J.S. Park

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Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.

- C.S. Lewis

Question: My Pastor Doesn’t Preach Deep Enough

jspark3000:

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Anonymous asked (edited for length):

I know you lovingly and jokingly ‘hate’ on reformed churches. I spent half my life in a reformed Church, but after moving states, I’ve been called to a somewhat more ‘neutral’ denomination … But I miss the deep theology and resonance of a ‘reformed’ sermon. The sermons in my current Church lack luster … I love my current Church but I do miss my ‘reformed sermons’. A lot of young people in our Church are complaining that they are not growing / the sermons are not deep enough … What I’m trying to grapple with for myself is what really is at the heart of a reformed sermon? … Are ‘reformed’ sermons really scripturally deeper? …  I’m trying to get to the heart of this myself so I can be more satisfied with the spiritual feeding my current Church is offering. I am supplementing all this with Piper/Keller/Driscoll sermons online, but I miss being excited about the sermon on Sundays.

 

Dear friend, thank you so much for asking this.  Many of us love our churches but feel off about the Sunday sermons, and this is a much more common issue than you think. 

I edited a lot of your original question, but you were very fair about your pastor and I appreciate your gracious tone. There are too many people who are overly harsh on this sort of thing, and you’re not one of them.  I know it’s also a sensitive issue because you want to respect your leadership while also challenging them to a deeper level. But really there are a few simple adjustments you can make when you’re “not being fed.” 

About Reformed Calvinism: secretly, I am indeed a Reformed Calvinist but I no longer self-identify as one. I do like to poke fun at us because I think we need to lighten up and no one really calls us out, but as far as the theology goes, I’m all there.  I also very much love my Reformed brothers and sisters, even when they’re not always fun to hang out with (hah).

If you feel you’re not being fed on Sundays, please don’t leave the church yet.  Here are some things to consider.

 

1) You are a multi-faceted person that prefers growth in certain areas which your pastor might be missing.

Every person’s learning ability is made of at least four sides: intellectual, emotional, psychological, and spiritual.  We all lean towards one, and so does your pastor.  If the sermon does not hit on your preferred learning style, then it will be extra difficult to grow — but you can still grow.

To break it down further:

- Intellectual: The mind. An increased knowledge and understanding of particular topics, especially systematic theology and grammatical-historical facts.

- Emotional: The heart. Being inspired, moved, convicted, and encouraged.

- Psychological: The will. The inner-workings of our motives, actions, behaviors, end goals, culture, and afflictions.

- Spiritual: The soul. A focus on spiritual gifts, abilities, Kingdom-thinking, evangelism, missions, spiritual disciplines, and other Christianese topics.

 

For some churchgoers, they confuse “bad preaching” with mismatched learning styles.  A pastor who is highly emotional will hardly ever reach an intellectual person, and vice versa.  Very rarely do you find a preacher who is the whole package, and even then, they will still tend towards one or two of these directions. 

For this season of your life, you might want to consider adjusting your learning style.  If your pastor is a blasphemous heretic, then of course you should leave — but if not, then it’s time to stretch yourself.

My first pastor was a very emotional/spiritual preacher, when I am more intellectual/psychological.  But I dearly loved my pastor, and eventually, I found that I really did need emotional and spiritual encouragement because these were weak areas in my life.  I had to stop looking down on my pastor’s sermons as if they were shallow or incomplete.  In the end, this made me a much more rounded individual who could better understand different kinds of personalities.  It will round you out too, if you let it.  These days, I even preach a lot more like my first pastor and it’s helped me to reach others I never could have on my own.

On top of that, when you mentioned that you compensate by listening to Reformed podcasts like Piper/Keller/Driscoll, there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing this.  We are blessed to have so many free resources, and you should never feel like you’re “cheating” on your pastor if you grow from other sermons.  I also supplement, and a truly gracious pastor would be thrilled to hear that you’re listening to sermons throughout the week.

On the other hand, I would try to be very aware of your own learning style and then accommodate yourself to your pastor’s teaching.  Unless he’s just a horrible preacher, he will say something that’s worthwhile and God-honoring, and we would be wise not to let our biased styles get in the way of God’s work.  Embrace it and be open to other ways that God will speak to you.

 

2) Build on your pastor’s weaknesses.

One time I heard my first pastor preach a much more exegetical sermon than I’ve heard from him, and it was awesome.  It reached my nerdy intellectualism.  So after the service, I told my pastor how great it was to hear him do exegesis on a passage.  It was a sincere compliment that I didn’t really think much of.

For the next few months, my pastor went on an exegetical trip and it was some of the best sermons I’ve ever heard.  Since my pastor was already such an emotional preacher, he didn’t leave behind the emotional people in the church either.  I was so fired up.  And it was all because of one specific comment towards my pastor.

The best thing you can do here is to find openings on helping your pastor improve.  Pastors love vision.  They love seeking ways forward.  If you only deconstruct what they’re NOT doing, they will never know what you really need.  But if you can tell them, “I would love more of what you just did there,” they will embrace that all the way.

 

3) Encourage your pastor, because he’s a human being like anyone else.

See: Most pastors on Sundays fall into pride or over-sensitivity, so that if you criticize them, you will get nowhere.  Pastors are constantly on edge about their own performance, and if we approach them in a confrontational way, they will always take it personally.  They’ll either be extremely angry or ridiculously hard on themselves. 

It sounds like a game or something, and maybe sometimes it is.  But let’s take a little extra effort to show grace to our pastors and let them know when they’ve done well.  Almost all they hear is how bad they’re doing.  This wouldn’t help you, either.

You might think pastors should be “above this,” but we easily forget that pastors have all the same fears and anxieties and hopes as you do, and they need encouragement like all of us.  On Sunday nights when you’re relaxing with your family, the pastor is beating himself up over all the mistakes he made.  I’m not trying to pull fake pity here, but so often we show grace for other people that we would never show to the pastor.

Pray for them, keep an open dialogue, encourage them after sermons on a particular point you liked, and be willing to share your issues so he knows what you’re going through.  Your pastor, if he is a godly man, really does desperately care for you, and he will build himself in his lacking areas when he knows what to build.

— J.S.

"A Day In The Life of a Christian Blogger"
By Naked Pastor (David Hayward)

"A Day In The Life of a Christian Blogger"

By Naked Pastor (David Hayward)

The Pastor’s Calling: How It Really Is, Not How You Want It To Be

thistreasureinjarsofclay asked:

Is it really improbable for someone to “like” or “want” to be a pastor? I just think that there really are people who understand what it means to be one and are really filled with passion to preach Christ, with compassion for the lost and with care for the flock, that they really “like” or “want” it whatever might be the cost.

 

Hey there my friend. I think you’re referring to some of the tough things I said about seminary and a pastor’s calling.

I believe it’s not improbable to just “like” or “want” to be a pastor, but it’s certainly unlikely.

Please hear me saying this in all love and grace for you.  I know it will sound like such a downer, and when I talk to young dudes who want to be pastors, this is always the hard part.  I feel like the harbinger of bad news or the crusher of dreams.  I end up saying “No you’re not ready” a lot of the time, and usually the response is, “You’re just a hater, you don’t know me man, God’s gonna use me.” 

I’ve hurt a lot of fragile egos who weren’t willing to undergo the honesty of self-examination.  I get cussed out or cut off, and that’s okay.  By now, I’m jaded by those sort of things.  There’s a lot of triumphalistic tribal language about victory and haters and trolls, but really: I’m trying to give an honest accurate view of what pastoral ministry is really like.  If I don’t do that, then I wouldn’t be a good friend.  And even if that person “thinks” they understand what it’s like to be a pastor, they don’t.  Seriously.  I’m being nice here.  You can’t possibly know what it’s like until you’re there, day to day, in the trenches of real people bleeding your life away to serve.

Simply: Ministry is downright impossible except for the anointing of God.  There’s no way to simply “like” your way into ministry.  The life of a pastor is extremely difficult, and if it’s not, you’re probably doing it wrong.  I will never ever sugarcoat this or water it down to spare your feelings.  It’s why doctors will tell you that med school isn’t for kicks and cred: they want you to man up and be ready.  If you’re called, awesome.  If not, wait.

I do see what you’re saying.  There should be joy in ministry.  Of course it helps to like what you do.  Pastors must certainly “like” the church, even and especially when it’s difficult.  But if that’s the sole motivation, it will never last. 

I hate to be the jerk that says all that.  It’s just that I’ve seen so many distracted half-focused jokesters in the pulpit that I realize: no one ever told them the true meaning of being a pastor.  They don’t realize they have the lives of entire families in their hands who want healing and guidance and truth and a true picture of God.  It’s like some of these dudes went to youth camp once and thought it would be fun and easy and so they sign up for seminary to have a “one day per week” job.  And that’s not even close to how it really is.

 

Let’s consider how a pastor is sustained to do ministry for fifty years.  He is called by God.  That’s it.  That’s the only thing keeping him going through the worst seasons.  The church culture can be extremely brutal, punishing, and unforgiving to pastors.  The pastor is under a constant microscope of scrutiny, and to some extent, he should be.  To stay under that crossfire takes a certain kind of thick skin, one that isn’t based on your performance or cute photos or applause or approval rating.

Let’s put it another way.  I want my future kids to attend a church where their pastor will safely, graciously, gently lead them towards Christ.  Not perfectly, but passionately.  I would be trusting my kids to the guidance of someone who is divinely appointed by God Himself. 

But you’ve seen all the horrible abuses of the church.  Like the youth pastor who raped a bunch of girls for several years.  Or the youth pastor who had sex with every girl in his youth group.  Or the pastors who molest the boys in their Sunday School.  Or all these pastors suddenly murdering their wives.  Those are extreme cases.  Yet even in the less extreme ones, I don’t want some pastor who just “decided” to be a pastor.  I’ve heard too many horror stories about pastors who didn’t get the accountability and gut-check they needed.  Going into ministry is not some flippant fun decision to be a preacher and a buddy to your church.  A pastor has to be absolutely willing to give away their lives as Christ died for us.  Pastors always give more than they will ever get.  Without that, they’re really just hurting the church.  Any pastor who’s in it for self-glory or validation or just to fool around will never be near my children.

I’ll put it another way.  If you want to get married or own a business or have kids because it looks “fun” or “I just want to,” then think of how much you’re actually hurting all those things.  You’ll be dragging in all kinds of people to invest into your concepts of family and business, but all the while it’s been about your feelings and gratifying your own desires.  This is why deadbeat dads run out on their families: because suddenly it didn’t cater to their false idea of family. 

 

I know I’m simplifying what you said, and that’s probably not your motivation, and I’m making a lot of presumptions here.  But so long as you do not correctly estimate the sweat and blood and tears of where you’re headed, the lack of seriousness will deplete the life of everyone involved.  Then when you no longer “like it” or “want it,” you’ll mentally check out or you’ll run off, and do more damage.

So it’s my job as a pastor, as a Christian, and as a friend to keep it real about ministry.  Whenever I plant a church one day, I will never hire the people who only “like ministry.”  They better at least like ministry, but I’m looking for the calling.  I won’t care if they’re good at preaching or have good church methodology for evangelism or can run programs.  That’s like caring about someone’s abs to babysit my kids.  I only care if they’re ready to die for these people.  

I’m sorry if that bothers you.  I don’t mean to be rude and I especially don’t want to confuse you if you’re truly called.  I just hope you’ll actually circumvent any anger you have at me to spend that on looking at yourself instead.  If you want to be mad, then by all means, please cuss me out or call me wrong or say I’m a troll.  I just sincerely want the best for the church and for future pastors.  I love you (and the church) too much not to tell you what you’re in for.  And if you’re called, you’ll have to examine yourself even more, and not less.

— J.S.

A Mega-Post: Straight Talk About Abortion

jspark3000:

kradicalthoughts asked:

I try to observe all factors possible in learning the truth that is in the Bible. I believe it is the most important book. There is also a lot of conflict over it that I’m not sure is necessary. Galileo was forced by the Church to renounce his discovery that Earth revolves around the sun based on Joshua 10:12-14 (and b/c of the Church’s struggle for control). Do you think it’s possible that the ongoing controversy over abortion and Psalm 139:13 is of the same nature? Thank you for your time.

 

I know this will not be a popular opinion among Christians: but I personally believe it’s morally evil to use a Bible verse to influence a public policy, especially when it’s about abortion or homosexuality.

In answer to your question: it’s very possible that we often use the Bible for the wrong reasons in all the wrong ways.  It doesn’t make the Bible wrong, but only exposes our human nature.

To be clear, issues like marriage and abortion have moral dimensions which I believe require the wisdom of God. But when David wrote Psalm 139, I totally doubt that he intended this verse to support the pro-life position.

I understand the logic here and I’m certainly not condoning abortion: but I would hope that Christians can make their appeals with much more grace than cherry-picking verses and tossing them like grenades. This is an irrational technique that spits in the face of a God who longs to communicate His heart to us.

To twist a verse into an emphasis for government law both obscures God’s heart and turns Him into a legislative monster. If we really wanted to endorse the dignity of a baby’s life: we can’t do it like this. The church is a place of invitation to a life with God, and many of us have turned it into an anti-polemical machine of neo-conservative isolationism.

 

When I’m asked if I am pro-life or pro-choice, I have often described myself as pro-people on the issue. I get crap for that because it appears elitist, hipster-ish, and liberal.  It sounds like I’m being soft or dodgy. I would counter that “pro-life” or “pro-choice” is actually soft and dodgy. They hardly accommodate for the life stories of lifelong struggles. The “debate” on abortion deteriorates into a focus on a specific window of nine months, which is the most shortsighted viewpoint on any issue ever.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve had a sane conversation about it: because we’re all so wired up with this binary way of thinking that we automatically assume the other side is an enemy. You see how that’s worked out so far.

People have done what we always do: We’ve taken a very important human issue and set up two sides in opposition, all while neglecting the living breathing human beings caught in the crossfire. We rarely find another way, so you have pundits and talking heads and picket signs and stupid visual aids and manipulative sentimentality.

Just think: Why are we “for” or “against”? Are we “for” some abstract theoretical concept of morality? Are we “against” some faceless caricature that doesn’t exist?

I hope we search deep on this. You’ll be threatened by being so honest with yourself. You’ll be surprised by the ugliness of your soul. I know I was, and am.

 

I know you didn’t ask, but let’s be specific about abortion here.  Your average everyday person is not very thoughtful. I’ve certainly met women who went through emotional hell about abortion, but I’ve also met women who never gave it a second thought.

We can pretend like everyone is as nuanced as the super-sensitive socially-aware blogosphere, or we can be real about this broken world and recognize: many people out there don’t have the same access to education on human value. They are not informed on either side of the debate. They don’t even care about your debate.

Some women choose abortion because it’s so ingrained in the common culture, and NOT because they’re evil. I’ve met women who have had multiple abortions because they didn’t know anything else. I’ve met women who have been vilified by the church for getting pregnant or having an abortion: so where do you think they’ll go?  Fathers are largely absent and parents are largely angry and churches are largely aversive.

The church is simply NOT helping the discussion; they just sound like angry balcony critics shaking a tiny fist at the lives of real women with tough problems. Instead of enlivening the conversation, churches have mostly just condemned.

 

While we’re yelling clever arguments on our blogs, there is a very real sixteen year old pregnant girl who needs some help in the midst of our misdirected outrage. Let me ask: What looks safer to them? A pregnancy center or a church? Most of the ladies I know would never step foot in a church to ask about their options, and that’s our fault.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m above this. I don’t mean to be one more blogger getting on a soap-box at everyone. But we forget that not all of us are well-versed in all the semantics here. Not everyone is a blogger or even likes to read. Not everyone thinks like me or you.

It’s fruitless to throw around a Bible verse. We can’t pretend to act like we care about children when we don’t do a thing the moment they’re born.  A birth is NOT a victory in and of itself — it must also continue with the steady perseverance of raising a human life.

 

Let’s be even more real then. Pro-choice people who act comforting are occasionally full of crap: they don’t care about the women, they just care about “rights.” Pro-life people who act concerned are occasionally full of crap: they don’t care about babies or dignity, they just care about “rights.” 

When pro-choicers say it’s “always a tough decision,” I feel like sometimes they’re paying cheap lip service to a pseudo-thoughtfulness that only appears like a conscionable struggle, when it’s just a passing remark to cover their own throne of convenience. Just as equally, when pro-lifers appeal to Bible verses as “God’s authority” over human dignity, I feel like sometimes they don’t even care about the baby’s life but really just want to dominate the political square with unilateral power.

Both sides of this argument are full of it, and I’ve never seen either side admit it. If they would just come clean — gasp! — maybe they could build a common bridge and ignite a productive conversation. But that would make too much sense.

 

I really hope we can turn our priorities back to the people and the God who created them: not one at the expense of the other.

Do we really care about the lives of children? Then care about the foster system, education, good parenting, proper welfare, and the inner-city.

Do we really care about women’s rights? Then don’t forget to speak up against the rape culture, for equal economic opportunities, and for abused women. 

Do we really care about God’s Will?  Then quit using the phrase “God’s Will” like a trump card, because the Bible is not ammo for your agenda.

A microscopic debate on one section of an issue will end up with defunct ministries that are ill-equipped to offer viable options for mothers and their children. It will look like what we have today, with zero momentum on helping the sixteen year old girl who is swirling in a world of guilt and guesswork. She doesn’t need the version of a Christian who robotically strings Bible verses to spit out preprogrammed dogma.

This girl needs Christ, and she needs you.

— J.S.

The Reckless, Relentless, Sloppy Grace of God: The Church That Jesus Had In Mind
J.S. Park

What grace looks like in action, resulting in the nuanced thoughtful faith that we’re all looking for.

Be blessed and love y’all!

— J

jspark3000:

Hello lovely wonderful friends!

This is a message I had the privilege to preach at an amazing college ministry in Gainesville, FL. 

The message is titled: The Reckless, Relentless, Sloppy Grace of God: The Church That Jesus Had In Mind.

Of anything I’ve ever preached, this one is the truest message of my heart: that we would become a community of reckless honesty that gets entrenched into the mess of real lives with thoughtful nuance and that costly love called grace.  Whether you hate church or you’ve attended your whole life, I believe this is what God is after.

Stream above or download here!

Here are other messages from the podcast.

Be blessed and love y’all!

— J.S.

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

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

- J.S. from this post

How do you discern God's voice? How do you know when God is speaking to you, or pushing you to go in one direction or another?

Hey my dear friend, please allow me to share some previous posts:

- Four Thoughts About Finding God’s Will

- How Do I Even Hear The Voice of God?

- Was That God Or Me?

- Trying To Figure Out My Life

There are obvious things, like how God’s voice will line up with Scripture and the advice of mature friends.  Some other thoughts to consider:

 

- We often learn in hindsight.  God doesn’t always work in neon lights and flashing signs.  Sometimes looking over the course of your own life — where you shined, failed, flourished, grew — can be helpful.

- God speaks with simplicity.  Like Ecclesiastes 6:11 says, “The more the words, the less the meaning.”  If we start to rationalize a decision with a lot of words, you can almost guarantee that’s not from God.  His voice is pure, simple, to the point, and often a whisper.

- His voice will contradict you.  Prayer will humble you.  I don’t mean despair or self-pity, but you’ll sense God is turning your head the right way to a better direction, and it won’t always be the easy one.  Loving people, being patient, sacrifice, and finding a meaningful purpose are not easy things.  Prayer won’t always lead to positive affirmation, but often loving rebuke.

- You’ll relent and repent.  I can be sure I’m hearing God’s voice when it brings me to a place of repentance.  I know I’m not right every time.  God wants to make sure I do something about that, because it’s how He can love me best.

— J.S.

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.

Since your porn addiction and recovery, do you have freedom in the way you see women now? Are you still affected by objectifying thoughts? I ask as I am a woman, discouraged at the state of men. Just recently a very godly man attempted to push boundaries with me - and it honestly broke my heart. Can you make sense of how men and lust works? Can someone love you and in the next moment hurt you because of being led by lust? Then he claimed it was because he wanted to be close? I need truth.

Hey there my friend, thank you for your honesty, and I’m really sorry about what you just went through.  I know that broken trust is one of the most hurtful things that can happen.

What happened to you is absolutely dead wrong.  If a man goes against your consent, that is completely done and over.  No sympathy, no pity, no pampering.  He cannot rationalize his way out of this one.  You can forgive him, but you don’t ever have to be his friend or anything else. 

Inevitably though: Any man that you meet today, no matter how good and godly, will struggle with lust in a lifelong battle of both internal and external turbulence, and while some are better at it than others, you’ll definitely be engaging to fight that battle together.  This goes for women, too, because illegitimate lust is not specific to gender.

About a hundred years ago, most of the sensual lewd images of that day would’ve been bare feet or maybe an ankle bone.  Imagine a bunch of dudes with mustaches and monocles looking at a picture saying, "Unfh, dat ankle."  I’m being dumb here, but only a few generations before us, we weren’t bombarded with so many visual lures. 

I say this knowing that 1) the human heart has always been twisted, and 2) we can’t blame external stimuli for our internal troubles.  But the pervasive access to pornography has certainly heightened our sexual dysfunction, and there’s no doubt that we live in a much more sexualized culture than ever before.  And the US is not even the most sexually “free” nation.  So all this is an uphill reality that needs a new arsenal.

 

Please know that I am NOT enabling or coddling, at all.  When a man’s lust manifests into physical aggression or coercion, this is his fault and his fault alone.  This sort of lust is indicative of larger issues with self-control, including how to use money and time.  On top of that, it’s mostly celebrated when men are out-of-control morons.  Most men are taught that any act of lust is really okay, so they’ve never practiced discipline.  We’re not taught to respect women as people, but a porn-culture teaches us to see women as receptacles. Most men have not found healthy ways to manage their own lust nor have learned how to channel it in the right direction: and most men don’t want to grow up from this.  So we’re dealing with a mix of both inner and outer issues, both choice and environment.

Here’s the difference.  If a man wants to get better at this, then he’s a man.  If he admits there’s a problem and he understands his surroundings and is making steps to freedom, then even his stumbling is still progress.  But if there’s even a glance back in the wrong direction or some hint of holding on with a foot out the back door, then he’s not ready for a relationship, much less raising daughters and having financial stability and leading a family into the future.  It’s not just that a man tries to get better, but wants to.

I can say with all glory to God: I am so much better off without pornography.  I’ve been sober almost three years.  My mind feels cleaner, I don’t objectify women as much as before, and I’ve been much more productive.  Yet I’ve had to stay vigilant.  I can’t let my guard down.  I’m always a recovering porn addict.  And even cutting off porn doesn’t mean I’m suddenly free of lust.  It’s a raging fight against sin to run towards God, every day.  Some days are better than others, but quitting porn was the bare minimum to even be able to stand.

I have a wonderful lady who understands all this.  She knows I fought a fifteen year porn addiction, she knows I’ve slept with girls before, she knows I have to keep my guard up the rest of my life.  But most importantly: she knows my heart, and she knows that I love Jesus and want his freedom.  She knows I will do whatever it takes to cut off temptation and stay in grace.  I can’t say I will ever do this perfectly: but I will run with passion.  There are, in the end, no good men: but only men who want Jesus to be their everything.

— J.S.

 

For posts on fighting porn addiction, click here.

For the podcast series on how I overcame porn, including a fasting challenge and how porn affects your brain, click here.

One thing that's on my mind some days is about witnessing and living your life. Is it a daily thing, that you witness to others or in the course of your life when your led is it that way. It may be a crazy question, but seeing that I've never seen it done or have been discipled. It feels like most times I'm just guessing and when I have shares my faith it was like I felt I didn't say the right thing or I left something out. Idk lol

Hey my friend: I think you landed on exactly what’s so tough about evangelism.

There’s a secret fear with Christians that we’re somehow fooling people into Jesus, as if we’re selling a campaign that we don’t quite believe ourselves.  It could be that we’re never quite certain about the right doctrine or the best presentation.  Or we’re not exactly living up to the ideal that we share, and there’s a troubling guilt that we might be wrong about this whole thing, so it’s this awkward sheepish hesitation masked with an almost too-loud confidence.  Like selling snake-oil that we want to really believe in, but remain unsure.  And some of us just feel straight up unworthy or too unknowledgeable to speak up.

I think a lot of this is because of the way we’re taught evangelism.  In the mainstream church (which I love, by the way, and I’m not bashing), we’re mostly taught to package the Gospel with one-liners, retorts, psychological allurement, and a final deal-closing prayer.  I mean let’s think about this.  I’m going to tell you the truth of the universe about God in a five minute sale at your front door.  I’m cool with door-to-door evangelism: but is this really the standard for sharing our faith? 

This is a sort of “success model” in which we’re expected to “convert” people by numerical values and scripted responses.  In the end, it’s trying to turn the Gospel into one more program.  So of course, we get nervous that we’re not living it right AND saying it right, and it’s a double-fear that many Christians don’t talk about.  We just act as convinced as possible but we’re not willing to doubt our own product.

 

Often my personal goal as a pastor (and a friend) is not to tell you what to think, but how to think about what you’re thinking.  I don’t want to drop faith at your front door, but I want to talk you through the things you believe.  I want to tell you about the person who changed my life.  That does require words and inviting you to church and telling you about the Bible and presenting the Gospel — but it also means sharing life with you, wrestling with doubts, asking the hard questions about suffering and purpose, being there with you to reflect grace and patience and honesty.  Without this, then evangelism remains a cold pamphlet with doctrinal facts about God, but it has nothing to do with Him.  Then we’re about recruiting people as projects to perpetuate programs: and bam, you have the modern church.

I think evangelism, in the end, overlaps with discipleship: which is life-on-life togetherness with Christ.  There isn’t some dichotomy where we “attract” people with witnessing and then “keep” them with deeper theology.  Both are fully active and pulsing in our daily lives.  And no one is looking for perfection, either.  I want a real human being, not a religious puppet who is spouting stock answers.  I want to see the moment after someone messes up. 

I want to encourage you, dear friend, that you don’t need to know everything about Christianity to be convicted.  You don’t need to wait to “get better” before sharing.  Sure, do your research.  Sure, keep growing.  Yes, know your theology.  But what I care about is that I love people with the same love I’ve been given.  If we’re going to talk about that, it won’t be a project or charity case or sale: but I can only say, “It’s only because I met someone who changed my life, and his name is grace.”  If they want to hear about that, then run tell that.  If not, that’s okay too.  Keep loving.

— J.S.

In last Friday’s sermon in Gainesville FL, I talked about the time I almost fought a pastor in the church parking lot. We’re now friends. This is last year in Seattle, with his awesome son Gunn. This is what grace can do. Love you Pastor Pedro!
[Message here: http://jspark3000.tumblr.com/post/92478534743/ ]

In last Friday’s sermon in Gainesville FL, I talked about the time I almost fought a pastor in the church parking lot. We’re now friends. This is last year in Seattle, with his awesome son Gunn. This is what grace can do. Love you Pastor Pedro!

[Message here: http://jspark3000.tumblr.com/post/92478534743/ ]

Faith Mosaic.

Your faith won’t look like the faith of your neighbor. We love Jesus and we love people: but beyond that, God has wired us with a colorful diversity of connections to Him. All the people in the Bible experienced God in different ways through their varying personalities.

Moses saw the back of God’s glorious rear, while Elijah heard the still small voice of God after a mountain exploded. Gideon was so doubtful he kept asking God to do weird things like burn up meat or throw water on a sheep rug; Jonathan was so confident that he provoked the Philistines to war without really consulting God. King David was a pensive, ferocious poet with an ear for music and lyrics; Jeremiah and Habbakuk wept loudly for their people with tons of uncertainty. Jonah hated ministry but went anyway; Isaiah said “Here am I, send me.” Ruth bravely proposed marriage in hopes that God would provide; Leah desperately begged Jacob to provide her offspring. Noah was a drunken slob after all his trouble; Joseph re-affirmed God’s sovereignty though he had been left for dead by his brothers. Peter was a brash thick-headed emotional hot-head who was ready for Jesus to unleash the Kingdom; Timothy was a sickly scared baby Christian who needed a lot of reassurance from Paul. Martha was practical and efficient; Mary was relational and affective. The Samaritan woman at the well needed a face-to-face encounter with Jesus; the Roman centurion trusted that Jesus had healed his sick servant from afar. Nicodemus the Pharisee went to Jesus late at night to avoid peering eyes; all the blind beggars went to Jesus in front of everyone to have their eyes opened. James & John expected Jesus to rain down fire on the enemy; Thomas doubted Jesus was ever the Messiah. James the half-brother of Jesus was all about God’s commands and obedience; Paul spoke of grace abounding all the more. Paul was the better writer but a weaker preacher; Peter was a fiery preacher for an ordinary fisherman. John was a loving patient sensitive man; Simon the Zealot was a political terrorist. Matthew Levi had been a greedy tax collector who followed Jesus on the spot; Mark was there when Jesus was arrested and fled the scene naked. In the end, Matthew and Mark wrote very different accounts of Jesus’s life and death, and so did Luke and John. Yet each one fills out the other, just as so many different hues in a mosaic.

— J.S.

Struggling With Loneliness: How Is God Enough?

- In the book of Genesis, there’s a verse where God said that it was not good for man to be alone so He will make a helper for him. I think this extends even beyond marriage to say that we were made to have close relationships in our lives. What’s confusing is how this applies when we feel lonely? It’s not all about us & what we want but, how do we cope with loneliness when we were made to have those close friendships to walk through life together but also know that God is all we truly need?

- Hi, I have struggled with loneliness for a very long time. God has been healing me but I still have problems with it. During my lonely times, I would listen to sermons, sing praise songs, or just do activities I enjoy but sometimes, I just get wrecked and end up sinning. I belong to a church and try to catch up with friends but because relationships are like revolving doors- they come and go, it doesn’t really help. How can I trust God when I am an emotional wreck.

 

Hey there dear friends: thank you for trusting me with such a huge important issue.  I think it’s very rare that we get to hear about a theology on loneliness and companionship, and while I know I can’t possibly remedy all your concerns today, we can chip away a few layers of this together.

Please first know that loneliness is part of who we are and is NOT wrong or bad or sinful.  In other words, being lonely actually shows you’re human, and not anything else.

To quote Timothy Keller, he says:

Adam was not lonely because he was imperfect. Adam was lonely because he was perfect. Adam was lonely because he was like God, and therefore, since he was like God, he had to have someone to love, someone to work with, someone to talk to, someone to share with.

All of our other problems—our anger, our anxiety, our fear, our cowardice—arise out of sin and our imperfections. Loneliness is the one problem you have because you’re made in the image of God.

 

But of course, it’s not just as simple as walking into a party or a college campus or a church and suddenly finding all you’re looking for.  While I’m not sure I can hit everything you’re thinking, here are a few things to consider.

 

- Having a lot of people in your life doesn’t guarantee you’ll be any happier.  You can constantly be where the action is but never actually make a connection.

 

- Intimacy requires an intentional effort.  You probably saw this coming: but it’s totally okay to put yourself out there and find people with a common ground and likes and interests.  It might feel embarrassing to “look for friends,” but it’s absolutely okay to pray about finding some and then putting yourself in environments to meet them.

 

- Intimacy doesn’t work with everyone.  We’re not obligated to be friends with every person we meet.  Friendship is a privilege of trust and permission and healthy boundaries and shared joy.

 

- Some friends are for a season, and then they go.  As painful as it is, friends can inevitably drift in distance or direction, and occasionally those friendships need to be let go.  Some of your friends will be lifelong, but many others will have less of a place in your life as life goes on.

 

- We’re not meant to walk this spiritual life alone, as if being alone is some kind of “qualifier” for how much you’re relying on God.There are some of us who are convinced that being in solitude all the time is so righteous and godly and pure, but this is crazy and unbiblical.  The love of God becomes so much more real when you’re amidst other God-loving people who love you.  It’s why 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."

Of course codependency and people-pleasing and caving into unfair demands are all harmful.  But it’s also a bad idea to assume that our godliness is measured by how much we “de-idolize” people in our lives.  To idolize anti-idolatry is still idolatry, and it’s not healthy.  God made us for face-to-face, eye-to-eye, chair-to-chair encounters with people, as much as we can.

 

- Try to know your own rhythms and whether you lean towards introversion or extroversion.  I know that being an “introvert” or “extrovert” is not exactly a dichotomous clear-cut science, but it especially helps to know if you’re an introvert who needs to recharge from people, or you’re an extrovert who needs to make connections everyday.  Extroverts will become more lonely more quickly, and will need to find the line where they’re becoming too needy.  Introverts will tend to push people away, so they’ll need to find the line where being a snuggie-wearing hermit is getting a little weird.

 

- God has specifically put people in your life to love you, lead you, help you, and root for you.  Many of us have our eyes closed to this, because we’re looking for a cool attractive person to fall into our lap who meets our invisible standards.  But it’s also possible that God wants you to have real time with the 80 year old grandma in your church or the quirky professor or the older married couple or that one kid no one will talk to.  Sometimes we’re not really lonely, but our standards for companionship are too high and awfully shallow.  We’d be surprised to encounter some very awesome people when we step out of our own safety. 

 

- Friendship is not about fighting loneliness, but finding life.  Friends can’t be about “filling a void.”  That’s like eating cardboard when you’re hungry.  Friends are about sharing life and laughter and love together, and if you can correctly estimate both their limits and their needs, you’ll be much healthier in how you interact with them and spend your alone-time as well.

 

- No matter what, intimacy with God is the priority. 

There might be long stretches of time when you won’t have a real connection with anyone, and it’ll be painful.  There might be seasons when people reject you or you’re ridiculed or the rumors make you a pariah in your own town.  You’ll be misunderstood or ethnically in the “wrong” place or there will just be a secret dividing line between you and the inner-circle, for all kinds of unfair reasons.  I’ve been there.  It’s almost unbearable.  And it’s these times I had to dig my heels in the ground and preach to myself that my dignity and identity cannot be wrapped up in other people.  Because they’re just people.  It’s crazy that I would even let human opinion dictate my own value.  It’s not that I dismissed them or got prideful or stuck up my nose: but I recognized that they’re not my glory, that they do not have qualitative weight over my worth, and they cannot control how I feel about me.  I was able to love them more but need them less.  I was able to connect without being clingy.  I was able to let go of friendship and validation as a pseudo-savior, and instead trust that God was my one unchanging constant.  We cannot expect our friends to die for our loneliness.  They cannot be everything we need them to be all the time.  But Jesus loved us enough to die, that he might be with us always, that he might meet all our needs. When you begin there, you’ll have the strength to stand with friends and to stand alone: and you will find, you are never truly alone.

— J.S.