Love your pastor.

Tomorrow at church —

You might hear your pastor say something really weird. You might disagree with him. Everything might be fine until a certain phrase, a shrill statement, an awkward comment, an insensitive remark. Maybe his theology will be a little off and his interpretation is not how you would’ve done it. You’ll raise your eyebrow. It’s happened to me plenty, too.

But please, please, please don’t be too quick to write off your pastor.

Please don’t dismiss him so fast based on a single sentence.

Certainly we ought to be careful of heresy and I’m not pulling a pity-card: but pastors and leaders who preach and teach are in the hot seat all the time. They have a billion thoughts they’re trying to shape just right. They know when they’ve said something off and they beat themselves up for it the entire Sunday.

You can let him know: but with grace.

Your pastor needs the same grace we all want.

It’s okay to disagree with him too.

Just love your pastor. As messy as he is: he gets it right sometimes.

— J

Question: I’ve Totally Screwed Up and I Can’t Pick Up The Pieces

Anonymous asked (edited):

Hi J.S. Park, I’m a recovering sex addict and porn viewer. I’m a female. I gave my life to Jesus and started in a 6 year relationship with a brother from church that resulted into engagement. In a state of emotional uncertainty and mental vulnerability, I allowed one of his groomsmen to emotionally/sexually prey on me; I consented. I entered into a sexual relationship for 7 months and just got out of it. What’s worse, with this other fellow, we taught Sunday school, he’s my brother’s spiritual mentor and leads a small group. We stopped this sin and he has since not spoken to me out of anger, but he continues to continue to invest himself and is not remorseful. I’ve come out to others but I know I have created a wave of destruction in my church. The shame and guilt are eating at me. What should I do? Please help.

 


My dear beloved friend:

I’m really so sorry about everything. There will be some choices in life that have irreversible consequences, and it will feel impossible to move forward.  You’ll try so hard to pick up the pieces and go back to how it used to be: but I think you’re learning this might never happen.

Many of us respond in different ways to shattered situations, such as:

– Binge-eating, binge-drinking, binge-shopping, binge-sex, binge-everything.

– Packing up and changing cities.

– Leaving the church for good.

– Depression, isolation, constant regret, and suicidal behavior.

– Emotional paralysis, shut-down, and antisocial tendencies.

– Aggression, violence, bitterness, and resentment — especially at God.

– Choosing to do whatever you want to do, because you feel you’re now “damaged goods.”

 

I know things are really screwed up and you’ll be tempted to do any of the above: but my dear friend, none of these things have to be your story.  I completely understand the trapped feeling of being among others who constantly remind you of what happened, but even if things fall apart, it doesn’t mean you have to.  In the worst of times, you can still choose to do the best you can, however imperfectly.

Maybe you’ve heard this before, but really: you can only get bitter or better.  You are heading for a breakdown or breakthrough.  It’s really okay to feel you’re not okay, but I don’t think it’s okay to stay there.  It’s awesome that you’re honest and you’re allowed to feel what you feel, but let that push you towards growth instead of regression.

In fact: your situation is more reason to grow, and not less.

In case you think this is just pretty pep talk, I’ve really heard it all.  I’ve spoken with people that have similar stories:

– My friend cheated on his wife with a married woman, and they all have kids.  One of them is a Sunday school teacher.

– Another friend has been raped by at least two guys in the area, and they all still hang out like nothing happened.  They all attend church.

– Another friend was sexually molested as a child by a pastor who leads a church here.

– A youth pastor was recently discovered to have slept with almost every female teenager in his youth group.

– In my early days before I was a pastor, I slept with one of the members of the praise team.  I say this with deep shame and horror, and it only became worse from there.

In nearly all these situations, I’ve been able to see how the events unfolded.  And for the most part, many of them chose to continue messing it up, even after they were forgiven and shown grace.

In this very moment, even if your entire church were to embrace you again: you still have your story ahead of you.  You still decide who you’re going to be from here on out.  And amidst the broken pieces, you can still be whole.

Continue reading “Question: I’ve Totally Screwed Up and I Can’t Pick Up The Pieces”

Question: The Troublesome Dilemma of Reformed Calvinism and Romans 9

Anonymous asked:

(edited, and made you anonymous just in case) —

I had always rejected the idea that God had an elect and chose people. I thought, how could a God of love truly choose people? That was ridiculous! I wanted to rip Romans 9 and ephesians 1 out of my bible … But the false dichotomy I posed between Love and Sovereignty made me cringe when people talked about God’s love. As much as everything inside of me wanted to tell everybody God loved them, I couldn’t do that with a clear conscience, especially reading Romans 9. This view of God wore me out and I know it can’t be right. But in my feeble mind, it seems the only option is to either take hold of God’s love, and disregard sovereignty, or vice versa. I know you are reformed in thinking, yet very much preach the truth of God’s love.

 

Hey my brother! Thanks for your honesty and your very insightful question. While I can’t claim to fully comprehend such a huge doctrine, maybe there’s a few things to consider that will unburden you.

I want to say first that I apologize if I came across as mocking Reformed Christians. I was much worse about this before and it did come off as mean-spirited and in poor taste. So if you feel ashamed about that at all, it’s definitely my fault. I really do love my Reformed brothers and sisters (and as you mentioned, I am one).

So let’s break this down a bit together …!

Continue reading “Question: The Troublesome Dilemma of Reformed Calvinism and Romans 9”

How We See Others How God Sees Us

 

A friend of mine was telling me about these two Christians fighting on the street and how he stopped them by saying, “Why don’t you two just fight in church where it belongs?”  Everyone cheered and the fight stopped and these two guys walked away totally shamed.  I might have cheered, too.

My friend says, “You know, if a Christian claims to be a Christian, they really ought to live up to that.”

But this just didn’t sit right with me.

So I told my friend (who is not a Christian), “Well I’ve sat with dozens, if not hundreds of ‘Christians’ who come to me with massive amounts of guilt.  Like suicidal guilt.  They never feel like they’re measuring up or good enough or doing what they ought to, and they’ll say, ‘Man I blew up the other day’ or ‘I lost it on this guy in traffic’ or ‘I punched a wall again.’  I go through that, too, and it’s like people presume to know my whole life based on a bad day.  I mean you saw five seconds of two strangers on the street, and who knows if they felt bad about it, but being a pastor, I always see the moment afterward when they’re calmed down.  They always feel really bad about it, like self-hate kind of bad.  I’m seeing that people have layers and feel conflicted and don’t want to mess up like this, and I’m not saying all of them are so thoughtful, but we could try to be fair.”

My friend nodded slowly, saying, “I get it.  But they should just know better.  I mean they’re Christians.”

“Right, I get that too,” I said.  “I hate saying it like this, but I’m not sure it’s fair when a non-Christian can always say, ‘I’m NOT a Christian and I never prescribed to your rules so I can do whatever.’  I don’t think it’s so extreme like that, but it bothers me when someone can use a loophole to absolve their own responsibility when almost everyone already knows common sense and human decency.  It doesn’t seem right that we can call out a Christian for his non-Christian behavior on some standard of ‘good’ while not using that same exact ‘good’ standard for everyone else.  That’s not a moral statement, that’s just crappy.”

My friend didn’t like that last part and replies,  “What I mean is, if they claim to be a Christian, and they don’t act right, they’re a hypocrite.”

I shook my head.  “That’s probably too quick to throw down ‘hypocrite.’  I really think what counts is the moment right after defeat, the moment right after messing up.You’re right, there are some people who burned their conscience a long time ago and don’t really care to change.  There’s hope for those guys too, except something probably has to crush them first.  I’m just talking about the ones who snapped but immediately have a self-awareness about what they did, that they’re wrong, and they want to make it right.  Some of them are so desperate and self-hating and guilty, like they’ve really let down God and it’s the end of the world.”

“Okay, I see,” my friend said.  “You’re one of those complex guys.”

“I don’t know, I guess you can call it that.  The Bible — gross, I know — keeps picturing the Christian life as a walk, taking steps, falling down, getting up, moving forward, going again.  Some days we start stepping backwards but God says repent, a good old-fashioned church word, which just means turn around.  And during those times when I really mess it up, that’s when I least want to turn around: because I’m so ashamed, I’m full of guilt, I can’t stand to think of what God thinks of me.  I’m suddenly the dude in the pastor’s office crying my eyes out about fighting on the street wondering if it’s too late and why can’t I get past this and is God going to smush me.  But in that moment afterwards when I do turn to God, He still actually likes me.  He knows what I did and He’s got grace to bring me up and restore me and set me stepping right again.  And actually, it’s only because God is so gracious that I can keep stepping at all.  Imagine that kind of fearless life, to just really be so vulnerable and still loved.”

I already knew what my friend would say here.  “So then, Christians can do what they want and God just takes them back.”

“You knew that I knew you were going to say that, right?”

“Yep.  And you’re going to say, ‘No, God has rules too and they’re good for us.’”

“Is that how you are with your wife?”

My friend laughs.  “No way.  I just … well no.”

“Right.  You could probably do what you want towards your wife, but you wouldn’t.  Because —”

“Because I love her.”

“Yes.  You don’t love her out of some moral obligation.  You love her because you know her and you find her loveable.  I don’t follow God’s rules to follow God’s rules, even though I know they’re good for me.  I follow out of love.  That’s probably corny to you, but it’s personal for me.”

We went back to the two Christians fighting on the street — but differently this time.  How they might have felt like total losers afterwards.  How they felt like they let God down, again.  How they humiliated themselves, their church, their God.  How it must have felt in God’s heart to see His kids fighting each other.

For a moment, at least, my friend could understand God even if he didn’t believe in Him.

— J.S.

Question: My Faith Is So Totally Dead and I Need Help

Five anonymous questions:

– I’ve been a Christian a long time, but now all it seems is like rules, and loneliness and I feel like God only help “good people” … I want to get back to God, but lately I can’t even pray right. I know I’ve done terrible things … But now, I feel like he’s not looking for me.

– So ive struggled with my faith a lot lately … my question is, do we have to change ourselves? or does God help us? I would take guilt over emptiness any day, guilt means God still is telling you where to go.

– I’ve been struggling spiritually for a long time now, I’m afraid to tell people because it’ll just be a huge sob fest … But I don’t know how to follow what God says … I’m really confused.

– I have been struggling with legalism … It makes me expect the worst from God but how do i get over that? And does God help us change or do we have to change and then he”ll help us stay on the right path?

– I feel myself struggling, fighting, doubting, and becoming depressed—seconds from tears at any time …I keep telling myself that I need to make my faith my own but I worry I could get too comfortable if I’m not second-guessing myself every minute of the day. I feel like any time God extends his hand I’m pressed up against the wall, cowering away and chanting a fearful “No.”

 

My dear wonderful friends:

Normally I would never do this, and I totally don’t mean to brush you off, but I really want to point you to some sermons I’ve preached about these specific things.  I don’t mean to “plug” my podcast, and as I’ve said before, I am much more comfortable with writing.  But sometimes I believe that it’s helpful to hear someone else’s voice, especially if they have gone through (and still go through) the same things you are.

http://jspark3000.tumblr.com/post/41386508515/

http://jspark3000.tumblr.com/post/50419702517/

http://jspark3000.tumblr.com/post/42278480425/

 

And here’s a post I’ve written on this previously:

– Question: A Mega-Post on Ragged Jagged Bipolar Faith

The thing is: there really are no magic words or a silver bullet that could instantly change your heart.  I wish there was, but it’s not that easy.

Please know that since you cared enough to message me about this, you have already made a huge step in the right direction.  If I could, I would double-high-five you right now.

Continue reading “Question: My Faith Is So Totally Dead and I Need Help”

Quote: Honest and Aware


“Paul was a man of incredible stature. I think it would be hard to disagree with the view that he is one of the six or seven most influential leaders in the history of the human race. One of the most influential people in history. He had enormous ballast, tremendous influence, incredible confidence. He moved ahead and nothing fazed him. And yet, in 1 Timothy, he says, ‘Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of which I am chief.’ Not I was chief, but I am chief. Or ‘I am the worst.’ This is off our maps. We are not used to someone volunteering the opinion that they are one of the worst people. We are not used to someone who is totally honest and totally aware of all sorts of moral flaws — yet has incredible poise and confidence.

… [Paul] sees all kinds of sins in himself — and all kinds of accomplishments too — but he refuses to connect them with himself or his identity. So, although he knows himself to be the chief of sinners, that fact is not going to stop him from doing the things that he is called to do.”

— Timothy Keller

Question: Feeling Disrespected in Ministry

Anonymous asked:

I have a question about respect and leadership. I believe respect (like credibility) is earned. I feel really disrespected by a comment from someone in ministry. I am trying to discern if this is a deeper pride issue that I need to work out between me and God (plank/sawdust), or if I should just learn to NOT take things personally. But it’s hard when we personally invest so much, only to be misunderstood, or treated with contempt. Jesus was never offended. How do I have the right heart to serve?

 

Oh my wonderful friend — if you just knew this is exactly what I often go through every week.  If only God handed out permission slips to slap uppity fools upside their head.  I would need roughly a thousand.

But it’s very easy to see this in black-and-white when it gets more complicated from so many different angles.

I’ve had ministry leaders completely go off on me because they felt disrespected by something I said, and I never meant any disrespect at all.  Maybe I could’ve said it better, or more likely they could’ve handled it better, but it’s tough to say who had the right heart there.

I’ve also felt offended by innocuous comments that I misunderstood as attacks. I tried not to take it personally, but it would lodge like a splinter in my brain for days.  It happens, and again: who was really right?

Then there are times when someone actively disrespects me, which is probably the situation you’re in, and whether they are right or wrong — it hurts.  Is my hurt a good response?  Does it mean we’re selfish?  Can we just brush it off?

Continue reading “Question: Feeling Disrespected in Ministry”

Say everything.

 

A billion problems could be solved today if we just said everything.

Whenever someone tells me about their impossible conflict with an impossible person, I always sense the solution is: Get with this person, sit them down, look them in the eye, and say everything.

I know it’s not always this simple.

Because —

1) They don’t want to give you the time of day.

2) You already know what they’ll say.

3) They won’t care after you talk with them.

4) They might hurt you again.

That’s all very understandable and very true.

But the thing about saying everything is that it’s not always for them.  It’s for you.  Whether they blow up, flip a table, throw things, shut down, cry a river, or punch a wall — you still need to tell this person everything that you’ve been telling everyone else.

All that talk behind someone’s back needs to be said to this person’s face.  Not only for integrity, but because you’re lighting a time-bomb of resentment that will bleed into your roots, and that needs to be dropped before it poisons you.

I know it’s scary.  Confrontation sucks.  It also has a way of making us prideful, hostile, more prone to outbursts, more aggressive.  But there’s a way to do this that communicates what’s most important to you, in hopes that this creates a good will on both sides moving forward.  If not, you did your part, and you learned a lifelong lesson on being real to yourself.  And if so, then you’ve made a lifelong friend who knows you’ll be real, even when it’s uncomfortable.

It could be a leader, a pastor, an older person, a family member, a close friend, a loved one: and something is really bothering you.  That crass joke, their style, the way they handle business, their lack of empathy.  Let go of the petty stuff.  But bring up what really matters.  Be gracious and ask if you’re misunderstanding them.  Don’t guess motives.  Trust what they say.  Expect a temper tantrum.  Expect the resistance and preprogrammed defenses.  But speak your heart.  Respectfully, tactfully, graciously, and holding nothing back.

The world needs this, and so do you.

— J

Quote: Creating


“Nobody will stop you from creating. Do it tonight. Do it tomorrow. That is the way to make your soul grow – whether there is a market for it or not! The kick of creation is the act of creating, not anything that happens afterward. I would tell all of you watching this screen: Before you go to bed, write a four line poem. Make it as good as you can. Don’t show it to anybody. Put it where nobody will find it. And you will discover that you have your reward.”

— Kurt Vonnegut

Question: Does Everything Have To Glorify God? — A Mega-Post On When Idolatry Is Not Idolatry

Three anons (edited for length):

– My friends always say that everything we do should glorify the Lord. Because of that, we don’t go to the movies or read different books. If they see me watching Hunger Games or something, they tell me it’s all the Devil’s work. I feel ashamed because they say they are closer to God. What do I do? It’s hard to stay away from sin…

– Should all hobbies and interests SOLELY be for the Kingdom, or is it fine to sit down and write a horror story …? Even if you felt it was fun and maybe even cathartic to do so? I mean to say if we only wrote Theology 24/7/365/a lifetime, that Sherlock Holmes and Guy Montag might never have existed in our imaginations and that would be selling God-given gifts short. Is this right to think this?

– Hello! My mother tends to collect Asian statues from a junk store for me, my favorite things being Foo Dogs and the Mankei Nekos. However when some of the more strict Christians come to my apartment I can see them side-eyeing the animals and the smiling Budai as though they’re sources of evil. Is there any particular reason for this? My mother raised me to believe you can appreciate another culture’s lore and art without falling into the idolatry but the side-eye makes me a little nervous.

 

Well dang.  Please allow me the grace to write an open letter for the people who want to “glorify God” in dang near everything.

Dear serious brothers and sisters:

I know that some of you are very, very serious about your faith.  It kills you when an unbaptized heathen slips a bad word, you cringe at those “worldly” TV commercials, you scoff at pool halls and karaoke bars, and you think that old hymns and unleavened bread will save the American church.

I understand.  You are sincere.  It’s great that you take this seriously — but if you’re squeezing undue pressure on rules about rules over other people’s external behavior, you will inadvertently turn a relationship with God into a moral-boundary-pushing competition.  This is just straight unhealthy.

You’ll forget the original reason why you had these rules, and perhaps ironically, your good intention of glorifying God will turn into idolizing these moral fences, and you’ll be so far removed from Jesus that you’ll make fundamentalists look like easygoing liberals.

I really do sympathize with all this: because maybe you had a friend who started off enjoying a slice of cheesecake after each meal and then he went up to black tar heroin.  You had another friend who listened to an Eminem album and now he’s racing cops and punching babies.  You knew a church that started singing contemporary praise and now they’re playing Highway To Hell on Sundays.

I’m poking a little fun, but I get it.  You’re afraid of the slippery slope into idolatry.  You’re worried for your children and your church and this world.  I bet that this is very real concern, and I do love you for that.

But can I just make a simple gracious suggestion?

Continue reading “Question: Does Everything Have To Glorify God? — A Mega-Post On When Idolatry Is Not Idolatry”

Question: Trying To Figure Out My Life

Two anonymous questions:
– How did you figure out what you wanted to do with your life? People tell me things will just “work out” but it really doesn’t help my nerves about the future. How do I align my dreams with God’s dreams so I don’t waste time pursuing stuff He doesn’t want me to do? How do you even discover your calling?

– Do you have any advice for discerning God’s call? I hear voices pulling me in different directions, but it is hard for me to distinguish God’s. Sometimes I wonder if I am just affirming my desires, not God’s vision for my life. I received a sign last year … but I haven’t experienced this immediacy since. How can I awaken myself to what God intends for my future?

 

Hey friends, please allow me the grace to share some previous posts on this.

– Four Thoughts About Finding God’s Will

– No Purpose? No Problem

– Being Called To Something, Or Not

– Everyone Is Telling Me What To Do

As you figure our God’s Will for you, here are some things to consider:

Continue reading “Question: Trying To Figure Out My Life”