Weekly Encouragements

No Turning Back - Apr 10, 2021

By Pastor Jason

[10] [Noah] waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark. [11] 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. [12] Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore. Genesis 8:10–12 (ESV)

The dawn of our church’s re-opening is here! Flurries of emotions greet me, like the first day of school jitters, as we anticipate this much needed modicum of good news. Though I usually sneer at even the notion of small talk, at this point, I will relish it. Come at me with your thoughts on the day’s weather or a hobby you picked up during the pandemic: I will embrace it unironically.

As things continue to normalize, I conclude these weekly Olive Leaves with some thoughts.

I hope that my words were of some consolation to you. While I know that these unprecedented times can render us, well, inconsolable, I do hope that you were encouraged.

I want to thank you for reading. But more than that, I wanted to thank those who spoke a kind word. The most meaningful and moving words, strangely, weren’t ones that complimented me on my diction; I will always treasure the responses of those that shared candidly about how a certain piece resonated or encouraged them in a time of struggle. This is the greatest joy as its author.

Lastly, I do hope and pray that as we leave our shadowy places we can take a moment to bask and reflect on this past year. Let us remember how God had carried us even though our feelings might speak of another reality. Let us give thanks for God’s unending love and grace as it is He who sustained us and will continue to sustain us henceforth.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heav’nly hosts
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Silence - Apr 3, 2021

By Pastor Jason

How you view silence, like many things in life, depends on its context. Silence is optimal if you’re trying to go to sleep but is paralyzing when it is the response to your well thought out questions to your CG members (shout out to all the CG leaders; you guys are the real MVPs). Silence can be deafening when speech acts are expected. Imagine being summoned to the principal’s office only to be greeted with a stone cold gaze and a stoic demeanor. You rack your brain by filling in the blanks of what he/she might be thinking, presuming guilt on your end. I don’t know about you, but I struggle with silence.

Holy Saturday is like the liturgical version of being left on read, so to speak. It is the in between, the unspoken tension, the fertile soil where questions can arise and doubt can creep in. Unfortunately, perception can feel like reality. And in the realm of Holy Saturday, it can seem like a suspended state of being in limbo. We claim to aspire to be a people of faith and not by sight but are helplessly discouraged by what we see.

I am reminded of the polarizing response to Jesus’s weeping in John 11:35, everyone’s favorite verse. Some were moved by Jesus’s tears yet there were others that criticized his perceived passivity.

“But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?’” John 11:37 (ESV)

These types of questions weren’t just posed by onlookers. A few verses earlier, Mary, the celebrated younger sister of Martha, questions Jesus’s delayed arrival.

“Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’” (ESV) John 11:32

No one is exempt from the kind of wrestling that only Christianity can create. When we have questions but lack a direct and explicit answer, our minds wander into dangerous territory. We might question if God is able or even worse, if He cares. The silence can even make us wonder, “is anyone listening?”

But what if silence isn’t necessarily the same thing as absence? What if the dissonance is a wonderful, didactic moment of grace?

I am going to do what I dread the most by quoting myself, but nothing is new under the sun and the article I posted last Holy Saturday still ring true today (and words that I’m not, not proud of):

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.

We must avoid misconstruing silence as inactivity or, even worse, apathy. God is not aloof nor standoffish. He cares. I hope that we can see that in this suspension between the darkness of Good Friday and the effulgence of Easter Sunday, that we can sit in the silence with faith.

To beef up my “Cool, Christian Cred”, I’ll end with a Wendell Berry poem:

“The Silence”

Though the air is full of singing
my head is loud
with the labor of words.

Though the season is rich
with fruit, my tongue
hungers for the sweet of speech.

Though the beech is golden
I cannot stand beside it
mute, but must say

‘It is golden,’ while the leaves
stir and fall with a sound
that is not a name.

It is in the silence
that my hope is, and my aim.
A song whose lines

I cannot make or sing
sounds men’s silence
like a root. Let me say

and not mourn: the world
lives in the death of speech
and sings there.

A Question - Mar 27, 2021

By Pastor Jason

The great thing about Scripture reading is that it can transport you into a deep, pensive place. At least it does that for me. On top of that, the Lenten season has made me ever so contemplative of the Christian life. So if you ever see me staring off into the nothingness, it’s either my lazy eye or me thinking about the deep things of life.

I’ve really been thinking about the question Jesus posed to his disciples in Mark 8/Matthew 16. He asks two questions: who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am?

The answers to the first question elicit comparisons to John the Baptist and Elijah. Not too shabby, I say! While the comparisons can be complimentary, if you really knew who Jesus was, they miss the mark (and by a healthy margin). These questions are especially powerful when you understand that these questions come on the heels of perhaps one of his greatest miracles (feeding the four thousand). Yet the religious leaders demand a sign from Jesus...right after one of the more demonstrative signs that is recorded in the Gospels. In Mark’s account, we read that Jesus “sighed deeply in his spirit.” (Mk. 8:12a).

With Jesus’s first question, I don’t think it was asked because he was insecure about his public persona. I don’t think Jesus was concerned about his reputation. I do think, though, that Jesus wanted to take the temperature of the moment. He has been doing all of these signs and teaching about the Kingdom of God (albeit parabolically), and he asked what the culture was saying about him. And the answers were analogous comparisons of heroes of the faith, yet somehow, still embarrassingly deficient. This reminds me of the quote from The Fast and the Furious: “ask any racer, any real racer; it doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile, winning’s winning.” Take the opposite and you get the point: the response might be Christ-adjacent but it is not Christ. And that difference is crucial.

But the real hard hitting question is asked of the disciples, who have been around Jesus during the whole time: who do you say that I am?

This question has been sitting with me the last few weeks. It’s not that I don’t know how to answer that, because, well, seminary. And I am very well aware of the discrepancy between the culture’s variegated view of Jesus and my own personal belief of him. But the inconsistency that bothers me is not what I believe as opposed to what society believes; the irregularity that I struggle with is between what I know in my head and what I believe in my heart. Not to make a false dichotomy between the two, but sometimes they seem to be at odds with each other.

I can adroitly articulate the prooftexts of Jesus yet what does my life say about what I know about Jesus?

“Who do you say that I am?”

This question is telling because of the Triumphal Entry that is to occur a few chapters later. The nescience of the people is one that resonates with me. The feeling of hypocrisy is a companion I know too well. But I believe the proceleusmatic portion of this piece is baked into our lived-out response to the question that is asked of every disciple of Jesus Christ: who do you say that he is?

Even after Peter’s blurting confession about Jesus being the Christ, he had a few missteps didn’t he? I love Peter but sometimes I wonder if he’s too rash for his own good (i.e. “you shall never wash my feet” and then “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”). Yet we know that the onus and efficacy of Peter’s efforts were solely on Christ by God’s grace. This only confirms the confession then, doesn’t it?

Though we might not always get it right, I hope that when we are asked that question, whether it be to ourselves or from our neighbors, we can proclaim that Jesus is the Christ.

Words - Mar 20, 2021

By Pastor Jason

I seldom have nothing to say yet I find myself, today, without words. I do have many thoughts and feelings, but it's still pretty raw and unpasteurized. And so I apologize that I don't have the sweet balm of encouragement today. I wish I could construct a well worded piece but words are escaping me.

But I do, however, want to leave you with two songs that speak to the ineffable grief that I am, and many of you, are going through. These two songs revolve around words, ironically. Songs are beautiful in that way; they give you words when you have none. I pray that you can process all the palpitations of your soul, but ultimately lifting them up to God.

Good Work - Mar 13, 2021

By Pastor Jason

I’ve never been a good artist. Actually, I’m still very much a terrible drawer. I make the worst Pictionary partner and if winning is your thing, let me apologize if you are ever paired with me. Even in the somewhat subjective nature of art, where beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I can safely say that even pieces that I submitted in my high school art classes were just outright bad. Even Bob Ross would have some harsh words for my work.

That is probably why I admire visual art. When people can draw or paint so effortlessly, it just does not compute. Because of my hyper-awareness of my lack of talent, I wanted to ensure that my final product wouldn’t be too ugly. So before slathering on the paint, I would sketch my vision in pencil. This was a helpful practice as I could easily erase my mistakes and start over. It was a wonderful safety net where there were an infinite number of continues before I was semi-satisfied with it.

The switch to something more permanent was a daunting transition; abandoning the comforts of redos, I was now entering into the realm of finality. And I had the worst paradoxical combination of being both terrible at the craft and being a perfectionist by nature; ‘tis a cruel juxtaposition. But the work had to be done. I didn’t want colleges to see a big fat F for “Beginning Art” which I ironically took for an easy A.

And so as I would trace over my pencil etchings, I would still mess up. I lacked the requisite steadiness of hand to even go over my previous work. I would make the worst sniper ever. I tried using white out, but it only made the piece more abhorrent. I think I was the first person to ever pull an all-nighter for an art class elective...in high school.

But, like many things in life, the work had to be done. A physical piece had to be submitted to be analyzed and graded. There was going to be an objective valuation to my work and that scared me. The low grade I was bracing for was not only going to hurt my GPA, but even worse, it would confirm my own suspicions that I was not a creative-type and I would be yet another one of my comrades to go into the STEM field.

To mask the embarrassment, I put my finished assignment into a large, industrial garbage bag, a fitting habitat for the piece of trash that I created. Carrying it around was even worse, because my art class was the last period of the day. Lugging it around as a public signal of my ineptitude, I was finally able to drop it off. I was hoping for C+ but I knew it was so repulsive that detention wouldn’t be out of the realm of justice for the crime I had committed against art.

Weeks go by and resignation and acceptance had settled in. I was already crossing out schools I knew would reject me.

Mr. Kentala, my art teacher, was returning our assignments back to us. It’s embarrassing enough but did he have to do it in person with so much eye contact? He goes around and compliments each student on their work. He even goes into specific detail about why the piece was so good. I was fascinated with what euphemism he would use to describe my monstrosity.

He makes his way to me, in his strange, shuffle of a gait. As he hands me back my painting, he says in his gravelly voice, “Jason, it’s very apparent that you worked extremely hard on this and you took this assignment more seriously than other students. Great job.”

On one hand, it felt like a backhanded compliment; he was lauding me for effort, which screams participation ribbon. But on the other hand, to be complimented in any sense after what I had turned felt like a hidden camera show; I was ready for the other shoe to drop. I was waiting for him to complete his thought, something like, “Great job, but here’s your F.”

But there was no postscript. It ended with the compliment. And the craziest thing of it all, I got a B+ for it. I suppose this is grace.

I am a huge fan of process. I am intrigued with the machinations of how people get to where they end up. Consider me a journey over destination person. I think sometimes we exist in such a bottomline reality that we lose sight of the value of the progression. I get it, though. In many senses, we are judged for the end product. We are essentially defined by the quality of whatever we produce. But this is where I am reminded that the beauty and power lies in the work itself. The grind and the mastering. The daily incremental growth and the decision to power through even though you might think you’ve created trash.

I think this reminder is even more pertinent to the believer. Yes, we are called to bear fruit and its fruit is what we will be judged upon but let us not forget the rest of the sentiment: the real imperative is to abide. To exist and exercise faithfulness.

I think faithfulness gets a bad rap; it’s one of those Christian words that is often used euphemistically. It is synonymous with just showing up. But I think it’s more than that. We’re not to be like limp kelp just being tossed to and fro by whatever the current cultural moment dictates; rather, faithfulness is ferociously fighting against the current, even if the source of discontentment is from your own heart. It is to persevere when you’re not “feeling it”. It is to put something on the proverbial paper and turn in the assignment.

Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work, has been immensely helpful for me just as a person trying to be productive in a distracted world. One quote, in particular, sticks out to me: “if you don’t produce, you won’t thrive--no matter how skilled or talented you are.”

Therein lies the grace of it all: I don’t think God expects us to turn in a Monet. I think God wants us to work. Execution always trumps talent. Work always beats giftings. But what gives the work value is not in us, per se; what makes the finished product beautiful is the final verdict given by the Teacher. I don’t know about you, but that makes all the difference in the world.

The Power of Pathos - Mar 6, 2021

By Pastor Jason

They say that how you communicate is more important than what you communicate. I don’t mean to undersell the importance of the contents of your speech but how many of us have been rubbed the wrong way because of an unpleasant tone or poor body language? An unsavory inflection can completely transform how a piece of information can be received; sarcasm can transform an honest compliment into a biting critique.

“You look so beautiful today!”
“You look so beautiful...today!”

I didn’t think much of this part of communication, to be frank. I thought that if someone were to misunderstand my speech or intention, the onus would be on them to clear it up. Sadly, my reputation is one where my sarcasm is so embedded in my rhetorical habits that even a compliment may come off insincere and forced.

You might be familiar with Aristotle’s principles of understanding effective public speaking: Logos, Paths, Ethos. This matrix has been immensely helpful in my preaching as I try to improve upon each area. Early on, I was obsessed with theology (teetering on idolatry, really). Like a mad scientist, I would spend countless hours trying to cram in as much theological truths into a 30-40 minute treatise. Think of it as a homiletical Turducken. And as the sun rose and rooster croaked on Sunday morning, I was both proud of the “sermon” and confounded on how to preach it. There were some Sundays where I felt like I was reading a lecture and not preaching to the heart of my congregation. Actually, scratch that; this was not just a feeling but it was kindly and graciously confirmed by my loving members. I thought that I wanted to hear “that was the best sermon ever!” but even when I would get such a rare compliment, it didn’t make me feel all that great. What I really wanted to hear, and more importantly see, was the hearers of the Word become doers of the Word. I didn’t want people to be impressed by my preaching prowess or theological acumen, but be impressed by the grace and holiness of God to do something. To be transformed. To feel the weight of the Holy Writ of God.

I’ve been thinking about Pathos a lot these days. It is this emotional appeal and sensitivity that can curry favor or due to a dearth of such awareness, you can be a casualty of Cancel Culture. It might sound manipulative, to appeal to one’s emotions, but we can agree that it is, at the very least, effective. How many of you have bought something off an infomercial? I literally have five Sham-Wows somewhere. All kidding aside, and I think this carries over to the communication we have with each other in the micro: how do you respond when, after a well constructed and thought out text or email, you receive a pithy “k.” And it’s the period that gets me. Is it me or do you die a small little death? I had a boss who would always punctuate everything with an ellipses. Even a congratulatory remark. My work life was a perpetual cliff hanger, unsure if my boss liked me or not. She literally texted me once, “Happy Birthday..”

Where am I going with this? For starters, I think we can all use a little more Pathos in our communication. And this is not just relegated to our exchanges, but relationally: we need to grow in our willingness to know the people we’re in relationships with. It takes time and energy. It costs us comfort. In fact, an improved Pathos is a pretentious way of saying that we are growing in our sympathy and empathy. This challenge is especially relative now because I think now, more than ever, we are struggling mightily with emotional health. And there is a wonderful power in having someone not just engage with you, but to connect with you. To know you. To know your sensibilities. And to look at the hand that is dealt and say, “I'm in this hand”. To be known and to be loved. I think we can use a little bit more of that these days.

Here’s the big, beautiful ribbon of it all: God speaks to us in a pastoral Pathos.

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her. Hosea 2:14 (ESV)

I’ve read Hosea before, but this verse indelibly comforted me. More importantly, you start to appreciate God’s tone and attitude here in light of the disobedience of Israel. This was powerful for me because there are moments when I feel like I’m whimsically flinging words into the ether and calling it prayer. Sometimes I don’t necessarily


like God is near. But I am reminded that He isn’t just listening, but he tenderly calls out to me. I needed to know that God doesn’t just shovel sterile spiritual truths down my gullet and corners me into saying that it tastes delicious. No. God knows that I have been beaten down, eroded by the constant weathering of life and all its offerings. I’m weary and I don’t need yet another reminder of the importance of this medicine. God, appealing to our season in life, lovingly beckons us back to the table.

Minari - Feb 27, 2021

By Pastor Jason

At the brilliant suggestion of one of my college students, I was tempted to, at least for a week, rebrand this weekly publication Minari. It maintains the botanist motif and if we’re all honest, an occasional facelift can be a nice thing. But yes, this week’s installment is inspired by the many thoughts that have been stirred up after watching said film. Now, before you close out of this window fearful of any spoiler alerts, you need not to fret--I won’t do such a thing. With that said, it’s also not that kind of movie; in an age where Marvel movies reign supreme, the storytelling of Minari is quite different in the best way. It doesn’t rely on profound plot premises. It does not bait you in with bombastic CGI or frenetic action sequences. What it does, however, is focus on meaning. Admittedly, the pace at which the story unravels might feel a bit glacial, but I think that’s part of the beauty of this kind of storytelling. It forces us to take note of every idiosyncratic detail. It might feel slow, but I’d rather call it deliberate. But a paragraph in, I also don’t want to oversell it; it’s not everyone’s cup of Han-Yak tea.

You don’t have to be Korean-American to appreciate what the movie is trying to say. In the most macro of senses, we are all looking for belonging. We are all sojourners looking for a place to set roots somewhere. And perhaps that is why the immigrant’s tale is such a resonating one: it speaks to innate desire to find a home. For the Yi family, it was in Arkansas. As they toil and try to survive, it seems like a strange choice for a Korean family in the ‘80’s.

Let it be known, this is not a movie review.

The movie’s title is not an esoteric reference to a pedestrian plant; it plays a significant role in the drama of the movie. Upon its conclusion, I asked my college students what they thought the minari plant symbolized. I asked because I wasn’t quite sure myself. I was left in an even more pensive mood (if that’s even possible) at the profound responses. At that moment, I felt like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society.

Thankfully, the Internet is a thing.

Minari, is a water celery type, which is pretty versatile in its preparation. I know in my upbringing, it wasn’t a celebrated ingredient nor a highly sought after dish. I’ve never heard the phrase, “I have a hankering for some minari!” It is a strange juxtaposition of its ubiquitousness and its mystery. One of its trademarks is its ability to grow anywhere in various different climates. Its adaptable nature makes it the perfect crop for a tyro farmer. Yet, it was a mere afterthought in the plans of the father in the movie.

When the director, Lee Isaac Chung, was asked about the plant’s poetic significance, he remarked that “the interesting thing about [Minari] is that it’s a plant that will grow very strongly in its second season after it has died and come back. So there’s an element of that in the film, so it grows very expansively without doing much to it.”1

And I think that’s what Minari is for me. It is a story about rebirth. It is about renaissance. It is about redemption. Though the idea of conflict and catastrophe and the amount of work that is required to restart is hardly romantic, it’s reality. Minari, both the film and the plant, is a reminder that in the variegated landscape that is life, there is always a season of starting over, only to resiliently return stronger than ever.

Freud defines melancholia as a sort of tension between the unconscious grief that is felt and the inability for the conscious mind to be cognizant of it. And this leaves the person, for a lack of a better word, stuck. I wonder if, for some if not all of us, have some sense of unprocessed grief lodged in our minds that is causing us to be stuck, stagnant, and stale. I think that sometimes we view life too teleologically: everything is reduced to its ends. But what about the possibility of progress and process?

This is where pastoral (agrarian and spiritual) insights come in: to get unstuck is to restart. Life is a series of replants. It is an admission of defeat but a return to a deeper conviction to persevere But this truth isn’t relegated to tough circumstances; one could argue for this type of cyclical reboots in the spiritual sense. We all need a sort of CTRL+ALT+DEL type of mechanism when our spirits aren’t responding. I believe that is what we call revival. And it is in that sense, whether you believe minari to be symbolic or not, we would be better off to be like the weeds that grow stronger after each death.

A Time for Everything

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1–8 (ESV)

Learning to Lament - Feb 20, 2021

By Pastor Jason

Consider this a Psalm 88-esque type of piece. It’s not that I don’t believe in a redemptive twist at the end, but sometimes things need to be left momentarily unresolved. And that’s where I find myself today--processing but dissonant.

The greatest loss that I am learning to lament and cope with is the loss of humanity. It goes without saying that I, too, look at the carnage caused by COVID, and mourn over the wreckage left in its wake. Though I know that death was never part of the blueprint, mourning over death seems, dare I say, normal? What I did not expect, and much to my chagrin, was the inhumanity of it all. Since March of last year, it seems that each month proved to be a new low that is the continued plummeting into the abyss. There seems to be extra vitriol in the voices these days. Treating, thinking and talking to and about each other and the requisite common courtesy has all been laid to waste.

Being Asian American, then, further complicates the issue; healthy lamenting wasn’t just absent in the emotional toolbox, it was flagged as a sign of weakness. The proper way to process, taught implicitly and explicitly, was to bury those unkempt feelings deep down. Denial was the only acceptable way to process.

But therein lies the quandary: you can bury your head in the sand for only so long. Eventually, you will have to reckon with the truth and all its unpasteurized baggage. It is a harsh reality, when learned behavior and coping mechanisms collide with cold hard truth. Something had to give. And did it ever.

That’s where I find myself today. How can you put the toothpaste back into the tube? When all that has been said and done thus far, my idyllic ideals about humanity have now been irreparably shattered. All I have left are unsymmetrical shards of what I thought humanity was supposed to be. The hate speech, the racism, the nonsensical violence, just to name a few, have been the damning evidence to cement my conclusion: the loss of humanity is real. But what’s worse is that I don’t know what to do. I suppose this is how people fall into despair.

Though I might feel helpless, I am not hopeless. Strange, I know, but this is where I think lamenting is not just therapeutic, but an act of worship. It is in this act of surrender, raw emotions and all, in which we can reconcile the seemingly brokenness of humanity and the sovereignty of God.

I have been indelibly influenced by the ministry of Tim Keller and I am indebted to the insights that he has offered over the years. One of my favorite sermons of his, as hard of a task that may seem, is his sermon on Psalm 88. It’s so good that Psalm 88 is now my favorite psalm. Yes, the one without a tidy redemptive resolution. The psalm, though it might read like the first piece of emo songwriting at first glance, is actually a comfort. It is only in the safe confines of a prayer that such honest thoughts can be spewed out and still be considered God-honoring. Keller remarks on the beauty of Psalm 88:

“And what’s happening here is this man, even though he is not in any way praying the way he ought to pray...still prayed. He says ‘darkness is my closest friend’, but he’s saying it to God!”

The art of lamenting, now I realize, is not pious complaining; rather, it is prayer. It is a safe space to vent. To decry and bemoan. To ugly cry, even. And though it might not be the most aesthetically pleasing of the spiritual disciplines, I wonder if there is a more demonstrative act of faith: to direct all our unadulterated thoughts, our prickly emotions, our whole selves, to God despite not knowing if things will get better.

The loneliness that the psalter, Heman, experiences is specific; he cries out to the Lord that his own companions (v. 8) and his own beloved and friend (v. 18) have shunned him. The pangs of abandonment are so sharp that he calls the darkness has now become his companion. But do you see the irony of this lament? He actually isn’t alone. He has just enough faith to engage with God. He musters enough courage to cry out. A tragic fallout of the ever-increasing loss of humanity is the broken relationships. The division has caused such a rift that people are feeling lonelier than ever before. Lamenting in light of loss, then, is a needed reminder that we are not alone.

5th Grade Valentine's Day - Feb 13, 2021

By Pastor Jason

How do you feel about Valentine’s Day? I think I’ve run the gamut when it comes to the spectrum of feelings of the marketing scheme holiday. Even for the most pious or religious, there is some debate over the story of the true Saint Valentine. It does seem a bit off, though, that we celebrate Valentine’s Day with an extravagant expression of love through material things. It’s not unlike how I feel about celebrating Christmas by giving gifts to each other. But that’s for the Christmas edition of the Olive Leaf™.

I wasn’t always this curmudgeon. I was once a young romantic that believed in this consumeristic permutation of love. Valentine’s Day was my favorite holiday as I believed in the hope of everlasting love. I would spend countless hours creating personal cards on my computer the night before. I would seal each envelope with a personalized wax stamp. Each letter was a lottery ticket of love, I thought. Perhaps this was the year I found love (mind you, I was a mere fifth grader).

But the class policy, for better or for worse, was that everyone had to give a Valentine’s Day card to everyone else. This was a blessing and a curse; while I was guaranteed at least 30 cards, such a mandate would force people to write obligatory and generic messages. What’s worse, my energy and gusto was not reciprocated; though I would write personal and heartfelt messages (some teetering on being a little too forward), in return, I would get a prewritten X-Men or Sailor Moon card from the Target Value Pack only with their signed name at the bottom.

There was one Valentine’s Day, in particular, that proved to be the catalyst to the cataclysmic cascade into callousness. I remember flipping through all the generic, pun-filled, cards, angrily chomping down on the chalky Valentines Sweethearts. Dejected and resigned, I was ready to be done with love. For a lack of a better word, it just wasn’t in the cards for me (literally). But as I opened the last card, something was different. The first sign of hope was that it was in an actual envelope and my name neatly written on the front. But still suspicious (and perhaps guarding my heart), I opened it up to be pleasantly surprised by the physical weight of the actual card.

“Ah, cardstock..”, I muttered to myself in delight. My faith was slowly being restored.

I am greeted by a beautiful watercolor painting of a boy, which didn’t look like me, but I didn’t think much of it because I was so blinded by the gesture. This, however, is what we like to call a foreshadowing.

The personal message read more like a love letter than it did a platonic statement. And though my brain was sending warning signals my heart was devouring it all, telling me to believe in love once again. Being a Feeler, I disregarded reason and went with my gut. I had to seek out this Secret Admirer. And so I did. I brazenly asked each and every girl in my class if they had written this card. Though rejection would normally hurt, I was impervious. I was so smitten by this mystery girl that nothing could stop me. As they say, pride goeth before destruction.

As I was winnowing down the list in hopes of concluding this masquerade, the now unsecret admirer snatched the piece of art from my perpetually clammy hands. As if my own heart had been ripped out from my chest, I pursue the culprit in the small confines of the portable class that we were in. The chase did not last long but what ensued after (namely the pain) did.

Both of our cheeks were flushed with color, mine due to the short yet vigorous burst of cardio and hers of embarrassment. Really playing up the moment and the melodrama, I demanded, “What is the meaning of this?”

She sheepishly said, “I’m so sorry. Wrong Jason.”

Aghast and full of chagrin, I had to confirm, “come again?”

“Sorry. You’re the wrong Jason.”

She then walks away with a gait full of sadness. She hands the card to the right Jason and they engage in an emotionally charged embrace. And in that moment, the painting and personal message made so much sense. I was the wrong Jason.

There is no profound or pithy Gospel connection here. I only offer this anecdote as didactic evidence of the fallacy of misplaced hopes and expectations. This is, however, not a polemic against celebrating Valentine’s Day or love. This is not to say that chocolate covered strawberries are wrong; quite the opposite, actually! But the heightened expectation that is both rooted and centered on mere material things is not just a Valentine’s Day problem; it is emblematic of a bigger issue: the fool’s errand to find satisfaction in anything other than Christ. 5th grade Valentine’s Day will always be, for me, a microcosm of the truth that self-engineered satisfaction is folly and fleeting. And I praise God that my true Valentine is not “she who shall not be named” but will now and forever by Christ. To God, I am the right Jason. He will never snatch away the love letter but affirm it day after day after day. May you all have a blessed Valentine’s Day!

Have a Nice Day - Feb 6, 2021

By Pastor Jason

I have had many odd jobs in my life. It is in these strange endeavors that have provided me with a chest of insights and illustrations. Unbeknownst to my younger self, it is in these weird posts where I am now able to retrospectively reap its benefits. Though the competition is stiff, one of the strangest (and short-lived) stints was being one of those Costco sample guys. I don’t even remember the exact title for I must have blocked out that memory some time ago. So let’s just go with Costco Sample Guy.

This job, like everything else, was yet another reminder of the stark contrast between expectation and reality. You conjure up what the job might look like but it ends up being something quite different, usually worse. But in my naivete, I thought to myself, “oh what fun it must be to dole out samples, talk about the product and just immerse myself in the Utopia that is Costco!”

Narrator: Little did he know that in that very moment, Jason was setting himself up for harsh disappointment.

Famous last words: I should have known better. It did not check any of the boxes of what I wanted in a job. And that’s saying a lot since I was a broke, desperate college student. Even then, I was let down. Low expectations are great and all until even that low of a bar isn’t met; that kind of disappointment hits differently.

I was on my feet for hours on end, but relegated to an invisible box which I wasn’t able to leave. The pay wasn’t great. And though my purpose was to market a product, I did not get any commission off of anything that I sold with the faux enthusiasm that I now deeply regret mustering. Depending on the product, you would either get no one coming to your stand or a line that would wrap around the cereal section. I can remember the lines for manchego cheese similar to the lines at Disneyland yet having only one or two takers of the new Kirkland signature Yohimbe bark extract.

And the entitlement of some of these customers were, unlike some of the smoked meats that I did dole out, unsavory. The cutthroat nature of line etiquette and the vociferous complaints about the prep time for some of these more laborious culinary constructions made the experience a nightmare. I found it uproarious that anytime someone went for seconds, they would offer an unsolicited excuse, something to the effect of “oh this one is for my wife”.

The two months were incredibly unmemorable. What I do remember, though, were some of the sobering thoughts on life. Nothing quite pulls you into an existential vortex quite like a long gaze into the mirror as you peel away the hairnet and gloves; as you unmask, you have this Frankenstein moment where you see this haunting reflection of yourself and you don’t like what you see. And for what cause? Pushing some new Kirkland Signature product. Good times!

I don’t know if you feel this way, but this time of quarantine has brought back some of those feelings. As a pastor, I suppose that I’m always peddling the Gospel, not that it needs a shrewd marketing strategy. Now that everything is virtual, the feeling of putting on programs and events as an avenue for the Gospel feels very similar to those Costco days.

Unlike ministry, I remember having my mood and vigor be predetermined by the product. The vacillation was vicious. The best part of the Costco job, though, was when I legitimately loved the product so much that I didn’t need a script nor compulsion; the joy in the shared experience, say like the Philippine Brand Dried Mangoes, was exhilarating. But even on the best days with my favorite products, that zeal and drive was fleeting.

What happens when your days feel more like flaxseed crackers and less like Dino nuggets?

I know this not to be a rhetorical question for 2021 already feels more like a joyless drudgery and not a mirthful frolic. And I don’t have a silver bullet answer for the question that I posed but perhaps it would be beneficial for all of us to recover and renew our reverence for God and His Word. It is in the wonderful objective reality of who God is and what He has done that gets me to show up. People ask me for tricks and tips to stay sane during this pandemic and spoiler alert: it’s not sourdough! (Insert corny spiritual sourdough of God joke). As the Preacher in Ecclesiastes says, there is nothing new under the sun. There is no gimmicky, Instagram-worthy formula. It’s just you and God and His people. If you believe in the “product” enough, you will find the courage to show up.

And so as we trek on together, I ask you, will you show up? Will you be there with us? Can we have this shared joy of the Gospel once again? I pray that we can and we will.

Gospel Reflections from Where the Red Fern Grows - Jan 30, 2021

By Pastor Jason

My friends have accused me of being hipsterized by the Bay. Though I fervently refute such claims, my top knot and kombucha brewing habits tell a different story. I am a beanie and tobacco colored leather boots away from moving into a territory that I once vowed I’d never encroach. But alas, here we are.

Though I sneer at the notion of an “influencer”, I confess that I, too, have been swept up by certain trends. I was an avid fan of the Bon Appetit videos on YouTube, but I was especially enamored with the content and spirit of Bread Leone’s “It’s Alive” video series. His Golden Retriever vibes combined with goofy edits yet trustworthy recipes and techniques made it a very popular series. Though I never really participated, the pandemic really opened up the opportunity for me to attempt some of his recipes. And while others were obsessively making sourdough bread, I tried my hand at brewing my own kombucha. This is especially hilarious because at that point, I didn’t particularly enjoy the flavor of the culture-filled beverage; I did it, sadly, for the culture (or cultures, am I right?)

What started out as a curious foray triggered by boredom, it quickly turned into my own science experiment. I would scour through copious pages on Reddit and different blogs to make idiosyncratic tweaks, trying to find the magical ratio that would guarantee the perfect batch. I tried out different teas, different fruits, and different fermenting times. Some batches turned out great and some ended up spraying all over. Some batches lacked the desired carbonation levels and some were outright disgusting. It’s been about six or seven months and my conclusion is that I am still a ‘booch tyro. And you can always trust that I will wring out some pithy gospel connection. Here are some of mine:

  1. Time is the most important ingredient.
    There are so many moving parts in brewing kombucha. You can only control what you can control. But what you can never rush is the fermentation process. Patience is the fine print that makes or breaks the process. If you break too early, you’re merely drinking funky tea. If you wait too long, you’re simply imbibing vinegar. Likewise, I’d like to think of this time of being locked in as our spiritually fermenting process to transform into a completely different thing altogether. At least that’s my hope. You can’t rush it but you also can’t be insolent.
  2. You can do everything right and still fail.
    I’ve found that the cooler temperatures have extended the fermenting times and have created a flatter product. It’s surprisingly startling when you are expecting an effervescent and fizzy kombucha only to be hit with still liquid. That lack of control is what makes this both exciting yet frustrating. That juxtaposition of faithfulness yet without control is the very name of the game for the Christian. Busy yet in surrender. It is in the moments of failure despite our best attempts that create a deeper dependence and devotion to God who is truly in control.
  3. You can make mistakes and things turn out great.
    There are times when I use the wrong ratios and fermenting times. Sometimes I allowed too much light and was afraid that I had killed my SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). This jellyfish looking puck, who I have affectionately named Ezekiel) was created from a single commercial bottle of kombucha. Is it weird that I’ve even prayed a quick prayer under my breath for the health of this thing? But some of my best batches came from times when I was sure I had killed Zeke. And I believe they call that grace. Despite our negligence and failures, God makes up the difference. All the more, then, I am grateful that the process of fruit bearing and bountiful harvest is never ultimately contingent on my ability to follow every rule.
  4. There is a beauty in habituality
    The best thing about this journey is not the actual kombucha itself. Admittedly, I drink the stuff for its health benefits and not for the flavor. But what this entire journey has given me is the muscles of discipline. The novelty had worn off about two months and I could have given up but I didn’t want this to be yet another casualty of disinterest. There is something beautiful about the mundaneness birthed from regularity. I’d hardly call this commitment unwavering and many times my heart is not in it, but the push to persevere is something that I hope we all have exercised during this pandemic. It’s really faithfulness in the pedestrian. Though the small deeds of obedience may seem insignificant and though it might not receive clout, the seeds of faithfulness will ferment into something great, if God wills it.

The Gospel and Kombucha - Jan 23, 2021

By Pastor Jason

My friends have accused me of being hipsterized by the Bay. Though I fervently refute such claims, my top knot and kombucha brewing habits tell a different story. I am a beanie and tobacco colored leather boots away from moving into a territory that I once vowed I’d never encroach. But alas, here we are.

Though I sneer at the notion of an “influencer”, I confess that I, too, have been swept up by certain trends. I was an avid fan of the Bon Appetit videos on YouTube, but I was especially enamored with the content and spirit of Bread Leone’s “It’s Alive” video series. His Golden Retriever vibes combined with goofy edits yet trustworthy recipes and techniques made it a very popular series. Though I never really participated, the pandemic really opened up the opportunity for me to attempt some of his recipes. And while others were obsessively making sourdough bread, I tried my hand at brewing my own kombucha. This is especially hilarious because at that point, I didn’t particularly enjoy the flavor of the culture-filled beverage; I did it, sadly, for the culture (or cultures, am I right?)

What started out as a curious foray triggered by boredom, it quickly turned into my own science experiment. I would scour through copious pages on Reddit and different blogs to make idiosyncratic tweaks, trying to find the magical ratio that would guarantee the perfect batch. I tried out different teas, different fruits, and different fermenting times. Some batches turned out great and some ended up spraying all over. Some batches lacked the desired carbonation levels and some were outright disgusting. It’s been about six or seven months and my conclusion is that I am still a ‘booch tyro. And you can always trust that I will wring out some pithy gospel connection. Here are some of mine:

  1. Time is the most important ingredient.
    There are so many moving parts in brewing kombucha. You can only control what you can control. But what you can never rush is the fermentation process. Patience is the fine print that makes or breaks the process. If you break too early, you’re merely drinking funky tea. If you wait too long, you’re simply imbibing vinegar. Likewise, I’d like to think of this time of being locked in as our spiritually fermenting process to transform into a completely different thing altogether. At least that’s my hope. You can’t rush it but you also can’t be insolent.
  2. You can do everything right and still fail.
    I’ve found that the cooler temperatures have extended the fermenting times and have created a flatter product. It’s surprisingly startling when you are expecting an effervescent and fizzy kombucha only to be hit with still liquid. That lack of control is what makes this both exciting yet frustrating. That juxtaposition of faithfulness yet without control is the very name of the game for the Christian. Busy yet in surrender. It is in the moments of failure despite our best attempts that create a deeper dependence and devotion to God who is truly in control.
  3. You can make mistakes and things turn out great.
    There are times when I use the wrong ratios and fermenting times. Sometimes I allowed too much light and was afraid that I had killed my SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). This jellyfish looking puck, who I have affectionately named Ezekiel) was created from a single commercial bottle of kombucha. Is it weird that I’ve even prayed a quick prayer under my breath for the health of this thing? But some of my best batches came from times when I was sure I had killed Zeke. And I believe they call that grace. Despite our negligence and failures, God makes up the difference. All the more, then, I am grateful that the process of fruit bearing and bountiful harvest is never ultimately contingent on my ability to follow every rule.
  4. There is a beauty in habituality
    The best thing about this journey is not the actual kombucha itself. Admittedly, I drink the stuff for its health benefits and not for the flavor. But what this entire journey has given me is the muscles of discipline. The novelty had worn off about two months and I could have given up but I didn’t want this to be yet another casualty of disinterest. There is something beautiful about the mundaneness birthed from regularity. I’d hardly call this commitment unwavering and many times my heart is not in it, but the push to persevere is something that I hope we all have exercised during this pandemic. It’s really faithfulness in the pedestrian. Though the small deeds of obedience may seem insignificant and though it might not receive clout, the seeds of faithfulness will ferment into something great, if God wills it.

Worship Fails - Jan 16, 2021

By Pastor Jason

I can count on one hand the number of times I have cried in a movie. In fact, I can list you the movies: Armageddon, Life is Beautiful and Toy Story 3. I did choke up in The Croods, but that doesn’t count and also, it isn’t of the ilk of the other three films. But there was only one book that made me weep: Where the Red Fern Grows. That book made me bawl while I was reading it and brought on a snotty, ugly cry as I was giving the book report. I’ve never been moved quite like that since. I guess that’s a testament to the power of the written word or the level of the callousness of my heart.

I distinctly remember being confused by the book’s title. The book is about a boy (Billy) and his bond with his two dogs (Old Dan and Little Ann) but what is the significance of the red fern?

Consider this your obligatory spoiler alert.

In the book, we learn that the red ferns, according to legend, was planted by an angel as a reminder of God’s mysterious workings in spite of death. It was a comforting reminder and a way to assuage the pain of loss. As the grief stricken family copes with the loss of the beloved dogs, the red fern offers some hope and comfort:

With a serious look on his face, Papa said, “These hills are full of legends. Up until now I’ve never paid much attention to them, but now I don’t know. Perhaps there is something to the legend of the red fern. Maybe this is God’s way of helping Billy understand why his dogs died.” (Wilson Rawls, 209)

There’s something that comes out of us when we’re hit with loss. Whether that is heightened awareness of things we’ve overlooked or uncharacteristic coping mechanisms, all we want is tidy and neat resolution. We want answers. But death is a disruption of that. It is a shattering of the Artist’s intent. Death is hardly the only specific example; COVID’s corollaries are many, including mental illness, emotional instability, and even spiritual apathy.

We would hardly call Billy’s dad’s ingesting this legend as an orthodox response to making sense of it all, but what resonates is the aversion to pain and confusion. Though it might not be the most “Christian” response, sometimes you shrug your shoulders and say, “whatever works”.

But is that good enough? Are we ok merely grasping at straws, hoping for the next temporary therapeutic fix? As I now re-read this book through the lens of a more mature believer, I actually think that this “whatever works” type of therapy is more harmful than good.

But now the meta reveal: what if I were to tell you that there is a type of red fern that isn’t just real but effective?

If the red ferns were coincidental foliage that was born out of a fictitious legend to make sense of loss, for the Christian, the Cross is the tree, intentionally provided not just to make sense of death, but to be the final answer for it.

As Billy and his family depart their home for the very last time, they look back to see if they can still see the red ferns:

Rubbing my eyes, I looked to the hillside above our home. There it stood in all its wild beauty, a waving red banner in a carpet of green. It seemed to be saying, “Good-bye, and don’t worry, for I’ll be here always.” (210)

When we look back at the Cross, we don’t have to wonder or doubt if we’re left to fend for ourselves. The Cross is conspicuous evidence of God’s commitment to be with us. There is nothing more comforting of a notion than being in the secure presence of God.

Despite the mythology of the red fern, it brings about a worshipful moment for Billy’s dad. And as we reflect on the Cross, may we have the same response.

“Just as they turned to leave, I heard Papa murmur in a low voice, ‘Wonderful indeed is the work of our Lord.’”

The Way - Jan 9, 2021

By Pastor Jason

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a Christian these days. Especially in America. Like many words, however, it tragically goes through the etymological wringer and hardly conveys what it means. Michael Bird, in his book Evangelical Theology, even laments the deviation of the definition “Evangelical”, as it is politically charged and pregnant with unintended meaning. He observes that “the evangelical label has become so broad as to be practically meaningless” and even contemplated changing the book’s title. The ambiguity of the label perfectly encapsulates my feelings of being a Christian: I am terribly confused. The struggle is not so much in how to think as a Christian, but rather, how to be a Christian. I desire a lived-out, courageous theology that properly reflects the zealous pursuit of orthodoxy that I fervently study in the privacy of my own home.

The early Christians weren’t always called as such. The explicit, on-the-nose monikers were a later development. The early believers were actually called people that belonged to The Way (Acts 9:2). I actually love the veiled yet also universal branding. It sounds like an up-and-coming Acts 29 Church or a hipster’s haven. Could you imagine the introductions? “Yeah, I’m Jason. I’m part of, *lowers voice* The Way.” If Christians used such terminology, we’d either look like a cult or a way to make Christianity less offensive (or more, depending on how you say it).

The original intent, however, was never meant to be insensitive nor pretentious; it had its roots in connecting with Jesus’ saying as he himself identified as being the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). In a world, much like ours, that seemed to have a buffet of ideological and philosophical options, the people of The Way believed that there was, well, only one right way. The Way was the very reason why Saul had persecuted the Church (Acts 9), but was also the backbone of Paul’s defense in trial (Acts 24). The Way was the only source of comfort and conviction as it proved to bring about hostility and persecution. But The Way was more than just a mindset or a movement; it was a way of life. It was a calling to be set apart. To be distinct. So much so that even Felix (Acts 24:6) knew much about these people and were so impressed that he even allowed some liberties for Paul during his stay in prison. To be a people of The Way implied a certain ethic that were to be displayed to a critical watching world.

And therein lies my struggle: there seems to be a disconnect between people that profess to be Christian and a certain expected ethos that comes with that title. And this observation is not just on a macro level, triggered by recent events; this has been the hypocrisy that I have seen in my own life. I am a man of many ways. Depending on the day or mood, my rudderless existence conveys a life that is hardly rooted in Christ’s Way. As they say, if you have many options, you really have no options. That is where I find myself at the dawn of a new year.

When I think about The Way, it is hard not to think about The Mandalorian. It is the best thing on TV since Breaking Bad. Both are chock-full of Gospel illustrations and each tale is told so virtuosically. In The Mandalorian, there is a phrase that is oft-repeated: “This is The Way”. The Mandalorian code is so deeply embedded in the DNA of its kind and so universally accepted that the very utterance of the phrase elicits a silent nod in understanding.

In one poignant moment, an Armorer harshly questions the Mandalorian:

“The empire is no more. When one chooses to walk the way of the Mandalore, he is both hunter and prey. How can one be a coward if one chooses this way of life? Have you ever removed you helmet? Has it ever been removed by others?” (Season 1 Episode 3)

This was a poignant revelation of the Way of The Mandalore; its people were dwindling to its last numbers and the threat was very much real and imminent. To remove the armor to assimilate and survive must have been tempting. Yet the conviction of The Way ran so deep that there was hardly a second in between the line of questioning and the Mandalorian’s negative answer. And almost, as if it was said in a breathy, sigh of relief, she affirms him, “this is The Way.

There is something admirable about convictions that do not allow for the person to sway. It is an act of courage when one sticks to his or her guns. Unlike the flavor of the month or hot topic of the day, The Way of Christ is hardly fluid. It’s timeless and transcendent. It is ruthlessly black or white, leaving no vacancy for indecisiveness nor ambivalence. The devotion and love for Christ has to be so strong that when you compare it to your love for your parents, it would look like rancor.

Where do I find myself, then? I find myself hedging my bets, safeguarding from catastrophic loss at expense of lived-out Gospel convictions. I find myself more cowardly than courageous. And it is in this waffling that screams out a sad truth: somewhere along the way, I have lost my way. Perhaps not my theological acumen (both idealistic and idiosyncratic) nor in my “passion” for God. But when the river card is revealed, I fold, shaking my head as I surrender a rich pot of limped in blinds.

I don’t know if you’ve struggled with what it means to be. I don’t know if you’ve struggled to strengthen your convictions in The Way. I don’t know if this pandemic is on the precipice of breaking you (if it hasn’t already done so). Heck, I’ve already failed my Bible Reading Plan. I don’t even make resolutions anymore because I am too aware of my depravity. What I do know, however, is that I want recover my way so that I can have a clear vision of the true Way of Christ. This is The Way.

The Necessity of the Wilderness - Jan 2, 2021

By Pastor Jason

No one asked for it yet here I am dusting off this old thing. As I peek over to see if the water levels have receded at all, it seems as if we’ll be in our arks for the time being. So after a self-imposed and undeserving hiatus, I thought I’d make a second go of it. There’s nothing like short lived inspiration brought on by the new year.

I have been reflecting on the seemingly mindless meanderings of this past year. 2020 has felt more exilic than euphoric. Life is hard as it is, but to add insurmountable obstacles seems pretty cruel. And thus no one is shedding a tear at 2020’s funeral. Good riddance, I say.

But we know that a mere change in date is not going to change anything. The same brumal vibes are still very much here to stay. We’ll all still be in a constant swivet, wondering when it’ll all be over. And though a new year can feel like a new start to things, the hope is doused by the reality that things might not change for a while.

Now, I don’t want to haphazardly analogize anything and everything to make a pastoral point (though we are guilty of this), but I don’t think it’s a stretch to consider the past year as a wandering in the wilderness. We have forgotten the greater narrative of our salvation at our gnashing of teeth at our immediate situations. We have forgotten the providential character of God when we see an unmet need. We think of the wilderness as being forsaken. Yet, what if I told you that the wilderness, under the sovereign watch and will of God, isn’t so much forsakenness but faithfulness.

[5] I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet. [6] You have not eaten bread, and you have not drunk wine or strong drink, that you may know that I am the LORD your God. (ESV) Deuteronomy 29:5–6

Notice how it was God who leads them in the wilderness. This was not God being punitive. The wilderness is the gracious crucible that forms and purifies the heart to know that God is God. This is all said to Israel at the doorsteps of the Promised Land when rest and relief is imminent. The timing of this is important; the wilderness feels like God doesn’t care. He feels distant. All we see is the barren wasteland of the here and now. Yet in retrospect (and sadly, only in this manner), do we see that God has clothed us.

Yet the wilderness also is painful because it feels like we are separated. Separated from God. Separated from others. The literal shelter-in-place order exacerbates such feelings. Yet the separation is also a wonderful sobering up to, as verse 6 says, so that we may know God is our God. Not just a deity in the sky that meticulously keeps a tight ledger, but a convenatal God that is deeply relational and faithful to His words. We need God to strip away the extraneous things in our lives so that our sights can be rightfully set on Him. It is only in the darkness in which God’s light can shine the brightest. It is in the confounding labyrinth of the wilderness in which we are only left to trust God and God alone. God graciously burns away the dross and distractions and produces doxological dependence.

Russell Wilson, the quarterback of the best team in football, is known for his unparalleled work ethic. As mechanical as his responses are, he is always saying that the preparation is in the separation. And that is what the wilderness is: it is a momentary separation for preparation. Mind you, this is not a separation from God though; this is an intervention, a God-appointed moment in which we are separated from the things we have stolen our hearts. And it is in that separation that we are actually being prepared for a greater work. May we remember these words of God’s faithfulness in the wilderness:

[2] And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. [3] And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. [4] Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. [5] Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you. [6] So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. (ESV) Deuteronomy 8:2–6

Kimchi - August 15, 2020

By Pastor Jason

Life is like a jar of kimchi. Let me explain.

Being an Asian American Christian is an eclectic experience. Even now, I’m trying to find my bearings. Though I may have gained a higher tolerance for the tension that is my identity goulash, there is still a lot more to process and learn.

But I have a sense of growing ownership, perhaps even pride, in my existence.

Kimchi provides the perfect metaphor for my experience growing up in Seattle. As a mainstay of epicurious hipsters everywhere, kimchi is no longer the abhorrent stink bomb that it once was. This now widely embraced superfood has made strides into mainstream culinary conversations. Is there a clearer indicator of universal acceptance than being sold at Costco? I think not. Plus, the word on the street is that there is some correlation between consuming fermented cabbage and lower fatality rates due to COVID-19.

While kimchi is certainly having its moment, for the unfamiliar, kimchi can be unpleasant or even repulsive. Its essence ends up seeping into all the food in your refrigerator until even your ice cubes start to take on a faint kimchi funk. If you’re old school, you might have one or three of those mammoth earthenware clay pots for storing kimchi in your backyard, doubling as house decor.

While lunchtime is a favorite time for many elementary school students, it was the source of much dread and trauma for me. Imagine how ripe my kimchi got by noon every day, just sitting in my Ninja Turtles lunch box at room temperature. The moment I unlatched my container, the kimchi sloshing around with anchovies, fish cake, and seaweed, my curious classmates quickly turned aghast. The opening up of my lunch was like a nightmarish version of The Hurt Locker, except it actually happened--every day.

Whenever lunchtime came, I hit a crossroads. I was famished and genuinely loved the food that my mom so lovingly packed. But I also couldn’t handle the gawking and tacit judgement. The palpable disgust of my classmates affected me to the point where I sometimes threw my lunch away, only to settle for lukewarm corn dogs and wilted salad.

But wait, there’s more.

I was reared in a Christian home, and I embraced my faith as early as I can remember. But outside of the incubator that was my local church, practicing faith in a non-Christian environment as a young child was a herculean task. Yet I was convicted to live out my faith. And that meant praying for the meal.

And so I would pray. I started out praying with my head bowed, hands clasped, and genuinely expressing my gratitude for the food. Everything seemed fine. I attracted some curious stares but nothing that affected my brittle confidence.

Over time, however, I started drawing ridicule and polemical questions. Kids mimicked my pre-meal prayer and sometimes threw their tater tots my way. As I picked up the crisp taters from my lunch box (and furtively shoved them in my mouth), I felt a second wave of shame. My prayers became more abbreviated. I stopped closing my eyes and bowing my head. Eventually, I stopped praying all together.

I had abandoned my faith and my culture for a hamburger and acceptance.

Every day, I had to choose between what I loved—my ethnicity and faith—and what I wanted—acceptance and assimilation. As a second-generation Korean American, I had a less-than-ideal introduction to American culture. At one point, I hated my Korean heritage and my Christian faith.

The beauty of kimchi is that, as it ages and ferments, its flavor profile becomes richer. For me, the funkier the kimchi, the better. It makes for a better kimchi stew and it better complements some of my favorite Korean soups. Similarly, I needed time for my thoughts and emotions to breathe, age, and ferment.

This emergence of my self-awareness has led to redemption. God has revealed to me just how beautiful it is to be both Asian American and Christian. I realized that my value is not based on these identity markers. Rather, my value is in the fact that God created me this way.

This realization unlocked the labyrinth of shame that I had found myself in. For years, I had pigeonholed myself into these tired tropes and neat labels. I believed in the derogatory (even racial) commentary that mainstream Americanism had applied to my people. The shame led me to throw away my kimchi and my prayers.

But over time, through helpful conversations and redemptive and affirming experiences, my identity markers have become badges of honor. Like a plant burgeoning and breaking through a cracked sidewalk, there is a certain beauty that blossomed from this experience--a greater appreciation for who I am both as an Asian American and a Christian. Through this liberation, I feel comfortable in my own skin and can have productive discourse to help our society collaboratively grow.

I have hardly mastered the art of seeking the delight and audience of One. But like the process of fermentation, the end goal is neither to add spice nor to pickle. The end goal is complete transformation from a lowly head of napa cabbage to a glorious piece of kimchi.

I am not there yet. I am still learning to embrace who I am in the context where I live. But, for now, as I lift the heavy lid of my earthenware clay pot, the aroma that fills up my senses is no longer unpleasant, but fragrant.

Gratitude - August 8, 2020

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    [9] Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. [10] 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! [11] Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? [12] 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

  3. 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.`

Running - August 1, 2020

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:

[28] Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. [29] 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. [30] 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

Perfectionism - July 25, 2020

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.

J. I. Packer - July 18, 2020

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.

Time - July 11, 2020

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.

Let Us Pray - July 4, 2020

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.

The Aftermath - June 27, 2020

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.

[11] On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. [12] And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance [13] and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” [14] When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. [15] Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; [16] and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. [17] Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? [18] Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” [19] 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.

[15] Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; [16] 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.

Some Quick Announcements - June 22, 2020

Knowledge - June 20, 2020

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.

God’s Compassion - June 13, 2020

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.

Self-Care Week - Spiritual Health - June 12, 2020

Self-Care Week - Mental Health - June 10, 2020

Self-Care Week - Physical Health - June 8, 2020

Mystery and Faith - June 6, 2020

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.

Psalm 90 - Teach Us to Number Our Days - June 5, 2020

Psalm 60 - Trusting the Process - June 3, 2020

Psalm 77 - To Remember, to Meditate - June 1, 2020

Maranatha - May 30, 2020

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!”

The 5 Daily Habits - 5. Restoring the Spiritual Disciplines - May 29, 2020

The 5 Daily Habits - 4. Relational Virtues - May 28, 2020

The 5 Daily Habits - 3. Goin' Mental - May 27, 2020

The 5 Daily Habits - 2. Sweet Emotion - May 26, 2020

The 5 Daily Habits - 1. Let's Get Physical - May 25, 2020

Forever Faithful - May 23, 2020

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.

[5] Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds. (ESV) Psalm 36:5

Interview Week ft. Ivy Lee - May 22, 2020

Interview Week ft. Sam & Christine - May 21, 2020

Interview Week ft. Kirsty Choi - May 20, 2020

Interview Week ft. Jane Lee - May 19, 2020

Interview Week ft. Sang & Kimi - May 18, 2020

Doing the Dishes - May 16, 2020

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.

This is a journey into Ecclesiastes 5 - May 15, 2020

This is a journey into Ecclesiastes 4 - May 14, 2020

This is a journey into Ecclesiastes 6 & 7 - May 13, 2020

This is a journey into Ecclesiastes 3 - May 12, 2020

This is a journey into Ecclesiastes 1 & 2 - May 11, 2020

There is a Higher Throne - May 9, 2020

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.

Random Ruminations - Gospel Lessons - May 8, 2020

Random Ruminations - Hot Takes - May 7, 2020

Random Ruminations - Imagination Station - May 6, 2020

Random Ruminations - Beastmode - May 5, 2020

Random Ruminations - Prayer - May 4, 2020

The New Normal - May 2, 2020

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.

Interview Week ft. TGC President Julius Kim - May 1, 2020

Interview Week ft. Andrew Shinn - April 30, 2020

Interview Week ft. Dr. Edwin - April 29, 2020

Interview Week ft. Stephen Brannon - April 28, 2020

Interview Week ft. Greg Afong - April 27, 2020

The Great Divide - April 25, 2020

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.

A Thank You Letter - April 24, 2020

What is the Bible All About? - April 23, 2020

What Would I Do Differently? - April 22, 2020

Parenting - April 21, 2020

Worship - April 20, 2020

Solitude - April 18, 2020

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)

The ABC's of Prayer - April 17, 2020

My Story of Grace - April 16, 2020

What every family needs right now - April 15, 2020

How I prep for Sermons - April 14, 2020

My Call to Ministry - April 13, 2020

The Morning After - April 11, 2020

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:

[21] 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.

[22] I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
[23] 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!
[24] 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)

Good Friday - April 10, 2020

Maudy Thursday - April 9, 2020

Spy Wednesday - April 8, 2020

Passion Week Tuesday - April 7, 2020

April 6, 2020

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

Passion Week Monday - April 6, 2020

The Olive Leaf - April 4, 2020

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.

[6] At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made [7] and sent forth a raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. [8] Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground. [9] 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. [10] He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark. [11] 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. [12] 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.

Abiding with Jesus - April 3, 2020

Singleness - April 2, 2020

Asian American Mental Heath - April 1, 2020

Anxiety - March 31, 2020

Time - March 30, 2020

A Silver Lining - March 28, 2020

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.

Tight Five Introduction - March 26, 2020