J.S. Park

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Posts tagged with "Theology"

In line with your most recent post (or answered question), what would you recommend for those who do their devotions but couldn't understand the metaphors used by Jesus? I usually look up the interpretations online and go from there but I was wondering if there's a better way to go about it. Thank you for your help!

Hey there dear friend, I believe you’re referring to this post.

One book I highly recommend is Henrietta Mears’ What The Bible Is All About.  It’s a very simple commentary with pictures (woo!) and practical explanations of every book in the Bible.  It’s not too specific on any one book, but gives just enough context to help us think through Scripture for ourselves. 

The wider we read, the more we’ll start fitting the pieces too.  I’ve probably read tons of Timothy Keller and C.S. Lewis, and they’ve helped formed my theology just enough to get a foothold in Jesus’s words.  While I don’t mean to make it only a matter of intellect, it does help to read broadly.  That means both diving into Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem or something light like Max Lucado.

I would also recommend a good huge Study Bible.  My personal favorite is the very classic Zondervan 1984 NIV Study Bible.  The best thing is to browse a few Study Bibles at a bookstore and see which you like.  I’ve seen some friends also like the Life Application and Quest Study Bibles.

May I add: Jesus did say some pretty tough things to figure out.  Scholars still dissect the particulars to this day.  If these really smart people are struggling with them, then a simple-minded person like me will too, and that’s okay.  I think there are probably very simple meanings to all of Jesus’s metaphors, and it would be best to receive the most obvious meaning, then apply it.  I’m sure there’s an infinite amount of wisdom we can receive from every parable, but they can also be easy enough for the five-year-old to understand.  So we want to look into them and always remain curious, but also don’t worry too much if you wrestle with them a bit too.  We can enjoy that process of lifelong discovery.

— J

I'm curious about your view that reformed Calvinists overemphasize predestination. How have you seen this happen and what do you mean by it?

Hey my friend, I believe you’re referring to this post.

I think any kind of of overemphasis on a single doctrine creates an unintended lopsided thinking, which is really no one’s fault except human nature.  Reformed Calvinists (of which I am one) tend to pump up so many specific doctrines that they look like those guys at the gym who only work out their upper body, like if you put the Hulk’s chest on top of Hawkeye’s legs.  It’s ugly.

See: the idea of young Christians being careful about dating is a wise plan — but taking that to an extreme leads to all kinds of weird neurotic Christian dating bubble-cultures.  The same is true if you beat the hobbyhorse of tithing, spiritual gifts, politics, or the Christian version of things.

Of course, many of these doctrines begin with noble intentions and pure motives.  Most Christians don’t twirl their evil hipster mustaches in a basement hoping to bank off their nervous paranoid church people.  But like anything, the escalation of an idea creates offshoot branches that are far removed from their original intent. 

So when Joshua Harris (who is a pretty good guy) writes a few books on dating, some extremists will take that to a really goofy level and sort of massacre Harris’s work, and then you have liberal Christians pointing fingers at Harris like it was his fault.  He set out to do a good thing, but bad subcultures always spring up from good ideas like a cyst.

 

But in the case of Reformed Calvinists, it seems like almost the entire camp is deadset on being a bunch of gatekeeping watchdog bullies.  I wrote an angry rant a while ago about why I don’t ever want to be labeled a Reformed Calvinist again (though in theology, I remain one).  I’ve just never met a single decent Calvinist, and when I did, I couldn’t even tell they were Calvinist. 

Predestination is one of those tricky doctrines that can lead to total arrogance or total anxiety or strange readings of Scripture.  It’s either 1) I’m the chosen one, 2) I don’t know if I’m chosen, or 3) God hates some people and loves others.  But we forget that predestination AND free will are given nearly equal treatment throughout the Bible, sometimes even within the same exact verse (2 Thessalonians 2:13 and the entire book of Ephesians).  They’re both completely reconciled somehow, and if you ask me to explain it, then my head would have to be the size of the universe.  My brain is allergic to paradoxes, so I won’t even try.

Once again, If your faith is making you a jerk, then throw that out the window and start over.  There are certain Christian doctrines that will inevitably be offensive to some people, but I see Christians go out of their way to be offensive.  I’m guilty of it too.  So I hope we can keep all these doctrines in proper perspective, and maybe even look to how Jesus managed to hold them all together: which was Love the Lord and love your neighbor.

— J

The bible says faith is the assurance of things not seen. Is it then bad to try to justify my faith through rational reasoning?

Hey my dear friend, it’s definitely not bad at all — and I would in fact highly urge you to dig deeply into your faith until your teeth sink into conviction.  There is plenty of historical evidence and plausible explanations when it comes to Scripture and the God of the Bible.

My major concern is that most people think only intellect can answer the claims of Christianity, when people themselves are not merely intellectual beings.  We’re all a complex mix of emotional, psychological, and spiritual factors that need a well-rounded foundation to satisfy us. 

This is why academic answers hardly ever convince an atheist into faith. No one has ever said, “You totally proved my atheism wrong, now tell me about Jesus.”  We still need to answer the existential reasons of why we’re alive.  When I was an atheist, I didn’t care about the factual stuff — it was all garbage to me anyway.  I had to get past my own personal bias to God before I could even look at the evidence.

Someone who only believes through intellect can also become an arrogant egotistical doctrine-head (1 Corinthians 8:1), and then bam, you become one of those mean Reformed Calvinists.  I had to stop calling myself one because most of us were jerks and bullies, and the movement pretty much killed itself from ego.  I’m all for learning as much as you possibly can, but if you’re waiting around with arms crossed until you’re convinced all the time, you’ll entangle yourself into all kinds of silly theological conflicts that no one actually cares about.  God help us on that.

Please allow me to point you to two posts here that explain how I moved out of atheism, which simply became too untenable, and why unlike anything else, the journey of faith is a lifelong discovery that will never quite finish to the very end — and that’s okay.

- Why Do You Believe In Jesus?

- You’re a “Skeptical Christian”?

 

There are also quite a few verses that tell us to investigate the claims of truth.  In other words, God does want you to think for yourself.

And please remember: Have fun getting to know Him.  He’s awesome.  He’s satisfying.  He is knowable.  He will love you through the questions.

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

— Acts 17:11

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith …

— 2 Corinthians 13:5

The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.

— Proverbs 15:14

Desire without knowledge is not good— how much more will hasty feet miss the way!

— Proverbs 19:2

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

— 1 John 4:1

— J.S.

Hello, and peace be with you! I am a Christian but lately I have been struggling with some aspects of my faith. I am particularly confused and have been troubled by the concept of the trinity. I feel like I shouldn't be so caught up in minute technicalities such as this, but I feel nagging doubts about the validity of this concept. Can you help me understand or point me in the right direction?

Hey there my friend, please be encouraged that God graciously receives all our questions and confusion and frustration, and all that means you’re wrestling for a deeper foundation with Him.  This is a good thing.

Please allow me the grace to point you to some previous posts on this:

- How Does The Trinity Work?

- Is The Trinity Like A Family?

- So About The Darn Trinity

You’ll notice that there’s a ton of mystery when it comes to the Trinity, and I think on this side of things, we’ll probably never fully grasp God in His trinitarian glory with our tiny eight lb. brain.  I won’t pretend to know more than anyone else does on it.  I hope we’re okay with a little mystery and that our Pavlovian Westernized reflex to plug everything into a Post-Enlightenment formula doesn’t kill us with over-complexity.  And it’s not wise to simplify it either.  To explain “three in one” with all those metaphors like ice-water-vapor or egg-embryo-yolk hardly ever goes far enough, and any analogy will fall apart pretty fast.

But I can tell you that God minus any part of the Trinity wouldn’t be a knowable God.

- Father and Son make a good team, but there would be no Spirit to continue God’s work on the earth.

- Spirit and Son make a cool cop show, but then there’s no Father to deal justice on sin.

- Father and Spirit make a cool sitcom, but then there’s no Son to break into our world as one of us to identify with our pain and jumpstart our healing.

One thing to remember is to please enjoy the process of discovering God.  I know it feels like there’s a brick wall whenever we come across a difficult doctrine, and that Western urge to “know all the facts” gets us into a twisted up neurotic mess in our faith.  While I totally believe that Christianity is intellectually satisfying in every way, there are just some truths way bigger than our heads can handle, and I’m okay with the lifelong process of getting to know God in all His wild infinite nature.

I’ll leave you with C.S. Lewis, who said it better than I can.

"All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that ‘God is love.’ But they seem not to notice that the words ‘God is love’ have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love. Of course, what these people mean when they say that God is love is often something quite different: they really mean ‘Love is God.’ They really mean that our feelings of love, however and wherever they arise, and whatever results they produce, are to be treated with great respect. Perhaps they are: but that is something quite different from what Christians mean by the statement ‘God is love.’ They believe that the living, dynamic activity of love has been going on in God forever and has created everything else. And that, by the way, is perhaps the most important difference between Christian and all other religions: that in Christianity God is not a static thing - not even a person - but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance."

— C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

— J.S.

Apr 3

How Do I Know If It’s God Or The Devil? A Mega-Post On Pain, Evil, and Suffering

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Anonymous asked:

Would God purposely put His children in a situation where they would be hurt in any way (rape, kidnapped, something like that)?  Or is this the work of the devil? I don’t think He would, but I don’t know.

 

My dear friend: There’s probably a huge list of questions I’d like to ask God the second I see Him (right after I collect my eyeballs back into my head).  So right upfront: I’m not sure why the devil is given a long leash.  I’m going to ask about that one, probably with my arms crossed.

The Question of Evil has not been adequately answered by the greatest philosophers of history, and I probably won’t be the one to crack the code on that today either.  It’s the kind of stuff that makes me doubt God everyday.  Even if I did have some solid theology on why certain atrocities happen, I still doubt it would satisfy the victim of rape and abuse and slavery and oppression, no matter how much “logical sense” it makes to the brain.  Even if I concluded, “All the bad stuff is really Satan,” then a suffering person could only reply, “So now what?”

I can only offer a few thoughts that might help you on your journey here: because this tension of why bad things happen will never be resolved by any single answer.  Anything we say on pain will always be inadequate for the actual suffering person.  No such all-encompassing answer from any belief system really exists.  I can only say that I believe the Christian perspective best accommodates the problems we see today.  I’m also aware that some of us will never meet eye-to-eye on this and it’s easy to “deconstructively reduce” anything I’m saying with our current artistic cynicism.  And that’s okay.  We are free to disagree and wrestle and think for ourselves.

And please know: I would never, ever enumerate these reasons out loud the moment after a person has been seriously harmed.  Really none of this theology matters as much as you being there in the trenches with a heart of listening and love. 

As always, please feel free to skip around.

 

1) Our current world is not the way it ought to be.

The Bible tells us our world is fractured by sin.  Sin is not just disobedience against God and how we’re made, but also a disconnection from the all-fulfilling love of God.  So we try to find God in things that are not God, and that’s how our internal disconnection manifests into external disobedience.  In other words: a legitimate need to seek comfort can lead to alcohol addiction or codependency or a string of shallow one-night stands.  

We end up abusing people as “obstacles” and using people as “vehicles.”  We build a kingdom of self because we’re apart from our true king.  We try to find fulfillment through stuff and people and experiences — and none of this is very wrong, but we go about this in illegitimate harmful ways.  We try to squeeze from people and things what only God can give us.  These expectations crush others and crush ourselves, and in a way, it crushes the heart of God.  The elevation of self-fulfillment leads to an authoritarian tyranny of self that no one could possibly bear, including ourselves.

Sin not only causes problems with other people, but also personal issues (like vanity and insecurity and greed) and planet issues (which is why our earth doesn’t function liked it was supposed to).  At every level, our whole world is shriveled by the disease we call sin.  It’s not as bad as it could be, but it’s nowhere near where it should be.

From God’s point of view, He’s working with a world that is in every way completely disarrayed.  It’s like walking into a room where someone flung paint and glass all over the place.  Where do you start cleaning up a mess like that?  And beyond that, the Bible tells us there is a devil who exacerbates our struggle, so that we’re getting mixed signals thrown into our already turbulent mess.

Before we even talk about why God lets this or that happen, I hope we first confess that a major part of the problem is me.  It’s you.  It’s us.  The devil only comes in to poke at our pre-existing selfishness.  We are the ones who marred the world with dirty paint; we chucked the shards of glass at God’s creation.  If you think, “That’s not fair, Adam and Eve did that!” — well, let’s imagine you and me in that perfect Garden.  How long before each of us would’ve done exactly what they did?  Even if it took a million more years, we would’ve done the same thing.  

 

2) If this world is not how it was meant to be, then not every pain is meant to be God teaching us a “lesson.”

Since our world is broken apart from its original design, this also means that God suffers with us when we suffer.  He doesn’t stand by waiting for us to “get” some kind of epiphany. Which leads me to believe that pain is pain, that pain sucks, that it doesn’t need to be spiritualized, and that God doesn’t so much lead us towards it but leads us through it.

To more fully answer your question, I’m not sure if God purposefully leads us into harmful situations.  I don’t know if “yes” or “no” would suffice for that.  But I do know we’re all walking through a world of jagged glass, and at every turn we are wading through an innumerable number of consequences that began in the Garden.  And God is working through this infinite number of misaligned imperfections in our universe to write (and re-write) His story the best He knows how — and from His throne, I can’t imagine how difficult His job must be to guide the best possible options for the human story while never infringing upon our free will. 

When Jesus taught us to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” — this implies that God doesn’t always get what He wants.  However blasphemous that might sound to you, this world can’t possibly be how God wants it to be.  Which means God is just as angry as you are when injustice happens.  He’s looking at the human story with all the anguish of a single mother who lost her only child, with all the betrayal of a church with a lying pastor, with all the hurt of a father who prays for his prodigal son. 

When Job’s friends try to tell him, “You got wrecked because you sinned bro,” at the end God drops by in a storm and says all of Job’s friends are wrong.  God is pretty angry that they would connect “hurt” with some kind of unconfessed sin.  At the same time, God doesn’t give some simple answer about life and pain and lessons.  Probably because no human words could accurately resolve this tension between what is and what ought to be. 

 

3) If God were to intervene every single time, there would be nothing left.

It seems like God could step in at any time and stop evil.  But I just wonder at what point God should do this.  At the level of action?  At the level of thought?  Of atoms?  Of free will?  If God were to electrocute us every time we were about to do something bad, we would all be fried chicken.

Much of the evil in the world is a direct result of our choices.  The irony is that the very gift of Free Will that God gave us to make us human is also the same gift that could make this world a better place — but by and large, we still continue to destroy each other throughout history.  To blame God for all this is a serious lack of responsibility for our choices, and it only exposes the Western over-privileged entitlement that is killing us postmoderns today.  Even the non-religious person will blame their parents or environment or government or city, and while all these are partially responsible, it’s really just me.  We are each accountable.  I can yell, “God why do you let this happen?” — but God could just as easily ask me, “Why do you?

God allows our cycle of consequences to unroll, mostly because this is what makes us human and accountable.  And even then, God does often relieve us by His grace over and over.  That brings us to the next point.

 

4) God has probably saved us by an innumerable amount of close calls.

Whenever someone asks, “Why couldn’t God have prevented this one?” — I always want to counter that God probably has prevented a lot of stuff, and that the world is not as bad as it possibly could be or should be. 

I don’t think I can count all the times I almost got into a car accident or was steered out of an explosive situation or found random help at the exact right time: and from God’s point of view, we never thank Him for this stuff.  We just explain it away as “coincidence” or “serendipity” or “good luck.”  An earthquake happens in the ocean and it’s a “weather pattern.”  When it happens on land, we call it an atrocious oversight by God.  But maybe this says more about us than God.

In the Book of Acts, the account of the early church, we find out that Peter and James are both arrested for their faith (Acts 12).  James is immediately beheaded but Peter is kept alive.  Try to imagine this happening in your church.  “Did you hear?  Pastor Bob and Deacon Bill were arrested for being Christians.  Bob was killed and we don’t know about Bill.”  Imagine Bob’s family.  They would be going crazy, asking God why He let Bob die, and perhaps secretly wondering why God let Bill live. 

We never find out why.  It feels cruel when you read the passage.  God prevented Peter’s death, but in some sense did not intervene for James.  Yet both actually could’ve died, because evil men were killing Christians by their own free will.  And when Peter and James were arrested, their church thought they were both pretty much dead.  It’s only a miracle that Peter actually lives, and I hope we can celebrate that.  I hope we can see that God’s gracious hand is still at work.  It’s definitely awful that James died and I never want to diminish that.  But I also imagine the families of both Peter and James comforting each other throughout the whole ordeal, because really, this is what matters.

 

5) God did send an ultimate provision to upturn evil.

Here’s why I believe in Jesus.

Because at some point in human history, God became one of us and reversed the human condition.  Just one place, at one time, in the dirtiest sand-swept stain of a city, He healed our entropy: and He invites us into that better story.

Many things happened in the cross and resurrection.  Jesus absorbed the cycle of human violence.  He showed there was a better way than self-centered tyranny and retaliation.  He paid the cost of sin on our behalf.  He reversed the ultimate consequence of death from the first Garden by turning death backwards in a new Garden.  He bestowed that same death-defeating power into those who believed his story.  He identified with us by taking on all the harm of sin though he never sinned himself.  He promised us a union with Him by being united with the Spirit (or the “mind”) of God.  He inaugurated a new kind of kingdom where the weak can win, the poor can succeed, and all our survival values are flipped into sacrifice.  Jesus redefined what it meant to be human by creating an upside-down kingdom where the humble will be elevated and the prideful would be melted by love. 

Jesus essentially stepped into the glass and re-did the paint.  He went into the mess and re-created the pieces.  He doesn’t answer why bad things happen, but he gives us a love stronger than all that does happen.

Which reminds me of our brother C.S. Lewis, who said —

“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”

 

All this means that a victim doesn’t have to let their circumstances define who they are.  We don’t have to let what happens here on earth to say who we are forever.  While I don’t know why God might “allow” these things to happen, I believe that God doesn’t want these things to be the final word about us.  I want to believe Genesis 50:20 is true, and that the devil has limitations, and that even the worldwide permeation of sin is no match for the healing work of Christ.

A last note.  If your friend is going through some horrible pain right now at the hands of another person, it’s not our job to explain this within the box of our theology.  That’s a cold thing to do.  Jesus never did this: he only wept when he heard of Lazarus, he wept over Jerusalem, he stayed at the homes of lepers and demoniacs, he fed the hungry multitudes.  More than our persuasion, our friends need presence.  This is what God did when He became one of us, and this is how we embody love — by mourning when others mourn, by giving space to grieve, and by allowing joy to find its place when the time is right.

— J.S.

What advice can you give in terms of loving yourself the way God loves you?

Hey my dear friend, this is honestly an elusive statement in the Bible that I’m still really trying to learn.

I’ve heard many different interpretations of “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” and I’m straddling the fence on both sides.  I’ll at least point you in a direction so you can form your own foundation for this one.

The two main thoughts on this are:

1) Love others as you’re already loving yourself, because we’re selfishly in love with ourselves and we need to extend that selfish love in a higher priority to others.

2) Love other people AND yourself, because you’re a person too, and God doesn’t want you to hate yourself.

So here goes arguments for both sides.

 

The first interpretation is a very unnatural reading.  The most natural way to read the words of Jesus are: “Love yourself too, because you need to be encouraged and taken care of just like everyone else.”  And I agree that just as we don’t want to shame or hurt or humiliate others, we would want the same dignity for ourselves.

But theologically, the Bible is constantly driving us outward towards other people.  The very idea of love is putting others first.  Since we’re naturally inclined to be self-centered and self-preserving, it would make more sense if Jesus were saying, “Love other people just like you’ve been loving yourself.”

Also, the Scripture tends to say that we’re naturally self-deceptive and prideful and greedy, and most of all, we generally tend to tolerate our own bad behavior with an alarming blindness (Jeremiah 17:9, Proverbs 14:12, Romans 1:32).  When someone says “Love yourself,” it seems to go against Scripture because it almost means “Accept everything about you,” and people are so self-deceptive that they can use that as ammo to just tolerate their worst grievances.  

Still, there’s evidence that God wants us to have joy and peace and a confidence of ourselves too.  Apostle Paul has such an assurance of himself in Christ that he says “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself” (1 Corinthians 4:3). He even calls himself the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), but all the surrounding verses talk about how he was shown mercy and grace and immense patience.

 

So here’s how I conclude this for now.  I think the love of God can so completely fill us up that

1) we can love others without expecting a single thing back and not be controlled by their response or approval, and

2) we can feel completely confident within ourselves because God’s love secures us. 

That means we’re humble enough to be confident, and that means yes, when our hearts are fully prioritized by God and for others, we can love ourselves the right way, without pride or ego-trips, because it has originated from God Himself first.  It means we see ourselves with a balanced estimation, neither prideful nor pitiful, because we are both saved and sinners.

It’s a lot more nuanced and multi-dimensional than to simply say, “I love myself!”  I highly doubt Jesus meant his statement as a simple formula for life. I don’t think it’s as easy as “Treat yourself sometimes” or “Encourage your heart.”  I think Jesus had to use our simple human language to define the hugely overwhelming infinite reality of God’s love.  And maybe, when we know how much God loves us, we find ourselves filled with a self-loving confidence and a self-giving humility, all at the same time.

— J

Friends, Enemies, The Cross.

Before you meet God, He was in a certain sense your enemy, and you were friends with sin, Satan, and the world.

What God did was: He set Himself as an enemy of sin, of Satan, of the world, even of death — and He was literally ripped apart by these things at the cross.  God did all this so that He could be your friend.

Jesus removed every single obstacle between you and him so that you could be together, in the best relationship there is.  Friends are willing to pay the cost for love: and greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

After you meet God, you are now at odds with the world, which is why the Christian life is so hard. But you have Jesus, and he calls you out into the world to help remove those obstacles too. He calls us to cross over the dividing line of the human heart, to change enemies into friends: just as you were changed.

In a way, the Christian is a matchmaker between Heaven and earth.  When you’re friends with God, your mission is to hook people up with God.

— J

Faith Is More Simple Than We Make It

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Many times I’ll talk with Christians who are burdened by the programmatic weight of their religious activity.  They’re shackled by the inadequacy of their spiritual progress.

I meet Christians who say, “I just don’t feel like I’m doing enough.  I only went to church twice this week, I evangelized to only four people this month, I only prayed on the way to work and on the way home, I missed the homeless ministry last Tuesday, I listened to a friend cry on the phone for an hour without saying Jesus once.” 

I always want to say, “Dang dude.  Just relax.

I’ll meet other Christians who use these absurd spiritual parameters on each other to measure the “safety” of being near them, as if they’re afraid to catch adultery and they’re allergic to Rated-R movies and any theology that doesn’t end with predestination.  They turn their nose up at people who who are late to Sunday service and have to use the table of contents for the Bible, and they categorize the church into “praise team” and “everyone else.”

I always want to say, “Dang dude.  Just relax.

 

If your faith is making you more anxious, exhausted, insecure, uncertain, judged, and afraid — I’m really sorry you bought into that sort of faith.

If your faith is making you more categorical, judgmental, bitter, black-and-white, and condescending — your theology sucks, and you’re still just playing with religion.

I used to blame the latter for the former.  I used to think the religious people destroyed the anxious people.  But actually: neither have anything to do with Jesus. 

 

I’m discovering that if your faith is not making you more nuanced, thoughtful, wise, well-adjusted, and just happier, then it’s probably not really a faith worth having.  You can toss that out the window and start over.

Plain and simple: Christianity ought to be making you better and free, or you’re really still subscribed to morality-driven religion.  And if going to church makes you more of a jerk, you’re not even remotely close to God, at all.

Because I meet too many churchgoers who leave even worse than they came, all under the label of Jesus Christ.  They claim themselves Christians as if it were a badge of moral first-class superiority: and they see everyone else as second-class scrubs.  This totally kills me with grief, and it’s also extremely infuriating. 

I hardly see the point of church if it’s making you a jerk — but I also know that rule-restricted religion will only draw out the worst of you that was already inside.

I hardly see the point of church if it only stifles you and saddles you with an increasing debt of guilt and a judgmental superiority — but I also know that performance-driven moralism prevents the love of God from compelling us to love others.

 

If Jesus is making you more prideful and arrogant — you haven’t really met Jesus. If you’re sneering at latecomers and not asking them, “Is everything okay?” — then you are further from the heart of God than the most rebellious wicked pagan sinner in that room.  If you’re looking down on someone for their addictions, afflictions, and rebellion — then you don’t really know that Jesus died for you and for that guy too.  Then it remains a theoretical concept that you wield as a weapon to bash others.  It’s to feed your ego and pump up with false power, and you’re directly opposed to God. 

On the other hand, if you’re at a church where the predominant attitude is to “Do More, Try Harder, Or Else” — then it’s reasonable if you leave.  But it’s also possible you’re called to stay and love them.  It’s possible you’re the one conduit of grace that will upturn the pseudo-religious culture in your church.  And it might also be wise not to show up late sometimes.

Really, our spiritual maturity comes down to two simple things.  Love God, love people. I understand that doctrinal accuracy is crucial and we want a rich, robust orthodox faith.  But I also think we’re too quick to accuse others of the exact opposite position, and then we lock up the doctrine for only those who already have it.  I think we climb the ivory tower and pull up the ladder — and this is why Jesus put the Pharisees on blast.  Because they couldn’t serve in love with the truth they had.  And if our truth doesn’t move us to share that truth: then it’s not truth and it’s certainly not love.  Both move in tandem with gracious precision.

I hope then that our hands are doing what our hearts believe, and that our hearts believe what our hands are doing.

— J

Action Vs. Reaction: A Bridge To Somewhere

I see that so many blogs and platforms and ministries are built out of reactionary backlash against a previous injury.  “We got hurt this way, so let’s do it the other way.”  Or, “You were taught this wrong, so let me set it straight for you.”

I do think it’s totally right to love on people who got burned by the same thing you did. I think those who’ve been hurt by an oppressive culture need a common ground to vent their grievances and to form an alliance of understanding.

But I also think that making an entire platform on the anti-ground of your hurt will only perpetuate that hurt — because left unchecked, it will eventually breed smug self-righteousness and superiority.

You can see it in the endless reblog wars.  You can see it in public shaming.  You can see it in the Reformation.  The whole parachurch is basically just a middle-finger to the mainstream church.  Reformed Calvinism is a response to the seeker-sensitive movement.  And Contemplative Spirituality is a response to Calvinism.  And so on, it goes.

If you proudly declare, “We don’t do it like those guys” and “I’m not like those other people,” you’re really just powering up through cannibalism.  You’re eating flesh to drive flesh.  And if you do this long enough, the values you instill into your new culture will be overreactions based on bitterness and arrogance.  These are unstable poisonous foundations that will inevitably collapse.

I hope we can start up movements that are not reactions, but initiative actions.  I hope our words are not always talking back, but talking forward.  I hope we can be original instead of derivative.  I hope we are not motivated solely by the pain we feel — because even though it can work for a while, healing cannot come by deconstruction.  It only comes by re-creation, by introducing something new into the world.  And we each have this powerful ability to weaponize our words or to breathe life with them.  Our hands can build bridges towards oblivion or toward each other.

I hope for bridges that bring us closer.

— J

Feb 7

Popular Discontent: There’s Something Wrong With Everything

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The internet shouted down Donald Miller the other day after he admitted he doesn’t regularly attend a church, and once more when he wrote a follow-up

I absolutely love Donald Miller and I sincerely believe he loves Jesus.  There’s no but and this isn’t leading up to a negative critique — I really do think he’s great.  His books re-energized my faith during a particularly bad slump, and like Lewis or Keller, he will always be one of my biggest influences in my personal faith journey.

I attend church.  Donald doesn’t.  We can still be bros. 

I agree with just about everything that Donald Miller wrote about church. How could I disagree? When we’re really honest about it, the state of the entertainment model of the evangelical church is downright horrifying. We’ve managed to package the eternal saving power of God into a 1-800-number enterprise. We’re mostly tickled one hour a week to compensate for the guilt of our secret second lives, which only enables us into the spiral.

 

But the thing is: I can find discontent in just about anything. It’s hard to disagree with most criticism because as soon as you find something wrong, it’ll be wrong for life.  Look hard enough and you will see flaws. A critic-filter will always taint how you enjoy a movie or a book or a friend or the church.  It’s inevitable that imperfection will rear its ugly head. 

I was talking with my friend recently about Timothy Keller.  I love Keller’s work, but my friend was less impressed.  I asked why, and he said, “I think he’s great, it’s true he does good work for the city, he has solid theology … but just, you know, I don’t get him. Just something about him.” 

I really couldn’t understand this.  Something about him?  Couldn’t we say that about anyone? Isn’t it enough that he does good work for the city and has solid theology?  What more could we ask for?

Not to demonize my friend here: But if you dig deep enough, you will always find a reason to dislike someone or something.  That’s easy.  And we can write off an entire group or culture or work because of it.  For most people, they will never be pleased no matter how good they have it.

 

There’s the rub.  You can never be fully satisfied with anything on this earth, because complete satisfaction in transitory things is an impossible standard.  To look for it is futile.  There will always be something missing.  And if you hold people or systems or churches to that curve: you have already damned yourself on the same curve.  When I try to be satisfied by any manmade system, no matter how good its intent, I will always come up short. I will always be restless on this earth. I think it’s unfair to squeeze the burden of my satisfaction from any one sermon, preacher, or church building.

I can find something wrong with anything.  That’s how a lot of bloggers appeal to their readers.  It’s how pastors build churches.  It’s how politicians build platforms.  They throw around a ton of complaints, talk about those “other people across the street,” and their whole agenda is born of a reactionary whiplash. The battle cry is, “I’m not like them.” 

It’s easy to criticize.  It’s easy to sit in a room and go on about why the church has failed us, why those “other Christians" lost it, why those tribes and camps are so wrong.

Think of every successful blog or author or speaker.  They appeal to you because they pick apart things like crazy, and this presses our critic-button.  Their posts begin with a snarky smug deconstruction of “what’s wrong with the world today.”  “Oh your pastor is wrong.  Oh your church screwed that up.  Oh you’ve been right the whole time.  We feel the same way about your problems with church.”  Maybe they’re right on every point.  But in the end, it’s a cheap direct appeal to your right-ness, which is the same as permissively enabling your flesh, which is the same as Pharisee-like self-righteousness — and there are still zero offered solutions.  There’s no grace.

 

Anyone can do that.  People get rich from it.  I’m probably doing the same exact thing in this post.

The hard part is looking forward to constructive restoration

None of the comments on Donald Miller’s blog really offered anything except “My way actually works, you should come to my church.”  There was really nothing inclusive that attempted to bridge the disunity.  Most of it was banner-waving triumphalist horn-tooting.  I can understand that, because we believe my way works.  

But I wanted to see someone say, “I agree.  So what next?  What can we do about the church today?  What do you propose?  What can we do together?  How can we pray for us?  What can we repent of?  How can we extract the poisonous elements?  How can we go to God on this one?”

I wanted to see dialogue.  Because going at this side-by-side is how we arrive to a better place.  Christians are called adopted for a reason.  We have a Father and we’re family.  We can disagree — but we can rise above those disagreements to something better than the world.  We can even use something impulsive like the internet and flip that for the better good — or so I can hope.

And you know, there’s plenty the church has done right.  We don’t celebrate that enough.  Any ounce of true-to-God goodness in our churches is a God-given miracle.  Can we maybe thank God for that?  Can we cheer when we actually see grace?  Because as much as Jesus is probably grieving over our craziness, I’m sure there’s a lot he’s happy with.  It’s overly romantic to be so negative on things, but it’s really not as bleak as we want it to be.

I’m still a fan of the church.  I love my church, in all her flaws and everything.  I apologize for the church a lot, but I still love her, and Jesus died for her.  I agree that she needs work — but that means I myself need work, that I need Jesus.  It means we need each other. 

I will probably always be dissatisfied with the church somewhere: but that doesn’t compel me to give up on her.  It only compels me to take care of her while I still have days left on this earth.  I will only be satisfied when I’m face to face with our Lord.  Until then, I’m serving hard.

— J

Feb 4

Fighting The Destruction of Envy

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Anonymous asked:

Hi jspark! Thank you for your blog it has helped me multiple times.I also wanted to ask you about envy and jealousy b/c I feel like its become a big problem in my life. I believe that because of this many of my friendships have been lost or turn into frenemies. Or it becomes the fuel for people around me to do horrible things. How do I deal with envy and how do I deal with someone being envious of me? How do I redirect this emotion to God and into something more positive and meaningful? Thank you! :)

 

Hey there dear friend, thank you for your kind words, and thank you for even asking help with this.  Most people do not recognize jealousy in the mirror because it’s hard to see, but also because it’s tough to admit that we’re jealous.  We would rather admit just about anything — anger or lust or materialism or murder — before we say “I’m just a hater troll.”

Please allow me the grace to point you first to some previous posts. As always, you may skip around or skip them all.

- Jealousy vs. Generosity: A Generation Held Back

- Jealous Haterade Downgrade: Death By Nitpicking

- A Culture of Competition and Comparison

- Why Did God Make Emotions? A Mega-Post

 

I’ve found two major difficulties on both sides of this:

1) It’s not easy to admit jealousy because it confirms a “weakness” that we’re somehow not as “good” as someone else.

2) It’s not easy to admit we’ve been a victim of a jealous person because it sounds like we’re backdoor bragging.  It sounds condescending when someone says, “They’re just jealous of me.”

But here’s something quite interesting I’ve found too:

1) We’re usually not jealous of someone who is ridiculously good at something.  We’re not jealous of Mozart or Einstein or Shakespeare.  We usually get jealous of those who are slightly better than us at something.

2) Even though no one likes to say, “They’re jealous of me” — we get destroyed by jealous people all the time, simply for the fact that almost no one admits that jealousy is controlling their destructive passive-aggressive behavior.  We call it other things, like rebuke or real talk or “keeping an ego in check.”

So then: Jealousy is a secret sneaky devilish sort of disease that kills everyone under the radar and is almost never consciously diagnosed by anyone. 

To treat the disease: It requires a huge dose of self-awareness, humble community, and confrontational conversations.  It will never be completely cured.  Our reflex is to naturally be jealous.  It’s okay when you feel it: but what matters then is how you handle it.  It’s only not okay when jealousy manifests into destructive patterns of gossip and casual dismissal and intentionally holding others back from their potential. 

 

Now here’s why I so strongly believe in Jesus.  See: If you merely just confront yourself all the time when you’re jealous, you’ll crush yourself into the ground.  If you say “They’re just haters” all the time when others are jealous, you’ll become prideful and arrogant.  If you do struggle with jealousy, you’ll eventually hold back the next generation and even your own children when they begin to surpass you.

But Jesus died on a cross to tell us this is what your sin deserves.  It’s immediately humbling.  You can’t look at the cross without knowing the cost of your sin.  But Jesus died on a cross because he loves you and he took your place.  It’s immediately lifting.  You can’t look at the cross without knowing a confidence beyond your own performance.  And Jesus died on a cross for your neighbor and your enemies and the people you can’t stand.  You can’t look at the cross without knowing a profound grace that would save even those who you’ve deemed unworthy.

The monster of jealousy ultimately says, “I deserve more from God.  These people have it all together and they’re so much better than me at everything, and it’s just not fair.”  And envy says, “I want what they have, and if I can’t have it, they won’t either.”  This is the same as being at war with God.  It’s hurting the people He loves.  It’s saying that God somehow owes you.  And this is like an ant trying to flag down a helicopter.

 

See: I believe in a man who could’ve held back eternal grace from me, and it would’ve been right to do so — but he did not.  He gave me his very life.  He both saved me and guides me.  And I hope he does for you too.

Until we can get to the place where we discover God actually owes us nothing but justice and gave us grace — then we’ll never be truly satisfied no matter what we achieve.  It is the only true freedom from squeezing others of what they “owe” us.  You can see in a jealous person’s eyes, whether they believe in God or not, that they think the world must pay for all their effort.  It is a restless discontent; having everything is not enough. It’s like the fish in a tank who says, “Why can’t I be in the open space with all that air?”  The reality is the fish is alive to think these thoughts at all, and it has been given the water to live.

I know all this is difficult to hear for some of us.  I know there are probably many unfair things that happened to you.  I’ve struggled most my life with getting picked on for being ugly, with my low income, with my “lot in life,” for many things that feel unfair.  I still occasionally covet someone else’s talent, gifts, their seemingly good luck.  I think it’s okay to be angry about some of these things.  But the second we look at another human being and say, "She doesn’t deserve that" or He’s not all that great  or "I’m not helping that guy, he’s already got it all together" — then we’ve allowed our feelings to corrode the engine and it will destroy us.  

 

To redirect this: Our emotions were all originally meant for good.  In other words, God has a will for your emotions.  Anger was meant to fight injustice and oppression.  The sex drive was meant for the singular committed passion of a spouse.  Jealousy was meant for the protection of our loved ones, to be jealous for their growth and maturity.  It’s only when emotions are inordinately exaggerated that they become destructive. 

So if you must be jealous, then be jealous for your friend and not of them.  It’s not easy to do this.  Any emotion is capable of turning ugly.  But emotions are also capable of motivating the most beautiful of actions when they’re guided by the divine hand of God.  They’re not the main reason we do anything, but as the fuel: they work great.  

Here’s an example.  I have a young friend who I’ve been discipling now for almost four years.  He’s so much further ahead of me than I was at his age.  His musical skill, his theological knowledge, his articulation — they’re growing quickly and he will surpass me.  One day, he could be the best pastor I know.  But I have zero jealousy towards him.  When I’m old and gray, I would even love for him to shepherd me.  It’s because I am jealous for his faith and not OF.  I am more than happy to see him work me out of a job.  And I will not hold back on teaching him everything I know — I want him to take what I know and take off with it.  It’s my joy to pass on the torch so he could burn it brighter than I ever could.

I’m not saying I do this perfectly.  There are times I’ll see a random blogger and instantly think “What a d-bag.”  I’ll get jealous quickly of other pastors, other writers, other musicians.  But just as fast, I know I need to turn this into celebration.  I try to learn from them instead.  And if I can promote them or reblog them or encourage them: then by God, I will. 

If you’re a victim of jealousy: Work hard anyway.  Please don’t pick a fight with everyone who might be a hater.  Trust me, it’s not worth the effort.  If you’re close friends with a jealous person, then bring it up, but do so gently, like surgery.  And always, by God’s grace, examine yourself on it first.

— J.S.

Feb 3

Theology without love simply is very bad theology.

- Paul David Tripp

Feb 1

Doctrine Idols.

To proponents of Calvinism or Arminianism or NPP or the parachurch or Pentecostal theology —

Please remember that your specific doctrinal framework does not say everything there is to say about God. No one doctrine has the monopoly on His nature. We do not differ on loving Jesus and loving people: but we can disagree on just about everything else and still be cool up in here.

When someone disagrees on doctrine, they’re saying, “I disagree with your interpretation based on my understanding.” In other words, my eight lb. brain and your eight lb. brain are seeing an infinite God a little bit differently. God remains God despite our vastly insufficient minds: so it’s no use getting into semantic chatter that leads to a slightly swelled bucket of passive information.

Fellow Calvinists: As a Calvinist, you do know that Reformed Calvinism is a “ghetto” of the Christian subculture, right?  No one cares about Calvinism except Calvinists.  Almost no one else reads The Gospel Coalition except you.  Not even John Calvin cares that much.

A particular Christian stance that is compelled to exclude others is not really any sort of Christian stance at all. To feel like your doctrine gives you “insider knowledge” that no one else has is also indicative of a cult.  Jesus includes and invites.  Any other kind of theology is not theology, but categorical prejudice.

Does your theology care for the poor? Does it speak to your anxiety and insecurity and pride? Does it walk on water and heal the blind? Does it comfort with kindness and rebuke with discipline? Does it repent of your own righteous acts and trust only by faith in a cross? Does it have room to invite atheists, Muslims, homosexuals, and even other Christian persuasions?  Is your faith making you a better human being or worse?

We are so many shades of the body of Christ. Jesus has many rooms in his mansion, and we can love one another even from the hallway.

— J

Should I completely stay away from Christian authors that practice contemplative spirituality? Contemplative spirituality meaning they practice mystical experiences with God. I am feeling quite bummed out because one of my favorite authors practices this.

Anonymous

Hey my friend, I think it’s wise to simply practice good discernment for everything.

For example: Why are you bummed out about this?

It would be wise to ask: How am I defining “mystical”?  Why do mystical experiences of the Christian faith actually bother me?  Because I heard once that it was bad?  Because someone persuaded me it was heresy?  If so, how do I know what they were saying is true? 

Here are some other Christians who practice “contemplative spirituality” —

- David Martyn Lloyd-Jones

- Brian MacLaren

- Donald Miller

- C.S. Lewis (most likely)

- Timothy Keller (a certain form of it)

- Louie Giglio (most likely)

- Rachel Held Evans (most likely)

If you want to tell me that all of these Christians are heretics or going to Hell — I doubt it.  As far as I know, they love Jesus and they love people.  And our Christian faith will look different between individuals, because you know, we’re different.  Not every Christian looks like what they’re supposed to look like.  This is why denominations and First/Second/Third Baptist and Charismatics don’t bother me.  We each form that diversified body of Christ.

Sure, certain things in these traditions can go very wrong.  But I would pull together all the wisdom you can before making too many fast judgments.  Have grace and show grace, my friend.

— J

Hey J.S. Park. Thanks for your faithful labors that bless many. I just have a simple question which might require a lengthy answer. Could you give a comprehensive written exposition of the gospel? If that's too much to ask, then it's OK! Hahaha. But if you could answer that, that'd be great.

Anonymous

Hey my friend, I’d very kindly like to point you to my “Beliefs” page from my main blog here.

And while these aren’t completely related to the Gospel, they might help:

- You’re a “Skeptical Christian”?

- Why Do You Believe In Jesus?

- Remember You Are

I’ve made a personal vow to present the Gospel in every single sermon I preach, and so far I’ve kept it.  At times it was sort of a passing remark to Jesus, but lately I’m seeing that every part of the Bible and every facet of our lives is affected by the Gospel truth.

I also absolutely recommend this sermon by Timothy Keller.  I watch it every few months or so to remind myself of how Jesus affects my daily life.

- “The Gospel-Shaped Life”

Many blessings to you on your journey, dear friend.

— J