J.S. Park

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Posts tagged with "Theology"

Coming out on Sunday night, October 26th! :)— J.S.
yesdarlingido:

jspark3000:

 Hello wonderful lovely friends!
This is a preview of the cover for my next book, The Christianese Dating Culture: On Courtship, Purity Rings, Prayer-Sex, and Other Weird Things We Do In Church.
I talk about the bizarre subculture of Christian dating within our churches, including an honest response to Joshua Harris (who wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye) and an examination of our reactionary church tactics.  I also get personal, about overcoming my fifteen year porn addiction and the time I tried to take my life over a girl.
I also have awesome news.  Lauren Britt of yesdarlingido and asklaurenbritt is writing the Foreword to the book!  Please follow her, she is quite amazing and I’m still starstruck that she’s actually writing the Foreword.
The book will be released in the last week of October on Amazon!
You can get my current book What The Church Won’t Talk About on Amazon here. Love y’all!
— J.S.

I’m so excited to be a part of this. It’s nothing short of an honor, honestly. I have so much love and respect for Joon, and can’t wait to see God use his voice yet again. If you don’t already own his first book, now is the perfect time to get acquainted with a man worth listening to. With the joining of his life experiences and the truth he so unwaveringly holds to, there is much to gain from this man’s heart and how he has poured it into pages as an offering of grace and growth—a testimony of his own, and a prayer for everyone else’s. Many thanks to Joon, but complete glory to our Lord.

Coming out on Sunday night, October 26th! :)
— J.S.

yesdarlingido:

jspark3000:

 Hello wonderful lovely friends!

This is a preview of the cover for my next book, The Christianese Dating Culture: On Courtship, Purity Rings, Prayer-Sex, and Other Weird Things We Do In Church.

I talk about the bizarre subculture of Christian dating within our churches, including an honest response to Joshua Harris (who wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye) and an examination of our reactionary church tactics.  I also get personal, about overcoming my fifteen year porn addiction and the time I tried to take my life over a girl.

I also have awesome news.  Lauren Britt of yesdarlingido and asklaurenbritt is writing the Foreword to the book!  Please follow her, she is quite amazing and I’m still starstruck that she’s actually writing the Foreword.

The book will be released in the last week of October on Amazon!

You can get my current book What The Church Won’t Talk About on Amazon here. Love y’all!

— J.S.

I’m so excited to be a part of this. It’s nothing short of an honor, honestly. I have so much love and respect for Joon, and can’t wait to see God use his voice yet again. If you don’t already own his first book, now is the perfect time to get acquainted with a man worth listening to. With the joining of his life experiences and the truth he so unwaveringly holds to, there is much to gain from this man’s heart and how he has poured it into pages as an offering of grace and growth—a testimony of his own, and a prayer for everyone else’s. Many thanks to Joon, but complete glory to our Lord.

What is your process for sermon prep?

Hello AJ! Here are a few posts on that:

- Six Things I Write At The Top of Every Sermon

- Preachers: A Sermon Gut-Check

- Tips on Preaching & Teaching For the First Time

- The Difference Between A Speech and A Sermon

 

While I wouldn’t want to give you a simple formula, since each of us must find our own way, I’ll outline just a few things I do.

- I often preach in series, about 4 to 7 sermons long, because it helps me to know where I’m going. Usually each sermon inside the series is supporting One Big Point that I’m trying to make.

- In seminary, my professors always did the 3 am Test.  Basically: If I were to shake you awake at 3 am on Sunday morning and ask you, “Tell me your sermon in one sentence!” — and you couldn’t do it, then it wasn’t ready.  Simplify, simplify, keep it simple.

- Exegesis (digging into the particular meaning of Scripture) is very valuable, but please know what to put in the showcase and what to keep in the basement. Sometimes I find a really cool fact of history during my study of the Bible, but I realize this is only me nerding out and has zero relevance to what I’m saying. So I save it for another day and look for another.

- Sermons are hard work. I study hard. I read the news. I pray hard. I listen to how others did the same passage. One message might take about 20 hours per week. But the main thing is: I have to constantly meet up with the church.  Sermons are a way to love and serve people by the powerful healing Spirit of God.  I have to love my people first. Without that, then the pulpit is just a catharsis or a college lecture. Seminarians spend so much energy crafting a precise message, but they barely love their people or love the King.  Love your people.

- I constantly assume there are people who don’t care or who hate Jesus.  I think of the twelve year old suicidal kid who is ready to hurt himself again.  I think of the single divorced mom raising three kids on three jobs with a father who left them.  I think of the skeptical college student who once loved youth group but has hardened by parties and amateur philosophy.  I think of the pregnant fifteen year old whose parents have shamed her and she’s been vilified at school.  I think of my close friends and family who don’t know Jesus.  I practice my sermons by pulling up a chair in front of me and going one-on-one, because sermons are speaking to real people, and they’re coming to Sunday service with a load of burdens they can hardly carry, and they do want to know there’s something more.

— J.S.

For my podcast, please click here or here.

Please know I’m way more comfortable writing, and speaking has always been tough for me. Thank God for grace.

When you were a new christian, how did you strengthen your faith? I'm really trying not to sound like some sort of cliche ha but how did you get past the doubt and the junk

Hey my friend, please allow me the grace to point you to these posts. Please feel free to skip around or skip them:

- Wisdom For New Christians On Their First Lap of Faith

- What It Means To Be Spiritually Mature

- How Do I Love Jesus With My EVERYTHING?

I’m sure you’ll get tons of different opinions on this one, but the main thing I’ve found that strengthens me is to be in community.  Being with other people is difficult, icky, sharpening, and scary, but that’s exactly why God calls us into a family and to love one another: because this is how we’re made to be. It’s how we grow.  Faith can’t be lived alone, because we can’t be alone.

I’ve probably quoted this verse too many times, but 1 John 4:12 says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us."In other words, John is saying that we often see God by loving on one another. We experience Him in the stream of other people. Some of us think we’re supposed to muster up "divine sensations" by ourselves, as if it’s totally wrong to lean on others for our faith.  And while of course we can end up idolizing people, there’s something about looking at another person’s face when I talk about my hurts. There’s something about their compassion, their concern, and their grief when I tell them I messed it up again. It’s different than just praying by myself in my bedroom.

When I’m serving and confessing and sharing with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, sometimes I see the face of God.  That’s not pop psychology or a trick or a feel-good thing.  People can be tough to deal with, for sure.  But it’s also there that I know what Jesus looks like when others are Jesus for me, and that’s how we strengthen each other.

— J.S.

Oct 5
Thank you for the lovely reviews, dear friends!  Please check out my new book on Amazon here! — J.S.
jspark3000:

Hello beloved wonderful friends! 
My e-book has finally been released!
It’s called, What The Church Won’t Talk About: Real Questions From Real People About Raw, Gritty, Everyday Faith
The Foreword is by the amazing T.B. LaBerge of tblaberge and the cover art is by my most excellent friend Rob Connelly.
It’s only $4.29!  With every purchase, you’ll also be supporting my new calling into urban inner-city ministry, plus a soon-to-be-married couple!  And if you’re blessed by the book, please consider writing a review on Amazon!
The book is made for the Amazon Kindle Reader program, which is totally free and works on everything. You can download the program here or directly here!
Love y’all and be blessed, dear friends!
— J.S.

Thank you for the lovely reviews, dear friends!
Please check out my new book on Amazon here! — J.S.

jspark3000:

Hello beloved wonderful friends! 

My e-book has finally been released!

It’s called, What The Church Won’t Talk About: Real Questions From Real People About Raw, Gritty, Everyday Faith

The Foreword is by the amazing T.B. LaBerge of tblaberge and the cover art is by my most excellent friend Rob Connelly.

It’s only $4.29!  With every purchase, you’ll also be supporting my new calling into urban inner-city ministry, plus a soon-to-be-married couple!  And if you’re blessed by the book, please consider writing a review on Amazon!

The book is made for the Amazon Kindle Reader program, which is totally free and works on everything. You can download the program here or directly here!

Love y’all and be blessed, dear friends!

— J.S.

Oct 3

Jesus’s death and resurrection built an iconoclastic world-upheaving truth that is upheld by the counterintuitive element of grace.

Jesus is existentially satisfying because he accurately describes the human condition and provides the solution. Every other system of belief is built on performance, maintenance, reward/punishment, dichotomous banner-waving division, moralism, superiority, self-improvement, and self-isolated relativism. Jesus destroys all these categories and provides a way above all ways that I have absolutely NOT found in any other system of thinking.

He speaks to my desperate need for self-justification. All day long, I’m justifying myself to prove I’m worthy. I am making myself better than others and comparing my weakness to someone who is weaker than me. I am in a moral race that causes me to laugh at a celebrity’s downfall or to help the poor to look righteous. Jesus destroyed this in the cross by calling us all equally guilty and all equally loved. It was never in us to justify ourselves, but only Jesus can do this.

He speaks equally to my lack of humility and my lack of confidence. Jesus had to die for my sin so I can’t be prideful: but he was glad to die for my sin so I can’t be in despair. Both are somehow true at the same time, and it’s this paradoxical union of tensions that keeps me oriented to a self-forgetting love for others and a right estimation of myself.

He speaks to my need to serve myself and make life about me. I’m set free because my life is not about me. Life is about the story of God and we’re all bit players. Imagine this sort of freedom: when you can quit living selfishly for yourself. You’re no longer enslaved under the tyrannical dictatorship of self. Imagine this sort of Gospel-shaped person who loved you but didn’t need you, because they’re not using you as a vehicle to serve themselves. They’re not killing you as an obstacle who is in the way of their desires. They’re instead seeking to love you simply because they love you and not because of what you can or won’t do for them, and this is because they are loved the same way.

You see: Every other kind of motivation is inherently selfish. It is all seeking a means to an end, one method using another for self-gain. We’re motivated by fear, by conformity, by trophies, by pleasure, by social standing: and while they might benefit a few, they really just benefit me. The love of God is entirely intrinsic unto itself, in a single direction initiated by its own essence, with nothing to gain and no reason to exist except that it does. When we understand such a love: we’re motivated by a purely one-way love to love in the same way, motivated by the reason of no-reason, because it has inherently punctured through our souls. There is no stronger force than this in the entire universe.

- J.S. from What The Church Won’t Talk About

Oct 2

Hey! I love your blog and it is a huge encouragement to me. What are your views on predestination? Much love.

*Takes a deep hurricane force breath a la Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura 2*

So I used to self-identify as a Reformed Calvinist until I learned that most Calvinists online and in real life were absolutely arrogant uptight snobby jerks who beat their chest about correct theology from their basement-blogging but wouldn’t lift a finger to help the poor and were all addicted to porn anyway.  I was so embarrassed to be associated with the Reformed crowd that I took it down from my bio and kept it a secret when I guest-preached at other churches. 

I totally know that God has grace for them and I know some very cool Calvinists, but I could hardly tell when the nice ones were into Calvinism.  They simply loved Jesus and loved people.

Now about predestination: The thing I always say is that when we emphasize any particular Bible verse or aspect of Christian theology, we end up making a lopsided monster that suffocates everything else with the spindly gnarled fingers of My-Correct-Doctrine. 

I partially believe that Calvinists are snobby because of some of the doctrines they (we) tend to emphasize.  When you start saying, “God has elected me and not you!” then someone will always blow that up to a self-fulfilling Manifest Destiny savior-narrative hero-story, starring Me.

Squishy human beings with 3 lb. brains are always prone to binary categories, so it’s “Your way or my way!” — and we put Free Will and Predestination into a boxing ring.  We also do this with:

- My Politics Vs. Your Politics

- Effort Vs. Legalism

- Grace Vs. Truth

- Receiving the Rebellious Vs. Religious

- Evangelism Vs. Discipleship

- Technology/Fog Machines Vs. Hipsters/Beards

But the Bible never, ever pits these things against each other.  The Bible is also not one side or the other: it’s a third way that transcends polar opposites. For many things, we can do both through the Spirit’s humbling work.

In the Book of Ephesians, Apostle Paul will talk about Free Will and Predestination together, sometimes within two verses that are right next to each other.  In 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul writes, "But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”  So God chose us, but we also have “belief in the truth.”

In the end, we can only ask: Does our sound theology brings us to love Jesus and love people?  If so, then awesome.  But if not, I hope we’re willing to start over.

For a few more thoughts on this, I’d also like to point you here:

- Ten Thoughts About Calvinism

- The Troublesome Dilemma of Reformed Calvinism and Romans 9

- God Loves Everyone, Except Esau

— J.S.

Oct 2

How do you interpret Matthew 7:21-23?

Hey my dear friend, you’re referring to this very scary passage said by Jesus:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Please allow me the grace to say something tough here.

Jesus said really hard things that we tend to skip over.

He said that it’s better to cut off your hand to stop sinning than to enter hell with two healthy hands.  Is that a metaphor?  Or Jesus keeping it real?

He talked about a place of unceasing anguish and tormenting fire, where “the worm never dies.”  By worms, he meant that our rotting flesh will continually be feasted on by hungry worms.  Is that a metaphor?  Or Jesus keeping it real?

He said anyone who causes someone to stumble should tie a millstone around their necks and throw themselves in the ocean.  Millstones weighed like a ton.  He probably said this while pointing to a millstone, because all good preachers use object illustrations.

 

I just think that sometimes we dress up Jesus as a doe-eyed haloed white American surfer holding dry-cleaned sheep and he said things like “I love you no matter what” all the time.  And while it’s absolutely true that he loves us no matter what, the love of Jesus was absolutely ferocious, life-changing, and heart-rending.  Anyone who met Jesus would never, ever be the same.  There’s no neutral reaction to him, or else we haven’t met him. 

But all his hard teaching was from a place of love and grief for us.  If Hell really existed, how could he talk about anything else?  How was he not going crazy just grabbing people and screaming in their face about it?  If love is the most important reality of humanity, how was he not talking about millstones all the time? 

In Jesus, I read these hard things as if he had tears in his eyes, weeping over his people.  And in Scripture, we see this happened too.  [Luke 19:41, John 11:35]  Jesus was a man of love, but also a man of sorrows, for he grieved with us and for us.  He was desperate to tell us the truth of the universe, and he often used extreme examples to make his point.

When people actually read Matthew 5-7, the famous Sermon on the Mount, they end up hating it.  It’s like a slowly tightening chokehold until you finally tap out or wave it off.  But think: Jesus was merely reflecting the pure holiness of God.  People either cower in God’s presence or have contempt for it.  Saying such hard things naturally bothers us because we become aware of our own sin and shortcomings. 

Yet the Sermon on the Mount was only the diagnosis, the halfway point of Jesus’s ministry.  In the end, Jesus died for all the ways we failed the Beatitudes.  He died for all the Proverbs we couldn’t keep, for the Law we disobeyed, for the Prophets we failed to honor. 

And in Matthew 7, he is not only calling out “rebels” and “sinners,” but the highly religious, the people who have an air of humility and godliness, but don’t really know Him.  God wants us to be sure we’re not merely religious people who do Christian things around God, but that we’re saved forgiven people who do Christ-centered things with God.  It’s there we find the Good News that Jesus has done this for us in the cross and the empty tomb.

— J.S.

Oct 2

Hi, I have a question about forgiveness. In the Lord's Prayer, there's the part that says "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us". Also, in Matthew 6, Jesus says "if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins". To me it looks like the verse says that God's forgiveness is conditional on our own acts of forgiveness, but I don't think that's the case. Could you help me better understand this passage? Thanks

Hey my friend, the passage you mentioned definitely scares me too.  There are also other similar ones.

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. — Mark 11:25

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. — Luke 6:37

In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” — Matthew 18:34-35

At first glance, all these passages seem conditional, as if God will only forgive when we forgive others.

But as with any Bible passage, we must always balance out singular verses with the rest of the Bible in theme, intent, and the GospelOtherwise, end up with a lopsided theology that might be half-right, but is therefore all wrong.

In one of my favorite Bible stories in Luke 7, a “sinful woman” anoints the feet of Jesus with her tears.  Jesus then says,

"Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."

In other words, “Those who know how much they’re forgiven will also forgive.  Those who have been loved much will also love much.”

Where did the idea of forgiveness come from?  Is it natural to our human flesh?  No.  We perpetuate cycles of retaliation and vengeance because we believe in justice.  Forgiveness is paying off the debt that a wound incurs, and it means we absorb the hurt that was dealt to us.  And the original forgiveness comes from God Himself, through His Son, and that forgiveness is a gift for us that we can give to others.  It starts with Him and does not originate with us.

As far as I can tell, the Bible languages are suggesting that when we forgive, we are showing we understand the forgiveness we’ve first been given.  We are showing we know that it costs something; it cost God the life of His Son.  This sort of divine complete forgiveness is not only unconditional, but counter-conditional.  Our debt has been wiped clean, which compels us to wipe the debt of others.

— J.S.

Oct 1
 
I’m a sucker for long artsy titles and whimsical song names.  This is the official Coffee Table of Contents for my new e-book, just released on Amazon.  If you’ve been blessed, please consider writing a review!
Love y’all, dear friends. :)
— J.S.

 

I’m a sucker for long artsy titles and whimsical song names.  This is the official Coffee Table of Contents for my new e-book, just released on Amazon.  If you’ve been blessed, please consider writing a review!

Love y’all, dear friends. :)

— J.S.

Everything Is Very Wrong With Everything, And We Know It
J.S. Park

jspark3000:

Hello beloved wonderful friends!

This is the first part of a new sermon series called “Why You Christian?”  It explores the question of why anyone would ever want to be a Christian.

This first message is titled: Everything Is Very Wrong With Everything, And We Know It.

It’s about that Christianese church-word “sin,” and how we all secretly know something is very wrong and all the ways we try to make it right.

Stream above or download here!

 

Some things I talk about are: That moment when you wonder why you ever need to learn calculus or the quadratic equation, the very goofy Christianese words “sin” and “wrath,” that weird dark secret thing we do that no one wants to talk about, how the world tries to save itself through try-more moralism and top-my-feelings therapy, slapping someone in the pulpit, and that time I almost cheated on my fiancé with a Starbucks barista.

Be blessed and love y’all!

— J

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.