had intended.
The proper posture is to look at this moment, shake your head and lament that this is not the way it was supposed to be. This is not just a theological utterance but the only response to the shards on the ground. We cry out for Christ’s return as we concurrently writhe in pain. To ask a pointed question, then, what are you really waiting for?
Wanting for this virus to pass is not inherently bad but if we’re honest, it is the pinnacle of our supplication. But it shouldn’t be. It can’t be. There is a greater catharsis coming.
This situation is yet another thorn in our side that has ruptured our neatly packed lives. The milk has now been spilled. Things are running amok (or perhaps your children). But this is where I see God’s grace in the carnage: this experience has forced me to confront the root of many of my spiritual maladies. It has boxed me into the corner where I have no other place to run. The fig leaves that I have adorned myself with have now withered away. And I need the scalpel of the Holy Spirit to cut away the cancerous dross in my heart.
It is in this process of purification through fire is where I want to be. The pain is intolerable and the lack of answers, maddening. But it is in this very crucible in which godliness is forged. Through this, we realize the wonderful truth that we are a new creation in Christ.
All of us will walk away with scars. Or, dare I say, a limp? These indelible marks serve as reminders of the duality of God’s amazing grace and the current brokenness. But it is only in Christ in which the suffering will be eclipsed by ineffable joy. We speak of a new normal as a way to deal but with Christ, there truly is a new normal--a triumphant restoration of all things. The phrase, injected by the hope of the gospel, has taken on a whole new meaning; it gives me assurance for better days ahead.
By Pastor Jason
The divide between knowing and doing has always been a curious thing. For example, I know that I probably shouldn’t eat a doughnut (donut?) but does it stop me? No. I eat that vehicle of carbs with much haste and gusto, especially if it’s an apple fritter. Apple fritters are the best and no breath needs to be wasted on a debate.
It seems as if this peculiar situation has opened up our schedules quite a bit. And with said vacancy, I would have anticipated that people would spend more time reading and praying. Prior to this time of quarantine, much of the chagrin expressed by some regarding their listless spirituality was self-incurred--their suffocating busyness.
I don’t mean to sound rectitudinous nor do I want to paint in broad strokes here, but the extra time has not been a boon to the spiritual health of many. And the increased disposable time and energy, at least in some of the conversations I’ve had, has not been expended on cultivating intimacy with God.
The problem is not that people aren’t reading and praying more. The egregiousness of it all comes from knowing that we should be delighting in the Word of God day and night (Psalm 1:2) but not following through. If we don’t know any better, then we can remedy it by instructing each other on the importance of cultivating and tilling. But it is not an intellectual/ignorance problem; it’s a desire problem.
I am a firm believer that if you love something enough, you will make time for it. And busyness was a convenient facade; it was behind that pretense in which we excused ourselves from being active in spiritual matters. But the virus has now lifted that veil. There is no concealer to hide behind. If anything, the time at home has forced us to confront just how much we do delight in God’s word and in prayer.
Trust me, I am no paragon or exemplar of true spirituality; I am embarrassed to even think about how many episodes of 30 Rock I’ve watched this week. The Sunday screen time report I get from my phone is the worst part of my week. And for better or for worse, the extra burden that comes from being a pastor exacerbates the guilt that comes from the great expanse between what I know and how I live.
How do I apply the balm of the Gospel to this very situation?
I don’t have a convenient or pithy list to offer you. I can, however, suggest one thing; perhaps in this time, while we are praying for the immediate needs of the world, that we can also pray for a changed heart. This is what I imagine what Jesus was referring to when he was teaching on seeking first the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33). I hardly think that asking for Porsche is of the same ilk as praying for a renewed passion for His name. I don’t believe God to be vindictively withholding of such requests. We have to start somewhere, though. And it starts with leaning into, yet again, the truth that we have been forgiven and we are loved. It is only when we undergird everything that we do with the love of God demonstrated by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in which our affections and desires can be indelibly transformed. But until then, reading and praying will forever be a checklist, a begrudging chore that we do to delude ourselves that we’re spiritually healthy. It becomes an obligatory and sterile transactional deposit in our spiritual bank account rather than a fulfilling, doxological relationship with God.
I want to get back to that place. And the grace that has been given to all of us is that there is still time. Unlike my failed diets in the past where the tagline was “my diet starts tomorrow”, giving me free rein to exercise a dietary postmodernism, let us start our spiritual diets today. Revive your reading plans, even if it had died in Leviticus. Come out to the Friday night prayer meetings. Attend the virtual CGs, even if it’s your first one of the year. We promise it won’t be awkward. But before keeping score of all that you do, remember to take inventory of your hearts and ensure that you are doing these things because God loves you and that you want to reciprocate that love to Him.
By Pastor Jason
I have found a sweet refuge in books in these trying times. I find the bosoms of book bindings to be more comforting than the white noise of a TV show or baking a loaf of sourdough bread. One of the books that I had the fortune of rereading was Henri Nouwen’s Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life. At the risk of sounding like LeVar Burton on an episode of Reading Rainbow, this is a book that I highly recommend, especially at a time like this. But you don’t have to take my word for it.
In the concise work, Nouwen promotes the unheralded discipline of solitude. Similar to that of contentment, solitude is a virtue that exerts an immense amount of energy with very little payoff. If someone were to, somehow, commend you on your practice of solitude, you’d think that they were being facetious; you’d think that the person would be passive aggressively commenting on your cloistered lifestyle. Think about the connotations that accompany the word; it is often used in penal contexts, a far cry from what Nouwen had in mind. But in God’s providence, this social separation has forced me to consider the art of solitude.
For Nouwen, there is a stark difference from solitude and isolation. There is a difference between aloneness and loneliness. Even though the optics might make it seem like an impossible game of Spot the Difference, the heart behind each makes a world of a difference.
This pervasive loneliness, according to Nouwen, is not a social problem but a spiritual one. We are not lonely and feeling isolated because of a lack of personal interactions but because we struggle to be truly known and subsequently loved. And although the book was written in 1974, Nouwen prophetically comments on this isolation problem:
In this success-oriented world, our lives become more and more dominated by superlatives. We brag about the highest tower, the fastest runner, the tallest man, the longest bridge, and the best student...But underneath all our emphasis on successful action, many of us suffer from a deep-seated, low-self esteem and are walking around with the fear that someday someone will unmask the illusion and show that we are not as smart, as good, or as lovable as the world was made to believe. (Nouwen, 22-23)
I want to tread carefully here: I don’t think that this current pandemic is a good thing. But if I am called to adhere to God’s gracious and loving character, I must ask myself, where do I see grace and love in all of this? I have to see all things through that lens or else I will really lose my mind.
And this is where I am thankful for Nouwen’s thoughts on solitude; I am grateful that God has not just halted construction but He graciously razed all my towers that I had been building. I had been in a season where I was tactifully building up an ethos for the sole purpose of garnering the accolades of people, all the while neglecting the opinion and delight of the One that matters to most. I was trying to find love from others even though I was intentionally ignoring the magnanimous love of the Father. And in my haste and insecurity, I have futilely built up a hollow vessel that might look ornate on the outside but without substance on the inside. And I had lost my way.
Ultimately, I want to rebuild and relearn the discipline of solitude. To take pause. To ponder. To reconnect. There will be a day when the cloud of this horrible pandemic will pass and the obstacles will be no more. But I don’t want us to woefully look back at said inconveniences and see it as a wasted luxury in which we could have spent more time with the Lord. Appropriately, I want to lean on Nouwen’s words on solitude:
In solitude, we can slowly unmask the illusion of our possessiveness and discover in the center of our own self that we are not what we can conquer, but what is given to us. In solitude we can listen to the voice of him who spoke to us before we could speak a word, who healed us before we could make any gesture to help, who set us free long before we could free others, and who loved us long before we could give love to anyone. It is in this solitude that we discover that being is more important than having, and that we are worth more than the result of our efforts. (25-26)
By Pastor Jason
For those that followed Jesus, there was no devastating moment quite like the death of their Lord. They witnessed their beloved discipler brutally punished and mocked. They are now living in a world without their leader.
But in some senses, the day after was even harder. They now had to re-learn how to live their lives and adjust to a new reality that did not include Jesus. It was their new normal. One could argue that they could have simply remembered all the teachings of Jesus but whether it was the mystifying, parabolic language that Jesus used or the overwhelming grief that they were experiencing, the resurrection was not on their minds; it was not a possibility. Take Cleopas’ words about Jesus, though he did not recognize him on the road to Emmaus:
 But we had hoped that [Jesus] was the one to redeem Israel. Luke 24:21a (ESV)
Notice the resignation of the past tense: hope is no longer there. It had lived with Jesus and now it has died with him.
Holy Saturday, the day after Good Friday and the day before Resurrection Sunday, can be easily glossed over; unlike the feasting during Maundy Thursday, the unspeakable carnage of Good Friday and the brimming hope brought on by Easter Sunday, Holy Saturday is quiet. Silent but far from serene.
I need Holy Saturday.
Sandwiched between the promise of God and its fulfillment is space to work out the tension of the already but not yet. Holy Saturday is a blank canvas in which we deal with our distress. Holy Saturday is the deafening silence that makes us ask the question, “How long, O Lord?” Holy Saturday is the juxtaposition of the anticipation of future glory and the present suffering under the tyranny of our sin. Holy Saturday is learning how to trust God even though present circumstances seem impossibly difficult and to hope is an unreasonable ask.
You see, in this tension, there is no silver bullet, no immediate remedy that will cure you of this uncomfortable feeling that is lodged deep in the pit of your stomach. We are not called to escape it, but rather, to endure it. And the lessons gleaned from Holy Saturday are all the more pertinent and powerful during this time of COVID-19; though this virus has imposed unique challenges and caused irreparable damages, I need to be reminded that there is no darkness that can blot out the light of the resurrection.
The silence of Holy Saturday might be excruciating, The dissonance, disturbing. But we know that Easter is coming. In the first verse of Psalm 22, we read the famous line, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But later in the psalm, David redeems his cries with the hope of
The silence of Holy Saturday might be excruciating, The dissonance, disturbing. But we know that Easter is coming. In the first verse of Psalm 22, we read the famous line, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But later in the psalm, David redeems his cries with the hope of tomorrow. And it is these words in which I hope to sing with you all when we can gather together again, as a church and a family.
 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
 You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
 For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him. Psalm 22:22–24 (ESV)
Hello Christ Central Family,
Music is a powerful tool where instruments and melodies do the talking. Just as we’ve heard yesterday, worship can be sung in any key as long as it’s directed honestly and openly to the Lord. So, the Praise Team have compiled a Praise Playlist specifically for this really hard season. We asked to our praise team members “What worship songs have been encouraging you lately?” They responded and picked out specific songs that proclaim the victory of Jesus, trusting in God’s sovereignty despite our fickle hearts, as well as desperation in unanswered grief yet praising the Father, Son & Holy Spirit. One quote from one of our praise team members:
“I've been listening to King of Kings by Hillsong a lot. It was originally because I thought it was so fitting for Easter, but the more I listen to it, it's very pertinent in this chaos as well. Even in this uncertain and dark time, He is king of kings and we can find hope in a battle already won.
In the darkness, we were waiting
without hope, without light
Until from Heaven, you came running
There was mercy in your eyes...”
Christ Central SF Fam, this Playlist is for you, from Praise Team. We are thinking of you. Use this setlist through the weeks as you cook, enjoy a drive, or want to personally worship in your home. We hope this will encourage you and please enjoy the variety of tones, musical genres, and styles. May you find a song in here that speaks, inspires and moves you to Worship our God who is for us.
Sincerely Christ Central Praise Team.Praise Playlist
By Pastor Jason
I confess that I’m not a natural “creative” type and so titles and names are the bane of my existence. But, after much thought, I landed on “The Olive Leaf”. For starters, its foliage/botany connection presumes profundity and erudition. More importantly, however, I think the allusion to Genesis 8 is an apt one.
 At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made  and sent forth a raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth.  Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground.  But the dove found no place to set her foot, and she returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took her and brought her into the ark with him.  He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark.  And the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth.  Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore. Genesis 8:6–12 (ESV)
We are now in our third week of mandated social distancing and it has left us scrambling to search for some semblance of sanity. Normalcy is redefined and the menial is magnified. I cannot even imagine the cabin (or ark) fever that Noah must have endured. He was the original Tiger King.
The olive leaf was a sign that the waters have subsided but the earth was not quite ready to be inhabited. The waters may have subsided but the present reality is still hard to deal with. It is in that tension that we hope to encourage you.
Waiting, as we know, builds character but it can also build frustration. We try our best to patch up the leaks, not allowing the pent up rage to spill out onto our family and friends, but it is tremendously challenging.
I cannot wait until the day I can worship with my fellow brothers and sisters at Christ Central. I cannot wait to resume our familial participation of the Lord’s Supper. I cannot wait to sing worship songs with one voice. But until then, I need something to hold me over. I need a reminder.
And I hope that this, along with the podcasts and daily prayer challenges, can do just that for you. We are inundated with tragedy. We ingest the morsels of bad news on the daily. However, in the deluge of said bad news, we want to offer up even better news: Christ has died and rose and we are forgiven and redeemed! There is nothing better. No bad news can expel the light of the Gospel. There will be a day when the waters will be completely subsided. Even when the eye of this particular storm passes (and it will), we are providentially comforted by the reminder that this too shall pass and that we look forward to the day when all things will be made new.
By Pastor Jason
One of the silver linings of this COVID-19 situation is a deeper sense of gratitude for the things that I had taken granted for. It has forced me to approach each day with more appreciation and it has sharpened my focus and specificity in my prayers. Our hope in producing more content like this is to cultivate a deeper doxological contemplation on God. We pray that now, more than ever, your hearts can be stirred towards a more profound affection for Christ.
Seminary has given me many wonderful tools to become a better student of the Bible. Although I appreciate the complexities of the languages and the depth of systematic theology, the one tool that has helped me the most is the four-part framework of God's redemptive work: Creation, Rebellion (Fall), Redemption, and Restoration (Consummation). For me, everything else flowed from this lens in which I read the Bible.
So why do I mention this?
I wanted to offer up a practical suggestion for those that are starting to (or already have started to) feel a bit stir crazy, being cooped up in your houses. The days can get blended together and when structure and routine go out the proverbial window, one can easily lose focus and intentionality.
In an effort to provide a bit of direction in my own personal devotion to God, I’ve given myself some time to think, journal, and pray in this 4-part structure that has indelibly changed my theological foundation. Each day, I journal and reflect on God through this format:
Creation: What are some things that I can give praise to God for? What are some moments I enjoyed?
Rebellion: What are some things I can grieve over? What are some things I’ve done that are dishonoring/disobedient to God?
Redemption: What truth about God, myself, or God working in this world encourages me today? How does the Gospel encourage me in this specific moment in time?
Restoration: What gives me hope today? What am I most thankful for today?
I don't mean to offer up yet another pithy acronym to add to your litany of other catchphrases; rather, my hope and prayer is that in this short exercise of reflection you can see the conspicuous grace of God even in the menial and mundane.
In the practice of using this framework to jot down these reflections, it has helped me to pay closer attention to each day and how God has worked in them. I have been surprised by how much there is to celebrate but on the days when my spiritual needle hasn’t moved much, I can still be content in Christ and Christ alone.