J.S. Park

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Does Prayer Even Do Anything? Doesn’t Stuff Happen Anyway?

peterpencomplex asked:

hi pastor j- i think your blog is AWESOME, but i didn’t have enough room to explain myself. just wanted to say i think you should keep being completely 100% honest/real, because that’s how everyone else knows their walk of faith is not in vain. wanted to ask you about prayer. why do i pray? am i the only one that feels like i am closing my eyes and whispering into a vast darkness of nothingness? why is God so insistent on prayer, yet I don’t see anything changing? (matthew 7).

seeking-a-revival asked:

When we pray for someone I know that our prayers alone cannot change them but when we see prayers answered God has listened and His spirit has helped the person we prayed for? I am not sure what to think when I see a prayer get answered no matter who or how many prayed for a specific cause.

 

Hey my friends: May I first please commend you because you both actually care about your prayer-life.  When people tell me, “The least we can do is pray,” I always think, "That’s the most we can do."

But I also know that prayer is extremely, ridiculously, awfully difficult.  Whenever a preacher starts with his guilt-trip — “When was the last time you really prayed, huh?” — I immediately feel like crap.  I’ve never heard anyone say, “Man I got that prayer thing on lock.”  I haven’t met a single person who’s fully confident in the art and results of prayer.

Mostly we feel icky about this because —

1) We feel too guilty to pray.  We’re not sure God wants to hear us after we looked at porn / cussed out my parents / gossiped for two hours / punched that guy in the ear.

2) We’re self-conscious about it.  We’re not sure how long, or what words, or if we’re doing it right, or if we’re truly sincere.

3) And of course: We secretly wonder if it even works.

 

So here’s one thing I know about prayer.

It’s totally natural to doubt and wonder if prayer is working.

At times I think God just does what He wants: so why should I pray?

At times I think the world will spin without me if I stop praying: so why should I pray?

Very often it feels like I’m chucking coins into the dark: so why should I pray?

At times I’m so distracted and distraught and intermittent during prayer, I don’t think God will hear that one.  Or maybe all that stuff about “unconfessed sin” or “not enough faith” is really true.  Or God didn’t answer a big one and I’m done with Him. So why, oh why, should I pray?

 

You see: Jesus taught his disciples to pray in a way that we’re participating in God’s story.   Let’s consider that in the Lord’s Prayer, there are several direct petitions, most remarkably, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

God wouldn’t challenge us to ask for things unless the turning of our hearts in His direction actually changes a part of the universe.

I know it sounds like a drunken power-trip. But in other words: Jesus is telling us that when we pray, that somehow this touches upon the heart of the Creator so that the very fabric of reality is moved and shifted and infinitely rippling in incalculable motion, so that we are active participants within the narrative of God.  None of us are bystanders or spectators, ever.

When we ask God to do something: even the very act of asking Him has caused a chain reaction.  It’s already moved you.  And sometimes, like a divine tower crane, God intervenes into history and orchestrates things for your good and for His glory. 

It’s by God’s very own grace and love and mercy that He gives us the opportunity to re-write a part of His narrative.  Just think of how crazy that is.  I don’t mean to give you a swole ego here.  I’m just saying: even this knowledge that God hears us should already change the way we pray.  It puts us in the right perspective, in reverence, with gratitude, because He hears you and me, little fragile squishy meaty bony fist-shaking people with our desperate daily worries and concerns.  He hears us.  The God who can smush galaxies with His thumbnail also has His ear on your heart.

When we don’t pray, it could be that by sheer grace, God just answers a prayer we forgot to pray for, to demonstrate He hears us anyway. 

It could be that He knows what we wanted before we get a chance to tell Him. 

It could be that by sheer grace, God withholds what we wanted, not because He has “something better in store,” but simply because you already have Him

 

In the end, asking “does prayer work” is probably the wrong question.  If I asked, “Does marriage work?” or “Does love work?” — we’ve suddenly diminished these things into mechanical institutions. 

Here’s an example.  Sometimes I feel like I’ve wasted a day when I don’t do enough, because to me, a productive day is about accomplishing a to-do list.  Most days I feel horrible because I haven’t done all that I set out to do.  Yet: If all I care about is “doing,” but I don’t ask “Why am I even doing this?” — then everything becomes a blunt tool for me to fulfill my daily agenda.  I’m taking the essence out of beauty and replacing it with function.  It’s making a living, but not a life.

Every time I ask, “Does prayer work?” — well, I’ve sort of turned prayer into a pragmatic savior.  It’s a good question, but it’s incomplete and only gives half the picture. 

Jesus taught us that prayer begins with, Our Father.  This is important.  This is the space in which rich, vibrant, heart-pulsing intimacy happens.  And when we can rest in Our Father just long enough, then I don’t think we’ll be too disappointed when our prayers don’t “serve” us. We trust that He’s already served us by His Son, who has opened the throne-room to the King who who heals our busted hearts.  This is the ultimate answered prayer that we didn’t even know we were looking for: but He answered anyway.

And it’s only a King-healed heart by the work of Christ that can actually appreciate and appropriately manage the physical provisions that God does give us.  Imagine if you got everything you wanted this very second.  Imagine instantly getting all the fame, the money, and the power in the world.  I would die.  So would you.  When I see a celebrity meltdown and say, “I would be way smarter with all that money,” that’s a terrible over-estimation.  God wants us to be a certain people so that we can do with His earthly blessings.  You’ve seen what happens when we get this out of order.  So it’s definitely okay to ask for things, but prayer is primarily about getting the character of Christ by osmosis.

 

My friends, a last word. I know it hurts when God doesn’t answer a prayer.  I know that very often, prayer can be a mystery, and we constantly second-guess ourselves, and we’ll feel powerless.  I want to humbly ask that you continue to talk with God regardless of what’s happening around you: because He’s there, regardless of what’s happening around you.  I want to ask that you soak in His grace before His gifts.  I want to ask that you trust Him, that even if He’s not working a miracle you can see right now, that He’s possibly working a much bigger miracle in you and the people around you, and even if nothing else changes, you will.  As corny and cliche as it sounds: I want to ask that you would approach Him as a child sits on his Father’s lap, to both ask for things and to bask in Him. 

— J.S.

Sep 8

My Sin Ain’t So Bad: Why Do I Need The Cross?

Anonymous asked:

I sometimes don’t understand the point of the cross. I don’t feel like I did anything bad enough for Jesus to die for. Some lustful thoughts that aren’t hurting anyone, an occasional lie that (again) doesn’t have consequences…Im not a great person, but almost nothing I or any “normal” person could do seems bad enough to earn Hell, or Jesus’s death. I want to feel thankful for it, but it’s hard when it also seems kinda unfair to make Jesus (or us) go through such wrath for such small things.

 

My friend, I know exactly what you mean, and I hope you will allow me the grace to dig deep on this one and perhaps challenge our thinking together.  I won’t try to convince you that you’re so bad and sinful and evil, and I also think it’s way more complicated than that.  We’re also free to disagree here, because I know that most of us do not see eye-to-eye on this one.

Before I even look at the idea of “sin,” I think it’s way more helpful to talk about our idea of “good.”  In my entire pastoral ministry, I never had difficulty talking about “sin” to the addicts, the ex-convicts, the struggling, the criminals.  They already knew they’ve messed it up. 

My difficulty was always with very “good people,” because what could I say?  They weren’t in desperate need for correction, for a Savior.  They would hear the sermon and say, “Oh yeah, I already do all that stuff.”  Most people in general are not doing black tar heroin or punching animals.

I came to Christ very late in life, and as an atheist, I absolutely believed that everyone was capable of moral good.  I still do believe that.  My morality back then was simple: I believed we all have a common human decency, and we ought to respect each other out of dignity.  Anyone who didn’t do this was a jerk.  I didn’t want to be a jerk. I thought this was common sense.  If you needed a “God” to love people, then I thought: you’re already a terrible person.

 

When I heard about Jesus “dying for my sin,” I felt two things.  1) This is absolutely stupid, because I didn’t ask for anyone to die for me, and 2) I was aware of the wrong things I did, and so at the very least, Jesus made a pretty nice gesture.

Here’s where my logic turned into Swiss cheese: and as I’ve said before, we might not agree, and our journeys might look very different from here. 

The Bible made it clear that my self-inflation and self-comparison were merely self-righteousness.  To say, “I don’t want to be a jerk” is still a jerk-ish thing to say, because I’m instantly condemning others.  My morality for “common human decency” was rigging my heart by pride, so that my motivation was to look like a good neighbor and upstanding citizen.  I would look down on others if they were not. 

On one hand, the “fear of God” is the worst kind of motivation to be a good person, but on the other hand, the fear of lettings others down or letting myself down was an equally false motivation.  Even respecting each other out of “dignity” was grading myself on a moral paradigm of performance that would crush me or crush others.   I was tricking my behavior while never really changing on the inside.  I was using shame and guilt-trips to motivate me into morality: and we all do it.

If we’re motivated to do good to look good and get good back, then of course: none of this is very good.  We need a pure motivation, a piercing kind of goodness that doesn’t need self-inflation.

Some of us are simply “bad” because we fall into being very “good.”  Trying to escape your life by thrills is just as toxic as trying to elevate yourself by self-will.

In Colossians 2, Paul doesn’t call out the obvious bad things that we do.  He says that our drive to be good people is a “deceptive philosophy.”  It’s a sort of inner-flagellation with an “appearance of wisdom” and “self-worship” and “false humility,” and it “lacks any value to restrain sensual indulgence.”  In other words: the only reason we’re good is so we don’t look bad, and it’s bad when that’s your only reason to be good.

 

The problem isn’t so much that I’m a “bad person,” but that I need healing from my selfishness.  We can do good, but it’s always for the wrong reasons.  I’m in constant seeking of approval and affirmation by my actions; I long for a love to tell me “You’re okay, you did great.”  We yearn to hear, “Well done.”  We want to be both fully known and fully loved, and until we get to Jesus and the love of his cross, we’re still in this desperate sin-filled race of validation.

Now it’s true that many of us might not do many wrong things.  But our capacity for evil also runs way deeper than we think.  No one is so bad that they’re beyond redemption, but no one is so good that they’re beyond corruption.  This is the plotline of nearly every successful movie and TV show, from Breaking Bad to The Dark Knight to Rugrats.

I look at the genocide in Iraq, or the pyramid schemes of CEOs, or the 27 million slaves in the world: and I think, I’m definitely not as bad as the perpetrators of these crimes.  I could never do what they did.

Then I think of myself in the same situation.  I think, What if I had grown up with the same temptations, upbringing, cultural “values,” and corrupted ideologies as the oppressors?  Would I be any better than them?  Would I really be so much more sophisticated than the worst people in the world?

What if I was Adam or Eve in that Garden?  How long before I would also rip the fruit off the tree?

You’ve heard of the Stanley Milgram Experiment.  It’s quite famous for answering the question, How could these Nazi “doctors” exterminate so many people but go home to kiss their family?  In other words, Did the Nazis simply follow orders?  And as far as the experiment goes: it appears that most people are willing to electrocute someone against their screams, so long as we’re told to by an authority figure to keep pressing the button.  Sixty-five percent of them kept going even when the subjects “died.”

Do you remember the old Twilight Zone episode called “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street”?  Hang with me here.  This small town has its power shut off at random, and all the townspeople blame each other and start looting and setting fires and eventually kill someone.  The surprise ending **spoilers** is that aliens were controlling the power to see how humans would react if you just shut off a few lights. 

At the end, the aliens say this:

First Alien: Understand the procedure now? Just stop a few of their machines and radios and telephones and lawn mowers, throw them into darkness for a few hours, and then sit back and watch the pattern.
Second Alien: And this pattern is always the same?
First Alien: With few variations. They pick the most dangerous enemy they can find, and it’s themselves. All we need do is sit back and watch.

And the narrator says this:

The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men.

I know it’s just a TV show.  But read the news long enough: and you’ll find people just like you and me, who never did a very wrong thing their whole lives, get thrown into a crazy situation and suddenly become the monsters on Maple Street.

 

All that to say: Each of us are capable of the worst atrocities imaginable, given the proper conflicts and resources and time.  It only takes the quiet bubble of a suburban Westernized neighborhood to truly fool ourselves into thinking we’re “good people.”  When you take away your roof, your toys, and your laws: we all become the enemy.

The only reason you probably haven’t killed your boss when you’re mad at him is because of the police.  It’s also a lot of work to buy a shovel and dig a hole.  The only reason you haven’t looted your local Walmart or punched your ex-boyfriend is because you’ve restrained yourself with societal norms. 

Is that true goodness?  Because in a post-apocalyptic world of zombies, we’re all the Governor.  None of us are Rick.  None of us are even as good as Carl. 

We’re all two steps away from utter chaos. 

The world is pretty crazy, but maybe we should be astonished that it’s not even as terrible as it could be. 

I know who I really am inside.  I’m a wretched, wicked, twisted up rebel.  I’ve only been good out of self-righteous motives, to prove I’m good: which means I’ve never done any good on my own.  None of us are truly altruistic at the core. 

Yet such deep sin points to a deep need for a correction of the universe.  How could we know things are very wrong unless there must be a very right?  Why do we feel anguish at injustice unless we knew of justice?  I’m sure a philosopher or psychologist or very witty blogger could beat me here point-by-point.  I’ve heard them all, and frankly, I’m jaded by all the debating.  I’ve lived long enough to know that we all love to justify ourselves to death, to get what we want, at the expense of each other.  And this is more reason and not less to believe that a righteousness must be outside us, beyond us, supernatural, not from this world, but breaking in, in order to bring healing to a busted up people.  

Jesus had to bear the curse of the hostility of a broken world, for all we could do and have done.  And though he had to die for the depth of our sin, he was glad to die for the death of our sin: because he loves us.

I choose to believe, with my weak little faith, that the righteousness we need comes from Jesus.  It’s out of his own self-initiated, one-way, just-because love, and he expects nothing back: which is the only way our hearts could be big enough to do the same.  I believe, in the end, that the cross cuts us down to our true size and exposes our great need.  But there in the cross, we also have a Great Savior, who does not say, "Look what you did to me," but instead, "Look what I’ve done for you."  This is the only kind of grace that will wreck my sin and bring me back to who I was meant to be.

— J.S.

Sep 2

Doctrinal Deathmatch: Catholics Vs. Charismatics Vs. Protestants - When Doctrine Divides Us (And Why It Doesn’t Have To)

bare-memoirs asked:

Hey J.S. I have been seeking more to my faith than what I’ve got now. However others have put me down by saying I’m just seeking to ‘work’ my way into heaven. I have asked for advice from others and also was put down. But I find much comfort in all of the thought that goes into the stances that Catholics and Orthodox holds. They give me much guidance when others haven’t even thought of the issues I have encountered … Is the condemnation that I’m receiving for seeking insight from the more traditional churches really within reason? Am I wrong for wanting more to my faith (and going this route)? …

lmazel asked:

Hey, Pastor Park! Hope you’re doing great and hopefully getting some well-deserved rest. I had a quick question- what are your thoughts on charismatics? I just went to a charismatic church for the first time and I certainly had never seen anything like it; I would love any information you have.

 

Hey my dear friends: I want to commend you right upfront about your constant searching for truth, for good theology, for a vibrant pulsing faith.  All of us are still learning and seeking and not fully arrived, and I appreciate your earnest hearts in this. 

I’m also sorry for any ridicule you might have faced from your own church community for bringing up such curiosity.  No one should ever shame you for having sincere questions about faith, tradition, church, and history.

Please allow me first to quote the inimitable C.S. Lewis about other religions, which is also helpful to understand our view on Christianity itself.

"If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through … If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest one, contain at least some hint of the truth … As in arithmetic - there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong: but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others."

I’m going to extrapolate Lewis’s idea further to mean that even within Christianity, there are slight differences in traditions and cultures and people-groups that will create a distinct flavor for Christian faith in different parts of the world.  And while there are definitely false man-made institutions with Catholics or Protestants or Pentecostals, each group has at least a core foundation of truth with a capital T.

 

So really, Christianity will look different for most people while maintaining core truths about Jesus, because Christian faith has the nuance to respect individuality while sharing a collective universal unity.

I think if we get to the bottom of what we truly believe and ask the very hard questions, we’re each capable of the discernment to separate the good from the not-so-good here, or as Aristotle reportedly said,

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

 

If we’re being honest here, then we find that there are strengths and weaknesses among the traditions of Protestants and Catholics and Pentecostal/Charismatics, each able to fill out where the others are lacking.

The following will probably be over-simplifying and generalizing, but short of writing a book, here are some important things that every Christian tradition can be aware of.  I apologize in advance for my ignorance in some areas and I’m very much open to being corrected.  I also hope we have enough humility and self-awareness to see the flaws in each of our subcultures.

 

Protestants tend to really emphasize the relational love of God; it proposes a faith that tosses out performance-driven anxiety by the go-to verses Ephesians 2:8-9.  The Protestant service really showcases the sermon as the axis of worship service because the Word of God is what changes lives.  There’s often a raw authenticity in church, a need for community and conversation and relevance.

Yet Protestants tend to be weak about emphasizing the Greatest Commandment, especially “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”  Almost never do I hear Protestant preachers say, “I love you, God.”  We’re too busy saying, “God loves us.”  It turns Jesus into an abstract concept of fuzzy warm acceptance.  We’re in love with the idea of love, but very rarely do we consider loving God in return. 

So while Protestants have a decent track record of generosity, social justice, fellowship, and feel-good faith, they’re pretty bad about purity, hypocrisy, spiritual disciplines, and taking the church seriously.  There’s a sort of lite diet fluffiness in most Protestant churches that leads to laziness or lukewarm living.  Protestants are so anti-legalism that we make a legalist into a Nazi boogeyman, and we throw out the nourishing depth of the biblical commandments. 

 

Catholics have these wonderful buildings that truly reflect the beautiful aesthetic of God.  They take all the sacraments seriously.  Their rituals are breathtaking.  And though there’s a lot of joking about “Catholic guilt,” I’ve said before that guilt often points to the truth that something is broken in the world, and to dismiss guilt completely is also to deny we’re human.  Yes, it’s wrong to shame others.  Anyone in Christ is free of condemnation.  But Protestants take this to the extreme and yell “Don’t guilt-trip me” all the time. It’s almost impossible to find modern millennial Christians who are guilty over anything, so they don’t much care about what God cares about. 

The Catholic tradition takes Ephesians 2:10 very seriously, with our good works being the fruit of our genuine faith.  Catholics recognize the cost of grace, particularly by keeping the crucified Jesus front and center in all their iconography.  It’s too simplistic to say that Catholics are all about “works save you,” but a thoughtful view of Catholic doctrine shows that good works are absolutely important in the believer’s life.  Again, I think Protestants are too quick to yell “Pharisee” and we think "effort is legalism," but it’s not.  Tradition and rules and commands are important.  Protestants like myself could really learn from this.

Yet Catholics (and I want to be fair here, because I’m an outsider to this), do tend to be nominal and ritualistic.  Sometimes they take the institutions too far, like the time my brother almost got in a fight at a Catholic church.  And while Catholics are pretty good about discipline and purity and knowing the richness of church history, they’re not always the best at radical generosity.  I see these huge cathedrals and I can’t help but wonder if that money could’ve gone to the sick and starving.  Much of it feels self-involved and overly pietistic, but not engaged with culture.

 

Pentecostals and Charismatics are just awesome.  I mean come on: our faith needs joy.  Our faith needs the Holy Spirit to do anything. And many of our traditions today, like praise music on Sundays and raising hands during worship and on-fire preaching, ALL come from the Pentecostal tradition.  I’m jealous of my Charismatic friends who are so free and boisterous and joyful in Christ.

Yet of course, I’ve seen the danger in Pentecostal churches all over South Korea.  You think those Prosperity Preachers are bad in America, you really haven’t seen anything until you visit Asia.  The emotionalism and outright bad theology leads to corruption, hierarchies, cults, and all sorts of wild floor-rolling and visions and tongues and bizarre eel feasts.  Unfortunately, the extreme end of Pentecostalism results in a frenzy free-for-all, and it can be impossible to rein it in.

 

You see: God is the light and we are the prism.  No one has the absolute say-all singular doctrine on Jesus.  No one gets to monopolize him with their tiny little 3 lb. brains.  Jesus is the same truth, yet we all reach him quite differently: because we’re all different.  And we need each other.  If every Christian looked the same as you or me: we wouldn’t have the church, but tyranny. 

Some of us are dying to journal or we would rather die than journal.  Some us get Jesus from Chris Tomlin and others are more Switchfoot and symphonies.  I get more out of Les Miserables than Kirk Cameron.  I’m a Reformed Calvinist but I’m not okay with double election and a bunch of other bullet points in the Reformed camp.  Consider that Philip went to the Ethiopian eunuch and Jesus went to the Syrophoenician woman and Paul went to the pagan Gentiles. And faith is way more simple than we make it.

In the end, we love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.  And those who are not in Christ are still our neighbors, so we love them too. If we truly believe someone is wrong about their theology, then we should be on our knees praying in tears for them instead of feeling superiority.  And ultimately, our traditions serve us and we do not serve them.  We serve Jesus and each other.

If someone would shun your curiosity for investigating the rich customs of Christian liturgy and history, both the good and the bad: then certainly this person needs a gracious conversation about why our forefathers matter, and how even the greatest thinkers were still wrestling with our questions today, and we’re all still seeking every facet of Jesus as the colorful body of Christ.  It is possible to learn from both the ups and downs of our ancestors without diminishing the whole thing.

Jesus has a much bigger imagination than you or me alone.  Heaven will not be divided by denomination nor our boxed up thinking.  God can bring together our cultural values and individual stories into a wonderful mosaic of glorious truth, a tapestry of Christian heritage that makes us more human, and not less.  We can learn together, and from each other.

— J.S.

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