Dreams of a Friend.

Support your friend’s dreams. If they fail, you still supported them. If they succeed, you always believed in them. Otherwise, even when they succeed, it won’t feel like a victory that can be shared with you. And if they fail, they’ll feel like they disappointed you most. Support dreams, because there’s already so little passion in the world and so few of us go for the life we always wanted.

— J.S.

An Open Letter to the Christian Who Has Left Church and Is Hanging on By a Thread.

ChurchPlants hanging by a thread 2-5-15

This is an excerpt from my book What The Church Won’t Talk About on the online mag ChurchPlants.com!

It’s called “An Open Letter to the Christian Who Has Left Church and Is Hanging on By a Thread.

My book is here. Be blessed, dear friends!

— J.S.

Why Is God So Homicidal In The Old Testament?

atenleaguecanvas asked:

Hey Pastor Park! I want to thank-you for the grace you show in your answers. I really appreciate your example of presenting your views in a gentle and humble manner. I also have a question, I struggle with reconciling God, as he is depicted in the Old Testament, with how he is depicted in the New Testament. Did He really order the deaths of men, women, and children belong to nations that opposed Israel? I know He is ultimately just, but I keep getting hung up on this.

Hey dear friend, I appreciate your very kind words.

This is a really tough question that has disturbed me when I was an atheist and disturbs me even more as a Christian. It will always be a point of tension that might not be entirely resolved until our time on earth is done. I’d like to graciously present several different views about the wars in the Old Testament, from most brutal to most reasonable, and then let you decide. I’ll tell you what I personally believe in the end.

Please note: I’m not soft about the Bible. It does say a few hard things that I’m going to question all the way to Heaven. Jesus said hard things too. I don’t want to accommodate Scripture to fit a Westernized, watered down, sugarcoated, therapeutic pick-me-up. But I also don’t want to capitulate to my own Easternized, patriarchal, wrathful, vengeful picture of God. I believe the Bible has way more nuance than that. I know we won’t all see eye to eye on this either, and that’s totally okay. I truly welcome disagreement and I want to know where I’m wrong.

So here are some views to consider.

Continue reading “Why Is God So Homicidal In The Old Testament?”

Sharing, Everything.

The other night in bed, I read to my wife the opening preface from my upcoming book. She was very tired so I thought she would fall asleep. At the end, she was wide awake. We talked about the book for a while. We were excited that it could bless many others. We were worried about who might criticize it. We dreamed up new ideas. But mostly, we shared and shared.

I’ve never been able to do that before. It was awesome.

— J.S.

No One Wants To Be A Charity Case.

The moment we begin to see a certain group as a “charity case” or a “working project,” then we lose sight of the fact that they’re just people too, like you and me. We’re not the savior and they’re not some secondary character to fulfill our hero-narrative. I’m not saying that this is your motive, but we too easily slip into main character syndrome and treat others like the props in our catharsis.

When I first began looking into gay rights and the abortion debate, that was my problem: I was treating it as an issue instead of seeing the people inside the issues. I had to address the entire person as a whole, not by their “problem.” Sure, I wanted to know what was offensive and what was acceptable; I wanted to know how God’s grace actively applied to each distinct context. But by seeing their problem as a problem, I was inadvertently calling attention to their “disadvantage” as a pseudo-savior instead of entering their world as equals.

In Asia, there’s currently a growing boom of cross-dressing and transgender individuals. When I last visited (in the Philippines last year), I really just tried my best to see this person as a holistic life, who had to go home and pay bills and resolve conflicts and make it through rush hour and endure insults and visit the doctor and find God. My priority as a Christian is to see the heart, because this is where love is most crucial — it is not to change someone’s behavior or opinions or appearance. I can bring grace, truth, and conversation, and God will show up, like He always does.

— J.S. from this post

“Unlocking Addiction: A Secret Hidden in Plain Sight”


This is a two-parter I wrote for XXXChurch about the “secret” to unlocking addiction. The secret is something you knew all along: the first crucial step to recovery.

Part One is here. Part Two is here.

Here’s an excerpt:

When we talk about addiction, we usually narrow it down to one of two categories, which we can examine in one question:

Is addiction a disease or is it a choice?

In most conservative circles, addiction is viewed on a moral axis of increasingly bad decisions, as if we only need to stop being so stubborn and just choose our way out, while in most liberal circles, addiction is viewed as a biological propensity of wiring, as if we cannot help ourselves.

Of course, these binary categories presume we can tag one another with simple labels, but in reality, addiction doesn’t work that way. It’s a complex mess of factors that requires our attention in every direction. It’s an unpredictable monster that refuses to yield to our generalizations, and as long as it remains in a box, so will we. Addiction is complicated because we are complicated.

Keep reading here and here.

— J.S.

The Miracle of Moving Forward.

You’re in the middle of your motion, so it’s hard to see where you are. But so long as you’ve been taking one heavy step forward after another, no matter how awkward your stumbling, then this is worth celebrating. Every moment you’ve done right is a miracle in itself.

We believe in a God who knew we couldn’t ever reach perfection, so perfection came to us. If you feel like you’ve failed today, the very reason Jesus came was to take on your failures, your ego, your pride, your pain, your sorrows, your sin. And He’ll keep working on you until glory. Everything good in you is God in you: and anything bad in you, He’s working on that.

— J.S. from What The Church Won’t Talk About

How Do I Know The Bible Is Really From God?

newsfromabove asked a question:

Hello pastor Park! Thank you very much for answering so many people’s questions. You’re a wonderful presence here on Tumblr. My question, since we’re both skeptic Christians (I used to be a strong atheist), is how do you know the Bible is God’s Word? Tough one maybe. Have a great weekend!

Hey dear friend, I love this question.

There are really two ways to answer. The first is “hard apologetics,” where I just throw facts at you until you have an empirical basis for Scripture being a divinely inspired text. We do need this to intellectually satisfy us. The second is “soft apologetics,” in which the entire storyline of the Bible effectively speaks to our human condition. We need this to existentially fulfill us.

The thing is, even if I lay down a jaw-dropping defense of faith, it won’t be enough to alleviate all our doubts. I could present a 98% ironclad case that Scripture is God-breathed and that the historical claims of the Resurrection were real, but that last 2% will require that tricky, itchy, uncomfortable phenomenon called faith.

People like you and me, who are naturally skeptical and need objective, observable evidence will always struggle with this. But that’s also a good thing. Our doubts will prompt us into investigating as deep as we can possibly go. Doubt is not a sin, at all. It’s troubling, but it has also instilled a great deal of vigilance to question everything I believe until I have a faith that works.

Continue reading “How Do I Know The Bible Is Really From God?”

Tell Him Everything.

Maybe no one mentioned
that seasons of doubt,
suffering, and detachment
are regular valleys in a believer’s life.

Those are also the exact times
we go to God and tell Him everything.
To even say, “I don’t feel you right now, God.”
You can tell Him that.

Most of us think we’ve failed God
when we don’t feel Him, when it’s actually
that feeling of His absence that
can either push you to Him or from Him.
He’d much rather it be to Him.

— J.S.

[From this post]

Those Really Tough Bible Verses About Murder, Oppression, and Women

championpayne asked a question:

Hi! I was wondering what your input would be on this post. It bothered me a bit and I want to defend these scriptures, but I’m not sure how. The scriptures are, Psalm 137:9, 1 Timothy 2:12, Deuteronomy 22:28, Exodus 21:7, Leviticus 25:44, Numbers 25:4, Jeremiah 48:10 and Ezekiel 9:5. Thanks!

Hey dear friend, for easy reference, all the verses are listed here.

One thing I learned in seminary was that without context, there is no content.

These verses by themselves look absurd, and in fact, I will wrestle with a lot of the Bible until my time on earth is done. At the same time, many of these problematic verses have adequate explanations behind them when you can dive into the history and background.

This is really an issue of trust. If I approach the Bible with my modern Westernized preconceived bias, I will naturally find things to hate about the Bible, no matter how much they’re explained to me. If I trust that the God of the Bible is good, loving, and compassionate, then I will naturally find a logical rationale, even as I admit that some verses are harder to understand than others. I could argue both for and against these verses if I really wanted to. It’s a matter of choosing to trust Him, or not. If I don’t, I won’t. If I do, there’s a plethora of insight and wisdom that will jump out of Scripture. It all depends on who I believe that God is first.

Continue reading “Those Really Tough Bible Verses About Murder, Oppression, and Women”

Wise Love.

I see this sort of thing all the time where a friend tells me they’re interested in someone, and I know the timing isn’t right or they’re not right for each other, but they’ll go for it anyway. It never, ever, ever works out. Not once. It’s not because I’m some kind of prophet or expert. I just know that if the timing ain’t right, it doesn’t matter how right he or she might be: it won’t work. If they’re not right for you, it doesn’t matter how much you try or force it or convince yourself: it won’t work.

Relationships are hard. It takes a narrow window of timing and compatibility and your entire life to keep it going. You don’t need to rush that. You’ll catch feelings sometimes, but they’re something that happens to you and they’re not you. You still get to decide what to do with them. They’re the caboose and not the dang engine. And it’s okay if it doesn’t work out. You still got work to do.

— J.S.

The Painful Non-Romantic Endeavor of Getting Back Together

simplessence asked a question:

What did God’s grace look like when He brought you and your now wife back together after you parted ways? Your story is beautiful, and I have been so very encouraged by the parts you have shared with us. God bless you!

Hey dear friend, I believe you’re referring to this post. I also talk about this in the last chapter of my book on relationships, about how my wife and I broke up for six months while we were still dating.

For some back-story: My wife and I dated for six years before we got married, and at the three year mark, she broke up with me.  It was for perfectly legitimate reasons: I was addicted to porn, I had an anger problem, and I was a control freak. It was over. I didn’t think we would get back together.

When we did, the hardest part was trying not to “win” her. I was afraid she would break up with me again if I made the smallest mistake. It was a fearful paranoia. I spent a while trying to prove that I was changed and different and better.  And in fact, I had changed — I had sought counseling and accountability and rebuke and had quit porn (I’m still sober to this day).  But I wasn’t resting in grace. I forgot that I didn’t need to prove myself, not to her, not to me, not to anyone. God had already done that part through His Son. I only needed to receive it and to continue growing.

Continue reading “The Painful Non-Romantic Endeavor of Getting Back Together”

Everyone’s a Heretic: The Overuse of “Heresy”

mini-ice-cream-floats asked:

Hi Pastor. I was looking at your posts and a lot of them were very encouraging in terms of staying with the Christian walk. That said, I read that Tim Keller is a heretic. I don’t know much about him, but some say yes, others no. I think one of your posts quoted from him. What do you think? Thank you.

Hey dear friend, thank you so much for your kind words.

Normally I want to be super gracious and thoughtful and nuanced here, but please allow me to get just a tiny bit upset. Not at you, my dear friend, but at this word “heretic.”

The thing is, you’re a heretic. So am I. So is everyone.

We’ve all said dumb things about God. You and me both. None of us have it completely right about Him and no one owns the monopoly on Christian theology. While I do believe that God is knowable, I also believe that some of our differences in doctrine do not deserve the blanket term “heresy.”

Let’s keep in mind that calling someone a “heretic” or a “blasphemer” a few hundred years ago was a serious accusation that would get someone sent to a funeral pyre. A stake burning. A lynching. It’s a terrible disgusting word that comes from an embarrassing time in church history. It’s essentially damning someone to hell.

Let’s also ask the question, Who is saying that this person is a heretic? Who makes someone the watchdog and gatekeeper and arbiter of the Christian faith? At what point does one human being with a three lb. brain say to another human being, “You’re wrong about this divine supernatural being called God” …? Is there so much more to know than loving Jesus and loving people? Wouldn’t anything else be negotiable?

That means the seventy-five year old man who finds Jesus is a heretic. Nope, sorry, you don’t know enough Bible, old man. The ten year old child who loves Jesus is a heretic. Sorry, you don’t know about supralapsarianism and pneumatology, little buddy. Only scholars and saints and ascetic monks could possibly know enough Bible to be qualified for the pearly gates.

This reminds me of when church-people are quick to yell “Pharisee” and “legalist,” because we’re so scared of The Other. Our human nature will find any possible way to demonize the other side. See? I just did it, right there. We build camps and tribes and dichotomies so we can say, “At least I’m not like those Christians over there.” We find one little disagreement and then make a division instead of building bridges. We don’t give each other a chance. And maybe faith is more simple than we make it.

Continue reading “Everyone’s a Heretic: The Overuse of “Heresy””

I Got Marriage Fever: The Desperate Hunt For A Spouse

isaacbeerkowski asked:

Hey pastor. I’ve recent realized that I have a habit of going to church and looking at all the ring fingers on the beautiful godly women around me. Its not that it’s a common thing in my lifestyle. I try very hard to stay pure and prepare myself accordingly for my bride. But it seems like when I go to church, a pretty specific time when I should be focused on other things…I seem to instantly become desperate to find my bride. Idk what’s going on. Are you familiar with this struggle?

Hey dear friend, you’re definitely not alone in this.

There was a time in my own life (high school & college) when I just couldn’t stand to be single. I would go after every new girl in the room. It doesn’t mean I got them; it’s just that I desperately wanted to be in a relationship all the time. Of course, when I got in one, I wanted out. It was a selfish, vicious, stupid cycle that I confess to my own shame.

I’m not saying this is where you’re at. But in psychology, there’s an informal phenomenon called an aspirational crush. It’s sometimes a paranormal relationship. It’s not exactly sexual or even relational, but it’s that thing when you have a crush on every person who makes your stomach flutter. You could call it “girl-crazy.”

There are all sorts of reasons this happens, especially because we live in a culture that’s bombarded by overly sexualized media. The church is just as guilty. There’s a church in New York that has an entire wall of pictures of married couples who met at the church, and while I understand they want to celebrate this, apparently the church is huge on hooking up singles. I can’t imagine what this does to the “less socially acceptable” single people. Overall, I find it a bit tacky and demoralizing.

But ultimately, this comes down to reflecting on what you’re really about.

The two best things I can say are:

Continue reading “I Got Marriage Fever: The Desperate Hunt For A Spouse”

“Predestined” To Hell? The Deal With Calvinism

elaine-huiru asked a question:

Recently, I’ve been reading up on Calvanism and Arminism. I’m from non-denominational church. (You probably have known which side my church leans to). What really bothers me a lot is the “predestination” component in the Calvanist theology. I really feel grieve because other who are not “predestined”(which may/may not include me) are doomed for eternal hell? And Jesus really only dies for people whom God has predestined to follow Him?

Hey my dear friend, please first allow me the grace to point you to these posts.  Please feel free to skip around or skip them.

– Ten Thoughts About Calvinism

– The Troublesome Dilemma of Reformed Calvinism and Romans 9

– God Loves Everyone, Except Esau

While I still technically maintain that I’m a Reformed Calvinist, I’ve long since stopped self-identifying as one, because most of the Calvinists I met are jerks who care more about theology than Jesus and people.  No theology should ever make us a jerk, or we need to start over.

Continue reading ““Predestined” To Hell? The Deal With Calvinism”

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

bare-memoirs asked a question:

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

lmazel asked a question:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “Doctrinal Deathmatch: Catholics Vs. Charismatics Vs. Protestants – When Doctrine Divides Us (And Why It Doesn’t Have To)”

My Friend Wants To Leave Behind Faith: What Do I Do?

afoolofhope asked:

How would you suggest one to go about discussing faith with someone who said they were raised in a strong Christian home, and growing up wanted to believe in God and all the things that go with that, but they had to “test the waters” for themselves? It seems like the conclusion they came to was along the lines of “this is good for some people, but since I can’t believe it, it’s not for me.” I want to help point them to Christ, but I’m not sure how to do so/talk with them about it.

My dear friend, I first want to applaud you for truly caring about your friend. It’s already a difficult task to talk about faith, and the fact that you want to talk faith with someone who doesn’t is a huge testament to your loving heart.

Here’s the hard part.

If your friend wants to leave behind their faith, there’s not a whole lot you can do.

Of course, you can continue to ask questions. Stay involved. Reach out. Invite them to church activities. Challenge their assumptions. Keep asking, “How’s life?” Be around and be near.

But in the end, each person must choose their own way. If you bring up matters of faith as a way to bring them back to “the fold,” they’ll see right through you, and suddenly they’ll feel like a project or a charity case. No one wants that. It’s hurtful. No one wants to be part of someone’s agenda for a triumphant church-victory.

More than that though, if we coerce someone with the external apparatus of persuasion, then they’re not really going to think for themselves. They might turn back to faith because you won an argument, but not because they were fully convinced in and of themselves that Jesus was the one for them.

I know this whole thing feels very urgent, because sometimes the church will pressure you into clawing back the prodigal. You might have heard, “What if they die tomorrow?” And I suppose that could be true.

Yet it’s even worse to make someone want something if they don’t want it. You can only present Christianity the best you can through the overflow of your life, and perhaps one day, they’ll come back. And if they don’t, keep loving them, and you cannot blame yourself.

Here’s what I’ve seen.

Continue reading “My Friend Wants To Leave Behind Faith: What Do I Do?”