J.S. Park

RSS

Posts tagged with "jesus"

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

jspark3000:

image Anonymous asked:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Christian Cliches Don’t Work For Tragedy.

jspark3000:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— J.S.

Wrestling Through Our Religious Differences and Our Wildly Varying Christian Convictions

wherethecherryblossomsdance asked:

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

tworoadsdivergedblog asked:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

As Neil Gaiman said:

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

— J.S.

The Language of the Enemy and the Infidel: How Religious Language Will Eventually Kill You

jspark3000:

image

There’s a certain vocabulary in churches when good old church folk talk about the “enemy,” and how the “oppressors” and “injustice” and “persecution” are against us on all sides.

I worry about this sort of military mindset in churches because we’re cherry-picking Bible verses to find more reasons to alienate others and perpetuate a xenophobic cycle of the foreign stranger. 

This is a culture of nationalistic fear.  It is a triumphalist self-affirming theology.

And man does it feel wonderful.  It appeals to the most reptilian black-and-white part of our flesh-driven nature.  It requires no work except to label all critics and haters and naysayers as “them.”

 

When the Psalms talk about “smiting the enemy” or “justice against the oppressors,” they were not talking about your boss at work or that one girl you can’t stand.  They were talking about actual invading armies that would pillage, murder, and destroy whole families.  They were venting about the futility of ever finding peace. They were talking about the unresolved tension between a broken hostile world and the God who would deliver them from their earthly distress. 

Unless there is smoke rising from the debris of your burning house or you’re forced to eat your dead children, you don’t get to use the angry language of the Psalms.

 

I meet many Christians who are not only absorbed in this language of the infidel, but overwhelmingly infatuated with it.  It’s intoxicating to think you’re invincible, to claim that God is on “my side.”  Disagreement is called the “enemy.”  Everyone is a hater and we only like yes-men and we can’t be told we’re wrong.

We try to pass off the enemy as, “Oh I just mean Satan,” but we always have some person in mind.  We’re not really talking about spiritual warfare.  We’re just hijacking the Christianese vocab to cover our real feelings of jealousy, insecurity, and bitterness.

I’ve heard pastors say the “enemy” about their own congregation, or about that church down the street.  I hear bloggers throw around “enemy” like the world is against them when they (freely) express their opinions.  I hear this used in conversations about Chick Fil A, gay marriage, the government, and the President. I’m sure I’ve even done it here in this blog post, despite my hurting heart to quit dividing.

It’s an atrocious abuse of vocabulary, like when people casually use the word “rape” to talk about getting beaten in a video game. 

I wonder: Does this language actually DO anything?  Does it work toward any purpose other than to rant to our like-minded tribe so they can all nod and agree and reinforce our bias?  Is it anything more than preaching to the exclusive members-only choir?

I have never seen “enemy” used constructively.  Certainly there are biblical laments and judgements against people who are actively enslaving and hurting others.  Your problems are also very real. But we can’t keep using this language to create conflict where there is none.  It’s not for your platform. 

 

Jesus came to destroy these categories in the cross.  He called us all equally broken, all equally needy, and all equally dire for grace.  He didn’t just give us orders like “love your enemy,” but he reversed the very wellspring of our connective tissue by demonstrating love for his own murderers.  It was a cosmic upheaval of our instinctual competitive brutality.   Jesus bridged divides, first between you and God, and then between you and others — and he showed no favoritism among the lepers, the lame, the adulterers, and Roman officials.  He went to them all, dined with them all, died for them all.

So then: saying “us” versus “them” is just your flesh talking.  It is not from God.  Ever.  It’s not from grace or love or truth.  It’s the perpetuation of our violent broken humanity that only rehearses a tribalistic narrative that will kill everything around you, including you.  And I’ve seen it happen, over and over, poisoning our churches and families and blogs and nations. 

The unresolved tension in Psalms does eventually resolve.  There’s always an exhalation, a moment of unclenching and relief.  The groaning of our souls meets the hope of a Redeemer.  Scripture does not end with destruction: but a re-creation.  It kills the enemy by turning them into beloved friends.

This then, is truly what Jesus died for.  It’s the church he meant for us.

— J.S.

What I’ve learned about Sundays is that everyone mentally agrees with the pastor and has no problem with values like love, peace, joy, and forgiveness. But on the way home, back into the world on our phones and Facebook, that three-point sermon doesn’t work in the heat of the moment. We can amen a sermon on loving others, but rush hour traffic turns us all into demon-possessed pagans. Because we’re human. That’s why every Sunday has to point to the Savior, who didn’t just save us once, but is also the daily grace we need to make it a day at a time. He’s our hope in traffic, in our jobs, with our spouses, with raising children, and choosing better when we most want to explode and give up. He gives us humanity when we least want it.

- J.S.

If you’re suffering right now, you don’t have to pretend it’s all good. You don’t have to add, ‘But praise God.’ When Jesus was hours from crucifixion, he didn’t sing in the garden or act hyper-spiritual. He was sweating blood. He asked the Father for a way out. But Jesus ultimately went to that cross with joy: not a shallow consolation that knows no pain, but a joy deepened by sorrow and recognizing the hurt of humanity. God is always trying to make you more human and not less. You can cry out in agony. In that honesty, God is establishing great character in you. Such a Christian is both happier and sadder at the same time, because they long for a better home and already have one.

- J.S.

Joseph The Hopeless Dreamer: Perseverance In The Pain, From Pit to Prison to Palace
J.S. Park

Hello lovely wonderful friends!

This is the seventh part of a sermon series called "Snapshots: The Men & Women of the Bible.”  It explores how the people in the Bible were just as fallen as you and me, and how God worked through them.

This message is titled: Joseph The Hopeless Dreamer: Perseverance In The Pain, From Pit to Prison to Palace.

it’s about persevering through those seasons of uncontrollable circumstances, when nothing seems to change, and the difficulty of trusting that God is still in control.

Stream above or download here!

 

Some things I talk about are: How to read a book in ten seconds (by turning to the first and last page of the book), how painful moments always become the best stories but never in the moment, that time my dad was nearly executed by firing squad in the Vietnam War, the awful cliches that spiritualize pain into lessons, the vivid wild wonderfully heartbreaking tale of Joseph and his brothers, the single linchpin verse that brings together the whole Bible, and how to put down the baggage of an old hurt in your next season of life.

Be blessed and love y’all!

— J

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

Anonymous asked:

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

3) Not just anyone goes to Hell. 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

— J.S.

jspark3000:

Hello wonderful friends!
If you’ve been blessed by the podcast, I would graciously like to ask for a review or a star-rating on iTunes. 
Love y’all and thank you!
— J

jspark3000:

Hello wonderful friends!

If you’ve been blessed by the podcast, I would graciously like to ask for a review or a star-rating on iTunes

Love y’all and thank you!

— J

Real healing begins when you scoop out the lies of your distorted thinking and replace them with God’s truth about you. This will hurt. But it’s the only way to real freedom and peace and joy. Everyone will naturally resist this because it feels corny or intrusive, but more than that, it feels undeserved. When we’re so comfortable with the dark, we squint at the possibility of things getting better in the light.

Yet God is so willing to rub the salt of His Word on your wounds so that you can wake up from your own self-loathing. He’s the well of cool water for your bruised tired hands. He’s the only love who could fulfill you enough not to overreact to the pain. God really does want you to know that you are not what has happened to you nor what you’ve done. Jesus came to take your wounds into his own hands and feet, so that you may live. He did this for our final victory in eternity: but he also did this for you today, in this moment, so you may experience a foretaste of that wholeness. And God is going to move at your tempo, never rushing, because He knows that your healing will take a step at a time. But so we must be willing to hold up those truths to our naked hurt, because healing begins with honesty.

- J.S. from this post

Aug 9

So About Mark Driscoll and Pastor Implosions

pumpsandgarters asked:

I’m lost on what’s happened recently to Pastor Mark Driscoll and his removal from the Acts 29 church planting network, can you give me a brief summary of what’s going on or send me a link to a reliable source so I can understand what’s going on? Love this blog by the way it helps in the most arduous of moments!

 

Hey my dear friend, thank you for your very kind words.  Though I might not be the best source on this, I won’t pretend that I haven’t been reading on it. 

If you don’t know Mark Driscoll, he’s a “famous” megachurch pastor in Seattle, which is the second most unchurched city in America.  He’s written a ton of books, is a very strong speaker, and is especially geared towards young men.  He’s an unapologetic Reformed Calvinist with an encyclopedic memory and a sharp sense of humor.

In the last few years, he’s been accused of: plagiarism, verbally bullying other pastors and staff, paying $210,000 to get on the New York Times bestseller list, posing as a commenter on his message boards to make purposeful misogynistic statements, and misappropriating a charity fund to an unknown place.  I’m sad to say that many of these accusations have turned out true or worse, most by his own admission.  He has apologized numerous times, but I suppose most people want to crucify him.

Here are a few things to consider.

 

- The only reason the general public discuss Mark Driscoll is because of our current state of celebrity culture.  If this happened in the 1980s, we’d laugh him off as another Jimmy Swaggart or Benny Hinn, and it would be a footnote in history.  While I really endorse social media, it’s also made an unnecessary circus out of dang near everything.  To be truthful, I’m a bit embarrassed to be writing about this.  The fact that we even put Driscoll on a level to attack in public really speaks volumes about our insane voyeuristic blogosphere.  It’s a drunken idolatry that’s gripped the Western church, while our faithful brothers and sisters are getting killed for their faith overseas and have never even heard of a podcast.

 

- The Christian commenters on every online post about Pastor Mark is unsettling and disturbing.  Of course, Christians love to shoot our wounded and devour our own.  The church doesn’t look any different than the world when it comes to the internet: we’re just as much an orgy of hate, whining, name-calling, and immature butt-hurt slander.

 

- But the truth is: I’m no better than these commenters.  I’m no better than Mark Driscoll.  I’m no better than Adam and Eve.  If any one of us were given the immense power and under the same pressure as Pastor Mark, there’s no telling how awful we would become.  That’s not to absolve his behavior, but that’s to say I understand.

 

- I have zero authority in disciplining Pastor Mark.  I only have authority over what I myself say and do: and I’m unqualified even for that about half the time. All these pastors and bloggers calling for “repentance” and “stepping down” are probably correct, but that’s like going over to my next door neighbor’s house and trying to spank their kids.  So really the Christianese internet needs to sit down, close their laptops, and eat a cake or something.  All of Driscoll’s woes need to be handled internally, and it seems like steps are being made (especially by Acts 29, the network he founded) to keep him in check.  Some of these protest groups are probably justified, but if he’s broken the law, they can go through the appropriate channels and press charges.

 

- I’m 99% certain that “Christian watchdog bloggers” are going to hell.  I’m not kidding, and it hurts my heart.  Every Christian blogger who writes a TMZ-like column to be the “gatekeepers” of faith are wasting their damn lives.  You know who I’m talking about (just Google any famous megachurch pastor, and you’ll find the critics).  What the hell do these people even do?  Do they even care about truth?  Or site views and ad clicks?  I’m sorry to sound so harsh, and I’m normally not this way.  I do believe there’s grace for them too.  But it doesn’t matter if they serve their church or love their kids and have “a heart of gold” — they’re absolutely destroying the church from the inside, and they know exactly what they’re doing with the controversy.  They make Jesus look like an idiot: and anyone who does that is like messing with my mama.  I’m sort of defeating my own point here, except really I’m just heartbroken about it.  They have no idea how much they’re hurting the body of Christ with all this blatant innuendo and trashy classless garbage.  Before we call out some megachurch pastor, let’s call out the so-called watchdogs.  Unless you’re okay with one of them bullying a pastor’s 15 year old son to suicide.

 

- Instant forgiveness is cheap and pointless.  Half the online world is jumping to Pastor Mark’s defense (including me sometimes), but the truth is that he’s done some terrible things.  Forgiving someone must always directly acknowledge what they’ve done wrong, or else it cheapens the forgiveness.  So yes, Pastor Mark needs to be held accountable for what he’s done.

 

- But we need more grace and prayer and unity, and not less.  In the long run, whether he steps down or not, Pastor Mark still needs his brothers and sisters to love on him.  I’ve really been blessed by Pastor Mark’s ministry.  He’s one of the first podcasts I ever really listened to regularly.  I’ve heard him preach in person and I grew to like him.  He has a wife and kids.  He’s very gifted.  So I’m rather grieved over the whole thing, and if even half the accusations are true, it’s disappointing.  All this is more reason he needs our prayers.  Our faith is about restoring the losers and bums and bad guys.  To the degree which we receive them: that’s the degree to which we understand what Jesus has done for us on the cross.  Plain and simple.

 

- I’m a little more interested in alleviating poverty, human trafficking, and addictions in my own community.  I don’t mean to diminish those very real hurts that were suffered by members of Pastor Mark’s church.  Certainly there needs to be justice there.  But eyes on the mission.  There’s a bigger story here.  Our tight little Western ghetto subculture of Churchianity is not the only thing happening.

— J.S

Aug 8

Not Every Pain Has A Lesson

jspark3000:

image

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

— J.S.

Aug 7

Christian Myths & Truths About Dating Boundaries & Prayer-Sex

darasum-dar asked:

"Practice discretion with your eyes, dress, speech, and behavior. Avoid conversation, eye contact, and prayer of an intimate nature." While browsing the internet for boundary suggestions for my boyfriend and I, I came across this. I’m not sure I agree with this. In fact, it almost makes me upset how it’s believed Christian couples need to not touch each other or even pray together. What are your thoughts on this? And on the state of Christian relationship standards?

 

Hey my dear friend,  I know there are a lot of weird things said about dating in the Christian subculture. Please first allow me the grace to point you to these posts.  As always, feel free to skip around or skip them all.

- The Weird Subculture of “Christian Dating”

- Physical Boundaries In Relationships

- All That Relationship Advice — A Mega-Post on Relationships

- To Love Without Idolizing A Relationship — A Mega-Post on Dating & Very Bad Advice

- Church, Dating, & The Weird Things We Do

 

I have to say that I feel absolutely unqualified to talk about some of these things because I’m still learning about communication and spiritual intimacy, just like everyone else.  So I cannot speak from a top-down position of secret formulas or magical tips on Christianese dating. I can only tell you what I know, from my own experience, my own mistakes, and my own dealings with God.

The truth is that most pastors and authors and bloggers are

1) So afraid that their church will have crazy rampant sexy time that they set these impossible nun-like standards, or

2) They’re only saying what they wish they would’ve done, which doesn’t actually speak to the everyday reality of our gray-space struggle.

Any time a Christian enters into idealistic propositions, they’re risking a restrictive rule-based moralism that’s all about running away from “sin” but not running toward anything else.  

If we don’t first begin from a place of God’s very own purpose in why we pursue things, then we’re only following boundaries for the sake of boundaries.  This kills any actual passion or joy or purpose of the pursuit itself.  It’s like learning dance moves to look good on the dance floor, but never knowing the soul of dance and its life-giving art form.

We also forget that purity is not a trophy that you fight for, but a gift you’ve been given by God to fight from.  When we try to stay “pure” by setting all these absurd parameters (whether it’s “never look at each other” or tasering yourself when you think of underwear), then we’re trying to earn our authenticity with our partner and with God.  It’s a self-seeking compensation for past wrongs, and this is simply bad religion.  It’s entirely antithetical to the Gospel.  The reason Jesus died on a cross is because we could not be good on our own, so the Only One who is good came to us.  It’s from that gift — not for it — that we enter into relationships and careers and ambitions and families.

 

To be fair, each of us are wired with different longings, backgrounds, upbringings, and genetics.  Certain guidelines might be necessary for you because you’ll need those safeguards to honor your partner and to honor God, and of course, to honor yourself.  That could possibly mean you dress appropriately, or you’re careful when you pray together, or you’re vigilant about spending alone-time.  Maybe these will benefit you, and these kinds of boundaries will look unique for every couple. 

So I can’t really poke fun at all these bestsellers.  Some of them have valuable things to say; others are just reactionary backlash to the current state of things.  But please, please, please do NOT buy into a simplified paradigm of romance.  Please don’t listen to either the uptight legalistic guilt-driven finger-pointer nor to the relaxed button-down hipster casual pastor who hates on Joshua Harris and purity rings and courtship. 

It’s between you and God and your partner to find your rhythm for romance, and God has gifted you with the freedom and discernment to evaluate the best way. 

When it comes to relationships, there is no one-size-fits-all wisdom for the health of the couple.The purpose is the same: to love each other and love God on this journey of intimacy and support and life together.  But the methods to promote the fruitfulness of this journey won’t always be the five love languages or the love-dare or the purpose-driven marriage.  If it helps, then great: go for it.  If it doesn’t, then toss it and arrive to a mutual method of self-giving love. 

The point is not the tactics or methods or techniques you use to make a better relationship: but always asking what’s the main purpose for this relationship and what will best work for us.The point of all these methods is not to have good methods, but to re-focus back on the relationship itself.  If this gets lost in the process, then drop the methods.

It’s too easy to stay on the surface level of “good habits” or “correct responses” or “listening to your spouse’s emotions,” but — why?  What’s the purpose?  Is it to look like a good spouse?  Or is it really because you love this person for all of life unto death?  Sometimes we’re so worried about how that we make boundaries about the selfish need to be “pure” all the time, when really boundaries are meant to maintain the dignity of the other person.

 

See: I’ve heard of dating couples who pray together to stay sane; I’ve heard of other couples who get tempted by too much vulnerability when they pray.  Both are okay.

I’ve heard of dating couples who can play video games all night and they’re not all hot and bothered; I’ve heard of other couples who choose not to be in the same room too long or they’ll turn into sexual werewolves.  Both are okay.

I’ve heard of couples who kiss and hold hands and hug until they squished, and they don’t spontaneously explode from lust; I’ve heard of other couples who keep an arm-length and only do side-hugs because of their past.  Both are okay.

I know some couples who are open and public and aim for marriage and get to know each others’ families and it’s all very serious; I know other couples who take it super-slow and stay on the down-low and it takes months or years for the parents to really come around.  Both are okay.

Some couples date for a few years and realize it’s the end, and they’re cool about that.  Some couples date for a few months and end it bitterly with high drama and sloppy emotions, and it takes a long time to recover.  Both are okay.

Some people choose to stay single and celibate; some are simply not looking; because no one needs a romantic relationship to find romance, nor a significant other to find self-worth.

We can’t really throw one blanket of dating advice for the wide wild spectrum of our individual personalities.  Dating is like bringing two entirely different worlds into the same space, full of heat and chemistry and desire and history: so I can only tell you that the point of life is not dating or romance or becoming “the one,” but rather pursuing True Life, and perhaps someone will come alongside us for the ride.  And it’s from there that we seek the best way to mesh these worlds, and maybe there’s a chance that it will turn into the gritty, messy, weird, wonderful thing we call love.

— J.S.

Aug 7

Why Christians Hate “Religion” and Why We Yell Pharisee Too Quickly

Hello wonderful friends!  I was published once again on Church Leaders.com.

The original blog post is here.

Be blessed and love y’all!

— J.S.

Aug 6

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

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

- Does God Love Those Who Choose Against Him?

- Does God Save Or We Choose?

- The Troublesome Dilemma of Reformed Calvinism and Romans 9

- God Loves Everyone, Except Esau

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

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

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

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

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

— J.S.