J.S. Park

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5 Ways To Love On Your Hurting Church

jspark3000:

If you dread going to your church because there are a ton of issues there, please consider a few things before blowing up or walking away.

 

1) Pray for your pastor.  He most likely knows all the issues at hand and he’s just as desperate to fix them.  You might be angry about some stuff: but he’s probably losing sleep and having those midnight arguments in his head and losing.  Have grace for your pastor.  Ask him how you can help.

 

2) Be part of the solution, not the problem.  We do need criticism, but at some point we need constructive restoration.  It’s easy to see what’s wrong from a distance; anyone can do that.  It’s hard to roll up your sleeves and get into the mess to help change things.  Find the weak areas and bring strength.  Go to what’s dead and bring life.  Don’t keep speaking death over death. And do NOT keep doing the most popular stuff in your church, like the praise team.  Help with the stuff that no one wants to do.

 

3) Be passionate even if no one else is.  Sing loud and pray hard and move your body.  Who cares who’s looking?  Really, who cares?  In the grand scheme of your 77 year life, it makes no sense to hold back your passion because an eye that weighs two ounces was looking at you.

 

4) Don’t be mad at mockers.  There will always be people who don’t take things very seriously: but it doesn’t help if you get mad at them.  It doesn’t help to turn up a nose or get all horrified-gasp-uppity about it. Then you’re taking yourself too seriously.  Show grace there.  Have fun anyway.  They’ll join in soon enough.

 

5) Communicate, don’t gossip.  You’ll be tempted to speak bad about your church to your church.  Please cut that out, immediately.  You don’t know what you’re doing to the body of Christ when you so quickly rip it apart with snarky divisive comments.  It’s self-mutilation.  It’s dropping poison down the well.  You’ll become the voice that everyone has to overcome.  Bring your concerns to your pastors and leaders with a vision to move forward.  Don’t look back.  There’s enough blame going around in the world. 

If the church is a hospital, I hope we could quit fighting over our egos and instead get it together for the dying.  Soldiers on the battlefield only look to each other for help; they look forward for the mission, side-by-side, shoulder to shoulder.  And such is Jesus’s hope for the church.

— J

One day, your homosexual friend might come around to the beauty of a biblical marriage between one man and one woman. One day, your friend might understand that you respect him or her no matter what. One day, your friend might look at your marriage and want something like that, if there is something worth showing (oh church, if you’d only see yourselves). One day, your friend might be hit with the true heart of the Gospel and experience the total grace of Jesus — one day.

But whether or not that happens, you keep loving on your friend. Dang it, we better love this world like crazy. No one is a project. We are not “superior” to them. We are not the harbinger of justice or Advice-Robot 2000 or the fixer of all things wrong. You are one flawed human being who is called to love another flawed human being. You love them. Jesus died for you and for them too.

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

From your knowledge of scripture and your experience as a Christian, what does it look like to "bear one another's burdens"? To be supportive, encouraging, and a listener, but not to the point of taking on someone else's hurts and pains so much so that you are emotionally exhausted?

Hey my friend, I’m sure you’re referring to Galatians 6:1-2.

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

I often go back to this passage when I’m helping a friend in Christ, because I have to remember that I need to take care of myself too.  I do believe in sacrifice when serving, but if I go too long spending more than I have, I’ll always burn out or relapse to my old self or just self-evaluate too hard.

One thing I’ve learned is that all this takes a day at a time.  I need to see how I feel that day, how much supply God has given me, what my priorities are, and what’s the best I can do.  I know my limitations. Some days I can pray for a long time and serve many people; other days I need to wrap up in a blanket with my dog and eat a pint of Haagen Dazs.  And it also depends on other people.  Sometimes they’re so moody or emotional or angry that I need the wisdom to keep a distance.  There’s nothing “sinful” about that; we need grace for ourselves too.  But other days I must absolutely roll up my sleeves and pour out for this person and listen to all their issues, even if it drains me. 

This is less about one simple sweeping answer.  I try not to declare things like “Never again” or “I promise to be there,” because each day is different.  Each day, people are different.  So pray that out.  Ask God for the strength you need for just today.  Ask God to adjust your dials for each person according to their needs.  See how Jesus approached the Samaritan woman, the curious Pharisee Nicodemus, the Roman centurion with the sick servant, the Syrophoenecian woman — all with their own backgrounds, upbringings, strengths, and weaknesses.  Jesus met them at their deepest, weakest areas, and loved on them there. 

— J.S.

Your last post really hit home for me. I'm a leader for CRU, and lead a bible study, and I constantly feel like if my words sound intelligent enough, maybe they won't sense that I'm not all that I pretend to be. That even though I seem like this Christian who's totally strong in her faith, they won't realize I'm not cut out for leadership. But it's encouraging to know that I'm placed where I am because this is where He wants me. And to know I'm not the only who feels this way. Thanks for that.

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

- Fake, Fraud, On Empty

I’m totally with you on this.  In the end, I really found no choice but to be honest.

When I meet up my counselor, this is one of those issues that keep resurfacing.  I wrestle daily with huge doubts about faith, but mostly about myself.  I keep thinking that if people knew me as I really was and all the things I’ve done, then no one would ever trust me or be near me again.  I imagine my sins on the projector screen at service one day, like God suddenly exposes me in a modern day Scarlet Letter. When I preach, I constantly wonder if I’m preaching further than I am, so I have to remind myself that I’m preaching to me too.  Of course I want to lead by example, but that also means being honest about how hard faith can really be. It’s there in that weakness where I want to meet, where Jesus is.

Much love to you dear friend, and thank you for your kind message. :)

— J.S.

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.

I’ve pretty much heard every single argument there is to hear on both sides [of Christianity and atheism], and there is nothing new under the sun. I’ve watched theological debates between all the best. I don’t think I’ve learned any new apologetics in the last three years, and having been an atheist, those guys are not really saying anything new either.

Both sides fanwank and retcon their arguments like crazy. Both sides are full of biases, agendas, misinformed views, and wrong ideas about each other. Both sides are eloquent, sharp, articulate, witty. Both sides can present compelling cases. Both sides even get along often. Watch the debate between Wilson and Hitchens, and you can see they’re nearly best friends.

It turns out, I like Christians and atheists just about evenly, and if you want to, you can intellectually keep them at checkmate forever. But at the end of the day, Jesus is real enough for me. He wins my heart. He fills me up. He saved my wretched soul. I became tired of explaining myself to people that needed some kind of justified, propped-up, pre-defended faith. I was exhausted of prepackaged arguments that make sense until some other argument arrives. I had tough questions, and still do, but everyday it feels more and more like the answer is becoming Jesus, and each day that’s becoming enough. I don’t care that it makes me an academic cop-out — I care that it makes me whole.

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

The Unpopular Story of Atheism to Faith

i-think-i-found-something asked:

I just want to start out by saying that I love your blog, it gives me reassurance about my faith in Jesus Christ each day, which is something I have been especially needing lately, so thank you for everything you do. I wanted to ask you about your journey towards Christianity. How did you go from being atheist/agnostic to believing in the Christian faith?

 

sstellarr asked:

What made you convert back to Christianity after being an agnostic atheist? I am currently an atheist and I go to a catholic christian school. So far I can’t find anything worth converting to Christianity.

 

Anonymous asked:

I need advice J.S. I have a brother who is an atheist. I am worried that our relationship will come to an end because of our differences. He is looks at everything in a logical manner and it can be very frustrating to talk to him. He always wants to debate. He even has begun to twist my words which greatly upsets me. This is such a dumb question but how do I talk to an atheist like him? I’m tired of his ‘logic’ when there is nothing clean cut about humanity. He’s so emotionless to everything.

 

Hey dear friends. I know that as a former atheist turned Christian, my own testimony is very, very unpopular. I always hesitate to share this on my blog. I’ve been blasted through messages and reblogs for my lack of intellectual honesty or my shoddy reasoning or my void of self-respect, and to be truthful, it does sting. Of course, some of the hate is understandable, but some of it’s just plain mean-spirited and dehumanizing. I don’t mean to have a “persecution complex,” but I’m always surprised by the vilifying reactions.

So whenever I bring this up, I want you to know that my own story is exactly that, my own story, and it’s not a knock against other atheists or an attempt at converting someone’s view.  My own journey isn’t a “template” to throw at atheism, nor am I saying that every atheist will “come around” the same way I did.  

Please also allow me to blow up a few myths up front.

- Yes, atheists are capable of moral good.  They’re not eating babies in their basement.  The argument from morality (or ontology or design), while a worthy contender, is not going to win points here.

- No, not every atheist thinks Richard Dawkins is the Queen of England. His work is a starting place at best, an amateur college essay at worst. There are much more thoughtul scholars out there on both sides, such as Bertrand Russell and the ever-reliable Hitchens.

- No one anywhere has ever been “proven wrong” into Jesus. What I mean is, it’s not like someone brought a foolproof argument where I replied, “You proved my atheism wrong, now tell me about Jesus.” So while apologetics (the defense of faith) is helpful, it can also be cold and arrogant. This is true of any relational interaction. The more you think you’re right, the less anyone will hear you.

 

There are three things to please keep in mind.

1) I became interested in Christianity because of Christians.

Every preacher I’ve heard is always guilt-tripping about “be a good witness,” which is true. The Christian is called to live out what they’re saying.  But think of the opposite way to phrase this without scare tactics.  It also means that when Christians live out their faith — not perfectly, but passionately — then it opens doors and hearts.  Rather than saying, “Don’t mess it up or they won’t believe Jesus!”, I would rather say, “Imagine the possibility if you lived like Jesus.”  I don’t want to look backwards, but forwards.

No one ever beat me in my arguments over religion.  I studied it too hard, and the burden of proof was on an invisible creator.  I was the master of semantics and beating up a mistake in your logic.  Plus, Christians had a long history of atrocities to answer for; everything was stacked against them.  But what I could not argue with was when I met some dang Christian who clearly wasn’t insane.  I would meet yet another Christian who was living a wholly different life, an unnatural life, an unexplainable life. And these weren’t people who grew up in the church or had easy lives. These weren’t people who came to Christ out of fear or gullibility or a last resort. They were reasonable. They were loving. They sacrificed. They treated me like a human being and didn’t talk down to me. It wasn’t for a pat on the back or for my approval.  They loved me, but didn’t need me.  They served me, despite the fact that I was undeserving.

 

2) I came to Christ over a long, arduous, up-and-down journey that was not an overnight epiphany, but a slow-boiling awakening.

My dear friend, it doesn’t matter if you’re with a fellow Christian or atheist or Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist or Wiccan — everyone needs room to figure things out.  I know that for some of us, we can clearly remember our day of salvation, whether it was saying a prayer or going up to the altar or writing our name on a card.  I did none of these things.  It took months and years of wrestling with doubts, asking hard questions, and checking my own bias both for and against faith before I began to settle into Jesus.  I stretched and agonized my way into belief.  When you collide a worldview with another worldview, it takes a lot to process. It’s painful. Everyone inherently believes their own truth is just as true as yours. Each person is also figuring these things out on their own. So we really need grace for each other, regardless of what we believe.

If you’re anxious to bring everyone to Jesus all at once, I respect that.  Even atheists respect that.  But even the truly intrigued will need time to process, reflect, and rotate the prospect of faith before committing.  Please don’t rush that.

 

3) I care if you love me, not win me.

Sometimes when I’m asked, “How did you go from atheism to belief?” — it feels like someone is looking for a switch to flip in someone else.  I’m not saying that’s your motive.  But I hope you still love your atheist friend no matter what.  I hope we can just be friends even if nothing changes.  And if your atheist friend ever does believe, I hope you’ll still be their friend instead of moving on to the next one.

When I first went to church, no one treated me as a project.  I wasn’t some “get” for the Lord.  No one was keeping score.  They weren’t even self-conscious about being self-conscious.  They were confident and humble enough in their faith to simply let me be.  When we talked about faith, sure, we argued.  When we brought up church history and apologetics, sure, it got heated.  But most of the time, they just loved me.  I loved them back.  And slowly, I began to investigate what they were saying, because to my horror, I thought maybe there really was something to it.

You see, part of love is not winning, but losing.  It’s humbling ourselves.  It’s recognizing where we got it wrong, and to meet in our common weaknesses.  It’s not to overpower or prove a point or boast in our platforms.  Jesus won our hearts by losing, all the way on a cross.  This is the work of love. 

Christians are called to hang with each other, no matter who or what we choose to worship.  Even Christians themselves don’t always worship the right things, and we’re still called to love each other.  We carry one another’s burdens; we consider others’ interests better than our own; we love as Jesus loved us (Galatians 6, Philippians 2, John 13).  It’s not because we’re trying to win anyone.  Jesus did that part already.  But mainly, he does that through us. 

Not everyone is your brother or sister in faith, but everyone is your neighbor and you must love your neighbor.

— Timothy Keller

— J.S.

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. from this post

Book Review: Overrated by Eugene Cho

Summary:

Eugene Cho, founder of charity One Day’s Wages and lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, writes an honest, searing book about the popular issue of social justice, and how it’s not just a popular issue. Pastor Eugene gets deep into the hands-on grittiness of doing justice that lasts beyond our flashy social media and emotional trappings. He also shares his own personal journey in getting there, a vulnerable season of his life when he was brutally humbled and he honestly confronted himself.

Review:

I must first admit my own bias here because I’m absolutely excited that my own story is in the book. A couple years ago, I donated half my salary to Eugene Cho’s charity One Day’s Wages to fight human trafficking. It was a check for $10,000, and after attempting to raise a matching donation, an anonymous donor contributed $8085 to reach $20,000. What convicted me most to save for the year was hearing one of Eugene Cho’s messages from the Catalyst Conference in 2011, in which he delivered a passionate sermon about really doing justice more than loving the idea; incidentally, it has become the main thread of his first book. Though I’ve never met Pastor Eugene, I’m truly honored that I’m a part of his work.

Here’s a confession. I’ve read over 200 Christian books and I’ve been a pastor for over seven years, and I can truthfully tell you that I’m woefully jaded to the Christianese scene of books, podcasts, and conferences. I’ve read the best there is and have heard the best preachers. I know every great one-liner, buzzword, and knock-out tweet in the entirety of our Christian bubble. There’s not a single Christian book in the last year or so that has impacted me deeply, and perhaps the last truly great book I’ve read is Josh Riebock’s Heroes and Monsters. So while I love Eugene Cho and his charity, I approached his book with some fear that it would encircle the same tropes I’ve come to eye-roll.

Here’s what surprised me.

Continue Reading Full Post

The Lover of Busted Up Hearts.

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This is the 2nd Preface for my book, What The Church Won’t Talk About.  It’s on sale for $8.81 and the e-book is only $4.29.  Be blessed!

Even when I don’t say it with bells and italics and all caps, the bottom line is always Jesus.

Once, a young lady in college approached me after my sermon and she had the look I’ve grown to recognize. Discouraged, scared, fidgety, unsure, a mess. She pulled me aside and said, "I need your help. I’m so screwed up right now. But I don’t want you to say anything about God. I don’t want you to do that pastor thing where you pray for me after we talk. I just want the advice. Don’t tell me about Jesus."

I did exactly as she asked. I gave her smart tips, effective habits, a couple analogies, some good examples. I didn’t bring up the Bible or Jesus or anything about faith, at all. When she moved to leave, I didn’t pray for her, and she was relieved.

I didn’t hear from her for a long time. Months later, I checked on her through social media and I saw she was the same exact person as months before, but no longer had the conviction to change. It was like she and I had never talked, like she had never reached out to me in such desperation.

I don’t mean to demonize this young lady. Really. I can’t judge her; she is not any lesser than me or anyone else for choosing her own way. There’s no guarantee that she would’ve been different if I brought in Scripture or the Gospel. But partially, I had failed her, because I was too ashamed to talk about the Only One who can really create life-long change. I told her how to grow and adapt and survive, but I never told her about getting a new heart. I never spoke up about the one relationship that truly transforms everything. If anything, she probably tried to follow these “good principles” but was eventually imprisoned by them, and she could no longer endure the shackling weight of such morality.

If you’re brand new to Christianity or you’re finding it more and more distant and irrelevant, I understand how we all got here. I know that the church hasn’t always been thoughtful or articulate about what really matters, and we tend to live inside a suffocating bubble of secret keywords and snobby hierarchy. We’ve either watered it down to pop-psychology or we’ve weaponized it into a sledgehammer. It’s probably hard to imagine becoming a Christian or staying one when a handful of Christians down the street were so red-faced angry and too busy fighting each other, or when you were offered nothing more than spiritual cotton candy.

But I’m really hoping you would know that the Christian faith has a deep, rich, profound thoughtfulness about life, because I believe it comes from the one who has healed the universe. I know this isn’t so obvious from all the Christians you see in the news. Yet if you can forget, even for a moment, all the baggage tied with the name “Jesus,” and for a time call him Yeshi or Teacher or Healer or Truth, then maybe it would be worth considering that he not only said really wonderful, powerful, relevant things, but also offers the grace to embrace them. I believe this is not just advice, but a living, breathing, dynamic heartbeat, which you can trace back to the Author of Ta Hera Gramata, or what we call the Holy Scriptures.

 

I truly believe that none of our advice makes sense until we know the Jesus who purchased us out of sin-bound slavery on a criminal’s cross and rightfully brings us into himself. He is owed the glory and credit and thanks for all there is, because God gave us everything — Himself — when He owed us nothing. You might have heard that a million times, but it’s no less true and glorious. He gave us life, and more.

There’s no point in answering anything if it ultimately does not point to Christ. There’s plenty of practical advice coming up and you can run with it, but advice without Christ is living without life. If you don’t believe that, that’s okay. It’s hard to believe for even the most veteran of Christians. But by witnessing how the Christian faith can be so pulsating and thriving and true for us today, we can see how alive that Jesus is for us, too. I trace back my thirst to the fountain.

I believe that God’s Word is absolute authority, not just because it’s the Word of God, but because it actually works. I believe the Bible has timeless wisdom for issues big and small, hairy and tall, today and tomorrow. When the Word is funneled through experience, logic, and sound interpretation, we travel this journey of faith with the stirring of joy.

One day, I believe our questions will dissolve before the presence of God. That’ll be an awesome day for the faithful few: the clarity, the wiping of tears, the melting of pain, the face-palm for all our tiny human flailing. We’ll stand before the One who breathes stars in His nostrils, and we’ll be like ants trying to wave down a helicopter. Jesus will be the answer to everything. When I say Jesus is the answer, I don’t mean that in an abstract, ethereal way. I actually mean it. He’s the Alpha and Omega, the Galaxy-Sculptor, the lover of busted up hearts.

While I can give you tips and application and insight and Ten Steps and How-To, I can’t promise you purpose or meaning or soul. Only Jesus can, and does. 

He is life. Without him, none of this matters. 

I know that until we see him in fully revealed glory: we’re in the fight, the fray, the frustration. Things get tough, fast. Saying “Jesus” for everything or throwing around Bible verses doesn’t always do it for you. We want to be armed for the daily grind. Our concerns are real. And despite how the church culture might have made it so distant, it’s here that God speaks with force, gentleness, and truth. There’s an unbelievable wealth of wisdom when you get with Him.

As G.K. Chesterton said,

"The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.

It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

So let’s talk. We can be honest here.

— J.S.

Grace is not so much any one action or rule or attitude, but grace is more of a story about broken people being loved and healed.

Let me tell you about my first pastor. When I first came to church over ten years ago, I was a stubborn thick-headed horny atheist who was looking for hot Christian girls. I hated the sermons but I kept coming back: because there was something about this pastor.

He endured with me. I asked him tons of annoying questions about God and the Bible, but he answered them patiently. I screwed up a lot: I slept with a few girls in the church and confessed them all, but he never flinched. He called me and texted me when I never replied. He bought me lunches, dinners, books, and sent cards to my house. He spent hours praying for me. He never once lost his temper with me.

Over time, I realized how much of a jerk I was to him. I didn’t listen; I was late all the time; I got drunk and went to strip clubs on Saturday nights before strolling in hungover on Sundays; I hardly asked how he was doing. But he was endlessly loving. And the grace of this man completely melted me. I’ve known him now for thirteen years, and there’s no way I could be the person I am today without him.

I remember small moments. When one day I was horribly depressed, and he wrote me a letter right in front of me. When I got out of the hospital from swallowing a bottle of pills, and he listened without judging. When I was sobbing hysterically one day and he gripped both my hands and told me, It’ll be okay. God still loves you and He will never stop.

Even now, my eyes glisten and my heart swells at his sacrifice. His grace fundamentally ripped away my selfishness and disturbed my ego. I deserved nothing and he gave me his all.

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

Fake, Fraud, On Empty

jspark3000:

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At times when I’m serving at church or encouraging a friend or writing some inspirational piece, I think —

If people knew how I really am, they’d run screaming.

Because I often feel like I’m compensating for the wrong I’ve done, and that there is never enough I can do to wash out my past. I think it’s all a desperate race to look good when I’m really still crooked inside, and any second now I’ll be exposed and pay the penalty and everyone can say, I always knew something was wrong with him.

I wish there was a magic bullet for this: but the itch never goes away. It’s a constant anxiety that others might pull off the mask and see I was just a fake the whole time.

 

Very often I end up telling others what I want to be more true for myself, and I push my own crushing mold of perfection onto hapless bystanders.  It’s sort of a vicarious vampire-like narcissism.  My pulpit becomes a venue of emotional catharsis.  I exorcise my own demons by speaking about them in a subversive reverse-humility, as if I am past them: but I’m not. 

In an ethos where we are largely built on performer’s paranoia, it’s easy to operate out of spiritual gifts while having zero interior connection to God’s grace.  We can be completely void and bankrupt of any depth while speaking eloquently on a blog or a church platform.  Inside though: we are silently collapsing inward, deflating on the daily pressure to perform.  We run on empty and ignore the meter.  

You know how it is. 

You lead praise and genuinely get people close to God, but backstage you’re angry with your band members and lusting after the keyboardist and your prayers are mumbles. 

You teach a Bible study or guest-speak somewhere and people are really moved, but really you’re speaking way ahead of your own spiritual life and secretly you think maybe if you move enough people, you will actually catch up to what you’re telling them to do. 

I preach and people get saved and they cry and recite the sinner’s prayer, but inside I’m detached from what I’m seeing and saying and I wish I could be just as excited as they are, and I’m just barely skimming my abilities as a speaker but not alive as a herald burning with any power from the Word. 

 

I wish I could wrap this up for you with a happily-ever-after — but it doesn’t always end that way. 

Some of us are about to crash, or have.  Many of us do not finish strong, because we neglected the inner-truth of our spiritual well-being and fed on the applause instead.  We fed on blog hits and reblogs and quoting great quotes, instead of nourishing our soul from the Only One who can.  We allowed our past and secret wrongs to choke us into a compensatory guilt that never ends.

All I can do for now is cling onto God’s mercy by the barest edge of my fingernails.  I will love Him anyway.  I can trust Him, even with the tiniest sliver of faith, that He is good and will work things for good, and the fog will part again soon.  I will serve anyway, by grace.

— J.S.

5 Reasons Why Hershel From The Walking Dead Is My Favorite Christian On TV

jspark3000:

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Nearly every Christian on TV and in movies is portrayed to be an extreme bigot, a closet prodigal, or a gun-toting uptight neo-con Republican. A good screenwriter can manage to squeeze all three in one.

Christians do deserve some of the criticism. In the 1980s, we over-reached our grasp by trying to politicize “Christian morality” in every platform, and we now live in the backlash of trying too hard to force the church into the state. In the 1990s, there was a “Christianese” version of everything, from Testa-Mints to Bibleman to Xtreme Youth Group Pizza Night to the Holy Land Experience theme park. Either we’re getting good stuff like Lecrae and Switchfoot, or we’re getting awful stuff like a tame Nic Cage in Left Behind and yet another Westboro picketing.

For every time that Christians call foul on how they’re portrayed in the media, I always have to say that we’re not helping our case either. It’s true that the media sensationalizes the worst of us: but we’re giving them great material.

So it always surprises me to see a multi-dimensional Christian in the entertainment media, who’s not a dichotomous banner-waver but a modest down-to-earth father, who happens to be a Christian. Hershel from The Walking Dead has some of the familiar tropes we’ve come to expect — a sage-like advice dispenser, has too-perfect Bible verses for the situation, owns an actual farm — but there’s a deep world-weariness and bemusement in his mannerisms that brings a depth we never see in screen-written Christians.

On a show that’s been panned for uneven writing, false motivations, and some bad dialogue (Things-And-Stuff Rick), Hershel’s character arc is one of the best on the show, and one of the best in any show period.

Here are five reasons why Hershel Greene is my favorite Christian on TV.

[Some spoilers follow, especially for #5.]

 

1) He wasn’t a stereotype, but a fully fleshed out character.

When Hershel first showed up onscreen, I was ready for all the eye-rolling bigotry to spill out his mouth. At some point, his faith would have to be portrayed as an obsolete obstacle, or he would die from his own faithful foolishness. At the time, the showrunner of The Walking Dead was Frank Darabont, who directed The Mist, which had the most unbelievable zealous Crazy-Christian ever. I figured Hershel would be a talking point to show why religion equals evil, as usual.

I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop: but it never happened. Hershel was a family man, a simple farmer, a devoted father, and mostly kept his sanity in a post-apocalyptic world. He fought for his survival and the dignity of others, just like everyone else. He reluctantly agreed to let in a group of strangers into his home, at the potential cost of bringing danger, and though he continually tried to push them out, still let them stay. It’s the same exact conflict you and I would have in the same situation. For once, a Christian was a human being on network TV.

Alcoholism is also usually conveyed with a lot of non-subtle cues on TV shows, most especially with Shane drinking a bottle of liquor in the shower. Scenes like that immediately take you out of the fictional world because you know it’s only done for the visual. A better written screenplay shows a history in the proceedings, like when best friends or the married couple have inside-jokes, or when the dialogue is less about exposition and more just two guys talking. It doesn’t feel like the actors just met on set that day, but there’s a realism and relatability.

When an actor can show that certain character flaws have always been there, pulsing beneath the surface, this is what brings the particular world to life. And Hershel puts on his A-game at the scene in the bar in “Triggerfinger.” The lines of struggle truly show in his face, and we can buy into Hershel as a real whole person.

 

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2) He was one of the most resourceful characters on the show.

Hershel’s former occupation was a veterinarian, and in most dystopian media, that instantly means you’re the doctor for the humans too. Yet Hershel made this believable, by both honing his craft (eventually teaching basic surgery to Carol) and knowing his limitations. When the infection catches on at the prison, he becomes the most valuable person there. And a farmer? Growing your own food? Raising livestock? Sounds like it could come in handy in a world where grocery stores only contain rotting food with rotting corpses that want to kill you. This easily brings Hershel to over 9000.

 

3) He didn’t have a perfect faith.

Under the pressure of this kind of world, Christians on TV are usually shown as ridiculously chipper and upbeat, or they throw their faith out the window. At the start of “Internment,” the most Hershel-centric episode of the series, he’s shown reading his Bible while treating sick patients — but by the end, after having seen a close friend die and nearly dying himself, he opens the Bible only to weep alone.

Some viewers have said this is the moment he lost his faith. Others say this was a clear statement that faith can no longer be upheld in such a cruel world. I disagree. I tend to think that this is the norm for Christians, wondering how God fits into our everyday grind of rush hour traffic, hospital bills, and family drama. It’s okay for Christians — for everyone else, really — to weep, to vent, to be frustrated, to be dangerously honest. Look no further than the Psalms, than Jeremiah and Isaiah and Ruth, to see the raw openness of doubts, detachment, and disappointment in God and with themselves. Faith is not easy because life is not easy.

Hershel weeping over an open Bible shows that vulnerable space between a fallen hostile world and a perfectly loving God, where we live in a grey unresolved tension. It was a perfect image of our imperfection.

 

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4) He was very often the voice of reason and hope.

The “hopeful” characters on TV can be a bit shrill and grating, and though Hershel had his handful of corny pep-talk, he also had a bunch of great quotables that didn’t ignore what was happening, but made the most of it.

I also have to add: his complete acceptance of Glenn as a son-in-law was a win for race and family.

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5) He believed in the good of humanity until the very end.

The Walking Dead and other zombie literature always asks the question: What would we do if we were in the that world? Would we do whatever it takes to survive? Or does surviving at all costs essentially kill our humanity? Are we more like Rick, or Shane? Are we more like the Governor, or Michonne? If you must do unspeakable things to stay ahead of others, is that really ahead of anything?

Hershel Greene remained consistently on the pro-human side of the zombie landscape. While Rick was fluctuating between crumbling insanity and Alpha male leader, and Shane was corrupted beyond recognition, we have one character who continually believed in the good of people. In his last scene with the Governor, perhaps the most detestable antagonist of the show, Hershel says, “Your people, our people, we can find away to live together … Everything you said, the way you’ve said it, you’ve changed.” Hershel really believes that a mustache-twirling villain like the Governor can still do some good.

In Hershel’s final scene, we see him watching Rick negotiating with the Governor. Up to this point, Hershel has been trying to awaken Rick into the good man he knows him to be; Rick has been avoiding his natural born role as a leader. But as Hershel is held hostage and Rick is threatened to leave, Rick makes an impassioned plea to the Governor. “Everyone’s who’s made it this far. We’ve all done the worst kinds of things just to stay alive. But we can still come back. We’re not too far gone. We get to come back. I know we all can change.”

These very words could have come out of Hershel’s mouth. When Hershel sees this newfound spark in Rick, he can’t help but sense a better victory has been won. Hershel has imparted just enough of his wisdom, his grace, and his heart, to see a broken man become healed and empowered. And for that, Hershel could die happy.

There went the finest Christian on TV, on his own terms.

Hats off to the writers of The Walking Dead and to Scott Wilson, for an excellent performance, and for treating the Christian faith with a grounded, nuanced reverence.

– J.S.

 

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Do You Even Journal Bro?

jspark3000:

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It’s really awesome if you journal everyday.  I think journaling is the coolest thing since journaling went from a nerdy noun to a muscular mountain-climbing verb.

It’s cool if you QT every morning at 5am and jetpack to your homeless shelter to drop off Wonder Bread and you pray six times a day for your neighbors and for your governor and for the 6000 people groups who don’t know Jesus.  Praise God that you’re on the Choir, Welcoming Team, Skit Team, Rap Team, and Origami Team.  I’m serious.  You’re a rockstar.

But: Not everyone has this sort of faith.

We’re different.  Some of us take notes; some of us process in our heads.  Some sing loudly; others soak in the lyrics.  Some can pray on the spot; others take a long time to get in the zone.  Some of us love the bare outdoors to commune with God; others need a podcast, a visual, a conversation, and coffee.

We can’t force journaling or 5am QT or “unceasing prayer” on every visitor in the pew nearest you.  It might work for some, but God’s imagination was not limited to the specific way you relate to Christ.  God’s own nature, the Trinity, proves it.  He is both infinitely diverse and profoundly one-on-one.

It’s better to celebrate these differences than define ourselves by them.  Better to have grace between the spaces than a death-grip to conform them. 

We’re uniquely wired to Christ in as many ways as there are people.  We can learn from each other.  Maybe I can journal once in a while, and you can put down the pen in a sermon.  Maybe I can step outside to see God in nature, and maybe you can hear this podcast with me.  Maybe we can pray together, and for once I’ll do it out loud.  And maybe we will sing together, and we’ll both go a little wild.

This is the body of Christ.  We are many; we are one.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

— Ephesians 4:4-6

— J.S.