J.S. Park

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A Faith Crisis: Crushed By Doubt, Questions, and Disconnection (And Some Good News)

Two anonymous questions:

Hi pastor, i’m a 21 year old girl from philippines. i messaged you before about my doubts about God’s existence and my faith in Him. that was almost a year ago. Praise God that I was able to recover my faith and go back to normal living with God and i believe it became even better. but i feel so sad again right now because my doubts came back just a week ago. the desire to know God is still here but questions are bothering me. i still have lots of things to share. please help me. thank you!

Hi:), i write to you because i think of you as an understanding and matured faith person so i thought maybe i could share with u my problem.. So, i have a big faith crisis now, like somehow i found myself drowning among doubts … I just started a biblestudy on God’s personality but somehow i found myself on a worst place. As i do the biblestudy something says these “cool things” should make an impact in me, but they dont, like my inner radar would be broken … i wanna thank u that you share things so openly!:)

 

Hey my dear friends: Please first know that I love you both dearly in Christ, and I know how hard it is to fall into this fog of doubt.  I appreciate you both being so honest and real about this, and I’m also grateful for your encouragement even in the midst of this harder time.

You see, the Big Christian Secret is that every Christian in the world runs into doubts, question, confusion, and frustration, because there isn’t anything wrong with you that isn’t already wrong with everyone else.  This doesn’t make you a bad Christian, but an honest one.

In fact, I would say that every human being who ever existed runs into doubts about their own worldviews, a sort of existential panic about what they truly believe, and it can be downright disorienting. 

Here are three simple things we must know.  I have said them many times before and they could sound familiar, so please feel free to skip around.

 

1) Sometimes doubts are just seasonal valleys, because we’re fragile squishy human beings who occasionally get moody.

No one is expected to maintain an emotional high about their faith all the time.  Not everyday is a rocked out laser show singing to Jesus on full blast.  Maybe at that Sunday service or the retreat or revival, you felt a spine-tingling surge of divine ecstasy with God, and it could’ve been a legitimate experience: but not everyday of your marriage is supposed to look like your wedding.  That sort of hype is impossible to sustain.  We’re not in Heaven yet, and we don’t need to force it either.

Moses didn’t split a Red Sea every Thursday.  David didn’t kill a Goliath at every revival.  And Jesus didn’t transfigure — that scene in Mark 9 when Jesus shoots laser beams and lightning out his face — every time they ate breakfast.  We’re not supposed to re-create our highs, but to remember the Most High in our lows.

And you know, some days you just get tired, cranky, jaded, or gassy.  Sometimes you’re just not in the mood.  Sometimes this means for very long seasons, you might not “feel God.”  And when you feel far from Him, maybe that doesn’t get to determine your overall faith, or maybe we’ve measured our entire progress on absurd spiritual parameters.

When you think God isn’t near, you can tell Him, “I feel so far.”  God is not mad about your doubts, your venting, your shaking of the first, or your inability to get excited about Him.  He receives us in every condition, so that His grace might fill the dryness of our desert seasons.

Your feelings are very real, but they can’t be everything.  If we always waited to feel right with God to be good Christians, no one would ever get right or get good.  So it’s really not about “how to get this right,” but simply pressing into God with even the tiny little bit of faith that we have today, for Jesus said even a mustard seed of faith is enough to move mountains.

Also check out:

- Five Ways To Kickstart Your Faith Today

- See Him: If You’re Not Sure About God Right Now

 

2) Sometimes doubts are gentle promptings to investigate your deepest beliefs, especially when life hits hard.

The truth is: Doubt is not a “sin.”  It’s great to have a vibrant, robust, thriving sort of faith, and God wants that for you.  But our deepest roots are born out of the winter nights when we’ve had to dig into the shallow dirt of our infant beliefs and reach into the soil of our most core foundations.

Contrary to pop culture option, Christianity will challenge you to think for yourself. As a pastor, I never want to teach you what to think as much as how.  True faith, the kind that perseveres through pain and trials and urgency, takes a surgical navigation through all the very difficult questions of life.  Only doubts will ever get you to ask them.

When pain hits home and you’re walking through that cancer or car accident or earthquake, you want the kind of faith that can face death.  In the end, I want a faith that doesn’t just tickle my inspiration or gives me cute slogans, but a faith that can get beat up by suffering and scholars and satanic evil, and will keep on standing.  And that only comes when you’re able to hold up those doubts to the light, rotate them over and over, and take a second look at every intellectual and existential answer that Christianity has to offer.

There are too many Christians who don’t really dig to the bottom of what they believe, so that when tragedy comes, they wonder how their concept of God could ever allow such misery.  This quickly turns into a toxic disillusionment because their faith was never nuanced enough to deal with the gray-space struggle of real life.  It’s not that their God was not big enough, but rather much too small.

It’s one thing to say that “Jesus died for my sins and got up from the dead.”  Any church attender could say they believe this, and maybe they do in some esoteric symbolic way.  But what really gets you through the grinding jaws of suffering is to know that Jesus actually conquered a nameless grave, that he threw a right hook at Satan and an uppercut at sin, that the Resurrection offers a sweeping victory against entropy and aging and disease and atrocity, and that Jesus uppercut death in the face.  Jesus destroyed all our greatest enemies by entering through them himself, and then invites us into such power and grace.

The Resurrection, if it really happened, has to be both existentially satisfying and intellectually complete.  It’s totally wise to doubt that such a thing happened: but such doubt drives you to seek the truth, and when you even entertain the possibility that it happened, it’s downright electrifying.

 

3) Some of us are simply wired to be more doubtful than others. 

Though I believe Jesus is the ultimate answer and accommodation for our reality, I also doubt him every single day

When Moses split the Red Sea, there were probably 1) victorious triumphant warriors saying “This is our God!” and 2) doubtful panicking screamers running full speed through whales and plankton.  I’m a Screamer.  I’m a cynic.  I’m a critic.  I’m Peter, who fell into the water after he got off the boat.

I’m not giving you an excuse to have a halfway lukewarm faith.  I would never wish that upon anyone.  But I’m okay with my slow-burning, smoldering, sit-in-the-backseat sort of faith most of the time.  Just because I don’t sing like the front row of worship service doesn’t mean I don’t love Jesus.  It just means I’m wired to love him when I write, when I see the sun break through the stitching in the clouds, when I serve the homeless and see the face of Jesus there. 

Please don’t beat yourself up about a slowly sizzling faith.  Each day, no matter how you feel or what’s happening, pray anyway.  Read the Bible anyway.  Sing anyway.  Serve anyway.  Your life keeps going, so talk with God anyway.  And just sometimes: the Sea will split again.  Those giants fall with great aplomb.  And Jesus will be there on the mountaintop, full of light and glory and weight, unleashing his furious love poured out for us destitute, despondent sinners. It’s those rare moments which I call to mind as I descend back into the valley, and no one can ever talk me out them.  Even with my tiny little bit of seed-sized faith, I can say, "So there I saw him on that mountain, and he is true.  He is good.  He is down here, too, as He always was, and will be."

— J.S.

What is your belief and stand about Rapture? & the 7 year tribulation? As Christians we believe in Christ's second coming through rapture but I've read an article that contradicts everything I know & studied. Would you shed some light to this Pastor?

Hey there my dear friend: I know this can be a divisive and scary topic, and there are plenty of smarter people than me who have written tons of books about it and could probably argue any other point I try to make.

The truth is: It’s hard to know exactly what to believe about this, and certain differences in our view of the End Times will absolutely NOT determine whether we are “truly Christian.”  Also, since it’s one of those things that we can’t fully know (like Heaven or predestination or what Jesus looks like), then mostly it’s speculation and guesswork. 

Maybe someone will blast me for saying that, but I mean: I think we’re all thinking it.  I won’t pretend to be confident about something that I can’t know.  As it is, I’m just trying to believe the Gospel by a shred of faith, and I refuse to be pressured by a doctrine-nerd to presume some secondary doctrine the “right way.”  I’m simply asking that we all be humble about this, because we could all be wrong.

Usually when someone asks me an unknown doctrinal question with conflicting views, I try to say, “At least this much must be true.” 

 

So here’s what we know about the End Times:

1) Jesus is coming back, this time a King instead of a servant.

2) There will be a global, catastrophic, awe-inducing judgment on the world.

3) There is a “rapture,” in which Christian believers will either be taken to Heaven, set aside from judgment, or be given their heavenly bodies.  Some would say all three.

4) The earth will be transformed somehow by both total devastation and restoration.

5) Jesus will reign on the earth.

 

Here’s what we don’t know:

1) It’s not immediately clear that “signs” will indicate when Jesus is coming back. The Bible says we don’t know when it’ll happen and it’s a sin to make claims.

2) The judgment is often coupled with a period called the “tribulation,” in which people “left behind” will have a time to decide if they want to believe.  The tribulation will be marked with wars, disease, disasters, and political conflicts. What scholars disagree on is how long, whether believers will or will not experience it, or if it has already happened.

3) Jesus will institute a thousand year reign of peace where Satan is locked away.  Unbelievers will continue to grow because of sinful hearts. Satan will be released one last time for one last judgment, and then finally an Eternal Kingdom will reign. Some scholars say this is all metaphorical.

4) Most of the symbols — the dragon, the mark of the beast, the birthing woman, the humanoid locusts, the seven bowls, seals, trumpets, scrolls — are open for debate. Many read Revelation as literally as possible, while others recognize poetic structures and allegories.  Some say Revelation is chronological, while others say it is mostly flashbacks and flashforwards.

 

Apostle John wrote about 2000 years ago that he was living in the last hour.  But both Moses and Peter said that in the mind of God, a day is a thousand years and vice versa.  I believe we may be living in the last few minutes of that last hour, but I make no special claims.  We can only be ready and stand guard, just like Jesus said.  And when he does return: well, it will be awesome.

— J.S.

Aug 2

Tips on Preaching & Teaching For the First Time

So I’m speaking to my youth group this Wednesday (I’m 16 and this is the first time speaking at church) and I was just wondering if maybe you had any tips?

 

My friend, that is awesome. Woo!! Let’s first be grateful to God for this amazing opportunity that you’ve been given.  You and I never earned the right to preach or teach, but were given this honor by the Creator of everything so that others might know Him, be loved by Him, and love Him in return.  Please start there, in a place of humility, recognizing we are absolutely unworthy to teach others with our squishy tiny 3 lb. brains and our half-inch vocal cords, to other squishy fallen human beings from a wild variety of diverse back-stories — except by the grace of God. 

I mean that’s really crazy, when you think about it.  I’ve never gotten over that.

I don’t want to give you a formula or checklist because then you might be tempted to follow that instead of Jesus.  So here just a few things to pray about and consider.  You’re not obligated to any of these, so simply reflect and go forth, my friend.

 

- Love your people.  This is obvious, but so very often I forget to love the people who are right in front of me.  Sometimes I’m so quick to check off my awesome agenda of great sermon points, that I forget these are real hurting broken struggling people who care less about my intelligence and more about their maker.  Every word and sentence and theme must be fashioned out of love for your people.  Let your group know that this is a big deal for you and that you’re available outside of preaching time.  If they know you care about them, they’ll remember that more than the message.

 

- You be you.  My initial problem in preaching was imitation.  When I first started, I listened to a lot of James MacDonald, who is a fiery aggressive preacher with a booming voice and roughly twenty points in every sermon.  I even took on some of his tone and inflections.  Soon I learned, I wasn’t good at preaching like this.  My strengths were not a booming voice and twenty-point messages.  If you’re not naturally funny, you don’t have to try.  If you’re loud, use that to your advantage. Be comfortable with how God has made you.  Part of trusting God is trusting how He made you to be you in the world.  Let yourself out to play.

 

- Be prepared.  Please don’t presume that “good speaking ability” or “relying on the Spirit” will get you through a message.  They can, but people will know you’re not prepared and they won’t take you seriously, and the Spirit won’t swoop in for a lack of your own prep.  Study up, know your stuff, pray and reflect, preach it to yourself, apply it in your own life.  And when in doubt, quote C.S. Lewis.

 

- It’s okay to fail.  There’s an old joke in seminary that your first one-hundred sermons will be terrible.  When someone raises their first child, they’re nervous and neurotic and freak out easily and take too many pictures and are generally very overbearing.  But by the third child, the parent is super-cool and laidback and much more confident.  Yet no parent can raise their tenth child like the first one.  It takes growing pains.  In martial arts, we call that ring experience.  It doesn’t matter how much you train at the gym: when you’re in the ring, that’s the true training.  If you have a sermon fail, don’t beat yourself up.  Also, if you’re a first child: sorry bro.  At least you get the double portion. #JesusJuke

 

- If they fall asleep or don’t pay attention, that’s okay.  You’re not doing it for validation anyway.  I say this with all love and grace for you: but no one owes you anything.  No one owes your their attention or their undying eye contact for you.  Their time is precious and so is yours.  This goes for bloggers too: no one owes you “likes” or reblogs or replies or validation.  When someone does something for the approval of their peers, they’re no longer doing the main thing, but it’s now grossly external and foreign to the original purpose of that thing.  So no matter how many people are there, preach like you’re in a stadium.  Like Jesus is sitting there.  I preached to three students every Friday for two years, and I loved it.  They’ll stay awake if you’re awake and alive and all there, and they’ll know you’re not desperate for their thumbs-up.

 

- It’s also okay to evaluate.  If you mess up, simply examine what went wrong, recuperate in God’s embrace, and add that sermon to your ring experience. My method: I write down in a notebook what worked, what didn’t, and what I can do different next time.  Nothing too big, maybe half a page.  It’s a little painful and humbling, but I wrestle with it to the end. Once I close the notebook, I stop thinking about how it failed.  That’s done.  I give God the credit for any success.

 

- Stay humble.  Chances are that God will work through you and the Spirit will really sweep through the place.  If so, awesome!  Thank God when it happens.  Thank God if only seeds are planted that day.  Thank God you even get to do this. 

— J.S.

 

Also check out:

- Preachers: A Sermon Gut-Check

- Life Is Interruption (On Totally Bombing In The Pulpit)

- When You Fail A Sermon

- Remember The Uninitiated

- Sovereign Seeds, Unknown Deeds

- My Pastor Doesn’t Preach Deep Enough

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.

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.

Jul 8

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

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

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

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

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

- J.S. from this message

Jul 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

— J

Grace: Love That Hurts

 

Mostly in the Bible, I see that God’s law is black and white.  “Don’t be like this guy” or “The angel of death will slay you” or “Don’t do that or things will mushroom cloud real fast.”  There are clear-cut lines, sharp boundaries, no wiggle room.  The law is oak and iron and all closed fists.

But then everyone in the Bible keeps making these enormous ridiculous mistakes, not even brushing up against the law but leaping over it full speed, and there’s a candid sort of rawness with how each story tells the unabashed account of total failure.  They purposefully screw up their lives in a near-parody of a reality show.  I just wouldn’t include any of these guys if I was making up a religion.  Your favorite Bible heroes make really good celebrity mugshots. 

And this is where God comes in, every time, certainly with an arm of discipline and a face-melting intervention — but also with a gentle scooping hand of compassion and a heart of constant mercy.  God never lets up on the law, but He often pays for it Himself by absorbing the cost of what we did.  It’s this sort of grace that eventually re-shapes these men and women into thankful people, who almost can’t believe the second chance they’ve been given: and when the grace kicks in, they never stop getting overwhelmed by Him.  They would follow Him anywhere, with zero limits, which is exactly how much grace God shows us.

It would’ve hurt if God had just slapped us around with His divine law.  But it hurts even more that God steps in with kindness.  It’s the type of hurt that tenderizes a heart and revokes our selfishness: because we know God ultimately paid the law with the life of His Son.  Where we stood guilty and embarrassed and downright wrong, Jesus loved us up to a cross.  There he took upon the consequences of the very law which was meant for our good.  To receive grace, it only costs our pride; for God to give grace, the cost was His Son.

His grace is the kind of love that hurts, and so then, it is real love.

It’s hard to see Jesus there and then go back to who I was.  He died to set us wretched ones free.  He rose for my new life, that I would see the law as the vision of who I’m to become: not as a measure for how I’ve failed, but as a future memory of the man I’m meant to be.  Only grace will get me there.  Only grace can bring me to follow the law with joy, with gratitude, with peace.  Only grace can tell me I am fully flawed and wholly beloved.

— J

Question: How Do You Defend Your Faith?

jspark3000:

image Anonymous asked:

I am doubting my faith more than ever, from the legitimacy of ancient texts, to the authenticity of the roots of stories found in the Old Testament (as well of those even found in the Gospels) … So, I guess, my big question is, how would you address some of the biggest “logical fallacies” or “errors” found in Scriptures, from texts not aligning, to things being taken from other cultures, to a good deal of scholarly work done by some to prove that Jesus was never a real man?

 

Please allow me to be really upfront — but I’m about the most skeptical Christian you’ll meet out here. I struggle with doubt daily, and it’s about as annoying as the popcorn flake in your teeth or that little bit of chunky phlegm down your throat.

I feel you 100% on this one, so it’s you and me both.  If you came to me for reassurance, I wish I had more to give.

Hear me loud and clear: I doubt God exists at least twice a day, and that’s on a good day. Let’s breathe out, because I bet any other Christian will tell you the same thing.

Some days, as bad as it sounds, I just want to throw the Bible in the trash and be done with it. I get on some atheist blog and those familiar doubts come creeping back in. They just have a way of twisting my guts around.

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

 

There was a day when I fought valiantly for one side against the other. I’ve probably hated on Christians just as much as atheists.

Now I’m just a little bored and jaded on the whole thing.

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

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

 

See: I know nearly all the evidence both for and against Christianity, but it’s not about the evidence anymore. Was it ever really? If you must know, atheists also have their doubts when they’re honest with themselves — but the Christian is the one who simply doubts their doubts.

Somewhere in that stupid raging mess of debates, I had to grow up and discover faith for myself. So will you.

Oh, I know some atheist like my former self will come along and say, “That’s dangerous to turn off your brain, you’re not being rational, you’re tossing reason out the window …!” But I don’t know. I feel pretty reasonable right now. I feel damn fine, actually. My lungs are filled with Christ and no one can really talk me out of it.

I suppose you wanted a much more straightforward answer with biblical proofs and historical accuracy (and I’ve written posts on that, too many I think) — but my friend, there are tons of resources out there you can look into for yourself. Those resources are also written by frail human hands wired by 3 lb. brains with their own darling schemes that will turn into dust like the rest of us.

Wrestle with this for as long as you must, but at some point, please know that doubts will never stop: and you’ll come to trust something amidst the doubts you have. I make the choice every morning to push aside the voices, forget both screaming sides, and follow Jesus. I pray you’d choose him, too.

I love God and I love people, and nothing will knock that out of me.

That’s your purpose, dear friend. In your struggle to believe, keep serving.

 

“My most recent faith struggle is not one of intellect. I don’t really do that anymore. Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don’t believe in God and they can prove He doesn’t exist, and there are some other guys who do believe in God and they can prove He does exist, and the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it’s about who is smarter, and honestly I don’t care.”

— Donald Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— J

May 1

One of my goals is to read the bible all the way through but I am not sure what bible to get, there are so many variations! Which do you recommend?

Hey my friend, I wrote a pretty technical answer here.

For me, my default mode is the NIV 1984 translation.  I didn’t like the NIV 2011 as much, but it’s still very readable.  A recently popular one is the ESV, though personally I find it hard to read.  The most accurate is the NASB, and the easiest to read is the NLT.  Some also like the NKJV.

When I write my sermons, I often read five different translations plus my Interlinear Bible (which has the original Hebrew and Greek).  My five translations for sermon-writing are the NIV 1984, NLT, AMP, NASB, and NKJV.  This helps to get my thought process flowing from different angles.

But with translations: It’s hard to go wrong on most of them.  I would ask about which one your church likes, because reading the same translation as your pastor can be helpful.  But try a few at a bookstore by reading the first chapter of John.  When you feel comfortable with one, go for it. 

— J

May 1

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

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

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

- The Down-Low on The Old Testament Commands

- God Loves Everyone, Except Esau

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

— J

Hey, I really appreciate your blog. Your honesty is convicting, and it has prompted a lot of growth in my life. I'm just wondering, and maybe you've already written about this, but how did you come to terms with the reality of hell? I've known a lot of people who have dismissed Christianity because they couldn't accept the thought of the majority of mankind enduring eternal torment, especially when God claims to be good. How do you navigate through all of that?

Hey my dear friend, thank you for your very kind words and thank you for asking. I know this is a tough question that divides many people. 

Please allow me the grace to point you to some posts.  The first one here is a little snarky because I was sort of irritated that day, but here you go —

- Do Christians Have To Believe In Hell?

- Hell and Heaven As Motivation For Faith: A Mega-Post

Here are just a few thoughts on this to consider.

 

1) I believe most people already believe the concept of Hell, whether they admit it or not.

Those who don’t believe in Hell are also saying, “I don’t believe in justice for evil.”  You can’t say one without the other.

I don’t think just anyone goes to Hell.  But certainly there is justice for those who continually choose destruction, tyranny, manipulation, and oppression.  When someone says “There is no Hell,” it means they’ve never faced rape in Rawanda or a murdered child or a national genocide like the Khmer Rouge.  It means they never had to watch their relatives shot in the head right in front of them (my Cambodian friend’s mom watched all five of her brothers executed).  It means they never had to watch their parents get exterminated in an oven. Instead the naysayer’s suffering has only consisted of credit card debt or an egged car at Halloween.

Only over-privileged Westernized Post-Enlightenment thinkers who have been Pavlovian-conditioned with so-called “logic” could ever say that there’s no Hell, because they’ve never been ravaged by evil. [C.S. Lewis calls this “chronological snobbery.”]  And the only motivation for the victims of injustice to stop declaring war is to trust that there is a Hell which ultimately deals justice, so we don’t have to.  [This idea is from Miroslav Volf, a Croatian theologian who is a pacifist and well understands human indignities.]

 

2) Those in Hell will have tried very hard to get there.

A life apart from God gets us a life apart from God.  They will have ended up exactly where they wanted to go.  As Timothy Keller says, Hell is merely an eternal extension of self-absorption and inner-deterioration that came from a life of selfishness.  To live for only oneself is simply hell.

This also means that there must be some kind of grace for people who had no chance to believe, or perhaps threw a prayer on their deathbed, or who are special needs, or who are very young children.  While I can’t answer all those questions, I believe God’s grace covers them in a way that we can’t humanly comprehend.  We may be surprised in Heaven to see the many multitudes there covered by grace.

 

3) Jesus paid the price of Hell already.

Here’s what I don’t hear often enough.  God did create Hell for injustice, but He already paid the price Himself so that we wouldn’t have to.

Most people are saying, “It’s not fair that a loving God would make a place called Hell!”  But no one ever says, “It’s not fair that Jesus had to pay Hell for us!”  It’s only unfair when it comes to me.  No one sees the cross for how unfair that was to God.

Imagine the implications of this grace.  It’s like if an architect made a prison, then you commit a crime, and the architect says, “Don’t worry, I’ll carry out the sentence for you.”  No other religion or philosophy or humanism even comes close to this radical kind of grace.  Which brings us finally to —

 

4) Without justice, then grace doesn’t mean very much. 

I know that some Christians would disagree here.  But without a theology of justice, then grace is just not very electrifying. 

If it cost nothing for God to love us, then His love is just sentimentality.  It’s a general warm feeling that gives us fuzzies when we look to the clouds. 

This is true for relationships.  If you only love people who are lovable, then that love is cheap.  But if you can love people through the worst of their mess — that love is true, strong, real.  It came with a price.

The love of God is a costly love.  It cost Him everything.  God took on flesh and His whole life was one long crucifixion.  The life and death of Jesus was essentially his descension into Hell. He was tempted with us, suffered with us, grew hungry and tired and thirsty like us, was rejected and abandoned and betrayed and beat up and stripped naked and killed in the worst way possible.  He did this, for us, to endure the penalty of our sin on our behalf. 

So knowing this, there is no possible way that His love can be an abstract doctrine.  When people say, “God forgives me, so the Christian can do whatever they want!” — then they have no idea what it costs God to love us.  Grace is free, but it was not cheap.  Grace cost Him everything.  

 

I say all this to say: Christianity does not hinge on whether Hell exists.  That’s not the point, at all.  But rather God rescues us unconditionally out of His costly love and invites us into an eternal journey of joy, and when you can know this: then these other doctrines are the very least of our worries.

I hope we can share these things with sensitivity too.  I’ve had relatives and friends pass away without a knowledge of Christ.  It’s not okay to simply trump this around.  I hope we can navigate these things with a loving heart, full of grace and truth.  Much love to you in caring for your friends about this.

— J

The Love of God Vs. The Law of God
J.S. Park

jspark3000:

Hello beloved wonderful friends!

This is the second part of new sermon series called “Why You Christian?”  It explores the question of why anyone would ever want to be a Christian.

This message is titled: The Love of God Vs. The Law of God.

It’s about our natural resistance to rules and laws, and why a loving God would ever make them. 

Stream above or download here!

 

Some things I talk about are: The Eastern Asian Honor Values vs. the Western American Free Spirit and how they play out during tsunamis and hurricanes, those Jackie Chan buddy-cop movies, how we treat God as either a cool grandfather or a Japanese Yakuza gangster, what to do when a child holds up a fork in a thunderstorm trying to be Benjamin Franklin, and what we want God to say about sex, money, and forgiveness.

Be blessed and love y’all!

— J