J.S. Park

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Posts tagged with "Theology"

Why I Stopped Helping Porn Addicts

The realest thing I ever wrote.

jspark3000:

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It’s been a few years since I quit porn, and I’ve written and podcasted tons about porn addiction.  I still get random emails and an assortment of friends who ask me for help to quit.  I used to reply eagerly, get in their mess, ask them tough questions, keep them accountable, and keep track of sobriety.

But I had the feeling that most of these dudes were just using me to feel better about their failures and I gave them permission to stay addicted.  I handed them a clean conscience and a delayed adolescence.  I pampered men into whining first-world blame-shifting boys: and it was really my fault.

Inadvertently, I became an enabling cheerleader, a co-conspiring accomplice to their crimes.

I got jaded.  I started thinking it was helpless.  And while I still press in to help, I wave a flag upfront: If you’re not serious about quitting, you’re wasting our time.

 

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. 

We easily distort God’s love as some kind of loophole for any kind of behavior, and I’ve seen it used as a get-out-of-jail-free card too many times. Some of your favorite Christian bloggers and pastors are actually a-holes because they treat grace like a cheap dress.  It makes me sick, but really just sad.  They’re the people that Apostle Paul talks about while sobbing, those who live as “enemies of the cross of Christ.”

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. 

 

So if you ask me or anyone else for help to break your addiction, I exhort you: Please do not ask for help unless you are serious to quit and move forward.  Everyone is willing to help you: but you have to want it for yourself more than we do.  This isn’t some kind of prerequisite.  I will love you anyway, and so does He.  But no one can make you want to quit.  God gave you the gift of free will to choose.

If you’re not serious about it, then go find out why it’s so bad.  Go meet some porn addicts who have destroyed their marriages, families, careers, and their own bodies.  Find them.  Meet the porn addicts who now suffer from ED, have gone bankrupt, and destroyed the lives of young women.  And when you hear enough horror stories, maybe then you’ll really want to quit.  Maybe then you’ll see the depth of God’s love, who loves us even in our worst depravity.

This probably sounds harsh right now.  But that’s the problem, isn’t it?  That we’re not willing to hear the truth about ourselves.  That we’re so entitled to positive thinking and self-esteem that we can’t confront the ugliness inside.  That often times we only ask for help with all the benefits of help, but none of the change.  That we’re willing to be honest, but not do the hard work of leaving sin behind.  That we like all the nice parts of Jesus, but we skip all the difficult things he said. 

 

It’s also easy to forget that the Christian life is not just about running from sin, but running to Him.  That means if you quit porn today, you suddenly have 15-30 hours that just opened up every week.  What will you do?  Because God didn’t merely forgive you, but He gave you a mission.  He made you for something.  The spiritual walk isn’t just sin-avoidance, but walking intentionally into God’s purposes.  Lust is not the problem: but a lack of direction.

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

Hi! I would like to ask you a question about the old covenant and the new covenant. Although I already know the answer to this, I would still like it if you explained this to me: Why is it that we no longer follow and do old traditions, rituals, sacrifices, and rules that the people did in the old testament?

Hey there my friend, please allow me to point you to some posts here:

- The Down-Low on The Old Testament Commands

- God Seems A Little Crazy In The Old Testament — A Mega-Post on the OT

The easiest way I can say this is: The Bible is an unfolding narrative of God’s activity with certain people, at specific times, with unique interactions throughout history.  God is the same, but people are not. God is outside of time, but we are not.  So God has given us a beginning, middle, and end of His revealing, and we’re somewhere near the end.  In this specific phase of God’s activity with us, the OT Law is like a foundational event for His people, just as Jews and Gentiles were a foundational people to flex His glory.

The OT Law was not a way to get “saved.”  It was a standard for the community of God’s people.  And it was put in place for the Israelites after they were rescued through the Red Sea; not the other way around.  God was trying to 1) guide His people, and 2) show other nations what that looked like.  It was a temporary system for the Israelites until the Messiah.

Many of the principles behind OT Law still stand today.  In other words, the spirit in which the law was written can still be applicable.  So when God says “Don’t put two strands of different fibers together” or “Don’t eat seafood from the ocean floor,” I’m guessing that He means we’re to steer clear of contaminating our spiritual lives.  I don’t mean to say that the Bible itself is only metaphors and allegories, but that God’s unfolding story needs to be read in its proper context.

My guess is that some of the OT Law looks silly because God was essentially saying, “Righteousness is pretty tough, even in the weird stuff.”  God is showing that we will constantly fail to achieve moral accomplishments on our own, and that when we stand before Him one day, our only response would be to burst into flames at the sight of His perfection.

When Jesus came to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17, Romans 10:4), this doesn’t just mean “Okay you can eat lobsters and bacon now.”  It means Jesus did what we could never do: he satisfied the righteous standard of God on our behalf, so that our sin could be removed without destroying the sinner.  The Old Covenant was only a precursor or foreshadow for the New Covenant.  Jesus would uphold the Law in himself by both perfectly obeying the rules and completely paying off our sin.  The OT points to this all the time, with images of a Suffering Servant and Saving Messiah and someone who would be “crushed” as a “sin offering.” 

Our New Covenant today is that we’re a universal body of believers who have received grace and love Jesus and love people.  This is until Jesus comes back, and behold, that’ll be a whole new story.

— J.S.

What's your take on the difference between "liking" and "loving"(everybody; not a "special" somebody)? By the way- you're an absolute inspiration, and I love that you use your wisdom and words to bring glory to God! Thank you! (:

Thank you dear friend!  And oh man: you got me.  I said that in a sermon recently: “I know as Christians we’re supposed to love everybody, but sometimes there are people you just can’t like.”  I think it got a laugh.

I’m really, really huge on grace, and I think if we spent more time with people to learn their stories and understand their motives, then we would be able to endure towards better together.  But a grace that does not recognize the harm of sin is a cheap grace, and so we’re also to have wisdom and discernment in how we approach others.

Often when I preach grace, someone will come up to me after the message and say, “Well what about ___?”  And it’s always a horrific situation of betrayal or abuse or slander.  I’m sure every single person in the room has a story like that, and I would agree with all their feelings.  I’d even be tempted to help them beat up the dude who harmed them.  Really, they’re just looking for permission to have some distance, and they feel like God is telling them to stay inside a bad situation.

So I always explain, the best I can, that grace is also for yourself, and you can have boundaries and distance and your own space.  We’re called to forgive, but forgiveness doesn’t automatically mean friendship.  It doesn’t mean we need to be buddies with everyone.  We do love people, meaning we’re always seeking the best for everybody and never holding malicious intent, but God also wants us to choose our friends wisely.

The other caveat is that we often confuse real sin with preferences.  So if your friend likes cheese on his ramen noodles: this is not a sin, but a preference (even though I think that’s nasty).  When most of us say, “I just don’t like him,” they’re actually turning a preference into a question of morality.  And that’s wrong.  That’s self-righteous.  It’s not loving, at all.  Each of us are wired with unique personalities, so to fight over that is really to diss God’s imagination: and I don’t like the taste of lightning-wrath either.

I’ve been able to love the worst of people who had every intention to harm me.  Seriously, I still love them.  But I mean, they probably won’t babysit my future kids and I probably won’t invite them to my wedding.  Grace is not a permission slip or a prison.  It will never force you to be in an abusive situation.  It instead gives you a way to handle such things without violence or retaliation, but patience and strength.

— J.S.

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

jspark3000:

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Anonymous asked:

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

 

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

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

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

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

As always, please feel free to skip around.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Here’s why I believe in Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

— J.S.

What if you love Jesus and God with all you've got but you don't support the idea or practices of religion?

Hey there my friend, I answered a similar question here:

- Let’s Blame Religion For Everything

- I Love Jesus, I Hate Religion

Though I hate to use the term “straw-man” (which has become a straw-man in itself), I think religion is always seen as a dirty word because of its abuses.  But maybe this quick judgment is very unfair for all that religion has done right for us.

Religion, in its purest form, is never ever intended to harm or stifle, but only heal and grow.  While as a Christian I believe Christianity is the truth, I think other religions have their place in society as well, and there is much to learn from them. So it really depends on how we’re defining our terms. 

When a pastor says, “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship,” I understand what this means, but it still makes me cringe a little.  It creates an “enemy” or a “scapegoat” where we can say, “Yeah I hate that religious stuff, just give me God!” — when this is still sort of a blurry dichotomous unthoughtful conflict that has no grounding in any kind of reasonable theology. 

Yes, there are many terrible atrocities committed in the name of religion.  Legalism has spiritually destroyed many people.  The church has been wrong on too many occasions.  We must be aware of these things, apologize profusely, and repent.  But there isn’t a clear-cut gash you can slice between God and religion: because there’s a sensible overlap here where tradition and liturgy and church history and rules have their place.  We can find what’s good in this and restore all of God’s best intentions to our faith.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

— James 1:27

— J

Ptr. Park, how are you? I wanted to ask your opinion about tithing in the New Testament. Do we still give our tithes at this day and age?

Hey my dear friend, doing pretty well.  Thank you for even asking this …!

I wrote on tithing about a year ago and my opinion has remained pretty much the same.

- So About Tithing

A few thoughts to consider:

- The Old Testament system was an ongoing narrative for a specific people in a specific time.  Whenever someone brings up the OT Law as a trump card, I have to remind them that this part of history was God’s unfolding plan for His people which had not yet culminated into the church by grace.  Yes, God is timeless and He does not change: but there is a beginning, middle, and end to our story, and we are somewhere near the end.  There is good history behind us but it’s not our current story, and there is more ahead of us to come, which is not for us today.

- If we’re to tithe like the Old Testament, then it’s actually more like 23% and not 10%.  So I’m not exactly sure why we’re saying a tenth all the time.

- In 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, Apostle Paul appeals to the Corinthians to give to the Macedonian churches.  But Paul does not appeal by the law; he actually brings up Jesus and the Gospel in verse 9.  In other words, our motivations for giving are 1) freely by God’s grace, 2) uncoerced (Paul says “I’m not commanding you,” which means he could but didn’t), and 3) without any kind of fixed amount to give. 

- Though I technically do not believe tithing is “biblical” for our current church, I still give to my church anyway.  I think 10% is probably a good starting place, but I would hope you can be compelled to support your church even more, and God would understand if you had to do less or you would rather support missions and social causes. 

- A last note: Your wallet is a good indicator of your priorities.  If you look at your bank statement or follow your budget, you can see what takes up most of your heart.  I only say that because giving to God is a way of protecting yourself from greed and promoting the muscle of generosity in your heart.  All this is motivated by Jesus, who was once rich in Heaven and became poor to clothe us in grace.  So pray this out, repent of any pride on the issue, and find a sweet spot where you can give with joy.

— J

Jul 8

In classic Greek and Roman mythology, it was always the strongest and smartest who reached God and the divine. Bellephron and Achilles and Odysseus and Perseus: they were rippling with muscles or huge brains or special powers.

But Scripture, in a complete reversal of human values and stereotypical strength, shows that God pursues maybe the weakest individual in the entire town of that day: Mary Magdalene, a mentally unstable woman. The one who others were writing off as a nobody, an outsider, an outcast.

If this story were told in another Epic Myth – The two-ton stone would still be rolled over the grave, and God would say: “Move the stone and you will have access to me. Show me your strength.” And maybe a special “Chosen One” could roll the stone from the grave.

Yet Mary Magdalene shows up and the stone is already removed. Which means, in a literal and metaphorical sense, that grace rolled the stone away. God had already done the work to reach His people, to reach the weakest person.

We don’t need to move the stone to find God, but God moved the stone to find us. This is the Essential Heart of God and the Gospel.

- J.S. from this message

Jul 2

The Error of Narrow-Gate Theology: Jesus Is Bigger Than A Single Bible Verse

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Whenever a fellow Christian brings up the “broad road of destruction” — that is, the single verse that implies most people are going to hell — I have to question this with, you know, the whole Bible.

Because Matthew 25 tells us a story about these ten bridesmaids preparing for the wedding, and half of them are ready.  Which implies that probably half of us are going to make it.

Or in Matthew 3, we learn about the wheat getting separated from the chaff: which actually implies that the majority of us are going to make it.

So which one are we cherry-picking for our agenda?

Do we only use the narrow gate to scare the hell out of people?  What about the bridesmaids, and the wheat, and the entire list of others issues besides sexuality, and the stuff about helping the orphans and the foreigners, and how about the criminal next to Jesus who made it in the last ten seconds of his life?  What’s the theology that makes the church hate poor people?

Like my seminary professors used to say, There’s no content without context.

 

Maybe we could actually balance our faith with the same nuance that the Bible offers, because no single verse is meant to support a monopoly-theology.  Probably we use these verses for power-plays and self-interest and political platforms, when really the Bible is not a polemical grenade but a story of a God who leaps every distance and breaks every obstacle to love His people.  It’s why Jesus spoke in stories and not bullet points.  It’s why Jesus didn’t draw charts, but he drew people. 

There is plenty of hard straightforward truth in the Bible, but without the weaving silver thread of grace, then all our doctrine is a barrel of excuses to dominate each other — and this is exactly what Jesus came to kill and was killed for. 

I don’t think Jesus wanted a narrow gate.  He just knew we’re always tempted for the easiest path of least resistance, that broad road of incremental choices to nowhere.  So he calls himself the Door.  He is also a Shepherd, a Mother Hen, a Rock, the Greater Abraham, a Friend, a Fountain, and the King.  Each of these pictures give weight and clues and glimpses to who he is: but by themselves, are incomplete.  Together, they are just a blink of his glory and beauty.  And I’m okay with breathing in the mystery of such infinite truth. 

— J

What Is The Definition of Grace?

dearaudre asked:

What would you say the christian definition of grace is?

 

Hey my friend: the technical Christian definition of grace is “unmerited favor, an undeserved gift that outweighs its own need.”

But I’ve never known grace to simply be boxed inside doctrinal boundaries. The second it becomes abstract, it tends to be enabling and pampering and a sugarcoated excuse to abuse the word “struggle.”  Grace is way too costly to be thrown around like cheap lingerie, and if it does not motivate you, then it’s not real grace.

True grace is love that costs everything.  It is sacrificial.  For God to show us grace, it cost Him the life of His very son. 

Let’s consider the implications of this.  You create a race of sentient human beings who you’ve given paradise, and they give you the middle finger and begin to kill each other for fame and glory and pieces of green paper, and you keep sending other little beings to tell them about True Life, but they kill all those beings too.  So you become one of your toy-creations by limiting your infinite power and taking on all their weaknesses and only asking for them to believe you’re real, and they torture you and string you up and stab you with jagged metal spikes in your most tender flesh-covered places (which you willingly took on), and there under a sunless sky you still offer forgiveness and love for everyone because this is the best and only way to love them.  And to validate your claims, you come back to life from the grave and show yourself to hundreds of people and remind them of their real purpose, and even after all that, two-thirds of the world abuses your name for the worst of atrocities and the one-third who believes in you still chase after mindless powerless images or lies or approximations of the real thing.  And you still love them.

You see, romantic love is easy.  It lasts as long as the feelings last.  Maybe we have a good temperament so we’re patient and laidback.  Maybe your friends are all pretty cool and stable and rich and they’re not needy, so you like being with them.  Maybe you were genetically predisposed to being generous and truthful and reliable, so everyone around you likes you too.

But marriages that last fifty years take sweat, blood, heart.  Friendships that encounter flaws take a supernaturally forgiving power that is not inherent to our self-preservation.  Raising children requires you to stay home when you’d rather be out clubbing and chugging.  Serving the homeless and ex-convicts and orphans and the emotionally unstable will demand all your life.  Endorsing justice in the world takes more than a blog post or pink ribbons or an X on your hand.  Love is not love unless it costs you something, and grace is the love that costs you everything.

 

True grace is a one-way love that persists beyond your own comfort and safety.  It will certainly require your very soul.  But the way of true grace, while costing your life, is the only way that gives you true life, and therefore, it’s the only real joy.  God did not begrudgingly give over His Son, but Jesus willingly followed His Father’s will for the joy set before him (John 10:17-18, Hebrews 12:2).

True grace is less doctrine and more of a story.  It is God loving His creation over and over again, regardless of their same mistakes, rebellion, wretchedness, and disunity.  It is welcoming the prodigal, the cheater, the liar, the thief back home — all over again.  But the one who understands this costly grace will be melted and tenderized by such love, because it is impossible to see the story of the Cross and to remain the same. 

True grace is our rest and resolve.  It’s to know that our desperation for validation, approval, and significance is already found in all that God has done for us.  It’s work from God’s approval and not for.  We can rest.  We can quit playing these games of achievement and status and the Olympics and American Idol and Viagra.  We can quit squeezing expectations from others which we could only receive from God.  We can quit living for ourselves under the weight of a self-absorbed egotistical tyranny.  We can quit trying to pay off the gap between who-we-want-to-be and who-we-really-are.  Yet — grace also motivates us into the true versions of ourselves.  It is the motivation of no-motivation, because we are not trying to “get better” for the sake of improvement, but rather we become better by being loved for the sake of our own essence.  We are motivated by beauty rather than practicality or function, because God loves us just-because. 

And we can be gracious, not perfectly: but with passion, because God gave us grace first.  We can because He did.

— J.S.

Jun 7

You say God loves unconditionally, but isn't salvation based on an action on our part to choose the grace that is given? Does God love even those who will one day be eternally separated from him? Sorry to ask such a pointed question :/

You know, I tend to get confused about God’s love because I’ve heard it abused in so many strange ways.  And I think the devil totally loves it when we trade simplicity for semantics.

I remember a Calvinist telling me “You can’t say God loves everyone because you’re lying to people who are going to Hell.”  Or I’ve heard that God’s love is conditional because it’s inactive for those who don’t love Him.  Or I’ve heard that God’s love includes His punishment, because He loves enough to “punish the guilty.”

I suppose I understand all those intricate little detailed arguments.  But the plain truth is: God is never contingent on a human response for anything, so His nature is irrevocably independent of our treatment of Him. 

No one could possibly imagine what this is like.  We’ve never seen a kind of love that keeps initiating from itself without exhaustion.  We’ve only seen conditional transactions in every interaction on earth, where we expect pay-offs and paybacks and paychecks.  It’s impossible to imagine a relationship where one side is perpetually constant.  

So maybe we need to reframe this conversation.  When we think of God in purely abstract doctrinal terms, then it seems like salvation is a kind of “equation” where my choice equals some positive outcome.  But that’s still a transaction, an exchange of goods.  Life is way, way messier than that — because even our choices are full of mixed motives, mistakes, and imperfection.  It would be impossible to know who is really “okay with God” based on our own actions, because really, my current grade would get me burst into flames.

 

This is why God’s love would have to be unconditional, because no one could possibly bear the burden of getting enough “valid faith” to enter Heaven.  Jesus did everything, literally everything, on a cross and in a tomb for us.  As Tim Keller says, God’s love is even counter-conditional.  To even hint there are conditions immediately means we’re talking about people or idols or false gods, and not Him.

And that’s why I believe faith is not some one-time decision you make at youth camp, but that faith is slowly awakening to the reality that God has been pursuing you and wooing you toward Him through His Son.  It’s not “believing harder” that makes you a “better Christian,” but rather, it’s waking up to His love that changes your slumbering heart.  It’s awakening to the constant unchanging chase of God’s heart for you.

This would have to mean that Heaven and Hell are secondary doctrines, which although super-important, are not as important as waking up to God Himself. Hell is not primarily a place of “bad evil people,” but people who chose to stay asleep and preferred it that way.  God does not force Himself on us.  God does not even receive our “good deeds” as payment.  God just wants us to wake up.

This also means that God is perpetually grieving over those who ultimately choose apart from Him.  Anyone who ends up in Hell will have tried very hard to get there, and even then, there’s no repentance (check out Luke 16:19-31).  I am almost certain that God is somehow weeping over them still, because He does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9).  But the gates of Hell, as they say, are locked from the inside.

So if someone were to ask me, “How could God’s love be unconditional?” then I would say — “Nothing you do could ever change God’s heart for you, and it’s His unchanging heart that changes you.”

— J

I don't really understand how heaven will work (or rather, a restored earth). In revelations it says there will be no more pain and no more tears, which means (I've come to understand) that there will be no more suffering. But that's hard for me to understand because as long as we have choice, there's temptation to not choose God (aka, sin). So can you explain to me how eternity with God will work if we still have free will (if we do..)

Hey my friend, I must confess right away that I don’t have all the answers on this one and I do accept some mystery within theology here.  My three lb. brain couldn’t possibly fit these kinds of paradoxes, and I’m okay with that.

But to attempt to humbly answer your question, I would actually propose that we already want to choose God amidst our temptation, even now, without considering Heaven into the equation.  Romans 7:15-25 implies that there is “good” within us that wants to do what God wants, which is part of our imago dei.  But “sin living in me” ends up choosing against God.  Of course, that doesn’t absolve our own human responsibility, but it means that Heaven is the place where the tension between our broken will and choosing God’s best is finally resolved, so that we freely choose God as we have always wanted.

I believe the natural impulse of people is to truly pursue after God’s goodness and glory, but our sick sin-condition has corrupted every avenue. 

In Heaven, I believe we will have what we always hoped for on earth: a relationship in which we can voluntarily choose to love a perfect love with our perfected love.  It couldn’t be Heaven without it.  Our kindred brother C.S. Lewis put it this way —

"The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free."

And on suffering: I’m not entirely sure how God wipes away every tear.  I don’t know how God could do that without removing large chunks of my memory or even my entire personality.  I leave some of that to a mystery I can’t explain.  But I also imagine that the total immensity of God’s presence would overwhelm a lot of my questions.  Not to diminish very real suffering: but I think when we get to the other side, most of our journey would feel like a stubbed toe on the way to a vault with a trillion dollars.  The value of that treasure doesn’t decrease, but our pain certainly would.  Again, to quote Lewis:

"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?"

— J

I believe that nobody goes to Hell, that a loving God would be understanding and compassionate. I think that He would understand the circumstances that lead people to reject Him. So does that mean that I cannot be Christian?

Hey my friend, I wrote quite a long response on hell recently here.

Please hear me being as gracious as possible when I say this: but the idea that a “loving God would never send anybody to hell” is a Westernized Post-Enlightenment paradigm that has been Pavlovian-conditioned into our overly entitled, PC sensitive culture.  It feels right because you’re a product of your current time, which C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery.”  But to be sure, a light view of God who is an abstract congenial grandfather is nothing new either, and it’s always been just one more branch of millions of different theologies that disagree on God’s nature.

The Easternized, collective, authority-centered, top-down paradigm would say that a “loving God” is an offensive illogical idea that diminishes God to a doting uncle.  The Eastern mind has always viewed God as unknowable, or wrathful, or “all-encompassing,” or filling all things, but never in a personal relationship with any human.  No one on this side would possibly say “He would understand the circumstances that lead people to reject Him.”  So both a Western and Eastern view of God are way too small to contain Him.

But let’s break this down further.  It just seems today that every time a part of doctrine in Scripture bothers someone, they find some way to adjust it to their own sensibilities.  So if a part of the Bible sounds offensive, we water it down by allegorizing or spiritualizing or sugarcoating, until it fits.  We like to skip the hard stuff that Jesus said.  And for a while, this works.  You can grow a huge church and fill tons of seats by cutting out chunks of the Bible.

The problem is: What happens when you cut out large chunks of your friend or your spouse?  Are you truly getting to know them?  Or do you only want to know an “easy version” of this person?  If they disagree with you, will you ever allow them to contradict you?  In that case, you don’t have a real relationship with that person or with the living God.  It means we essentially tune out the parts we dislike, and we turn them into a dolled up decoration. 

If you don’t ever allow the Bible to contradict you on your own culturally restrained beliefs, then you’ll never be challenged to think outside what you know.  I did this too, and I still do.  Parts of the Old Testament continue to bug me.  Certain doctrines, like absolute authority and the wrath of God, feel unfair.  Yet if Scripture never actually pressed into what I believe, then I would have less reason to believe it, and not more.  Certainly I would never blindly follow something until I investigate it, but I also don’t want to believe something that will blindly follow me. 

In the end, when I know what Jesus did on the cross and in the tomb for me, I can retroactively trust that everything God does is for my good.  When I see how even a senseless crucifixion was reversed into life-giving glory, I can trust that God sometimes uses what He hates to achieve what He loves.  We will struggle with this until we see Him.  Until then, even with a tiny grain of faith, I will wrestle out that truth.  I will keep asking questions.  But I will do that with the bias that He loves me, and not with the bias that He doesn’t: because of the cross.

— J

Hi! Are we able to choose God in our sinful condition, or does He make the first move? Does God have a chosen people, and a not chosen people? I don't understand. I thought God opened the promise of salvation to all. Are we able to choose Him? Or is it truly, "we love because He first loved us?" Can people escape this love? Help me understand, I'm so confused!!

Hey my friend, please allow me to point you to some posts on Free Will versus Predestination.  As always, please feel free to skip around or skip them all.

- How Could A Loving God “Elect” People?

- Does God Only Love The Elect?

- Ten Thoughts About Calvinism

- God Loves Everyone, Except Esau

Just a few thoughts to consider:

- The Bible never throws Free Will and Predestination into a boxing ring.  They’re almost always presented working together.  Just check out 2 Thessalonians 2:13 or the entire book of Ephesians — both doctrines are mentioned right after the other.  How do they fit?  I’m not sure.  My small three lb. brain can’t fathom how God would reconcile an apparent paradox.  But that’s why God is God, and I’m okay with that.

- I’m a big believer in human choice.  I don’t think God made a bunch of robots who are coerced into His Will, or else God wouldn’t be good.  When I was an atheist, this was a huge theological hurdle that bothered me because I had always assumed God wanted to twist my arm into a relationship, until I learned that hell is not a motivation for faith.  I’m also a big believer that God is sovereign and He’s in total control.  He alone is truly capable of changing the human heart; none of us are capable of self-surgery, and that means God initiates love first before we do.  Again, both of these truths are not in opposition, but their mechanism is beyond my grasp.

- An overemphasis on either side of doctrine can be dangerous.  If you fall too far into predestination, it’s easy to become a snobby Reformed Neo-Calvinist who feels superior because they’re “chosen” and have more “right belief.”  But if you fall too far into free will, it’s easy to minimize God as a mere helper in our daily actions who’s sort of a benevolent cheerleader and nothing more.  Both sides here must fully embody a robust doctrine that isn’t just a mix of either, but a transcendent (perhaps indecipherable) view of God that has to be humble.

- For the record: I believe the Gospel invites everyone, and those who are in the faith have awakened to the reality of what God has done. 

- Allow me to leave you with a startling quote by C.S. Lewis, who glimpses into how this works.

"Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata —of creatures that worked like machines— would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free. Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk."

— C.S. Lewis

— J

May 1

There seems to be a marked difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. How do we reconcile as Christians the Old Testament God with the New Testament God?

Hey my friend, please allow me to point to some old posts here:

- God Seems A Little Crazy In The Old Testament — A Mega-Post on the OT

- The Down-Low on The Old Testament Commands

- God Loves Everyone, Except Esau

 

It definitely feels like the God of the OT is different than the NT, and like everyone, I’m still learning about that.  Here are a few things to consider.

 

- It seems like God struck people dead all the time in the OT, while only three times in the NT (Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, and King Herod in Acts 12).  But the NT covers a much shorter period than the OT (a hundred years versus thousands/millions).  So without even going over the whole “struck-dead” thing (which is a different topic for another day), I think it works out proportionately.

 

- The OT is full of God’s grace, but the OT is a bit harder to read between the lines because there is less “theologizing” and more narrative.  Where as the NT pauses a lot to explain the theology, especially in the gospel of John and all of Paul’s letters, the OT was an oral retelling that would express its theology in facial expressions and well-known cultural norms. 

So any time God’s grace would show up in the OT, the storyteller would rarely say, “And there was our great God of grace!”  Everyone would just nod, knowing that grace had happened.  All of God’s grace in the OT is conveyed by God’s initiative hand that worked first for His people.  Cases in point: God’s covenant with Abraham, Noah being saved with his family, God rescuing the Israelites through the Red Sea, all the coincidences in Esther, all the coincidences in Ruth, God slaying Goliath, Solomon’s temple, Elijah blowing up Mount Carmel, Hosea marrying a whore, and so on.  None of these Bible characters were particularly awesome: God worked through them first, by His grace.

 

- The easiest way to read the OT is to see it as The Coming of the King.  All the OT people were imperfect under God’s law, and every mediator — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, the prophets, etc. — all pointed to the great mediator Jesus. 

So when God punished the mediators and Israelites for their disobedience, He was displaying the perfection of His law.  Sure, it seems extreme.  But the ultimate consequences of our disobedience were laid upon Jesus.  The most extreme punishment fell upon him, for our behalf.  The OT and NT meet at the Servant King.  The OT God was still displaying His perfect law, and the NT married this with His costly grace — and so despite the often graphic nature of the OT, we see it even more so in the cross of Christ, not less.  We see it in the cost he paid to redeem us.

We reconcile the OT and NT by the work of Jesus.  There we see both the law and love of God in perfect union.

— J

May 1

Hello pastor, I don't want to be a bother but I could really use your advice. Lately I've been stressing about rapture. I could barely go a second without worrying about not making it, or other family/friends not making it. It takes away my sleep and my peace. I've been worrying about it for years and I just don't want to do this anymore. Please, if you have any advice, I could really use it. Thank you.

Hey my friend, I really appreciate your honesty and I also commend you for thinking deeply on this: not many people really give a second thought about the Rapture.

I think, like with any topic, an over-emphasis can really damage our vision, while at the same time an under-emphasis can mean no vision at all.  Our dear brother C.S. Lewis felt the same about spiritual warfare, that we either emphasize the devil too much and imagine him under every bed (therefore giving him too much power), or we don’t think of him at all (therefore giving him too much power).  I think Lewis’s logic can apply to every single spiritual issue.

Apostle Paul wrote the first and second letter to the Thessalonians especially because they were consumed with the Rapture.  Many of the Christians there had stopped working or evangelizing or planning for the future because they were waiting on Jesus to come back: and Paul rebukes them for this.  When you read 1 Thessalonians 5, the entire context is for those who were practically waiting in the fields just looking to the sky. 

But if you notice, Paul still emphasizes Jesus returning (verses 2,3, 20, 23).  Notice also in verses 4-15 that he’s speaking to both groups of people: those who are lazily waiting for Jesus and those who are anxiously lacking peace.  Paul is not 50/50 on the issue — he’s 100% earth-minded and Christ-minded. He’s basically saying, Work hard, wait hard.

This is tough to do.  It’ll certainly require discipline and a whole lot of preaching to yourself.  I think your focus on the Rapture is very admirable, but I think an extra dose of focusing on God’s work on the earth will help to ease you at peace.  It’s okay to wait out of hope and longing, but I believe God also calls us to finish some things here.  It doesn’t have to be either/or, but we can do both/and. 

God definitely doesn’t want you to wait nervously, but to wait with joy.  In the meantime, we can do the joyful work of witnessing to friends and family, so that we might wait and work together.

— J