Shame and The Unforgivable Sin Against the Holy Spirit


Some Thoughts on Blaspheming Oneself

I’m going to talk some theology today, but first let’s talk about some feelings. I’ve got a dear friend that struggles from time to time with deep fears, shame, and insecurity around his relating to God and the state of his soul, and his anxious heart tends to latch onto religious and theological reasons for these feelings.

In the years I’ve walked with him, different aspects of Christian faith and theology have shaken his assurance that he is, in fact, a Christian and that he can have a hopeful belief in his present and future relating to God.

Recently, he’s been struggling with an idea that’s gone by a few different names throughout history: “The Unpardonable Sin”, “Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit”, “The Unforgiveable Sin”, among others. It’s repeated and reframed in a few places of the Bible, but here is Mark’s version:

[And Jesus said,] “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they [his enemies, the Jewish leaders] had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Many, many of you out there may brush this aside as one more cryptic saying of Jesus on which you can’t base the whole weight of eternity. Others may think this is such theological minutiae or so random out of everything in the Bible that they find it confusing someone would be overly concerned with it.
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Of Saints & Suicidal Ideations


Warning: this post talks about self-harm and suicidal thoughts. If you are experiencing this, you can chat online with the Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call at 1.800.273.8255.

We are in the final weeks of the Christian season of Lent: a time where we focus on the fact that we are not yet who we will be, and that we still live in much darkness, weakness, and self-obsession. On its own, this could become masochistic or over-indulgent depending on your personality. But this is why Easter comes on the other side as a call to cast off the brooding and soul-spelunking to rise into the highest heights of celebration and freedom the Resurrection offers.

But still, this time lends itself to sadder reflections. The other day, my coworkers and I were sharing stories of social work clients we’ve worked with over the years and I was brought back ten years to my first time encountering a suicidal client when I was brand new to the field.

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Tender words for a terrified father | Mark 5.35-36


While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”

Mark 5:35-36

Jesus first offers comforting words to this father. He doesn’t put down his lack of faith, as he does with the disciples on the boat in the previous chapter, nor does he brag of his own authority to raise the dead. Instead, Jesus simply gives him a call not to fear, only to trust. What sensitive, heartfelt, loving words these are.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Name the Darkness: Jesus & Our Persistent Demons | Mark 5:6-9


When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”

Mark 5:6-9

Well this is interesting. It seems like Jesus had said words of exorcism earlier and it, in a sense, hadn’t “worked”. I wonder if the tradition behind this story was of a man so demon possessed that Jesus’ first try at getting rid of them failed. That certainly seems to be the case here. Jesus had commanded the demon to leave the man, and it didn’t.

Now, I don’t like pulling what seems like “self-help lessons” from things like this, or appealing to pop psychology, but this could be instructive in a ministry context. Jesus has appealed to his word and his authority to bring healing and to cast out the disorder and evil in this person’s life. It hasn’t worked. It is so big, it goes so far back into the past, and the issues seem so numerous, that it just isn’t going to take a quick shot to the soul.

So in light of this, how does Jesus respond? He asks the person’s name. Yes, the demon responds, but there’s no indication that Jesus is only talking to the unclean spirit here. He asks the man name, and he answers by identifying himself by his evil. But this is still progress. He gives name to what is haunting and hurting him, and this diagnoses his soul and gives Jesus the insight on how to bring healing to this man.

Giving name is powerful for healing and change and even getting rid of demons.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Retelling the Story (in crisis, loss, & healing)


Why does healing take time? Have you ever asked yourself that? Why does pain, heartbreak, and loss seem to have a very real lifespan it must go through before the process seems completely done?

As I’ve said several times before on this blog, we humans live on the basis of story. Our life, our world, and our faith provide our lives with a grand “narrative” in which all of our “sub-plots” find shape. We can’t help but use this shape of the present story to fashion some sort of idea of where this story is going. We’ve all experienced this when reading a book. The entire time, we have a guess of where the plot is heading; as we receive more information, we naturally readjust our expectations and thoughts as to the goal or end.

In short, the only way we know to make sense of the various aspects of our lives is to give them shape, narrative, and an anticipated goal towards which they are moving. This is the only way we know to justify each step forward we take in this career, relationship, etc. It gives us our bearings and a point of reference.

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On Holy Week, Idolatry, & Suicidal Ideations


This week marks the most important week of the entire Christian calendar. It’s Holy Week; the time we meditate upon Christ’s Passion — the last week he spent in Jerusalem during the Passover preparing to be the true and perfect Passover Lamb. This is also the final week of the Lent season. For weeks now we have celebrated the angst, tension, and pain of Lent. This has been a time where we have focused on the fact that we have not yet become who we will be, and we still live in much of that old way of life. This has been a time where we look our idols in the eyes, hear their whispers and discern what they have been promising us and what we have believed they can give. Love. Security. Affirmation. Rest. We seek all these things under the sun, but all these things find their Source beyond.

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A Great Deal from the Westminster Bookstore


Just wanted to drop a quick note to let everyone about a great deal I saw at WTSBooks.com. I’ve long said that Westminster Theological Seminary’s Bookstore is the best bookstore I know of.  Between classes, it where we’d go to have fun.  It was like a candy store for all those theologically-inclined individuals.  They’re dirt-cheap (more often than not cheaper than Amazon) and usually have some good deal going on.  And this one is no exception.  Two brand new books.  $14.49.  Here’s the link:

You Can Change/ What Is The Gospel (Two Pack)- WTSBooks.com

I’m most excited about this first book, You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions by Tim Chester.  A little while back I read a book he wrote with Steve Timmis, Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community.  That book changed my entire perspective on the Church, the Gospel, preaching, and simply living life as a Christian.  It put many of the pieces together in my mind concerning the Church and spirituality and their place in society.  I became convinced that these guys “get it”.  They have such a full understanding of the Gospel in a corporate context, so I’m so pumped to see Chester’s thoughts on the Gospel on an individual level.  Here’s the trailer for the book:

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I’ve got a REAL real job.


Many of the long-time readers of this blog have been able to follow the drama that was my post-seminary job situation (I had a job, then I didn’t, then I sort of did). But, as most of my Facebook friends now know, as of Wednesday I finally was able to move into the full-time spot at my work that I was originally hired for about 9 months ago. Hindrances both internal to the company and external led to me only having the part-time evening weekend position at the company. Until now. Now I am officially a Psychiatric Rehabilitation Counselor.

The position is at this amazing company called Project Transition. It is a community-based recovery program for people with moderate to severe mental health and substance abuse issues.

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The Big News II (I’m not leaving Philly, it seems)


I, Paul Burkhart, now have a real job.

Like, a real real one.

Yesterday, I was accepted for a position at a program called Project Transition as a “Psychiatric Rehabilitation Counselor” (assuming that my background checks clear, of course. Until then, I can’t actually say I’m “hired” per se, I’m still a “candidate”). In short, this is my dream job. I will have a case load of about 5 individuals recovering from various mental disorders who I will pour into their lives trying to help them reintegrate into society. I will teach classes to everyone in the program on various parts of living life healthily. I will be doing assessments and creating treatment plans for my case load. The people I will work with seem amazing. Benefits kick in after only a month. It’s really good pay (at least for an entry level job). I will even have my own office space (and desk!).

The philosophy of the organization is right in line with mine: that people are not defined by their disease. They are fundamentally healthy individuals struggling with a disorder, rather than the view that would treat them as primarily disordered individuals struggling for health. It was so exciting sitting there as they told me everything about the organization. That reminds me, the interview itself was strange too. It was one of those weird circumstances that seems to surreal and – for lack of a better word – supernatural. In the entire interview I didn’t say more than a couple of sentences. They didn’t really ask me many questions. It was more like “hey, this is who we are. Wanna join us?”. It was so strange. I have the weakest resume one could imagine. I have waiting tables at Applebee’s and tutoring elementary school students on there and that’s it. Hardly the resume to get someone a professional counseling job. But nevertheless, I walked in, and the founder of the organization had made one of his monthly visits to this particular site just to interview me. When I got there, everyone already knew my name and who I was. When the founder had to leave the interview early and leave me with the site coordinators, he had the secretary send down paperwork to hire me, even before the interview was actually over! (Running the risk of sounding overly charismatic or Osteen-ish) I felt like I was walking in “supernatural favor”. Or something like that.

So what does all this mean? Well firstly, even though I loved and adored my time in Richmond the past few weeks and really wanted to move back there, it seems that God has intended for me to have longer-term plans for Philly. This job really is something I’m going to want to stay at for awhile. The people I will be around, the experiences I’ll get, and the real-word education I’ll receive (all while still taking WTS counseling classes) will be invaluable to me. So I’m here to stay, it seems. This would probably have been a problem a couple months ago, but recently Philadelphia has opened up to me (specifically South Philly) and I have met so many people I really want to live life deeply with for a while longer before moving on (not to mention my biggest bromances are here and here. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten you, you, and you).

So here’s to God for blessing me far more than I could ever imagine. I pray this drives me further to Him and doesn’t make me feel like I don’t need him now. Because I do. I’ve definitely been seeing that greatly the past few weeks, and this has been the first little ray of light to burst out from the haze I’ve been in.

Philly, here I stay.

The big news . . .


Nope, not engaged.

Several people here in Philadelphia know this, but I realize hardly anyone in Richmond does, so here I am writing this now.

I won’t be coming back to Westminster next year.

Long story short, my undergraduate loan payments have been steadily increasing and are now getting to a place where my parents can’t handle it alone – nor should they (before you all ask: no, this isn’t the kind of loan that waits until I’m done to require payments; no, my parents can’t consolidate it; yes, we’ve thought through it all).  I’ve decided to take at least a year off from graduate studies to get a full time job somewhere and help pay some things off.I’m focusing in Philadelphia, and trying to stay here, but I’m also looking at jobs in other places (especially Richmond).

Academically, what does this mean?Well, so far I’m still signed up for one counseling class next semester in the evenings, but I’m going to start applying to various Ph.D. programs and seeing what happens.There’s a program at Princeton I’ve fallen in love with in “Psychology and Social Policy”.I’ve realized that I was seeing seminary somewhat as a potential aid in getting into a Ph.D. program, but frankly, it’s seems to only be hurting my chances (on many levels).So, I’ll see if I can get in without it and then go back to Westminster afterwards if I want.

Practically, this means a lot more time and freedom to read what I want, write what I want, minister in different ways, and just generally feel like an actual member of society.I’ve already started writing a little bit more, doing more web stuff (Reform & Revive has been amazing recently!), and (I can’t believe I’m admitting this now), I’ve started a podcast which I’ll write on more later.

Spiritually speaking, what does this mean?Well, the answer to that question deserves a whole post in its self.I’ve been encouraged that as the workload lightens and I seem to be leaving seminary in a sense, I find myself driven more to prayer and the Word of God than while I was in seminary.They don’t tell you that seminary is not a secluded spiritual resort, but rather the darkest front lines of battle.This has been the most intense spiritual year of my life.I’ve had some of my darkest nights and moments this past year.I’ve gone my longest stints ever without drawing near to my Lord in any way.In short, it’s been rough.In short, it’s been painful.In short, I think I came to seminary too soon.I came too young.I wasn’t ready to handle the weight that this institution would hold.I have not developed the maturity and cultivation necessary to have an anchor in my soul beyond my sheer white-knuckled will.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this past year has been amazing.It’s also been the best year of my life, I think.That’s generally how God works.Very Dickensian: the best of times, the worst of times . . ..I wouldn’t give this past year back for anything.My love, affection, and knowledge of my Lord have grown exponentially.If I never go back to seminary I will forever be grateful to the Providence of God for giving me these two semesters.

God has always dealt with me in such a way that I had a very good sense of what the future held for me.This is the first time in my life that he has allowed everything to really fall apart all around me in a matter of weeks.And this is his mercy to me.This is his love for me.It is his commitment to make me need him, because he himself is what I need the most.He is my anchor.He is my certainty.He is my Lord, and my God, and I love him.

So, we’ll see what life holds.God has still been gracious to me in this time. I have great friends and my church (though still going through so much turmoil) has still been healthy and amazing.  I’ve even realized that my life as it was wasn’t very financially sustainable.  I couldn’t continue into my mid- and later-20s still asking my parents for rent money while working 15-hour work weeks at various low hourly rates.  I should have decided to so this regardless of money.

I feel it’s appropriate I’ve written this entire post while I sit in what may be my last seminary class ever, Medieval Church.Which is a appropriate, I suppose.Just like this strange period in history, and more specifically where we are in this last class, I sit here with my Rome having fallen, some dark ages having passed, standing on the cusp of my Reformation, waiting to rediscover the nearness of my Lord.

Feel free to ask any questions you may have.

Facebook for lent . . .


For lent, it was suggested that I give up Facebook.At first, I was very hesitant.Then I wondered, “why am I so hesitant?”I had been saying for a while that I would go a week or so off Facebook, but had yet to do so.Why?

This hesitancy revealed a very strong hold Facebook had on me.Whenever I got on the internet, I would check it.I would check it numerous times an hour, being disappointed every time that little red flag didn’t appear on the bottom right-hand corner of my screen.I would spend embarrassing amounts of time clicking through pictures, checking up on old friends, or reading notes.now these things are okay, but it had become a conditioned response to me getting on the internet.It wasted way too much time that I should have been doing work.

There’s this great booklet from CCEF on Procrastination.That is a topic I deal with greatly.I still do.I would rather do anything but my work.In this book, though, there is this great quote form the author, Walter Henegar.He talks about this peculiar thing that happened on the cross.When Jesus is about to die he cries out “it is finished!”, but here’s the thing: the majority of Jesus’ active redemptive work was yet to be done.He had so much of the world that was yet to be saved and brought to himself.Henegar writes concerning this:

Jesus could say this only because he had done “all the work the Father gave him to do.”The connection to my own [Henegar’s] sin was clear: Unless I’m doing what God has called me to do, I’m doing someone else’s work.When I procrastinate, I’m meddling in things that are “none of my business”—like a busy-body.

I struggle with needing to be God in my life.I need to control things.I need to be the one that determines what works I am doing.The second my passions are mandated to me, I suddenly will do anything I can not to do them.I have seen this in seminary.Facebook became my mechanism of controlling what things I spend my life doing and not doing.

So, I gave up Facebook for lent.

And I haven’t missed it, amazingly.(And for those wondering, yes I did take off the facebook-messages-to-my-phone thing)

When lent is over will I go back to Facebook?Yes, but I feel more equipped than ever to see it for what is: an ultimately unnecessary thing that can be used for good things in moderation.I do love Facebook, but just like anything, it can be made an idol.Lent is serving its purpose, I suppose.

Those Catholics are on to something . . .

p.s. – I still have Facebook set up to import the posts from my personal blog onto Facebook as notes.So, for those that see this on Facebook, know that I didn’t have to log in to get this on there.For those that get this far in the post, please pray for me.