J.S. Park

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Posts tagged with "jesus"

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.

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.

Jesus saved us on a cross: but he also reversed death in a grave so that even death would work backwards through our hearts, and all that sin ruined would be made right and restored.

- J.S. from this message

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

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!

 

Some things I talk about are: My time at the mental institution with drug addicts and sex addicts and recovering mental patients, the awkward harrowing nerve-racking experience of bringing your friend to church (and it happens to be sacrifice-a-live-animal day), the cringe-inducing moment when the preacher goes political, finding out what percentage of the church is actually God’s intention, the recent trend of movies where bad guys are not really bad but have a tragic back-story, what saying “I do” really means, that time I fought a pastor in a parking lot, and sculpting a real eye-to-eye face-to-face friendship over coffee.

Here are other messages from the podcast.

Be blessed and love y’all!

— J.S.

Besides your own, what are some other good podcasts?

Hey my friend, that’s really very kind of you to say.  I’m always so critical of my own preaching and I’m so much more comfortable writing.  My podcast is here, or is tagged on my blog here, and also on iTunes here.  Would be absolutely grateful if anyone left a review or star-rating on iTunes!

I currently listen to:

- Francis Chan. He’s been preaching at Reality Church in San Francisco.  I get scared to listen to him because he’s always so convicting and real, but that’s exactly why I love him.  Look up his recent message “20th Anniversary” from Cornerstone Simi Valley.

- Timothy Keller.  Rich, vibrant, intellectually satisfying preaching.  Look up his recent trip to Belhaven and also “On The Mountain.”

- Andy Stanley.  I know some say he’s “lite” or “diet faith,” but he has such a great practicality in his teaching.  I was really blessed by his two recent series, “Ask It” and “Right In The Eye.”

For my favorite sermons of all time, read here.  These were formative in my spiritual journey.

For the dangers of becoming a sermon junkie, read here.

And if you haven’t yet, go purchase The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis.  It’s a book of his best sermons.

Fellow bloggers: Please make suggestions!

— J.S.

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

jspark3000:

image

Anonymous asked:

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

 

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

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

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

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

As always, please feel free to skip around.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Here’s why I believe in Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

— J.S.

Jeremiah 29:11, The Most Misquoted Verse of Scripture: God Has A Plan To Put You Through Fire
J.S. Park

jspark3000:

Hello lovely wonderful friends!

This is a message from the podcast on one of the most misquoted verses of the Bible.  The message is titled: God Has A Plan To Put You Through Fire.

It’s about how God is actually preparing us with resolve for the dry desert seasons of life.

Stream above or download here!

 

Some things I talk about are: Finding Jesus for three easy payments of $9.99, the mathematical impossibility of soulmates, the surprising difficulty of planning for a wedding, fighting against our natural inclination to fight against God, how martial arts teaches us about reacting to the trials of life, and how every Unresolved Tension will meet Happily Ever After.

Here are other messages from the podcast.

Be blessed and love y’all!

— J

Christian Cliches Don’t Work For Tragedy.

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.

Gideon The Unworthy: God Has Given You Worth Apart From What You Think About You
J.S. Park

jspark3000:

Hello lovely wonderful friends!

This is the fifth 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: Gideon The Unworthy: God Has Given You Worth Apart From What You Think About You.

It’s about finding the gifts and greatness in you by the grace of God, and liberating ourselves from all the discouragement we’ve ever faced.

Stream above or download here!

 

Some things I talk about are: Outlandish auction bids for celebrity-owned items including Justin Bieber’s hair, my brother the totally unsuspecting MMA jujitsu fighter, the anxious fear of small-town gossip when you try to step it up, tough advice for my future daughter, how the church ought to be like a bunch of cheerleaders, my first pre-marriage counseling, and the words that you’ve secretly wanted to hear your whole life.

Be blessed and love y’all!

— J

Question: A Mega-Post on Ragged Jagged Bipolar Faith

jspark3000:

image

Two anonymous questions (edited for length):

- Sometimes I think I have a ‘bipolar faith’. I am annoyed at my own inconsistency … Lately I feel that I am passionate about ministry, but lackluster when it comes to Jesus. I fear God, but I doubt that I love Him because of the distractions and idols in my heart. I can’t surrender or repent. How do you learn to love God more and develop a steadfast faith?

- Why can’t I be more serious about my relationship with God? If we can be so ‘committed’ to our human friendships … why is it so difficult to commit to God? Why do I constantly walk away from my first and one true love even though I’ve realized human love will always fail me? I’ve read Lewis/Augustine/Piper/Keller on heart idolatry so I ‘know’ what the root issue is but it’s still not drawing me back to God.

 

I get similar questions like this quite often, so you need to know: you are NOT alone in this. 

As I’ve said many times before: I struggle in my faith daily.  It’s become better over time (however we define “better”), but I’ve accepted that it will probably be like this most of the time, if not a lifetime.  And that’s okay.  Some of us are gifted with a robust roaring faith; others like us will wrestle all the way to glory. 

When Moses parted the Red Sea, some Israelites ran through shouting in total triumph.  But I’m sure others tiptoed through shrieking in terror.  I’m a shrieker.  They all made it: because their faith depended NOT on them, but their steadfast Savior.  I’m not absolving you of your responsibility — but God works with you right where you are.

That was really the entire point of starting my blog: to begin honest discussion about our crazy faith journey.  I also preach on this quite a lot, which are still my two most downloaded sermons here and here.

Please allow me to encourage you with a few thoughts here.  As always, please feel free to skip around.

 

1) A bipolar faith is part of our growing journey.

You only need to check out the Book of Psalms to know that faith is never a straight line, but a messy up-and-down journey.  I don’t say this as an excuse to be “lukewarm,” but rather to encourage you that 1) this is all part of the growing experience of a Christian, and 2) God completely understands your specific struggle.

Romans 7 is an accurate description for many, many Christians.  I know there is some debate about whether Apostle Paul was writing on a pre-Christ or post-Christ life, but Romans 7 is such a vivid piercing essay on faith that it feels like right now.  Romans 8 is the victory that we all want to experience, but as I’ve said before: some days are Romans 7 and some days are Romans 8.  We should be grateful for both.

 

2) A “victorious faith” shouldn’t be measured on Christianese standards.

Sometimes when you hear an awesome testimony, read certain Christian books, or see the way another person sings in worship service, it’s easy to become discouraged.  Why can’t I have a faith like that?  Am I doing it wrong?  Do I really get it?  What am I missing?

We play this same game in every area of life.  Being an Asian, I see tons of students comparing themselves with other peoples’ grades and library-time and prep-methods.  Even in the first few centuries of Christianity, the ascetic monks would compare how long they could fast or how loud they could sing.  Can you imagine?  Look at my ribs, son.  Watch me sing with my ribcage stickin’ out.

This is a losing game.  It makes no sense to set up arbitrary standards for your “level of faith,” because at the feet of Jesus we are all the same broken sinners in need of mercy. 

You must believe that God is working through you much more than you think.  Don’t be too hard on yourself.  The very fact that you messaged me and you’re concerned about your issues shows you WANT to change.  That’s already a huge step and puts you right where you need to be today.  If it doesn’t bother you, that should bother you: but it does bother you, and that’s already God grabbing your heart and squeezing it in His gloriously gracious grip.

I’ll end this point with the always-reliable Lewis:

“You must ask for God’s help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again.”

— C.S. Lewis

 

3) God calls us to remember the mountaintop during the valleys.

I probably say this too much: but you really only get a few mountaintop experiences your whole life.  So much of church relies on emotionalism and “feeling God,” so when we no longer feel God, we think something is wrong with us.  The truth is: the Bible never calls us to continually duplicate our highs.  We’re called to remember the Most High in our lows.

If you tried to have a wedding every day of your marriage, it would get exhausting.  Preachers often try to do this to you in church, and this is why we keep hitting a dead end.  Churches try to whip up a sacred moment out of thin air, but instead should really be reminding us of the reality that Jesus is present in both our mountaintops and valleys. 

Peter really only “felt God” twice in his life: 1) on the mountaintop when Jesus revealed his total glory, called the Transfiguration, and 2) at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled him.  Peter never tried to re-create these moments.  He only called them to mind over and over, which sustained his faith for the rest of his life, even when he was crucified upside-down.  Read 2 Peter 1 and see how he brings up the mountaintop.

Moses didn’t part the Red Sea every Thursday.  Jesus didn’t transfigure every breakfast.  I have never heard this in church before: that when the college professor brings up the skeptical argument, or disillusionment sets in from church, or I go through a gut-wrenching trial, I can still declare, Jesus is real, he was there, I met him, I saw him, he was with me on that sacred mountain, he is here in this valley of the shadow of death, and I might feel beat up right now — but nothing will take Him away from me.

 

4) Faith takes a step at a time, every time, the whole time.

You want your faith to be whole this very moment, but the bad news is that it takes time.  There’s no way around it.  The good news is that it takes time.  Even a lifetime.  Allow that process to breathe, and give yourself some grace as you move forward.

I could probably address your issues very specifically with outlines and pep talk and doctrine, but I don’t have any magic words that will solve your heart in a day. I wish I did.  Even then, you might not be any closer to feeling whole, because faith takes time.  

Faith will also take that one more step you don’t want to make right now.  It takes one more Bible study, one more act of service, one more worship song, prayer, Bible verse, conversation.  It takes finding a pastor, mentor, friend, and talking  it out.  I’m not saying we do this stuff to “earn God.”  But your life has been launched into being and you must choose.

So long as you’re pursuing Him, however imperfectly, you’ll grow without knowing it until hindsight.  To love God is as much of a daily choice as it is how you feel.  The Bible portrays the Christian life most as a walk — a step at a time. 

I know this way will feel mechanical sometimes. By all means, rest when you must.  But looking back, you’ll come to see that you love God more than you ever thought you did, and you’ll be further along than you ever thought you’d be.  I don’t completely understand it myself: but I know He is changing me as I choose Him.

I’m rooting for you and I love you.  God does so infinitely more.

 

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

— J.S.

Gideon The Unworthy: God Has Given You Worth Apart From What You Think About You
J.S. Park

Hello lovely wonderful friends!

This is the fifth 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: Gideon The Unworthy: God Has Given You Worth Apart From What You Think About You.

It’s about finding the gifts and greatness in you by the grace of God, and liberating ourselves from all the discouragement we’ve ever faced.

Stream above or download here!


Some things I talk about are: Outlandish auction bids for celebrity-owned items including Justin Bieber’s hair, my brother the totally unsuspecting MMA jujitsu fighter, the anxious fear of small-town gossip when you try to step it up, tough advice for my future daughter, how the church ought to be like a bunch of cheerleaders, my first pre-marriage counseling, and the words that you’ve secretly wanted to hear your whole life.

Be blessed and love y’all!

— J

(Source: thewayeverlasting.libsyn.com)