For Fellow Fighters of Depression: A Quick Survey


So I’m working on a book about depression and I need your help. I’ve wrestled with depression my whole life, and I feel completely inadequate trying to write about it. Most writing on it tends to leave behind a certain kind of person or two (perhaps inevitably so), and I don’t want to leave anyone behind. I would love your vulnerable input.

I want to ask fellow sufferers of depression (and feel free to skip any of these)—

1) Which parts of the conversation around depression really bother you?
2) What kind of dialogue have you found helpful?
3) Do you feel that depression is more of a disease or a choice? Why?
4) Has prescribed medicine been helpful? Why or why not?
5) How do you help a friend who’s going through depression?
6) What does depression feel like?


You can also join the conversation on Facebook here.

Please feel free to email me if you’d like to stay anonymous, as well. Love you and thank you, friends.
pastorjspark@gmail.com

J.S.

Also, I’m making this book free for anyone who asks. A purchase would be a bonus; my priority, though, is dialogue and a fighting chance.

I Held a Swastika.

Part of my hospital chaplaincy duties is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.

The nurse told me that the patient, Willard, had taken a bite out of another nurse. He had swung at one of the doctors and thrown urine at a surgeon. Willard had multiple organ failure and he couldn’t walk; he kept demanding to go home. “Get me a wheelchair, I’ll flop in and ride over you people.” The staff kept trying to get him to stay, to get treated, despite his violent non-compliance: because nurses and doctors have the guts to look past that stuff.

They called for a chaplain to ask about Willard’s family members, to see if anyone could pick him up when he was discharged. I was the lucky chaplain who took the order.

When I walked in, I immediately noticed the patient had a tattoo of a heart on his hand, near the inner-fold of his thumb, with a swastika in the middle of the heart. The cognitive dissonance was startling. Not “I love mom” or his wife’s name, I thought, with a bit of snark. But hate in your heart. Very subtle.

“He’s one of those, you know, angry old fogeys,” the nurse had whispered right before I walked in. The nurse was a Middle Eastern man, about my age, and I couldn’t imagine the awful things he had to go through with this patient the last few days.

My eyes locked on the swastika first. The symbol held a terrible place in my memory: when I was a kid, someone had spraypainted a red swastika next to the front door of my dad’s business. Though my dad had tried to paint over it, I could still see it on hot summer days, a scar on the wall and a scar in my head, a mad throbbing declaration of all the world’s ugliness dripping in crimson. I still dream about it sometimes, and in the dream I’ll peer down at my wrists, which are engraved with the same red marks down to the veins.

The patient, Willard, saw me and said, “Thank God, a chaplain, finally someone who can hear me.”

But I don’t want to hear you, I thought. And a sick part of me also thought, You deserve this. I hope you never leave. Then you can’t hurt anyone out there.

He said, “Look, I see your face, I’m not trying to hurt anybody. You get it? I just want to go home. Fetch me a f__ing wheelchair, would you?.”

Willard got louder. He clenched his fists and waved them around. It was rather sad to see someone so animated and aggressive while pinned down to a bed, like the blanket had eaten his lower half and he was trying to crawl out. “Come on, I told you people that I wouldn’t hurt nobody. I got a dozen things wrong with me, I’m not a danger to you, I want to go home and to die in peace. You hear me? I’m ready to go home and die.”

Continue reading “I Held a Swastika.”

The Worst of Me, the Best of Me.

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I believe people are worse than we think.

I believe people are better than we think.

As a Christian, I’m both a pessimist and an optimist at the same time.

I’m painfully aware that we are capable of the worst sorts of evil, and worse, that we too easily turn a blind eye to the real grief of others. Many of us are so sheltered that we deny how deep such depravity runs in our veins. We laugh it off, we whistle past the graveyard, we gloss over the wounded. I’m pessimistic because I see how awful we can be.

I’m also painfully aware that we can be manipulated into thinking people are one-dimensional cartoon caricatures, so much that we become cynical and jaded over the possibility of change. Our very real fears are often exaggerated by a binary social narrative that has us ravenous for blood. We forget that each of us do have hopes and dreams and passions that overlap and interweave. I’m optimistic because I see how harmonious we can be.

I’m hopeful that the best of us, within us and among us, can build bridges through open scars and new stories through broken hearts. That we can give a voice to our uncertainty. That we are on hand one not extremely dismissive, and on the other hand not completely nihilistic. That we validate each other’s concerns and lean into our very real wounds, while not buying into the back-and-forth backlash of answering hurt with hurt.

I am holding space for our fears.
I am holding space for our hopes.
I’m a cynic and a critic.
I’m a believer and I’m with you.
Will you be with me, too?
J.S.


Photo by Image Catalog, CC BY PDM

“God Is In Control” Doesn’t Let Us Off the Hook


Yes, Christians, “God is in control so don’t worry” and all those other cold comforts that we throw around.

No, Christians, that doesn’t absolve you of being an ambassador of healing and reconciliation and actually leaning into the legitimate fears and anxieties and grief of many people. You ain’t fooling anybody with this “God is in control” stuff. A lot of it’s undercover gloating, and it’s not a free pass to look like you care about those who are truly scared and uncertain.

And yes, Christians, there’s only one King. Nobody in office is fixing what you think is broken. What’s really broken is way, way deeper than that. We proved it.
J.S.


Photo by Image Catalog, CC BY PDM

I’m Not Okay. Is That Okay?


It’s a crazy, incredible thing to be in a place where people slow down and listen, where they hear your whole story and let you paint your full heart in the air.

I was telling one of my fellow hospital chaplains about life lately, about my health problems and secret panics and suddenly about a billion other things, every humiliating and painful and neurotic moment that had been twitching my eye for the longest time, and I didn’t realize how much I had bottled up in my neatly wrapped fortress. I was embarrassed, but my chaplain friend only nodded, never flinched, stayed engaged. She then prayed for me, a really beautiful prayer, like cool water for bruised purple hands, one of those prayers where it sounded like God was her best friend down the street. And I wept. A lot. Quietly, but inside, loudly. Something then shifted and settled and became still for a moment, like the leaves of a tree coming together after a strong wind, a momentary painting. I left lighter.

Later I visited a patient who had nearly died from a brain bleed, and when I offered prayer, the nurse grabbed me and said, “Me, too.” I took her to the side, and she whispered, “Cancer. I might have breast cancer, and I’m afraid, chaplain. I’m so damn afraid.” She clenched her teeth and tried not to weep, but I put a quick hand on her shoulder and she wept anyway. She talked. I listened. There was nothing for me to say but to be there. And maybe nothing had changed—except we were made light somehow, and together drew something bigger than us. We drew colors into the gray.

There are still places, I believe, even in a busy and unhearing time, where we can draw free. I hope to meet you there, where we are not okay, but less gray than yesterday. I hope to pray for you, that we become bigger.

J.S.


Photo by Image Catalog, CC BY PDM

A Bridge to You and Me, of Purest Stone


This is the Preface for my book Grace Be With You. The Preface is about the gravitational power of story that connects us. The book is a compilation of my stories, encouraging quotes and poems, and everyday encounters from the road to the hospital to cafes and gas stations. Be blessed, dear friends.

There’s an old Star Trek episode where a particular alien species, the Tamarians, can only communicate in images and allegories. As the helpful android, Lt. Commander Data, puts it:

“Their ability to abstract is highly unusual. They seem to communicate through narrative imagery, a reference to the individuals and places which appear in their mytho-historical accounts.”

This strange constraint plays out to amusing fashion throughout the episode, as each party is frustrated by their miscommunication, and the tension nearly boils over into a knife-fight and all-out war (maybe your idea of amusement is different than mine). By the end, one of the Tamarians sacrifices himself in order to create a heroic narrative that both his people and the Federation can understand. It succeeds; this act of nobility becomes the bridge towards peace. The great Captain Picard realizes, “The Tamarian was willing to risk all of us, just for the hope of communication—connection.”

We’re not much different than the Tamarians. We risk the friction of our jagged edges to connect, not merely by formulas or flowcharts, but by a sloppy crawl through our shared, lived-in journey. We crave a common vocabulary beyond the heavy anvils of prose, crafted from imagination and our unified experiences.

Stories contain power because they seem to unveil secrets that have long been muddled, as if we’re unearthing lost royal treasure. But more than that, stories are a connective tissue, bringing us together by the longing and landing of a resolution.

Since a narrative thrust is essentially driven by an unresolved tension, with unassailable obstacles besetting a goal on every side, we discover in them the depth of our courage and cowardice, and we find out how to be. We find what we’re meant to look like.

We find, perhaps unwillingly, that we are not always the heroes, but in need of rescue: because we’re so often the cause of our own tension. And this is what puts us in the same boat, the same battle. The best stories require first an examination of our limitations, and then a cooperation as equals, through a slow-burning realization that we are not opposed to one another, but can reach the same goals with a little spunk and ingenuity. From Star Wars to The Karate Kid to The Lord of the Rings to Up, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to the Odyssey to a genie in a bottle, these are tales told side-by-side. We find we are fellow travelers, not so different, really, with a universal desire for shalom, a harmony—and we can’t get there alone. Heroes cannot fly solo, and villains are not beyond change.

Stories and symbols have a way of disarming us, too, getting to the inside of the matter with gentle precision. Propositions are a bit like bricks and beams: necessary for the foundation, but soon rigid and inflexible. Narratives and metaphors have a dynamic of growth to them, like seeds pushing through the dirt into the sun, and they give breath. Or maybe, as one theologian said, they are windows that light up the house and give it air. It’s why Nathan the prophet did not approach David with lectures and bullet points—”Three reasons that adultery and murder are bad!”—but instead with the innocent story of a poor man and his ewe lamb, ending on a twist that David could not negotiate. It forced David to rise from the dirt, into light.

Jesus himself spoke in parables with great aplomb, from mustard seeds and millstones to swords and sparrows to wedding feasts and rebel-runaways. Jesus’s disciples often had trouble deciphering his parables, which Jesus seemed to deliberately obscure at times—but ultimately, the parables were pointing to a future work on a cross and in a tomb. His stories pointed to his heart, and his heart sculpted the greatest story of them all: a final sacrifice to bring us peace with God and one another. He spoke of rescuing us, because we could not do that on our own. We were never meant to.

Only Jesus could become our bridge of peace, our shalom. And this kind of love is not merely the royal treasure, but the very purest stone from which all treasures are made.

The following pages are much like rotating the facets of such a jewel, pointing to the pulse of the galaxy-sculptor. These stories and poems and thoughts are chiseled by joy, sorrow, failure—and the great love that has cast a shadow on them all.

My hope is that we meet somewhere between the words, to connect, because I believe this is the truest stuff of life. Stories help us to mesh in this tapestry, that in our overlap, we’d find strength hand in hand. I’m excited. I’ll see you there.

J.S. Park // Grace Be With You




Photo at top by sonlight972, used with permission.

15 Things I’ve Learned Not to Say at the Hospital


Things I’ve learned not to say in the hospital at the very moment of pain and tragedy:

“Everything will be okay.”

“You’re so strong!”

“Pain is what forces you to grow.”

“God has an amazing plan for your life!”

“God is using this for your good.”

“God just wanted another angel in heaven.”

“It could’ve been worse.”

“At least you’re still alive. At least—”

“Cheer up and stay positive!”

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“I understand what you’re going through.”

“Time to pray really hard and read more Bible.”

“God is using this as a wake-up call.”

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

— and other motivational poster clichés.


Things I’ve learned to say in the hospital at the very moment of pain and tragedy (and even then, not every time):

“I’m sorry.”
“How are you right now?”
“I don’t think it’s wrong to be mad.” (Or scared, or hurt, or sad, or weeping, or uncertain.)
“How can I pray for you?”
“I’m always here.”
Or the best thing: listen.

J.S.


Photo by N Medd, CC BY 2.0

Five Husbands.

Part of my hospital chaplaincy duties is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.

The doctor tells him in one long breath, “Your wife didn’t make it, she’s dead.”

Just like that. Irrevocable, irreversible change. I’ve seen this so many times now, the air suddenly pulled out of the room, a drawstring closed shut around the stomach, doubling over, the floor opened up and the house caving in.

“Can I … can I see her?” he asks the doctor.

The doctor points at me and tells Michael that I can take him back. The doctor leaves, and Michael says, “I can’t yet. Can you wait, chaplain?” I nod, and after some silence, I ask him, “What was your wife like?” and Michael talks for forty-five minutes, starting from their first date, down to the very second that his wife’s eyes went blank and she began seizing and ended up here.

I’m in another room, with a father of two, Felipe, whose wife Melinda is dying of cancer. She’s in her thirties. She fought for three months but that was all the fight in her; she might have a few more days. Felipe is asking if his wife can travel, so she can die with her family in Guatemala. The kids are too young to fully comprehend, but they know something is wrong, and they blink slowly at their mother, who is all lines across greenish skin, clutching a rosary and begging God to see her parents one more time.

“Can I see them?” she asks the doctor.

Another room, with a man named Sam who has just lost his wife and kids in a car accident. Drunk driver, at a stop sign, in the middle of the day. Sam was at home cooking; his wife was picking up their two daughters from school; the car had flipped over twice. The drunk driver is dead; Sam doesn’t even have the option to be angry. Sam was hospitalized because when he heard the news, he instantly had a heart attack. He keeps weeping, panicked breaths, asking to hold my hand because he doesn’t know how he can live through this. He hasn’t seen the bodies of his wife and daughters yet.

“Can I see them?” he asks me.

Continue reading “Five Husbands.”

“4 Unexpected Things That Happen When You Quit Porn”


Here’s an article I wrote that’s been published on X3Church, called:

“4 Unexpected Things That Happen When You Quit Porn.”

It’s about four ultimately great outcomes of healing that happen when you quit porn addiction. Here’s an excerpt:

When someone tells me that pornography doesn’t do any harm to the body, I can only reply, “Try to quit porn for a month. See how much better you feel.”

Really. Try to quit porn for just a month.

… Many people are too scared to leave behind porn, because quitting any supposed “pleasure” in our culture feels like an amputation, or some kind of offense against our autonomy. “You can’t tell me what to do” is the leading logic.

But the people who do take up my challenge to quit porn always thank me later. Why? It’s because porn has such an insidious, destructive grip on the brain and body that you can always feel the healing when you quit.

Here are four things that happen when you begin to quit porn.


Read the full post here. My book on quitting porn is here.
J.S.

Breaking Porn Addiction and How to Quit For Good

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My book on breaking porn addiction has a brand new cover! It’s available in both paperback and e-book. It’s been recently endorsed by Craig Gross of X3Church.

This is a very short book about how I overcame a fifteen year porn addiction. I’ve now been sober for over three.  I talk about what porn does to your brain, specific steps to quit, and how you can quit for good.

I know how embarrassing it can be to talk about porn, but this book is designed for both you and to help your friend, regardless of gender or beliefs.

The paperback is only $6.99 and the e-book is 2.99! And you won’t need a Kindle, it works on everything. Be blessed and love y’all!

— J.S.

3 Lessons I Learned Instantly In My First Week of Marriage (That I’ll Need For Life)

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They say everyone gets a honeymoon period at the start of your marriage, but whoever brandished that idea: I want a refund.

Marriage is hard work right out of the gate. Our sentimental ideas about romance get tossed out very, very quickly — and I want you to be ready. Everyone told me what to expect, but no matter how much you prepare, it’s still a jump in the deep end. The more you know about what’s coming, the quicker you can stand on your two feet.

I know that marriage isn’t for everyone (contrary to our culture, singleness is not an illness), but whether you’re not in the dating scene or you’ve been married for years, here are three things I learned instantly in the first week of marriage. These lessons could be valuable and necessary for our entire journey.

1) Marriage pulls down the hologram and brings about the gritty reality of your spouse (and yourself too).

My wife and I dated for six years before we were married, and in those six years, I have never heard her pass gas once. I would constantly tell her that it was okay, but my wife was dead-set on maintaining an air of elegance. No pun intended.

About four days into the marriage, on a wonderful crisp morning in Florida, I asked my wife, “Are you boiling eggs?”

She said, “No. I’m not boiling eggs.”

“Are the sprinklers on outside?”

“No. The sprinklers are not on.”

“But then what’s that sm—”

And it hit me. Pun intended.

[By the way, I have my wife’s permission to share this story. I’m proud to say that she now regularly passes gas around me with the most exuberant freedom.]

In dating, we’re often on our best behavior. It’s like a job interview, where both sides show off their impressive benefits and credentials. In marriage, you see the rough, raw edges of the entire person. Marriage creates perhaps the closest proximity you will ever have with another human being. You’ll see every insecurity and neurotic tendency. There will be friction.

This is more than just about keeping up a pretty image.

It’s also a way of learning how to love an entire person and not just the parts that you like.

In Timothy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage, he discusses how we each have fault lines in our hearts, like the cracks of a great bridge. These fault lines get exposed when we collide with another person, so that we spill anger or jealousy or anxiety. A married couple, because they’re so close in space, will inevitably drive a truck through each other’s hearts: which exposes all the fault lines. Deep-seated flaws will shake out of us like shaking a tree in the autumn. It’s in this exposure that we can choose to face our flaws, so that they would be re-shaped by the love we share. The sooner, the better.

You’ll also see every dream, hope, talent, passion, and ambition in your spouse. You’ll see what lights them up and gets them excited. This means that marriage is often about showing grace for your spouse’s worst and promoting their very best. Love sees a greatness in someone who cannot see it in themselves. And if marriage is one of the most intimate unions in the universe, then it has the power to encourage a person beyond their self-imposed limits. Though this can happen in many types of relationships, marriage offers a profound intensity to spiritual growth. Finally, we can pull down our holograms of who we pretend to be, and actually become the people we were meant to be.

Continue reading “3 Lessons I Learned Instantly In My First Week of Marriage (That I’ll Need For Life)”

14 Ways To Handle A Christian Introvert

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Image from HD4 Wallpapers

If you ever met me, you would think I was an extrovert — I preach, I lead praise, I talk to everyone, I talk too much, and you can hear me laughing from across the street — but I am a full-blooded introvert.

If it were up to me, I’d rather be in my boxers all day eating Godiva while browsing food photo blogs and bothering my dog and cracking up at YouTube videos of Whose Line Is It Anyway and leaving dry ironic comments all over Facebook while reading the latest theory on how Sherlock survived the second season finale. 

I intensely guard my personal space and my private life.  It takes a herculean effort to step outside my comfort zone and interact with messy, fleshy, real live human beings.

Here’s how you handle us.

Continue reading “14 Ways To Handle A Christian Introvert”

Giving A Person More Attention Because They’re Attractive: And We All Do It

Image from Hooki

Ever prayed more for someone just because they’re hot?

Come on, I’ve done that too. Let’s not act like we’re above judging looks here. We give more cred to someone based on their defined jawline and bigger bra size than their less tangible patience and hospitality and compassion.

A very fleshy part of our human nature presumes that good-looking people are also just good, or that less good-looking people don’t really count somehow.

In church it’s easy to ask for prayer requests from the well-off, well-dressed, clean-cut, easily approachable mid-twenties demographic. Not the weird cat lady off the street, not the dude with the one rotten tooth who talks up a storm, not the pale socially awkward kid who says dorky things.

Most Christian books have the same problem: they’re geared to that same easygoing group of believers who attend the same megachurch in a crimeless suburban gated neighborhood with the sparkling 2.5 kids and Hollywood acceptable appearance, but they have nothing to say for the sick struggling screwed-up former addict who can’t find a job because he just “looks wrong.”

Wired into all our unaware brains is the deception that appearance means more than it should: but if I could give you a pair of X-ray goggles, you’ll see a bunch of skeletons with the same hopes, dreams, ambitions, anxieties, and worries that everyone else has too.

That seventeen year old pimply kid who loves Call of Duty is the same bag of meat and bones as the athletic football captain with the perfect hair; that girl who everyone hates because of her so-called overweight body could just as easily have been the same girl with the slightly higher cheekbones who runs the gang of cheerleaders. You can honk your car horn at the punk teenager on his skateboard crossing the street, but wave at the old lady on her walker: when both are just people who run deeper than what you see.

Take a Spiritual X-Ray and we all have the same vacuum of eternity within our souls with the same desperate longing inside. You and I could do way better than our visual addiction to all things sight, and instead see by vision.

Continue reading “Giving A Person More Attention Because They’re Attractive: And We All Do It”

Porn Addiction, Part Two: What Porn Does To Your Brain, the Science

Photo by H.T. Yu, CC BY 2.0

An ongoing discussion about victory over sexual addiction.

Recent Edit: October 23rd, 2015
– My book on quitting porn addiction is in paperback for only $6.10 and e-book for 2.99 on Amazon! It’s been officially endorsed by Craig Gross of X3Church. It contains this entire series of posts plus brand new info, fully updated and fleshed out, with specific steps to quit.

My podcast series “Cutting It Off” — here.

Why Do I Use Porn? Why Can’t I Stop? Here.

Every question submitted about porn on this blog, here.

**Updated: May 2013

For the podcast episode based on this post, click here.

The science behind porn addiction will not surprise you.  It can be easily mocked as apocalyptic research with an old-fashioned bias, but excuses to use porn are also biased by the hand down your pants. Objective evidence of pornography’s effects has one goal: to show how much porn screws up your brain. For some that will be enough to quit.

Obviously, something serious is happening in the neurology of a person who will not stop using porn.  Constant exposure to graphic, unreal, out-of-bounds sex doesn’t just go in one hand and out the other (bad pun). Like the heroin addict or the gambler or the alcoholic, several key things are happening.

Much of the following research is borrowed and not my own. Please keep in mind that the term “addiction” is a serious term and might or might not apply to you, but it’s worth investigating. I don’t mean to over-dramatize here or make a big show of scientific language, but porn use does have a particular undeniable effect on the brain.

Sources include Craig Gross’ Pure Eyes, Eyes of Integrity, and Dirty Little Secret, and William Struther’s Wired For Intimacy. I’ve read and re-read these important resources and highly recommend them to you.  There is also Michael Leahy’s Porn Nation, Mike Wilkerson’s Redemption, Tim Chester’s Closing The Window, and David Powlison’s tiny booklet Slaying The Dragon. Where possible, I’ve tried to research articles and current news behind pornography and the porn industry. And of course, there is personal experience with addiction plus countless hours spent with young and old porn addicts.

The Addict’s Path:

Continue reading “Porn Addiction, Part Two: What Porn Does To Your Brain, the Science”

Yes, Even You.


I wrestle a lot with insecurity.

I don’t say that as a trendy badge or a “relatable” label. I mean really: it’s debilitating sometimes and I have this shame-loop playing in my head over and over, slithering across the edges of my brain-folds.

Having just finished preaching at an incredible retreat over the weekend, with a beautiful church full of open receptive hearts, I still find that I’m beating myself up over flubbed points, the missed opportunities, and the “Why did I say it like that?” Even after I’ve preached about 800 sermons by now, I’m still learning to “find my voice,” as the poets say. (I don’t say any of this out of self-pity or for false sympathy, by the way. Some of my own criticism of myself is true and valuable.)

I have to keep remembering what God decides to do with the sermon in the hearts of people is actually none of my business. God does the changing part. I can only prepare and show up. And there’s no perfect sermon. Just an imperfect guy with a perfectly generous Father who can work miracles through dirty stained glass.

I often feel like I’m not good enough, smart enough, sharp enough—but that’s closer to the truth than I dare believe. I’m actually not enough. Not by myself. I don’t have what it takes: I never had it. He has to be enough for me. He has to be my rest when my mind goes into that vicious loop, and He has to be my resolve to get up and go again.

Even more, I still can’t believe that anyone would ask me to speak at an event. I’ve never gotten over that feeling, like, “Are you sure? Me?” But yes. Somehow God includes us into His story, even people like you and me. His answer is, Yes, you. You’re the one I want for this. You, the entire insecure weird crazy twitchy you.

I don’t think I will ever, ever get over it. I’m learning just to show up, insecure as always, and simply be grateful that I get to make noises with my mouth that might bless a few people. A new voice is forming in my head, a still small whisper that says, “Rest now, child, and resolve to breathe another day.”
J.S.


Photo by Image Catalog, CC BY PDM

What Love Doesn’t Do


Love doesn’t keep a score. It wipes the record clean each day. It says good morning today and goodbye to yesterday.
J.S.


Art by jeannedarvin

Why Jesus Wants Even Those Like You and Me


Anonymous wrote:

I’m terrified of sin, and having it and being in it and I’m terrified God won’t want me because of it.


Do you know why Jesus came to that sand-swept stain of a city called Bethlehem?

Do you know why Jesus entered a war-torn world of barbaric people in a time when crucifixion had become a perfected art-form by an imperialistic empire?

Do you know why God took on a human form, as a vulnerable baby in a filthy manger, taking on hunger and thirst and exhaustion and betrayal and persecution and torture and death?

Do you know why Jesus took on a dirty Roman cross?

Do you know why Jesus jumped out of the grave?

Do you know why Jesus sent the Spirit of God to make a home inside you?

Do you know why Jesus said that you will do even greater things than he did?

He did all that for you. For me. Yes, even for people like you and me.

He knew that two-thirds of the world would reject him — and still, he came.

Not because we deserve it. Not because we were worth it.

But because Jesus is love, and he is worthy.

Not because he needs us, but because he wants us.

And somehow, that’s even more unbelievable.

But all we have to do is believe by faith that it’s true.

When it is true in your heart and mind and soul, then the sin that was defeated at the cross will also be defeated in you, because Jesus is so much better, and it’s his beauty that will compel you out of sin towards him.

He’s that good.

J.S.

When You’re Too Quick To Dismiss That Guy: You Can’t See What God Is Doing

 

Sometimes I’ll look at a dude and instantly judge him — “There’s no hope for that guy in a million years” — and I have to slap myself, because I was that same guy a million years ago.

I think it’s easy for us to throw around labels like “lost cause” and “damaged goods” and “bad for business” because we’re just lazy.  It allows us to sit back and judge from a distance.  It’s easy to like people who are likable, but really dang hard to get involved with emotionally draining drama queens. 

Everyone loves the idea of compassion until it costs them.

I tend to time-stamp someone on how they used to be, because it’s more comfortable for me to presume “at least I’m better than that guy.”  It physically bothers me to think this person could change.  How could everyone like him now?  I want to say things like, “But I know how he really is” and “People don’t change” — but then I’m revoking the very chance I’ve been given. 

I’ve seen Christians casually dismiss other Christians down the street, pastors dissing pastors, churches entering into fierce tribalistic nationalism claiming some kind of moral standard above the curve.  I’ve been wounded by the venom because I have a past here, and no one has honor in their hometown.  Sometimes I desperately plead my side to be heard: but some people have their mind made up about you, and you’re the bad guy no matter what you do.

Really though: We just don’t want to get into the broken mess of other busted people.  It’s dirty work.  It requires standing out of our chairs, rolling up our sleeves, entangling with slobbery flailing lives, even forgiving them.  It is not our nature.  It hurts.  It costs.

But this is what God did, against all odds: because God sees people as they could be, not as they should be.

Continue reading “When You’re Too Quick To Dismiss That Guy: You Can’t See What God Is Doing”

Our Rest and Resolve: What Gets Us Through Deadlines, Demands, and Disorder

>Art by worshipgifs


Hello dear beloved friends! This is a message called, Rest and Resolve: What Gets Us Through Deadlines, Demands, and Disorder.

It’s about what gets us through when we want to give up. You can stream above or download directly here. I’m also on iTunes here.



I talk about Jesus versus Peter at the Transfiguration. Some other things I talk about are: That moment of exhaustion when you sigh for a long time before you walk through the door, the burn-out check-out from school and marriage and career, the strange beauty of enjoying something you can’t pay for with nothing to offer, the greatest miracle Jesus ever pulled, faith as a long-distance relationship, a word for both perfectionists and slackers, and the one crucial question they ask you at a car accident.

All messages can be streamed here. Be blessed and love y’all!
J.S.

People Are People: And Some Days Will Drive You Absolutely Insane



Today I’m unusually bitter and sad about people, and I’m so very tired and cynical over everything, including myself.

May I be honest here? People are people and sometimes people will drive you insane, and some days I just want to pack up and take the next spaceship off the planet.

I know I’m not supposed to say any of this because Christian bloggers and pastors are so inspirational and full of “never-give-up” pep. We love our slogans and re-tweetable one-liners. I want to be part of the cute punchy Instagrams with the sugary Christianese quotes. But days like today, I just want to give up on everyone. At times being positive makes me feel downright sick. I want to flip a table and go to sleep for a month and I look at my Bible and laugh.

People can be so maddeningly frustrating, and I know this because I disappoint myself too. We can be in the trenches with someone for months and months, pouring out grace and absorbing all the hurt and sharing life to the bottom, but that person might do what they want anyway. I know that no one owes me anything and this isn’t about “listening to me.” I’m not trying to pull pity here. It just hurts to see a person that you invested in so completely lose it and drop off the face of the earth.

I usually hear from people when they’re desperately in need. I never get to see the other side when it’s better, and maybe I have to be okay with the unresolved-ness of it all. What I’m asking for sounds petty and unreasonable, and again, that’s not to say, “Oh poor me.” But I wish I had more reason to hope, more reason to stay. It’s so selfish, but I wonder why I keep doing this.

I’m learning that faithfulness is more important than fruitfulness, because even when there are no results and rewards, I’m still meant to run this race. Yet I’m also learning that most of the race will be hard work, in silence, amidst people who often don’t care, with little evidence that we’re making a difference and many failed heartbreaks of seeing others walk away. I’m learning this can be a cruel, thoughtless, heartless world, and to be a fleeting flash of light is so much better, and so rare. I’m learning again and again to trust God for what I cannot see, because He’s the only one who heals hearts to glory. I’m learning to encourage others along the way, because so many never get to hear that they’re doing all right, and I want to be the one voice in the crowd that actually breathes life, even when it’s for a second and forgotten.

— J.S.


TV Shows That Christians Should Watch: 24


24 (2001-2014)
Fox Television

Summary:
Over an exact period of twenty-four hours — each episode in real time — federal agent Jack Bauer gets shot, stabbed, electrocuted, tasered, burned, choked out, attacked by dogs, infected by a killer virus, killed twice, and endures various other health hazards all in the name of America. That’s usually before breakfast. He is part of CTU, the fictional Counter Terrorist Unit located in Los Angeles, and we’re privy to the worst days of Bauer’s life. The show uses splitscreen, a running clock, ridiculous plot twists, and a you-are-there handheld madness with zero slow motion for a show that my friend described as “a speeding train with no brakes.” But perhaps the best part of the show is Bauer himself, played in a determined, dogged performance by an incredible Kiefer Sutherland.

Also starring Mary Lynn Rajskub, Carlos Bernard, Dennis Haysbert, Xander Berkley, Elisha Cuthbert.

Questionable Content:
Very dark themes, cursing, occasional sexual content, a paranoid atmosphere, and at times extremely violent, e.g. open wounds, gunshots, broken necks, stabbing, eye gouging, and Jack Bauer not eating for 24 hours straight.

Why You Should See It:
Debuting the same time that the World Trade Center was attacked, 24 was an American catharsis for a wounded, vulnerable nation. It fueled our sudden demand for justice by any-means-necessary. Jack Bauer was the means. He was an unstoppable force, a projection of our twitchy national outrage who did whatever it takes, and became our vicarious Monday night superhero. Everything we’ve always wanted to do to the bad guys, without daring to speak them out loud, he does. At first glance (and second and third and fourth), 24 plays out like every patriotic, flag-waving, terrorist-hunting fantasy.

But the show doesn’t downplay the harrowing effects of Jack Bauer’s methods. He slowly devolves into a dehumanized, haunted soul with nine seasons of regret (plus a TV movie). A life of torture brings about a tortured life. Bauer’s only tether to “normal” is his put-upon daughter, who both loves him and is repelled by what he does. Fans complained that Bauer became more unlikable as the show progressed, but of course this would only make sense: Bauer and guys like him were never destined for happily-ever-afters. He secured such endings for everyone else at the expense of himself, and even worse, for those who got too close to him. This dreary subtext was too often obscured by Bauer’s more sensational tactics.

Continue reading “TV Shows That Christians Should Watch: 24”

How Is God’s Love Different Than Human Love?

Art from Diane of 1of1doodles

germandreambaby asked a question:

Do you think that the love God has for us and for the entire creation is somehow different than what we understand as love? I mean, does the love of God have (entirely) different characteristics than human love? thanks for answering!

Hey dear friend, the short answer is: sort of yes and sort of no.

The love of the Christian God is so unique in that it purports no agenda, has no need for reciprocation, and has the motive of no-motive. God’s love exists simply because it does, for no reason except that He loves. There is no transaction, no equal exchange, no real economy. It is like a waterfall with no source and no ending, a constant wave after wave.

At the same time, God is unflinching when it comes to justice as being a part of love. Love is not merely sentimental, but also incorporates the safety and health of the other. That means telling the truth and keeping others accountable and gently persuading others away from the cliff of self-destruction. C.S. Lewis said it best: “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”  In fact, Lewis said this within the context of WWII, in the midst of atrocities, referring to how we can love the “enemy.”

Many of us will lean too much to one side or the other. In other words, every culture will have an incomplete misinformed idea of “love” because it’s either too sentimental or too safe. We go for sappy careless love and end up enabling and spoiling. We go for “tough love” and end up controlling and wounding. We get our boundaries wrong all the time, either too much or too little. We might pour out until we’re irresponsibly draining ourselves, or we might speak so much truth that we come off shrill and unapproachable. Sometimes we hold on too long or we let go too early. Such a perfectly balanced love is impossible for us, and we will never get it completely right.

Continue reading “How Is God’s Love Different Than Human Love?”

Ridiculous, Reckless Grace: My First Pastor.


My very first pastor, Pastor Paul, was a ridiculous person. What I mean is, he kept pouring out his life to other people without any kind of tactical advantage to himself, and he never asked for anything back. He took strangers to job interviews, frequented the local hospitals, sent handwritten letters to everyone in the church and across the street, volunteered for clean-up at the park, brought bottled water to the beach all the time, counseled every church member at any hour, and somehow managed a marriage while making it to 6:00 am prayer every morning and preaching three times per week. Try to picture Korean Jesus, and that’s him.

I started attending church a bit late in life, around college, and I was one of those punk kids that any pulpit-pounder should’ve written off. I showed up hung-over on Sundays and bleary-eyed from partying on Saturday nights. I talked loudly in the back-row during the sermon. Church was just an extension of socializing at the club, and I endured the service stuff because I liked the hanging-out stuff. But Pastor Paul was just one of those guys who really brought it in the pulpit, and more than that, he was the real deal outside of it. Some of his sermons started to creep into my brain, and when I met up with him, he never judged me and never flinched at how I lived. He just loved. And without really knowing it, I became drawn to that supernatural pulse that was beating in his veins. I wanted to be like him—and by extension, like Korean Jesus.

I’ve thought about how my pastor’s job was often a thankless role with so much resistance against him, sometimes for no other reason than people just have their own thing going on. He took the hits and stayed around. He somehow served very personally without ever taking it personally. He was really for the other, never using ministry as a way to validate himself first, not as some kind of catharsis, but because he was invited into a story and a calling and a life that was meant to be given away. I loved that about him. I still do. He’s always looking for an angle or avenue to serve, even when he’s not wanted, not in an intrusive way, but to be available. I want to be about that, too.
J.S.

Breaking Up and Getting Back Together: About Me and My Wife

Anonymous asked a question:

Can you please give the testimony of you and your wife?

Hey dear friend, I wrote on that a little bit here, here, and in my book here.

I met my wife about nine years ago (!) and while I eventually grew interested in her, she really did not want to be with me. At some point, she said she’d pray about it, and I waited about seven months. We sort of semi-dated, and at the three year mark, she broke it off. I was devastated, but I also understood: she had seen my darkness and it was too much for her. I was addicted to porn, I had anger problems, I lacked self-control, I was not the man I could be. Any rational woman would’ve broken it off with me.

She thought it was over but I kept a bit of hope. Over the ensuing months, I quit porn, sought counseling, and I had a complete breakdown. I took a two month sabbatical to really confront my own issues and reinvigorate my faith.

Here’s the cool part. During the two month break, I happened to be traveling up north on a personal road trip, and my wife-to-be, who I hadn’t seen in about six months, happened to be in the area I was driving through. She had just quit med school to rediscover her own career path. And we met at a cafe. I told her I still loved her, and she said, “Okay. Let’s try again.” Three years later, we were married.

Continue reading “Breaking Up and Getting Back Together: About Me and My Wife”

Seven Questions to Ask Before Voting


Some questions to ask ourselves before voting:


How will my vote affect the story and direction of our country?

Is this candidate I’m voting for going to help defuse our current racial tensions?

Is this candidate going to hold themselves accountable as an example?

Is this candidate capable of proper foreign policy as well as bridging the divisions between American individuals?

Is this candidate a step forward in the tapestry of progress and history?

Is this candidate the kind of person who can address grief, loss, and prayers with sincerity and movement?

Who are we more or less comfortable with in directing our social and cultural narrative?

J.S.


Photo by Saint Julian, CC BY-ND 2.0

Ocean Electricity, Carry Me.

Part of my hospital chaplaincy duties is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.

I have a difficult time moving on after each hospital visit. And really, shouldn’t I? You know, like when you see a two minute video on Facebook about a national tragedy a thousand miles away, and then you scroll down to your friend’s vacation pictures of the Eiffel Tower or something; I can’t flip the page that fast. I’m not a channel-changer. I can’t quickly transition from videos of a war-torn Syria to a breakfast bagel. That doesn’t make me “morally sensitive” or anything, but I really, physically can’t do it.

I think of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, about the mementos that each soldier carried with them in the Vietnam War, things like a girlfriend’s pantyhose or dental floss, but really “the things they carried” were each other’s burdens, and maybe their nap-sacks got lighter as the war went on, but inside they were sinking without a life-vest. Their mementos eventually became each other, until the person next to them was the thing they carried.

I leave each room carrying that patient with me for a while, and I’m reminded of this time I almost drowned in the ocean when I was a kid. My friend’s dad took us out on a boat into the middle of vast nothingness, and my friend and I decided to swim, but a current carried us off and we were inhaling huge gulps of sea water. My friend is a better swimmer, so he grabbed me up and swam us both back to the boat.

Sometimes, chaplaincy is like that. Here’s a patient trying to find themselves amidst doctors and diagnoses and complicated medical terms, a thirty-ish patient just learning the name of his ten new medicines, a forty-ish patient who came in for chest pain learning that she needs new lungs, a kid with an amputated foot learning about prosthetics and phantom pain—and for a second, I try to help that patient swim a little, and their arm pushes me down momentarily, but we need to stay afloat to find the boat, and occasionally we don’t find it, but I just swim with them in that turbulent roaring ocean for half an hour, and that was enough for another gulp of air.

Continue reading “Ocean Electricity, Carry Me.”