Silence, Surgery, Divinity.

Our first instinct in trouble is to text a friend, send a wave of texts, scroll through the phone and vent to a million people. It’s to shout on my social media all the injustice of my life, and secretly hope I get a ton of replies that affirm my shaking fist.

I suspect this is because I need to be told I’m not so bad, that it’ll be fine, that it’ll all work out in the end.

But that’s not my real motive. What I really want is the copdepedent emotional rush that comes from a response so I don’t have to confront the ugliness of my soul. I’m using the Pavlovian-conditioned dopamine of a text message to cover an honest confrontation with the abyss inside, so that I can avoid the monster coiled around my guts for one more day. I use other people’s affirmation like a narcotic to gloss over the brutal self-surgery of my own selfishness. I skate on the surface of my electronic stream of complaints without even processing how I feel first.

To protect my ego: I dump the cargo without letting the wounds make me human.

I’m too much of a coward to say it’s my fault. I don’t want to say that it might not be okay, because I brought it on myself. I don’t want to say it’s too late. I especially don’t want to say I’m my own problem. But sometimes this is all true, and I need to know the weight of my own evil if I’m to apportion the strength to fight myself.

In the silence, I learn who I really am. I learn that I need help, and not from my phone and connected media and the buzz of the “like” button. I need the help that only comes with the quiet digestion of my imperfection. Silence is now our only honesty.

The stillness is terrifying. The disconnection from the plugged-in world threatens to crush me with grinding loneliness. Yet: I need the valley. I need to dig deep. I need to reach into my lungs and wrestle with the smog of my unresolved tension. I need to plunge into my swamp and kill the parasitic crawlers. I want to jump the chasm between the inconsolable chaos of my haphazard heart toward the potential of a far greater self reborn of divinity. This part of the journey is between me, myself, and God.

I need to step away. I need to quit relying on flesh to help flesh. I need God. I will cherish the silence.

— J

Question: The Dilemma of Loving Yourself

 glib-ly asked:

What advice can you give in terms of loving yourself the way God loves you?

Hey my dear friend, this is honestly an elusive statement in the Bible that I’m still really trying to learn.

I’ve heard many different interpretations of “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” and I’m straddling the fence on both sides.  I’ll at least point you in a direction so you can form your own foundation for this one.

The two main thoughts on this are:

1) Love others as you’re already loving yourself, because we’re selfishly in love with ourselves and we need to extend that selfish love in a higher priority to others.

2) Love other people AND yourself, because you’re a person too, and God doesn’t want you to hate yourself.

So here goes arguments for both sides.

Continue reading “Question: The Dilemma of Loving Yourself”

Those Cool Conditional Christians

I read a lot posts that say, “I met this really cool Christian who is pro-marriage-equality, pro-choice, pro-Democrat, and cusses and smokes and drinks and doesn’t believe in that holy wrath of God stuff, so this is proof that not all Christians are a-holes.”

I think this sounds really gracious. I really want to be a cool Christian too. I know plenty of brothers and sisters who fit those things and love Jesus. Personally, I’m a liberally progressive Jesus-follower who’s not a Republican either, so I fit at least half the requirements. It appeals to my hot tingling social-justicey inner-righteousness, and I can revel that I’m not like those “other Christians.”

Yet I sigh. Because it’s really saying, “I will like you — based on certain conditions that you need to meet until you’re cool with me.” This is exactly what a Christian is accused of doing — that we’re conditional when it comes to loving others — yet we’re only “cool” when we meet the relativistic standards of the masses.

I totally know that Christians are not the “victims” here. I just believe that religious or not: it’s dishonest to claim a kind of convenient, Westernized, flatlined tolerance that doesn’t examine itself first. It’s trying to have the best of all worlds and the whole dang cake too. It’s unfair at best and probably prejudiced at worst. It completely cuts off dialogue and reduces every side into a people-pleasing caricature.

Continue reading “Those Cool Conditional Christians”

About Happiness, Dreams, Starting Over

I think at times we get really confused about happiness, as if we’ll finally slide into an all-satisfying career or relationship or city that will meet every polished perfected detail of our diorama dreams.

It can’t happen. Not completely. There will always be hierarchical tension at work. Relationships take an invested effort of sweat, tears, time, your everything. Your city will grow damp and weary, too familiar in its sidewalk and smells. The inside of your head swells with baggage.

Nothing here is truly home. It’ll always feel like we’re trying to get back to a place in childhood that probably never really existed except for the sepia-toned lens of our played up nostalgia. It’s clawing for the unreachable, for the elusive mirage of innocence, like the past and future rolled into vanishing smoke.

But this doesn’t mean we still can’t be profoundly, purely happy. It doesn’t mean we need to toil for less. It doesn’t mean that dreams are dumb or hopes are silly or that we are only nose up on the water. Because sometimes you need to quit. Sometimes you need a new picture instead of getting back the old one. Sometimes it’s okay to start over, start fresh, begin again, even if it’s in the same job or city or house. The same surroundings doesn’t mean the same you. You might not have a blank canvas, but each day brings more space to keep painting. We might never feel at home here, but we can love the journey.

Being content and being complacent do not straddle a fine line. They are worlds apart. Moving on does not mean you’re restless or that you’re “upgrading,” but that you’re finding more of you. Letting go can be the same thing as love. Quitting is not always a bad word if you’re moving out of abuse and into momentum. At times it’s better to water the grass; at other times the other side of the hill is waiting. We don’t quit on our family and our marriages: but we can enter them as different people today, because today is a start. Tomorrow doesn’t happen by itself; it happens right now, and we don’t have to sit on the sidelines.

I think each day we can choose happiness, not to bottle it up to save it, but to share it within the restless wandering. Dreams can be dreamed together. Here in the meantime, we can still change our direction and make new roads, because the horizon is closing in and you get just the one. Only you get to pick your dying thoughts: so make them good ones.

— J

Jesus, Simple.

I find it so extremely difficult to believe that God loves me.

Because I know what I’ve done. I cannot imagine anyone who would see the depth of all my worst and still love me.

I imagine God in Heaven, who has seen everything: the worst of our wars, the ways we killed for money and stole for fame, the schemes and plotting and backstabbing and agendas. He saw the entire human history of abuse and trauma and genocide and turning real living breathing people into property. He saw the worst of my heart, the secret thoughts I would never share, the evil that you and I have barely restrained ourselves from.

Yet none of this surprised him. And Jesus still chose to die. He didn’t refuse the lashing. He didn’t jump off the cross. His mind was already made up about you. He stayed. Nothing we do would make God time-warp His Son off the cross. Even when over two-thirds of the world would reject him. Even when the other one-third could abuse his name. He stayed, not from our own merit, but simply because he loves.

When I know this, I’m free. Free from guilt. Free from the second-guessing. Free to serve without squeezing compensation for what I’ve done. Free to believe I’m loved, that maybe He actually likes us. There’s peace. I can taste joy. And maybe when we get that, we can turn some of this around. He’s the only one who can, and does.

— J

Quote: Possibilities

“One of the most amazing things that can happen is finding someone who sees everything you are and won’t let you be anything less. They see the potential of you. They see endless possibilities. And through their eyes, you start to see yourself the same way. As someone who matters. As someone who can make a difference in this world.”

— Susane Colasanti

Quote: Change Me

“People are always saying it’s the other person’s fault, the other one who needs to change. That is why I believe no amount of counseling will have an impact until God’s people resolve something. We all have to make this our sincere, daily prayer: ‘O God, change me.’ We spend far too much time praying, ‘God, change my circumstances; change my coworkers; change my family situation; change the conditions in my life.’ Yet we seldom pray this most important prayer: ‘Change me, Lord. The real trouble isn’t my spouse, my sibling, my friend. I’m the one who stands in need of prayer.’”

— David Wilkerson

Question: How To “Become A Pastor”

Anonymous question 1 of 2 —

I would like to become a pastor. How do I get there, would you say? 🙂

Hey my dear friend: I say this with all grace and respect for you, but I’m not entirely sure this is the correct question. I know you asked this without bad intentions, but I just want to gently push back for a moment so you know what you’re getting into.

I don’t know any pastor who began with “I would like to become a pastor.” When someone tells me this face to face, I tell them they have no clue yet and they should really consider something else. Being a pastor is not a job you apply for: it’s your whole life.

I’ve had to shoot down several young men who felt like being a pastor would be cool or interesting or a unique career or a one-day-per-week job — and as mad as they got at me, they did end up realizing they were just in it for themselves.

Continue reading “Question: How To “Become A Pastor””

Doctrine Idols.

To proponents of Calvinism or Arminianism or NPP or the parachurch or Pentecostal theology —

Please remember that your specific doctrinal framework does not say everything there is to say about God. No one doctrine has the monopoly on His nature. We do not differ on loving Jesus and loving people: but we can disagree on just about everything else and still be cool up in here.

When someone disagrees on doctrine, they’re saying, “I disagree with your interpretation based on my understanding.” In other words, my eight lb. brain and your eight lb. brain are seeing an infinite God a little bit differently. God remains God despite our vastly insufficient minds: so it’s no use getting into semantic chatter that leads to a slightly swelled bucket of passive information.

Fellow Calvinists: As a Calvinist, you do know that Reformed Calvinism is a “ghetto” of the Christian subculture, right?  No one cares about Calvinism except Calvinists.  Almost no one else reads The Gospel Coalition except you.  Not even John Calvin cares that much.

A particular Christian stance that is compelled to exclude others is not really any sort of Christian stance at all. To feel like your doctrine gives you “insider knowledge” that no one else has is also indicative of a cult.  Jesus includes and invites.  Any other kind of theology is not theology, but categorical prejudice.

Does your theology care for the poor? Does it speak to your anxiety and insecurity and pride? Does it walk on water and heal the blind? Does it comfort with kindness and rebuke with discipline? Does it repent of your own righteous acts and trust only by faith in a cross? Does it have room to invite atheists, Muslims, homosexuals, and even other Christian persuasions?  Is your faith making you a better human being or worse?

We are so many shades of the body of Christ. Jesus has many rooms in his mansion, and we can love one another even from the hallway.

— J

100, 99, and 1

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” — Luke 15:4

I don’t meet many pastors or Christians who believe this anymore.  We tend to accept those who appear more mature or are “willing to learn” or “have potential” — but we neglect the difficult cases.  We abandon those who somehow don’t fall in line with our church methodology.  We exert our efforts into the easy cases because they’ve met our ego-imposed standards, but we reject those who would “waste my time.”

This is a horrific, unbiblical, worldly legalism that has shackled prerequisites on the same people that Jesus died for.  I don’t remember Jesus setting these sort of absurd checklists to make someone a “worthwhile” disciple.

We think it’s a success in ministry to have all these guys who go to seminary or sign up for a six-week discipleship course or serve on the praise team: and I praise God when that happens.  But God forbid we also visit prisons, help the homeless, love on addicts, or do anything outside the church that doesn’t serve itself.  God forbid we are open to the sincerely struggling and those curious of faith or those who have been burnt by the world and its performance-driven paranoia.  God forbid we are loving to those who have nothing to offer back to the church.

I really want to ask some of these pastors and leaders: What are you actually doing for the Kingdom?  Are you self-reflexively isolating your territory with “worthy” people who are yes-men to your ideology?  Do you only collect churchgoers to perpetuate your programs inside the four walls of your building?  Are you burdening your people with more classes and more sign-ups and more activities?  Where is all this going?  What are you doing with all that time?  Have you even helped one individual your entire life?  Why is the church making people more anxious and more exhausted and more frustrated?  I don’t think this is what Jesus died for.  He died to take burdens off, not add burdens on.

Recently, a famous pastor of a megachurch and bestselling Christian author called a meeting of his congregation and said, “Anyone who is serving on a team, you can stay.  Anyone who isn’t serving here, there’s the door.”  I don’t understand this.  It’s freaking infuriating.  This is why the church hurts people: because we’ve become an assembly line of jumping through dogmatic hoops.  The “pastors” are power-brokers who have abused God’s authority for their own grandeur.  I’ve always imagined the church as a beacon of healing in a bleak world, but we’ve assimilated the cultural ethos of American Idol into our sanctuaries.  Imagine I tell you, “If you’re healthy enough, you can enter my hospital.”

If you do this to your people, then call yourself an employer or CEO or a college or a TV show or a critic, but please don’t freaking call yourself a Christian.  We oppose God when this happens: and it’s not okay.

The church is certainly a sanctuary for the sacred: but it’s also a safe haven for sinners.  It’s a hospital, and we do not refuse the sick.

Of course there is wisdom in using your time wisely.  Pastors are only individuals who have limited resources and ability.  But if you’re a leader in the church, then each person who walks through the door is not some commodity project: but a human being.  They’re worth a portion of your time because they exist.

I can’t say I’m always good at this.  I fail often as a pastor and as a human being.  I have neglected others to my own shame.  In my imperfect writing skill, I’ve probably wrongly added burdens in this post too.  And I’m a small-time guy with just another critical voice in a sea of criticism.  But I grieve for our Christian communities to be like Jesus.  I pray we have a heart for the one when he leaves the 99.  I hope we are not categorizing people into worthy and unworthy: because if this were true, none of us could stand in the grace of God.  But that’s why it’s grace.  It’s for people like you and me and not for who we deem worthy.

— J

Over The Drama, Under A Mission

Hello beloved wonderful friends!

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

This message is titled: Over The Drama, Under A Mission.

It’s about looking above all the petty conflicts and everyday drama to a bigger purpose, and how we were made for way more.

Stream here or download here!


Some things I talk about are: That time I overheard a woman catching her boyfriend with another woman (and I giggled like crazy), when soldiers in battle care more about the Kardashians than their commander, how the first Christians had to fight lions and horses, the futility of trying to hook up my cheap beat-up Toyota Corolla, and how a men’s cologne tells me about the God-given purpose of our existence.

Be blessed and love y’all!

— J

Question: Fighting The Destruction of Envy

Anonymous asked:

Hi jspark! Thank you for your blog it has helped me multiple times.I also wanted to ask you about envy and jealousy b/c I feel like its become a big problem in my life. I believe that because of this many of my friendships have been lost or turn into frenemies. Or it becomes the fuel for people around me to do horrible things. How do I deal with envy and how do I deal with someone being envious of me? How do I redirect this emotion to God and into something more positive and meaningful? Thank you! 🙂

Hey there dear friend, thank you for your kind words, and thank you for even asking help with this.  Most people do not recognize jealousy in the mirror because it’s hard to see, but also because it’s tough to admit that we’re jealous.  We would rather admit just about anything — anger or lust or materialism or murder — before we say “I’m just a hater troll.”

Please allow me the grace to point you first to some previous posts. As always, you may skip around or skip them all.

– Jealousy vs. Generosity: A Generation Held Back

– Jealous Haterade Downgrade: Death By Nitpicking

– A Culture of Competition and Comparison

– Why Did God Make Emotions? A Mega-Post

I’ve found two major difficulties on both sides of this:

1) It’s not easy to admit jealousy because it confirms a “weakness” that we’re somehow not as “good” as someone else.

2) It’s not easy to admit we’ve been a victim of a jealous person because it sounds like we’re backdoor bragging.  It sounds condescending when someone says, “They’re just jealous of me.”

But here’s something quite interesting I’ve found too:

1) We’re usually not jealous of someone who is ridiculously good at something.  We’re not jealous of Mozart or Einstein or Shakespeare.  We usually get jealous of those who are slightly better than us at something.

2) Even though no one likes to say, “They’re jealous of me” — we get destroyed by jealous people all the time, simply for the fact that almost no one admits that jealousy is controlling their destructive passive-aggressive behavior.  We call it other things, like rebuke or real talk or “keeping an ego in check.”

So then: Jealousy is a secret sneaky devilish sort of disease that kills everyone under the radar and is almost never consciously diagnosed by anyone.

To treat the disease: It requires a huge dose of self-awareness, humble community, and confrontational conversations.  It will never be completely cured.  Our reflex is to naturally be jealous.  It’s okay when you feel it: but what matters then is how you handle it.  It’s only not okay when jealousy manifests into destructive patterns of gossip and casual dismissal and intentionally holding others back from their potential.

Now here’s why I so strongly believe in Jesus.

Continue reading “Question: Fighting The Destruction of Envy”

Writing them off.

To the men: There’s something in us that makes us look at another girl’s boyfriend and instantly think, “Douche-bag.”

To pastors: There’s something in us that makes us hear another pastor’s sermon and think, “That was weak. What a show-off. He’s copying that famous guy. Sloppy theology. Bad delivery. I could’ve said that better.”

To bloggers: There’s something in us that sees another blogger and thinks, “He’s just hype. She’s so off. Yeah well what about ____? She missed the whole point. He’s only famous because ____. So pretentious.”

So maybe we could admit this is probably 1) jealousy, 2) insecurity, 3) passive-aggressive haterade, 4) discomfort with someone who’s slightly better than us, or 5) a critical spirit that isn’t really happy with anything.

And instead, we could 1) celebrate each other, 2) learn from others, 3) look out for their best, 4) cultivate potential, and 5) make every effort to resist holding someone down.

Please don’t be too quick to write someone off, especially if you could learn from them. I’ve made this mistake too many times and it left me uppity, intolerable, and alone. Now I just look forward to celebrating others who surpass me, because anything I can do to promote the work of God in that person: I’ll do it. Get me out of the way on that one.

— J

Purity Is Not The Most Important Thing In A Relationship

littlestein asked:

You said something in an earlier response about not making purity THE thing (or something along those lines) because that can lead to problems. Can you expand on that? How having purity being a huge goal rather than knowing God being the goal can cause issues?

Hey my friend, I believe you’re referring to several posts on this:

– Purity Is Not A Trophy

– How To Stop Lust (Lust Is NOT The Problem: It’s Us)

– The Weird Subculture of “Christian Dating”

I definitely believe that purity is an important virtue, but it can’t be the only virtue in a relationship, because —

Continue reading “Purity Is Not The Most Important Thing In A Relationship”

Quote: Vividly

“God loves the weak. He oftentimes saves and uses the weak to shame the strong. See, God loves weakness. In our culture, we hate it. That’s a huge problem. Do you understand? It’s a huge problem for us to despise weakness like we do. We don’t want to be seen as weak. No, brother, be seen as weak. God’s power flows most vividly and most powerfully through the weak vessels.”

— Matt Chandler

Question: A Culture of Competition and Comparison

Anonymous asked:

Hello! I am currently living in a very superficial city and because of this I keep comparing myself to others and it makes me feel like I am very behind in life both professionally and personally. It seems like everyone else has life figured out and I feel like a failure and even though I know that I shouldn’t compare myself this feeling of not being good at anything just doesn’t seem to go away. How do I stop comparing myself to the people around me and focus on more important things?

Hey my friend, I’m sorry you’ve been made to feel this way.  I know comparison is a very hard thing to overcome, and having grown up in an Asian culture: this is one of those predominant monsters that keeps a debilitating stranglehold.

First you must please know: You don’t have to figure out your life in a dayThis isn’t some reverse-psychology or faux-comfort.  Really.  Everyone blooms at different speeds — and while you can cram for an exam or a presentation, you cannot cram for your life.  Don’t give up on discovering your God-given talents and gifts and dreams.  Just try everything until you land on your one thing.

So a few things about comparison and how to quit comparing.

1) The standards we use to measure ourselves are unfair, unreal, and arbitrary.

Just like it’s impossible to please people all the time: it’s impossible to keep up with the ever-shifting standards of worldly success and achievements. Of course we strive for excellence, but it’s unfair to throw these shackles on yourself when even the world doesn’t have a grip on them.

Even more than that, we’re not even comparing ourselves to real things.  Money is paper.  Fame is from people, who are just people.  Grades are based on a system that only measures a tiny portion of your memorization, but they’re just grades.

I’m not trying to be the philosophical crotchety hipster here, and again, we strive for excellence: but these are transitory, temporary, fluctuating scales that cannot measure your worth as a human being.  We can’t use our bank account or our intellect or our thesis as a primary marker for who we are.  It’s all a man-made system that changes as much as people do.

Continue reading “Question: A Culture of Competition and Comparison”

Question: How To Get My Faith Back

Anonymous asked:

I feel very ashamed lately. I was once radically on fire for The Lord. And now I am so distant. My heart longs for him, but I don’t know how to get back to where I was. Any suggestions?

Hey my friend, I’m really sorry you’re going through this.  Please allow me the grace to point you to some previous posts.

– A Mega-Post on Ragged Jagged Bipolar Faith

– Getting Back The Fire For God

– Hopeless, Heartless, and Hanging By A Thread

You don’t have to read any of these: but I hope you can see that

1) You’re totally not alone in this, and

2) We all have seasons of doubt, confusion, and frustration in our spiritual journey.

None of this makes you a bad person or that you’re somehow “off” with God.  It could just be growing pains or the natural rhythm of your life or just a particularly vulnerable week that perpetuated some condemning thoughts about yourself.

Continue reading “Question: How To Get My Faith Back”

Pass Myself / Past Myself.

I often pass myself off as more put-together than I really am, but most nights I sit down after a long social gathering and I beat myself up for all the dumb cheesy things I said, and things I wish I had said differently or didn’t say at all, and how off-balance and weird and twitchy I must look, and how I’m not really making progress on becoming this whole acceptable well-adjusted cool approachable guy that everyone else seems to be already without even trying. I feel like I’ve failed something, or lost at life somehow. I sometimes think everyone else has this secret ingredient to being blended in so smoothly to the inner-circle, like there’s this key or password that no one has told me about, and maybe one day I’ll achieve that code and I can go home in peace without this stomach full of remorseful anxiety over my lack of tact and style, and it’ll be as easy as those wrinkle-free people in fast-talking movies.

But it’s like, no one really keeps score of these things. And everyone actually feels this way about themselves, no matter what they do to compensate or hide it. All of us go home from a night out feeling a hundred pounds heavier and consciously aware of our weirdness. And probably if we were all honest about that, we would be a lot more comfortable inside the tightness of our own skin, because then the script is exposed and the act is dropped and the show is over. If we could all just laugh at ourselves a little bit, then maybe we could really get to know each other for all that messy crusty craziness inside, and actually even like each other, because I’m just as strange as you are, and we could meet there in the stripped down rawness of our guts where we’ve let ourselves out to play. It would probably be more fun that way.

— J