J.S. Park

RSS

Posts tagged with "Theology"

Does Prayer Even Do Anything? Doesn’t Stuff Happen Anyway?

peterpencomplex asked:

hi pastor j- i think your blog is AWESOME, but i didn’t have enough room to explain myself. just wanted to say i think you should keep being completely 100% honest/real, because that’s how everyone else knows their walk of faith is not in vain. wanted to ask you about prayer. why do i pray? am i the only one that feels like i am closing my eyes and whispering into a vast darkness of nothingness? why is God so insistent on prayer, yet I don’t see anything changing? (matthew 7).

seeking-a-revival asked:

When we pray for someone I know that our prayers alone cannot change them but when we see prayers answered God has listened and His spirit has helped the person we prayed for? I am not sure what to think when I see a prayer get answered no matter who or how many prayed for a specific cause.

 

Hey my friends: May I first please commend you because you both actually care about your prayer-life.  When people tell me, “The least we can do is pray,” I always think, "That’s the most we can do."

But I also know that prayer is extremely, ridiculously, awfully difficult.  Whenever a preacher starts with his guilt-trip — “When was the last time you really prayed, huh?” — I immediately feel like crap.  I’ve never heard anyone say, “Man I got that prayer thing on lock.”  I haven’t met a single person who’s fully confident in the art and results of prayer.

Mostly we feel icky about this because —

1) We feel too guilty to pray.  We’re not sure God wants to hear us after we looked at porn / cussed out my parents / gossiped for two hours / punched that guy in the ear.

2) We’re self-conscious about it.  We’re not sure how long, or what words, or if we’re doing it right, or if we’re truly sincere.

3) And of course: We secretly wonder if it even works.

 

So here’s one thing I know about prayer.

It’s totally natural to doubt and wonder if prayer is working.

At times I think God just does what He wants: so why should I pray?

At times I think the world will spin without me if I stop praying: so why should I pray?

Very often it feels like I’m chucking coins into the dark: so why should I pray?

At times I’m so distracted and distraught and intermittent during prayer, I don’t think God will hear that one.  Or maybe all that stuff about “unconfessed sin” or “not enough faith” is really true.  Or God didn’t answer a big one and I’m done with Him. So why, oh why, should I pray?

 

You see: Jesus taught his disciples to pray in a way that we’re participating in God’s story.   Let’s consider that in the Lord’s Prayer, there are several direct petitions, most remarkably, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

God wouldn’t challenge us to ask for things unless the turning of our hearts in His direction actually changes a part of the universe.

I know it sounds like a drunken power-trip. But in other words: Jesus is telling us that when we pray, that somehow this touches upon the heart of the Creator so that the very fabric of reality is moved and shifted and infinitely rippling in incalculable motion, so that we are active participants within the narrative of God.  None of us are bystanders or spectators, ever.

When we ask God to do something: even the very act of asking Him has caused a chain reaction.  It’s already moved you.  And sometimes, like a divine tower crane, God intervenes into history and orchestrates things for your good and for His glory. 

It’s by God’s very own grace and love and mercy that He gives us the opportunity to re-write a part of His narrative.  Just think of how crazy that is.  I don’t mean to give you a swole ego here.  I’m just saying: even this knowledge that God hears us should already change the way we pray.  It puts us in the right perspective, in reverence, with gratitude, because He hears you and me, little fragile squishy meaty bony fist-shaking people with our desperate daily worries and concerns.  He hears us.  The God who can smush galaxies with His thumbnail also has His ear on your heart.

When we don’t pray, it could be that by sheer grace, God just answers a prayer we forgot to pray for, to demonstrate He hears us anyway. 

It could be that He knows what we wanted before we get a chance to tell Him. 

It could be that by sheer grace, God withholds what we wanted, not because He has “something better in store,” but simply because you already have Him

 

In the end, asking “does prayer work” is probably the wrong question.  If I asked, “Does marriage work?” or “Does love work?” — we’ve suddenly diminished these things into mechanical institutions. 

Here’s an example.  Sometimes I feel like I’ve wasted a day when I don’t do enough, because to me, a productive day is about accomplishing a to-do list.  Most days I feel horrible because I haven’t done all that I set out to do.  Yet: If all I care about is “doing,” but I don’t ask “Why am I even doing this?” — then everything becomes a blunt tool for me to fulfill my daily agenda.  I’m taking the essence out of beauty and replacing it with function.  It’s making a living, but not a life.

Every time I ask, “Does prayer work?” — well, I’ve sort of turned prayer into a pragmatic savior.  It’s a good question, but it’s incomplete and only gives half the picture. 

Jesus taught us that prayer begins with, Our Father.  This is important.  This is the space in which rich, vibrant, heart-pulsing intimacy happens.  And when we can rest in Our Father just long enough, then I don’t think we’ll be too disappointed when our prayers don’t “serve” us. We trust that He’s already served us by His Son, who has opened the throne-room to the King who who heals our busted hearts.  This is the ultimate answered prayer that we didn’t even know we were looking for: but He answered anyway.

And it’s only a King-healed heart by the work of Christ that can actually appreciate and appropriately manage the physical provisions that God does give us.  Imagine if you got everything you wanted this very second.  Imagine instantly getting all the fame, the money, and the power in the world.  I would die.  So would you.  When I see a celebrity meltdown and say, “I would be way smarter with all that money,” that’s a terrible over-estimation.  God wants us to be a certain people so that we can do with His earthly blessings.  You’ve seen what happens when we get this out of order.  So it’s definitely okay to ask for things, but prayer is primarily about getting the character of Christ by osmosis.

 

My friends, a last word. I know it hurts when God doesn’t answer a prayer.  I know that very often, prayer can be a mystery, and we constantly second-guess ourselves, and we’ll feel powerless.  I want to humbly ask that you continue to talk with God regardless of what’s happening around you: because He’s there, regardless of what’s happening around you.  I want to ask that you soak in His grace before His gifts.  I want to ask that you trust Him, that even if He’s not working a miracle you can see right now, that He’s possibly working a much bigger miracle in you and the people around you, and even if nothing else changes, you will.  As corny and cliche as it sounds: I want to ask that you would approach Him as a child sits on his Father’s lap, to both ask for things and to bask in Him. 

— J.S.

Sep 8

My Sin Ain’t So Bad: Why Do I Need The Cross?

Anonymous asked:

I sometimes don’t understand the point of the cross. I don’t feel like I did anything bad enough for Jesus to die for. Some lustful thoughts that aren’t hurting anyone, an occasional lie that (again) doesn’t have consequences…Im not a great person, but almost nothing I or any “normal” person could do seems bad enough to earn Hell, or Jesus’s death. I want to feel thankful for it, but it’s hard when it also seems kinda unfair to make Jesus (or us) go through such wrath for such small things.

 

My friend, I know exactly what you mean, and I hope you will allow me the grace to dig deep on this one and perhaps challenge our thinking together.  I won’t try to convince you that you’re so bad and sinful and evil, and I also think it’s way more complicated than that.  We’re also free to disagree here, because I know that most of us do not see eye-to-eye on this one.

Before I even look at the idea of “sin,” I think it’s way more helpful to talk about our idea of “good.”  In my entire pastoral ministry, I never had difficulty talking about “sin” to the addicts, the ex-convicts, the struggling, the criminals.  They already knew they’ve messed it up. 

My difficulty was always with very “good people,” because what could I say?  They weren’t in desperate need for correction, for a Savior.  They would hear the sermon and say, “Oh yeah, I already do all that stuff.”  Most people in general are not doing black tar heroin or punching animals.

I came to Christ very late in life, and as an atheist, I absolutely believed that everyone was capable of moral good.  I still do believe that.  My morality back then was simple: I believed we all have a common human decency, and we ought to respect each other out of dignity.  Anyone who didn’t do this was a jerk.  I didn’t want to be a jerk. I thought this was common sense.  If you needed a “God” to love people, then I thought: you’re already a terrible person.

 

When I heard about Jesus “dying for my sin,” I felt two things.  1) This is absolutely stupid, because I didn’t ask for anyone to die for me, and 2) I was aware of the wrong things I did, and so at the very least, Jesus made a pretty nice gesture.

Here’s where my logic turned into Swiss cheese: and as I’ve said before, we might not agree, and our journeys might look very different from here. 

The Bible made it clear that my self-inflation and self-comparison were merely self-righteousness.  To say, “I don’t want to be a jerk” is still a jerk-ish thing to say, because I’m instantly condemning others.  My morality for “common human decency” was rigging my heart by pride, so that my motivation was to look like a good neighbor and upstanding citizen.  I would look down on others if they were not. 

On one hand, the “fear of God” is the worst kind of motivation to be a good person, but on the other hand, the fear of lettings others down or letting myself down was an equally false motivation.  Even respecting each other out of “dignity” was grading myself on a moral paradigm of performance that would crush me or crush others.   I was tricking my behavior while never really changing on the inside.  I was using shame and guilt-trips to motivate me into morality: and we all do it.

If we’re motivated to do good to look good and get good back, then of course: none of this is very good.  We need a pure motivation, a piercing kind of goodness that doesn’t need self-inflation.

Some of us are simply “bad” because we fall into being very “good.”  Trying to escape your life by thrills is just as toxic as trying to elevate yourself by self-will.

In Colossians 2, Paul doesn’t call out the obvious bad things that we do.  He says that our drive to be good people is a “deceptive philosophy.”  It’s a sort of inner-flagellation with an “appearance of wisdom” and “self-worship” and “false humility,” and it “lacks any value to restrain sensual indulgence.”  In other words: the only reason we’re good is so we don’t look bad, and it’s bad when that’s your only reason to be good.

 

The problem isn’t so much that I’m a “bad person,” but that I need healing from my selfishness.  We can do good, but it’s always for the wrong reasons.  I’m in constant seeking of approval and affirmation by my actions; I long for a love to tell me “You’re okay, you did great.”  We yearn to hear, “Well done.”  We want to be both fully known and fully loved, and until we get to Jesus and the love of his cross, we’re still in this desperate sin-filled race of validation.

Now it’s true that many of us might not do many wrong things.  But our capacity for evil also runs way deeper than we think.  No one is so bad that they’re beyond redemption, but no one is so good that they’re beyond corruption.  This is the plotline of nearly every successful movie and TV show, from Breaking Bad to The Dark Knight to Rugrats.

I look at the genocide in Iraq, or the pyramid schemes of CEOs, or the 27 million slaves in the world: and I think, I’m definitely not as bad as the perpetrators of these crimes.  I could never do what they did.

Then I think of myself in the same situation.  I think, What if I had grown up with the same temptations, upbringing, cultural “values,” and corrupted ideologies as the oppressors?  Would I be any better than them?  Would I really be so much more sophisticated than the worst people in the world?

What if I was Adam or Eve in that Garden?  How long before I would also rip the fruit off the tree?

You’ve heard of the Stanley Milgram Experiment.  It’s quite famous for answering the question, How could these Nazi “doctors” exterminate so many people but go home to kiss their family?  In other words, Did the Nazis simply follow orders?  And as far as the experiment goes: it appears that most people are willing to electrocute someone against their screams, so long as we’re told to by an authority figure to keep pressing the button.  Sixty-five percent of them kept going even when the subjects “died.”

Do you remember the old Twilight Zone episode called “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street”?  Hang with me here.  This small town has its power shut off at random, and all the townspeople blame each other and start looting and setting fires and eventually kill someone.  The surprise ending **spoilers** is that aliens were controlling the power to see how humans would react if you just shut off a few lights. 

At the end, the aliens say this:

First Alien: Understand the procedure now? Just stop a few of their machines and radios and telephones and lawn mowers, throw them into darkness for a few hours, and then sit back and watch the pattern.
Second Alien: And this pattern is always the same?
First Alien: With few variations. They pick the most dangerous enemy they can find, and it’s themselves. All we need do is sit back and watch.

And the narrator says this:

The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men.

I know it’s just a TV show.  But read the news long enough: and you’ll find people just like you and me, who never did a very wrong thing their whole lives, get thrown into a crazy situation and suddenly become the monsters on Maple Street.

 

All that to say: Each of us are capable of the worst atrocities imaginable, given the proper conflicts and resources and time.  It only takes the quiet bubble of a suburban Westernized neighborhood to truly fool ourselves into thinking we’re “good people.”  When you take away your roof, your toys, and your laws: we all become the enemy.

The only reason you probably haven’t killed your boss when you’re mad at him is because of the police.  It’s also a lot of work to buy a shovel and dig a hole.  The only reason you haven’t looted your local Walmart or punched your ex-boyfriend is because you’ve restrained yourself with societal norms. 

Is that true goodness?  Because in a post-apocalyptic world of zombies, we’re all the Governor.  None of us are Rick.  None of us are even as good as Carl. 

We’re all two steps away from utter chaos. 

The world is pretty crazy, but maybe we should be astonished that it’s not even as terrible as it could be. 

I know who I really am inside.  I’m a wretched, wicked, twisted up rebel.  I’ve only been good out of self-righteous motives, to prove I’m good: which means I’ve never done any good on my own.  None of us are truly altruistic at the core. 

Yet such deep sin points to a deep need for a correction of the universe.  How could we know things are very wrong unless there must be a very right?  Why do we feel anguish at injustice unless we knew of justice?  I’m sure a philosopher or psychologist or very witty blogger could beat me here point-by-point.  I’ve heard them all, and frankly, I’m jaded by all the debating.  I’ve lived long enough to know that we all love to justify ourselves to death, to get what we want, at the expense of each other.  And this is more reason and not less to believe that a righteousness must be outside us, beyond us, supernatural, not from this world, but breaking in, in order to bring healing to a busted up people.  

Jesus had to bear the curse of the hostility of a broken world, for all we could do and have done.  And though he had to die for the depth of our sin, he was glad to die for the death of our sin: because he loves us.

I choose to believe, with my weak little faith, that the righteousness we need comes from Jesus.  It’s out of his own self-initiated, one-way, just-because love, and he expects nothing back: which is the only way our hearts could be big enough to do the same.  I believe, in the end, that the cross cuts us down to our true size and exposes our great need.  But there in the cross, we also have a Great Savior, who does not say, "Look what you did to me," but instead, "Look what I’ve done for you."  This is the only kind of grace that will wreck my sin and bring me back to who I was meant to be.

— J.S.

Sep 2

I’m starting to find that everyone’s Christian faith is utterly, uniquely different. Not so different on loving Jesus and loving people — but the way we wrestle through doctrine by strict academia or by poetic reflection, how we sing at the top of our lungs or in quiet osmosis, how some of us pray at sunrise in a pew or at three a.m. on a beach, how some of us are dying to journal or would rather die than journal, how our political tensions clash so broadly and brutally, how one forgives so quickly and the other is bitter indefinitely, how some of us are strong in faith or we’re faith-weaklings, how we each hold onto quirks like Bible translations and worship genres and preaching styles, how we like to gather in crowds of thousands or a group of a dozen.

There’s no need to fight over these things. No need to accuse another of being wrong, or to try to be better than the ‘other’ church, or to recast the same mold. We are so many shades of an endless jewel, a glorious community of unified diversity fueled by the endless imagination of God. I hope we don’t dash ourselves on our personalities. There is room for you and for me in this Body.

- J.S.

Sep 2

Doctrinal Deathmatch: Catholics Vs. Charismatics Vs. Protestants - When Doctrine Divides Us (And Why It Doesn’t Have To)

bare-memoirs asked:

Hey J.S. I have been seeking more to my faith than what I’ve got now. However others have put me down by saying I’m just seeking to ‘work’ my way into heaven. I have asked for advice from others and also was put down. But I find much comfort in all of the thought that goes into the stances that Catholics and Orthodox holds. They give me much guidance when others haven’t even thought of the issues I have encountered … Is the condemnation that I’m receiving for seeking insight from the more traditional churches really within reason? Am I wrong for wanting more to my faith (and going this route)? …

lmazel asked:

Hey, Pastor Park! Hope you’re doing great and hopefully getting some well-deserved rest. I had a quick question- what are your thoughts on charismatics? I just went to a charismatic church for the first time and I certainly had never seen anything like it; I would love any information you have.

 

Hey my dear friends: I want to commend you right upfront about your constant searching for truth, for good theology, for a vibrant pulsing faith.  All of us are still learning and seeking and not fully arrived, and I appreciate your earnest hearts in this. 

I’m also sorry for any ridicule you might have faced from your own church community for bringing up such curiosity.  No one should ever shame you for having sincere questions about faith, tradition, church, and history.

Please allow me first to quote the inimitable C.S. Lewis about other religions, which is also helpful to understand our view on Christianity itself.

"If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through … If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest one, contain at least some hint of the truth … As in arithmetic - there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong: but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others."

I’m going to extrapolate Lewis’s idea further to mean that even within Christianity, there are slight differences in traditions and cultures and people-groups that will create a distinct flavor for Christian faith in different parts of the world.  And while there are definitely false man-made institutions with Catholics or Protestants or Pentecostals, each group has at least a core foundation of truth with a capital T.

 

So really, Christianity will look different for most people while maintaining core truths about Jesus, because Christian faith has the nuance to respect individuality while sharing a collective universal unity.

I think if we get to the bottom of what we truly believe and ask the very hard questions, we’re each capable of the discernment to separate the good from the not-so-good here, or as Aristotle reportedly said,

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

 

If we’re being honest here, then we find that there are strengths and weaknesses among the traditions of Protestants and Catholics and Pentecostal/Charismatics, each able to fill out where the others are lacking.

The following will probably be over-simplifying and generalizing, but short of writing a book, here are some important things that every Christian tradition can be aware of.  I apologize in advance for my ignorance in some areas and I’m very much open to being corrected.  I also hope we have enough humility and self-awareness to see the flaws in each of our subcultures.

 

Protestants tend to really emphasize the relational love of God; it proposes a faith that tosses out performance-driven anxiety by the go-to verses Ephesians 2:8-9.  The Protestant service really showcases the sermon as the axis of worship service because the Word of God is what changes lives.  There’s often a raw authenticity in church, a need for community and conversation and relevance.

Yet Protestants tend to be weak about emphasizing the Greatest Commandment, especially “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”  Almost never do I hear Protestant preachers say, “I love you, God.”  We’re too busy saying, “God loves us.”  It turns Jesus into an abstract concept of fuzzy warm acceptance.  We’re in love with the idea of love, but very rarely do we consider loving God in return. 

So while Protestants have a decent track record of generosity, social justice, fellowship, and feel-good faith, they’re pretty bad about purity, hypocrisy, spiritual disciplines, and taking the church seriously.  There’s a sort of lite diet fluffiness in most Protestant churches that leads to laziness or lukewarm living.  Protestants are so anti-legalism that we make a legalist into a Nazi boogeyman, and we throw out the nourishing depth of the biblical commandments. 

 

Catholics have these wonderful buildings that truly reflect the beautiful aesthetic of God.  They take all the sacraments seriously.  Their rituals are breathtaking.  And though there’s a lot of joking about “Catholic guilt,” I’ve said before that guilt often points to the truth that something is broken in the world, and to dismiss guilt completely is also to deny we’re human.  Yes, it’s wrong to shame others.  Anyone in Christ is free of condemnation.  But Protestants take this to the extreme and yell “Don’t guilt-trip me” all the time. It’s almost impossible to find modern millennial Christians who are guilty over anything, so they don’t much care about what God cares about. 

The Catholic tradition takes Ephesians 2:10 very seriously, with our good works being the fruit of our genuine faith.  Catholics recognize the cost of grace, particularly by keeping the crucified Jesus front and center in all their iconography.  It’s too simplistic to say that Catholics are all about “works save you,” but a thoughtful view of Catholic doctrine shows that good works are absolutely important in the believer’s life.  Again, I think Protestants are too quick to yell “Pharisee” and we think "effort is legalism," but it’s not.  Tradition and rules and commands are important.  Protestants like myself could really learn from this.

Yet Catholics (and I want to be fair here, because I’m an outsider to this), do tend to be nominal and ritualistic.  Sometimes they take the institutions too far, like the time my brother almost got in a fight at a Catholic church.  And while Catholics are pretty good about discipline and purity and knowing the richness of church history, they’re not always the best at radical generosity.  I see these huge cathedrals and I can’t help but wonder if that money could’ve gone to the sick and starving.  Much of it feels self-involved and overly pietistic, but not engaged with culture.

 

Pentecostals and Charismatics are just awesome.  I mean come on: our faith needs joy.  Our faith needs the Holy Spirit to do anything. And many of our traditions today, like praise music on Sundays and raising hands during worship and on-fire preaching, ALL come from the Pentecostal tradition.  I’m jealous of my Charismatic friends who are so free and boisterous and joyful in Christ.

Yet of course, I’ve seen the danger in Pentecostal churches all over South Korea.  You think those Prosperity Preachers are bad in America, you really haven’t seen anything until you visit Asia.  The emotionalism and outright bad theology leads to corruption, hierarchies, cults, and all sorts of wild floor-rolling and visions and tongues and bizarre eel feasts.  Unfortunately, the extreme end of Pentecostalism results in a frenzy free-for-all, and it can be impossible to rein it in.

 

You see: God is the light and we are the prism.  No one has the absolute say-all singular doctrine on Jesus.  No one gets to monopolize him with their tiny little 3 lb. brains.  Jesus is the same truth, yet we all reach him quite differently: because we’re all different.  And we need each other.  If every Christian looked the same as you or me: we wouldn’t have the church, but tyranny. 

Some of us are dying to journal or we would rather die than journal.  Some us get Jesus from Chris Tomlin and others are more Switchfoot and symphonies.  I get more out of Les Miserables than Kirk Cameron.  I’m a Reformed Calvinist but I’m not okay with double election and a bunch of other bullet points in the Reformed camp.  Consider that Philip went to the Ethiopian eunuch and Jesus went to the Syrophoenician woman and Paul went to the pagan Gentiles. And faith is way more simple than we make it.

In the end, we love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.  And those who are not in Christ are still our neighbors, so we love them too. If we truly believe someone is wrong about their theology, then we should be on our knees praying in tears for them instead of feeling superiority.  And ultimately, our traditions serve us and we do not serve them.  We serve Jesus and each other.

If someone would shun your curiosity for investigating the rich customs of Christian liturgy and history, both the good and the bad: then certainly this person needs a gracious conversation about why our forefathers matter, and how even the greatest thinkers were still wrestling with our questions today, and we’re all still seeking every facet of Jesus as the colorful body of Christ.  It is possible to learn from both the ups and downs of our ancestors without diminishing the whole thing.

Jesus has a much bigger imagination than you or me alone.  Heaven will not be divided by denomination nor our boxed up thinking.  God can bring together our cultural values and individual stories into a wonderful mosaic of glorious truth, a tapestry of Christian heritage that makes us more human, and not less.  We can learn together, and from each other.

— J.S.

Sep 1

Is Suicide An “Unforgivable Sin” That Will Send You To Hell?

alotoflittlecandles asked:

Maybe this is too big of a question, or just something we can’t know for certain, but how do you think God views victims of suicide?

h-hopkins said:

What does the bible day about suicide? If you are a born again believer that commits suicide, where would you go?

 

Hey there dear friends: First of all, if you have even a tiny inkling of anyone who is contemplating suicide or self-harm, please do everything you possibly can to reach out to them. Now. This second.

Too many times, we turn these huge issues into theological head-games and we forget that real people actually wrestle with self-condemnation every single day.  I don’t ever want to talk about suicide with a cold doctrinal point of view without making a call of action first.  I don’t want to be one more blogger who loses sight of actual breathing human beings: so please, please, please go do something about this and participate in the divine work of restoration.

So then, a few things to consider.  As always, please feel free to skip around.

 

1) The church in general makes sweeping dogmatic statements as a safeguard for bad behavior: but this removes any nuance in the conversation.

I see a larger problem within our church culture that tends to simplify the discussion into 100-or-zero type reductionism.

When someone says, “Suicide will send you to Hell,” most likely what they’re saying is, "You have to say that suicide will send you to Hell or else you risk allowing people to think it’s okay."

In other words: Our church culture tends to run towards extreme theologies because we don’t want to endorse a slippery slope, which is why we purport these strangling fundamentalist views on Creation, Scripture, sexuality, and Hell.  Very often, Christians are so afraid of the dreaded “stumbling block” that we take a very hardline position for or against something, just to be 1000% clear that we’re not promoting any opposing view.  

The danger, of course, is that we begin to trump issues over people without rational conversations, and we do not reach people where they are.  We end up saying, “You come to us,” which is the very opposite of what God did by coming to us first.

 

2) An entire Christian subculture of fear therefore produces toxic overreactions and backlash.

Pastors freak out when it comes to the issue of sex and dating, so we create an exaggerated church subculture of weird dating ideas that’s actually saying, “I’m going to scare the sex right out of you.”  This leads to neurotic harmful ideas about dating and unhealthy views of sex and purity.

It’s why so many people freaked out when the band Gungor said they no longer believe in a literal 7-day Creation or an historical Noah, because Christians suddenly thought “Well now everyone will throw out the entire Bible!”  While I mostly disagree with Gungor (and they were a bit condescending in their blog about it), I think most Christians brutally demonized them into a bloody pulp: when mostly they just wanted a discussion.

The church subculture says things like like “suicide equals Hell” because

1) we’re afraid to be bullied by other Christians who will yell “heresy,”

2) we want to beat our chests with King Kong theology in total confident bravado, and

3) we find it safer to go against what “the world” believes because it feels like we’re holding ground in victory against some common enemy. 

It’s why the church goes nuts over cussing, tattoos, midriffs, Mark Driscoll, the “enemy,” and “persecution,” but we’re not going nuts helping the poor and oppressed and depressed.

[Because of these reasons, I also no longer self-identify as a Reformed Calvinist.  It’s just too much arrogant chest-beating and no subtlety.  I’m with Bill Cosby on this one.]

 

3) God is bigger than my limited, narrow, short-sighted judgment call.

I absolutely believe that God regards each life on an individual case-by-case basis so that no two spiritual journeys can be evaluated by the same blanket theology. God has more grace and wisdom and clarity than my tiny two-foot doctrine.

Maybe all this is too soft or too easy of a view on things.  But I actually think black-and-white categories are too soft and easy.  It requires zero thoughtfulness to say “Yeah he’s going to Hell,” especially when the Bible doesn’t have such black-and-white-ness either.

It’s plausible that someone’s suicide could be a total rebellion against God’s gift of life or some kind of pagan death-worship.  In that case, maybe that person risks the fate of Hell.  But on the other hand, it’s also plausible that God does not judge this person based on one action at the very end of his or her life, but sees the person as a holistic whole.

Let’s look at it this way.  Let’s say today for the very first time, you cheated on your spouse or you cheated your taxes or you cussed out your parents or you did black tar heroin.  And Jesus decided to come back right now to judge the earth.  Should God judge you based on your singular previous action today?  Should God see your first time slipping up with this particular sin and say, “I will judge you only for this” …?  I mean really, that would suck: going to Hell for the one thing you happened to mess up today.

Let’s ask: At what point should God judge you or me?  In the middle of cheating on a spouse?  In the middle of a tantrum or that nasty blog comment or the thousandth time crawling back to porn?  In the middle of any one of our billions of horrible angry detestable thoughts about others?  Or should God judge us on the basis of His Son’s sacrifice on that cross two-thousand years ago?

The thing about suicide is that it happens once.  I know a lot of other events lead up to it: but in a frenzied moment of self-loathing or depression or numbness, which unless you’ve been through it, is nearly impossible to articulate or understand, sometimes a person feels there is no other option but to take their own life. 

It’s an entirely isolated action made within an impenetrable vacuum of desperation.  As a limited human being with a 3 lb. brain, I can’t simply declare that God will send this person to Hell based on one action within the constraints of human time. 

God does not exist within our view of time and does not judge us based on a singular point in history, but sees an individual across an entire history of life: and God is so much more gracious and nuanced and loving than our blanket-bomb theologies. 

Jesus transcends our black-and-white categories by seeing each situation on their own, by seeing each prostitute and prodigal and tax collector and adulterer as a story sculpted over a life-time. 

I believe so long as our lives passionately rest in faith in the grace of God by His Son, however imperfectly, then God will see our hearts of faith rather our hands of failure, and we will be shown mercy.

To add: By all accounts, Robin Williams met Jesus at some point during rehab.  Either way, it’s not for me to judge his fate, nor millions of others.  I’m banking on God’s grace to be sufficient and enough. 

 

4) I would never, ever endorse suicide as an option: but I would also never, ever declare that suicide is a trapdoor to Hell.  I’m not God.  I don’t get to say those things. 

So do I believe that suicide will automatically land you into Hell?

My unpopular opinion within Christian culture is no

I know we’re supposed to say an emphatic yes because some kid with shaky faith might think that suicide is acceptable. 

But I believe that we’re way too overly confident in our bold opinions about suicide and Scripture and sex.  I think that neo-fundamentalism is a chokehold on thoughtful conversations about life and faith and God. 

So my God-given duty is to see those around me who are hurting and to serve them.  I know what it’s like to want to drive into a tree, to cut myself to dull the pain, to want to end it all.  And fortunately, I know what it’s like to have friends move towards me despite me, to love on me even when I refused their love, and to endure me and show me grace.  That’s the only theology I care about: the kind that doesn’t debate this stuff, but leans in to people.

In 2 Timothy 2:19, Paul says, “The Lord knows those who are his.”  It’s not a human right to judge.  It’s only my right to serve those I see now, by the grace of God, and to pull others away from the edge of death to the best of my own limited strength.

— J.S.

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

jspark3000:

image

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 is your belief and stand about Rapture? & the 7 year tribulation? As Christians we believe in Christ's second coming through rapture but I've read an article that contradicts everything I know & studied. Would you shed some light to this Pastor?

Hey there my dear friend: I know this can be a divisive and scary topic, and there are plenty of smarter people than me who have written tons of books about it and could probably argue any other point I try to make.

The truth is: It’s hard to know exactly what to believe about this, and certain differences in our view of the End Times will absolutely NOT determine whether we are “truly Christian.”  Also, since it’s one of those things that we can’t fully know (like Heaven or predestination or what Jesus looks like), then mostly it’s speculation and guesswork. 

Maybe someone will blast me for saying that, but I mean: I think we’re all thinking it.  I won’t pretend to be confident about something that I can’t know.  As it is, I’m just trying to believe the Gospel by a shred of faith, and I refuse to be pressured by a doctrine-nerd to presume some secondary doctrine the “right way.”  I’m simply asking that we all be humble about this, because we could all be wrong.

Usually when someone asks me an unknown doctrinal question with conflicting views, I try to say, “At least this much must be true.” 

 

So here’s what we know about the End Times:

1) Jesus is coming back, this time a King instead of a servant.

2) There will be a global, catastrophic, awe-inducing judgment on the world.

3) There is a “rapture,” in which Christian believers will either be taken to Heaven, set aside from judgment, or be given their heavenly bodies.  Some would say all three.

4) The earth will be transformed somehow by both total devastation and restoration.

5) Jesus will reign on the earth.

 

Here’s what we don’t know:

1) It’s not immediately clear that “signs” will indicate when Jesus is coming back. The Bible says we don’t know when it’ll happen and it’s a sin to make claims.

2) The judgment is often coupled with a period called the “tribulation,” in which people “left behind” will have a time to decide if they want to believe.  The tribulation will be marked with wars, disease, disasters, and political conflicts. What scholars disagree on is how long, whether believers will or will not experience it, or if it has already happened.

3) Jesus will institute a thousand year reign of peace where Satan is locked away.  Unbelievers will continue to grow because of sinful hearts. Satan will be released one last time for one last judgment, and then finally an Eternal Kingdom will reign. Some scholars say this is all metaphorical.

4) Most of the symbols — the dragon, the mark of the beast, the birthing woman, the humanoid locusts, the seven bowls, seals, trumpets, scrolls — are open for debate. Many read Revelation as literally as possible, while others recognize poetic structures and allegories.  Some say Revelation is chronological, while others say it is mostly flashbacks and flashforwards.

 

Apostle John wrote about 2000 years ago that he was living in the last hour.  But both Moses and Peter said that in the mind of God, a day is a thousand years and vice versa.  I believe we may be living in the last few minutes of that last hour, but I make no special claims.  We can only be ready and stand guard, just like Jesus said.  And when he does return: well, it will be awesome.

— J.S.

Question: If God Is Good, Then Why Did —?

jspark3000:

image Anonymous asked:

How do you respond when someone says “If God is good then why did my sister die, why does he let people suffer and why does he let all these bad things happen in the world?”

 

You know, I’ve read tons of books on God’s goodness — even one that was over 500 pages long — with tons of great arguments and stories and victories and apologetic defenses, and I always agree with all the points.  I’ve heard great sermons about God being in control and I can “amen” them all day long. 

But when the hard times roll in: all my ideas about the goodness of God fall flat.  When the trials come, my rock-solid theology evaporates.  When life suckerpunches me in the gut, I double over and don’t get up for a long time.

In the face of real pain, life gets too messy for pat answers, cold comfort, and even well-meaning doctrine.  Life in the moment tends to throw the Bible out the window.

If someone were to ask me, “If God is good then why did —?” … I would not even TRY to answer that one, because we’re not looking for some kind of logical rationale. 

Oh, there are good answers for that one, and I believe them all, and we could sit down over coffee in our comfortable sweatpants in an air-conditioned room and discuss those reasons in calm collected voices: but when you experience the cancer, the car accident, and the phone call that changes everything, you’re not hearing me about God’s mysterious ways.

 

I say that not to avoid the question, but rather to confess: I am completely inadequate to explain to you every part of God’s Plan for your life.  I once preached an entire series on trials, but later deleted it because it felt so trite to explain God’s actions this way. 

The truth is, I really don’t know why God makes some of the author’s choices that He does.  Not every story ends with a ribbon and bowtie.  The Bible is the same way.  We don’t get to see all of God’s reasons in this lifetime.  Sometimes life just sucks, our hearts hurt, bad things happen, and it’s okay to be pissed off.

Do you know who else is pissed at the injustice of the world?  God is.  Maybe that’s no comfort to you, but God is right there in your struggle and He completely understands. 

This world is broken, fractured, fallen, and hostile.  We live in a condition called sin that was not part of our original design, and we feel the effects of it everyday. God is angry FOR you, He hates injustice as much as you do, and He hurts when you hurt.  In the worst moment of your life, your Heavenly Dad is cradling you with all grace available to you, even if you reject Him.

BUT: None of this is God’s “Plan B.”  Somehow, God is sovereign and writing this story from beginning to end.  He’s not falling asleep at the control deck and He’s working all things together for a powerful, glorious good.  Even though God did NOT cause any of this evil, He still lets some things happen for a reason. 

We can’t always see that reason, and even if we could, I don’t know if that would be enough to satisfy you.  I myself have a ton of questions about this life when I get to Heaven, and I believe God will answer them generously.  I am much too small to make ultimatums on God, but I believe God is fair enough to answer my Ultimate Questions. 

 

The most important thing here is that if your friend is struggling, to NOT list the “Ten Reasons Why God Is Good.”  Don’t be the guy who carpet-bombs with cliches to rush along the process of healing.  Too many preachers do this too quickly, pack up their little sermon notes, and hope that we can store this backpocket theology for a rainy day — when all the while, the hurting congregation just needs someone to be there.

Your mission is to simply be there in the flesh for your friend and be hurt right along with them.  Get Romans 12:15 all over that.

Jesus did the same.  He suffered what we suffer in solidarity with us.  He was crushed not only to exchange our sins for joy, but also to heal our hearts with a peace beyond our circumstances.  He reminds us in his resurrection that this world is not our final home.  And we’re called to go at our friends with this kind of love, hope, patience, and wisdom — because your presence is really enough. 

When life gets hard, often the only thing I really have is this simple shred of belief that God is with me: that He came to rescue me from this broken body and is daily ushering His Kingdom into my weary soul.  And God has blessed me with a community to reinforce His work in me.  I have an amazing group of friends to hear me vent and weep and hurt, to encourage me and cheer me on and cry with me, and I’m reminded of how Jesus made us His Body to experience loving fellowship: and it’s this Body that points me to the simple presence of Jesus, which is just enough for one more step. 

We are not short of reasonable theology for the goodness of God, but when it comes to the gritty ordeal of life — the best theology is you.

 

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. — Romans 8:18

And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. — 1 Thessalonians 5:14

15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. — Ephesians 4:15-16

Christian Cliches Don’t Work For Tragedy.

jspark3000:

If you talk to anyone who’s involved in a huge tragedy, you can’t say those cute cliches like “Pain forces you to grow” or “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” It sounds hollow and stupid, and I would slap myself in the face if I said those things too.

I believe more and more that not every pain has a lesson. I think sometimes that pain is just pain, that life can be a mystery, and it’s all part of our weird wild crazy human experience. Pain is part of being human. We don’t need to spiritualize everything. We don’t need to wrap things up with a bowtie. Sometimes there is unresolved tension and we need to let it bleed.

However, here’s why I believe in the Christian faith.

I believe in Jesus because his life means God actually showed solidarity with us in our pain. I know that doesn’t solve pain right now. But when I’m hurting, I don’t need a lecture or a connect-the-dots-theology. What I need is a friend who will stay with me side by side and hear my venting, embrace my shaking, love me through my slobbery flailing mess. I need a presence who both understands my pain but is just enough above it to lead me through it.

And if I believe the narrative of Jesus, then we have both a person who has been through what I’ve been through and a divine presence who can help pull me through the worst of it. Jesus on a cross showed an unresolved tension that bled — but Jesus out of a tomb showed there really is a bowtie to this whole thing, a far-off nearly imperceptible light at the end of this tunnel.

Maybe we will find out the “reasons” one day for why everything happened. Maybe they will satisfy us, or not. But by then, the answers probably won’t matter anymore. Because we’ll be face to face with the God who was with us all along, the only one who never left us in our mess and who truly understood us as we are, venting and angry and hurting and all, and we’ll find out He really did love us despite us, and He suffered infinitely more than we could ever bear to face on our own.

I hold onto this hope. It feels foolish some days: but on those days, it’s all I have and all I need.

— J.S.

Wrestling Through Our Religious Differences and Our Wildly Varying Christian Convictions

wherethecherryblossomsdance asked:

Could I ask you a question? Is it a bad thing to want everyone, regardless of their religion and faith to just worship together and love one another? Is it really wrong to want to go to someone who is Muslim, Jewish, Pagan, and go “Let’s worship together?” I feel that as long as different religions and beliefs attack one another, insisting that one is right and all others are wrong, this cannot become a reality, and it saddens me. I want to see us all get along and join together. Is that so bad?

tworoadsdivergedblog asked:

Something I’ve always wondered is how we (Christians) all serve one God but differ so much when it comes to doctrine (sure, there are basic things we agree upon, but we also have so many little things we disagree with that we have to label ourselves) ? Are we just simply not meant to fully understand the truth? I get that we are all different, and we can’t put God in a box, but if we are all in a relationship with one God, how is it that we aren’t unanimous when it comes to interpreting scripture and whatnot? We can’t all be right, so how do we know what is right to believe? Our feelings? Convictions?

 

Hey there my dear friends, to be very truthful: this has always been a tough one for me. Because —

- I’ve had relatives pass away who did not know Christ, and I’ve sincerely hoped that some part of them had accepted Christ and that it was enough.

- If I’m to believe Christianity is real, then I’m to accept that everything Jesus taught on Hell is also real, and this is not a particular reality that I find easy to face.

- Our wildly varying Christian convictions sometimes leads me to think that none of us have it right, and maybe there are different ways to the Truth after all.

- I also consider myself a skeptical Christian, so I might not even be the best person to re-affirm your thoughts here either.

While I know we won’t all see eye-to-eye nor can I hope to answer all your concerns, here’s the bare minimum that I believe. 

 

- I do believe there is an essential absolute Truth with a capital T.  I believe Prime Truth exists regardless of my desire that it didn’t exist, and it’s objective and non-contingent to myself.  1+1 must equal 2. Matter either exists in a certain space or doesn’t.  Schrödinger’s cat is alive or dead or both.

 

- I believe some people are in the right and some people are in the wrong.  This means we can’t always have it both ways.  Once you decide upon a particular path, you’ve been launched into momentum.  What I mean is, when you start singing a song or giving a public speech, you’re now in the middle of it.  If you say, “No wait, I would like to sing another song at the same time as this one” or “I want to say two speeches now,” you can’t.  You may only start again.

When we try to presume upon all choices in a binary situation (and there are many close-ended situations), we want “the best of both worlds.”  We’re saying, “No matter what I choose, I want it all.”  It’s like trying to smuggle in the benefits of a relationship while staying single.  This is denying the common reality of our choices, and it lacks both integrity and substance.

Please hear me though: It’s always great to share life with people of other beliefs.  There is zero reason that I give you less dignity no matter how deeply our differences might go (and maybe for once, we can avoid Godwin’s Law).  In fact, me loving you is never based upon you being in the right or wrong, and if your thinking is wrong, it’s even more reason for me to love you, and not less.  Yet the least loving thing I can do is to say “believe whatever you want,” because that means I love you less, and not more.

However, I’m not going to coerce you into the right by telling you the consequences of the wrong.  In other words, the threat of Hell is never a successful motivation for Heaven.  The point of Christianity is not to pit some dichotomy between a true or false question: because only people do that to you.  Rather, I’ve always known faith to be slowly awakening to the reality of who God is and what He’s done for us.

 

- I believe there are is a core essential truth, but then our secondary subjective experience points towards this truth.  When a sunset evokes a feeling of nostalgia and a soaring in our hearts: this subjective feeling of emotion is pointing to the objective truth of beauty.  Yet we’ll all feel this differently, with a range of memories and stories and associated smells and sounds and sensations, each so infinitely apart from the next person. 

As Neil Gaiman said:

"Everybody has a secret world inside of them … Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds … Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe."

 

- Despite my daily doubting and my intermittent anger at history gone wrong, I believe there must be a True God.  I believe reality has been revealed through Jesus, the incarnation of the True God, and that he jumpstarted healing in this broken world in one place, at one time, at one point in human history, as an invitation effective for eternity. 

No other religion, in my earnest opinion, even comes close to this idea.  We didn’t have to find God, but God came to us.  We don’t add God to our story, but this story is already His.  And I don’t think Jesus died on a cross to say, “Okay so get on any path to find the Truth now, up to you guys.”  He said, "It is finished." 

But how we arrive to this truth and how this event speaks to us will be so highly dependent upon our uniquely wired individual personalities.  No two people will see Jesus exactly the same, though he remains the same; yet even more amazing, two people can pray to this same God at the same time and reach two conclusions about their lives, in the same moment. 

 

- We need room in the body of Christ for our different subjective experiences of the one objective reality.  God has a bigger imagination than you or me, and to limit Him into our own singular preconceived doctrine is to shrink God into a de-powered toy.  When you look at the vast myriad of people in the world: you’re seeing the imaginative creative power of God.  Some of us prefer structure and authority and tradition, and that’s not legalism.  Some of us need a sermon podcast or we just reflect by a river.  If you ask me what a Christian looks like, I would say a Christian looks like you and me.  Yet it’s not God who gets this confused, but us.

Of course, I know that cults exist.  I know that some people can hijack the beauty of Jesus into their own agendas by slightly twisting the truth with slick language.  I’m all for orthodoxy and clear theology and fighting heresy.  I just think we’re too quick to get on a high horse about this, and we would rather demonize than gently instruct others.  The moment we lose humility, we always lose Christ, and will therefore lose love.

An easy way to tell if you have the right convictions is to ask: Is my theology making me more gracious and humble with such truth? If your theology is making you less gracious and more of a jerk, then you haven’t really met Jesus and you’re still just playing with religion.

 

- In the end, I can only be loving if I tell you the truth, and I will tell you that truth in love. 

I don’t mean to say that “speaking the truth in love” is some kind of sneaky way to disguise my truth with nicer words.  I’m not trying to Trojan-horse you my ideology.  I mean to say that I believe the True Story of the World rests upon a redeemer who came to save a people who could not save themselves: to save weary prideful sinners like me, and that this grace is available this very second. No theology must make this difficult to understand. It will cost you your life; but so does everything else, except that Jesus in return gives you the only True Life. I don’t want you to waste one more moment without knowing this love.  I have to tell you about the one who changed my life. There is a fountain, and you can drink freely, and it’s what you’ve been looking for your whole life.

You may arrive there one day when your car flips over into the next lane and you emerge without a scratch.  You could be at a park, watching the stillness of a lake, a single leaf swirling on the surface in a slow dance with the wind: and you’ll know.  You could see a father with his son in a yard, chasing each other with roars and countdowns, laughter beating from their chests: and you’ll see.  You may read of heroic sacrifice in a disaster and weep, or see a movie where the villain wins and it doesn’t sit right, or you’ll cry for justice over the downtrodden: and you’ll lift your eyes. 

We all find that one day, whether at five or twenty-five or eighty-five, whether in fortune or fame or failure, that we want to be vulnerable and known and somehow still loved: and that somewhere, an unfailing inexhaustible love must exist, regardless of who we are or what we’ve done.  I believe such truth came to us in a person, and I find myself loving such a person to be the greatest adventure, the greatest gift, the truest journey.  And in finding Him: I found that He had found me.

— J.S.

What About All Those People Who Never Got A Chance With God?

Anonymous asked:

I have been raised in a Christian household & attended a Christian school my entire life. However, I only started taking my relationship “seriously” with God after graduating. Why did God choose ME to know of Him and place me in my aforementioned environments? What about those who live life never knowing about God? Why doesn’t God reach out to them? Since I know God, is it my duty to spread His Word? What about Catholics/Muslims etc.? Am i just blessed? But Isn’t that unfair to the nonbelievers?! :/

 

Hey my dear friend, thank you for your very sensitive gentle heart about this.  As an Asian born in America, I know that I could’ve easily been a Buddhist in Korea or a Shintoist in Japan or a Confucianist in China.  Or even a Communist or Marxist or Socialist.  Or a tribal villager living on a Filipino island.  Or one of those Tibetan monks in the mountains who only eats apricots and lives to 120.

This issue has always bothered me, as I found it rather disturbing that God would geopolitically confine Himself to one people-group for millions of years, and only recently branch out in the church era.  Even then, I would think a “loving God” could offer every person an opportunity to hear about Him, at least once, if He truly loved us.

So let’s consider a few things, some which we might disagree on, which is okay.  This is only from my own limited understanding of doctrine, the church, and our culture.

 

1) We actually have no idea how God is reaching people in the world right now.

I think a Westernized Christianese churchgoer tends to assume that evangelism is a package deal in which we make a specific offer, and if someone “accepts Jesus in my heart,” then it’s a closed deal.  Like this is the only way to go.  This is very much a post-Enlightenment idea in which all information must be transmitted by systematic form, line by line, until we can regurgitate it verbatim.

Yet if we think Jesus can only be shared by the confines of human language, then our view of God is much, much too small.

While I’m 100% supportive of mission teams, evangelism, and preaching the Gospel as much as possible, I think we’re limiting God when we box Him inside an academic Western checklist.  The Bible makes clear that God can speak through dreams, circumstances, images, visions, and in one case, even an ass.  We simply have no idea what our creative God can do with the limitless spectrum of people in this vast world.

Of course I don’t rely on this to dismiss evangelism, and at the very least, our faith must contain words.  But you’ve heard those stories of isolated tribal villages that have received dreams about Jesus and are now faithful Christians, without any contact from the outside world.  It could be crazy, sure, but I don’t ever want to downplay it either.  And the only way to find out this happened is to visit them, and if you find out they don’t know Jesus, then dear Christian: it’s suddenly on you.

In the end, I would never put it past God to reveal Himself in an imaginative number of ways that do not fit our tiny paradigm. 

 

2) It’s difficult to determine whether a person has “enough knowledge” to “be saved.”

I’ve always said that the Gospel is simple enough for the five year old and deep enough for the eighty-five year old.  The criminal who hung next to Jesus was saved in the last minutes of his life; a man like Nicodemus who knew about God his whole life was more lost than the prostitutes and prodigal sons.

This must mean that someone who dies in a school shooting and calls out to his bare little knowledge of Jesus could be saved.  A child in a tsunami or a person with Down syndrome or a man who’s lost his memories could still, at some point, understand the Gospel and not merely be saved, but safe. 

I don’t mean to sugarcoat this whole thing and say that a tiny head-knowledge will work for everyone.  I wouldn’t bet my life on it.  I just want us to ask: How much faith is really enough to get saved?  At what point must our lives prove what we really believe?  Where is the cut-off for saving knowledge and how do we even determine that?  Is there some point where our faith activates salvation?  Or is our faith truly given by grace and more about the object of our faith than the amount?

Romans 1 tells us that God shows Himself through everything, so that none are without Him.  This could be a stretch, but I might even say that God sees our faith by the grace He apportioned to each of us, so that we’re each accountable for what we individually know.  A teacher who tests his students on untaught material is a bad teacher, and maybe I’m being too soft here: but I don’t believe God is a bad teacher.

 

3) Not just anyone goes to Hell. 

Prisons aren’t built for people who don’t believe in the police.  They’re built for criminals.  I know this analogy is not perfect, but the concept of Hell is simply justice for those unrepentant people who’ve been a part of rape, genocide, oppression, slavery, and abuse.  I’m sure it makes God sick to His stomach: but if He was not a God against injustice, then He wouldn’t be loving at all. 

I’ve written several posts on this here, here, and here.

 

4) Seriously, God chose you.  Which is both good news and a wake-up call.

I believe that we must absolutely rejoice that God has called us.  If you’re a Christian, I hope you never get over it.  The God of the universe knocked on the door of your heart and said hello, to you.  This is nothing to be ashamed of or to be guilty over, because contrary to church culture, God does want us to feel good about some things. As if Christians need one more guilt-trip to be all somber and morbid on Sunday mornings.  So be joyful that He chose you, my friend.

But also know: Growing up in a “Christian environment” is not the blessing we think it is.  In the West, being a “Christian” is as easy as praying a scripted prayer or sitting in a pew one hour per week.  In the East, being a Christian can usually get you killed in a variety of slow unpleasant ways.  I’ve hardly ever met a lukewarm Eastern Christian: because their environment has already weeded out the uncommitted.

If we ever think, “Oh I’m so lucky to be a Christian in America” — we’re not only disrespecting every other country and Christian in the world by assuming a better culture, but we’re thinking WAY too much of ourselves.  Certainly there are advantages to our country, but there are so many slick subtle disadvantages: which are the most dangerous kind.

Trust me on this: Most Eastern Christians are appalled at our abuse of religious freedom in America, and would laugh to tears at the entertainment culture within Western church.  I don’t mean to sound like a superior snob here, but I’m saying: being an American Christian is more reason to give, share, love, and talk about Jesus, because we have the freedom to do so.  I say this with all grace for you, but if you feel sorry for third-world people who might never attend church like you do, then that exposes a blinded arrogance and a wrong presumption about our “Christian nation.”  We must both rejoice in our faith and be humble in our fortune.

I’m saying this because I love you more, and not less.  Before we weep for some concept of the faithless person in another country, we so-called lucky Christians must first weep for ourselves.  Tears of joy, yes, and tears of grieving love for our neighbors who don’t know Jesus. 

— J.S.

Aug 8

When people hide behind “I’m speaking the truth in love,” this sounds a bit like saying, “I’ll speak in a nicer tone of voice to prove that I’m right.”  Everyone can see through that.

Truth without love remains truth, but it will remain isolated in its ivory tower, never crossing any bridges.  YET: Love is not meant to Trojan-horse the truth at you either.  Love must be the fundamental motive of all we say and do.  That means having a conversation without the agenda of coercion.

— J.S.

Aug 8

Not Every Pain Has A Lesson

jspark3000:

image

 

There is NO connecting-the-dots on every instance of pain.  You can’t tell everyone, “God has a plan for your life.”  You can’t always say, “Everything happens for a reason.”

A blind theology on suffering only works for the unquestioning.  It can work until you have to comfort a young boy with cancer, a mother who has lost her son, a suicidal high schooler, an entire nation oppressed by genocide, a family torn by a school shooting or drunk driver, a pregnant victim of rape.  At this point: it is atrocious to say, “Pain forces you to grow” or “It takes a painful situation to change your ways” or “God is teaching you to trust.”

I think we probably say those things because most of us have had it way too easy.  And actually: they’re not biblical or from the heart of God.

What if there really is no spiritual lesson from your pain?

What if “God’s amazing plan” only makes sense to the privileged upper-class?

What if you never see the reason for why you’re going through this horrible ache? 

What if you’re that starving, kidnapped, beat-up kid in a scorched third world country?

 


Certainly there is some accommodating theology, but we jump to that too quickly.  The hard truth is that we live on a fractured planet with a broken people who are dislocated from their source, and nothing is as it ought to be.  Ugliness is bound to happen, and when we try to moralize or spiritualize, we find ourselves on unsteady ground with unanswered questions.

We’re not to gloss over this with pat doctrine and retroactive theology — but to enter into the fray with sleeves rolled up and armed with the strength and mercy of God. To say “God has a plan” while people are suffering is not incorrect, but it is incomplete. 

God does have a plan, and that was the sending of His Son to redeem this fallen world.  It was the inauguration of a Kingdom in which we are the participants, and until Jesus comes again, we’re called to fight evil in its every form.

All this “Let go and let God” complacency has us sitting on the sidelines.  If you are united with Christ: you are an agent assigned to aid in the healing of your corner of the universe. God is still the God of every situation — but more than that, God is the God IN the situation, suffering with us, embracing the broken, restoring wounded hearts, and waiting for us to get involved too.

I hope we are not too quick to declare a life-lesson for every pain, but instead show solidarity as Jesus did.  His very presence as God in the flesh means we do not need more talk, but rescue.

— J.S.

Aug 6

If God is all knowing, then He knows that there are some people who are never going to accept Him into their lives. Does that mean that God stops pursuing them? I don't think that He does. It would still show His unconditional love for His children, even if He knows they'll never love Him back. I have a friend who is struggling to accept the fact that her husband may never come to know christ and I wanted your opinion. thanks in advance. I've always admired your extreme honesty <3

Hey my friend, I know this is a hugely sensitive question that I couldn’t hope to answer adequately.  Here are a few posts that might help, and as always, please feel free to skip around or skip them all.

- Does God Love Those Who Choose Against Him?

- Does God Save Or We Choose?

- The Troublesome Dilemma of Reformed Calvinism and Romans 9

- God Loves Everyone, Except Esau

The one thing I don’t want to do here is to “doctrine you to death.”  As much as we can fill our head with all this knowledge that God loves us, I know it’s still nerve-wracking to see your friend so far from faith. 

To answer your question a bit: I believe God does continually pursue us, regardless of our response, because God cannot help who He is.  Even scary passages like Romans 1:24 is still about God hoping that people will see the error of the wrong path. 

And while I don’t mean to give false hope, it’s hard to tell exactly what is the “right response” to God’s love.  Was it the criminal who hung next to Jesus who was saved in the last minutes of his life?  Is it someone who’s memorized a thousand Bible verses?  Is the Gospel simple enough for a five year old and an eighty-five year old?  What about those who cry out “Jesus” in a school shooting?  What about those third-world tribal villages that have a vague understanding of a personal God who loves them at all costs?  What about those with Down syndrome, or some other debilitating disease? 

The church tends to argue about “saving faith” and a “real response,” but I wonder if a Sinner’s Prayer is all it really takes.  I wonder on the other hand if you need a fifty year record of church attendance.  What does it take?  Because I think the Gospel offers so much more hope than simply expecting so many will perish without Him.

Sure, we can know when someone has completely vilified God and has given Him the finger.  But I would continue to share with your friend, because there’s a chance that even the smallest response from him is an acknowledgement in God’s direction.  Keep loving on him and telling him about Christ.  You never know.  Maybe our idea of faith is much smaller than God’s reality of grace. 

— J.S.

Aug 5

This probably sounds mean. But I’ve learned that if you keep saying “Jesus loves you” over and over and over again, it gets old. It gets abused. Not because the love of God is inadequate or incomplete, but because our definition of it is so lazy and lacking.

If you keep saying “God has grace for me” while you stay the same, you have not even begun to understand the implications of the cross. It’s still just abstract doctrine. You couldn’t possibly have met the man who carried the cross up a hill to die for you. You need more grace then, and not less.

I’m saying all this not because I love you less: but because I love you more.

I know it’s mostly subconscious: almost no one wants to abuse God’s love. But if you do not define God’s love as a relentless, furious, soul-shattering power that rescues you from death, then you’re left with a tiny two-inch keychain-god who fits in your pocket and can be tossed at your convenience.

Jesus does love you. He also said it’s better to get into Heaven with no eyes and no hands then you get into Hell with both. We can abuse God’s love without ever changing, because His love is inexhaustible: but why would we even want to? Why settle for a halfway grace? God is offering a glorious life of freedom ahead. I’ve tasted that freedom and I can’t go back anymore. I wouldn’t trade that joy now for anything. I hope you’re desperate enough to find that joy, and that you really mean it.

- J.S. from this post