If you talk to anyone who’s involved in a huge tragedy, you can’t say those cute cliches like “Pain forces you to grow” or “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” It sounds hollow and stupid, and I would slap myself in the face if I said those things too.

I believe more and more that not every pain has a lesson. I think sometimes that pain is just pain, that life can be a mystery, and it’s all part of our weird wild crazy human experience. Pain is part of being human. We don’t need to spiritualize everything. We don’t need to wrap things up with a bowtie. Sometimes there is unresolved tension and we need to let it bleed.

However, here’s why I believe in the Christian faith.

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dearaudre asked:

What would you say the christian definition of grace is?

Hey my friend: the technical Christian definition of grace is “unmerited favor, an undeserved gift that outweighs its own need.”

But I’ve never known grace to simply be boxed inside doctrinal boundaries. The second it becomes abstract, it tends to be enabling and pampering and a sugarcoated excuse to abuse the word “struggle.”  Grace is way too costly to be thrown around like cheap lingerie, and if it does not motivate you, then it’s not real grace.

True grace is love that costs everything.  It is sacrificial.  For God to show us grace, it cost Him the life of His very son.

Let’s consider the implications of this.  You create a race of sentient human beings who you’ve given paradise, and they give you the middle finger and begin to kill each other for fame and glory and pieces of green paper, and you keep sending other little beings to tell them about True Life, but they kill all those beings too.  So you become one of your toy-creations by limiting your infinite power and taking on all their weaknesses and only asking for them to believe you’re real, and they torture you and string you up and stab you with jagged metal spikes in your most tender flesh-covered places (which you willingly took on), and there under a sunless sky you still offer forgiveness and love for everyone because this is the best and only way to love them.  And to validate your claims, you come back to life from the grave and show yourself to hundreds of people and remind them of their real purpose, and even after all that, two-thirds of the world abuses your name for the worst of atrocities and the one-third who believes in you still chase after mindless powerless images or lies or approximations of the real thing.  And you still love them.

You see, romantic love is easy.  It lasts as long as the feelings last.  Maybe we have a good temperament so we’re patient and laidback.  Maybe your friends are all pretty cool and stable and rich and they’re not needy, so you like being with them.  Maybe you were genetically predisposed to being generous and truthful and reliable, so everyone around you likes you too.

But marriages that last fifty years take sweat, blood, heart.  Friendships that encounter flaws take a supernaturally forgiving power that is not inherent to our self-preservation.  Raising children requires you to stay home when you’d rather be out clubbing and chugging.  Serving the homeless and ex-convicts and orphans and the emotionally unstable will demand all your life.  Endorsing justice in the world takes more than a blog post or pink ribbons or an X on your hand.  Love is not love unless it costs you something, and grace is the love that costs you everything.

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Does Your Theology

July 26, 2014 — 2 Comments

Does your theology drive you to your knees to weep for people who disagree?

Or does it provoke a surge of self-righteousness and increased volume and overpowering tactics to prove your point?

Does your theology allow room for growth and imperfection and an eye-to-eye understanding of the whole story?

Or does it imprison a person into a one-dimensional caricature who must think exactly you like do, or else?

Does your theology look for ways to love and engage and move in? Or does it look for permission to cut off and shut down and divide?

Does your theology have grace for people with bad theology?

Or did you read this thinking “This is for them and not for me” …?

Without grace, our theology is only posturing, and that’s not what Jesus came to die for.

— J

lovedbythecreator asked:

How do you let God heal you?

Hey there my wonderful friend.  Before I even answer with a whole lot of functional details, may I just say: if you’re going through anything right now, I’m really sorry and I got crazy love for you.  Here’s a prayer even as I’m writing this, and after too.

The thing about healing is that it hurts, sometimes even worse than the original wound.  Most people think healing is just a “matter of time” or “don’t bring it up,” and while that’s partially true, it also involves an active confrontation with yourself to get where you want to be.  When a bone breaks, you set it.  When you get scraped, you use peroxide or alcohol.  When you get bruised up, you endure an ice pack.  I don’t mean to take the metaphor too far: but if you only allow “time to heal,” then you could end up with a mangled bone or an infection.

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My mom asks me what it’s like to be a pastor, and how hard it must be to get so involved with so many lives.  She says, “It has to be like living with a bunch of people all at once” — and that was probably the best description I’ve heard of ministry.

At one point my mom says, “Be careful though.  If you blow up just once, you’ll never be respected ever again.”  She said this was true in marriage, in parenting, in business, at home.

I had to disagree here.  I couldn’t believe in “You mess up one time and it’s over.”  My mom kept repeating, “No, when someone blows up on me one time, I cut them off and it’s done.  Because they’re showing me who they really are and they’re just a low-class nobody.”

So I tell her: “Mom, you know: I’ve hung out with people long enough to see them the moment after they blow up, that part when they regret what they said and wish they could take it back and want to re-do the whole thing all over again.  No one sees that part.  I see it all the time.  The look in their eyes, like they just want to punish themselves.  Their stammering confession.  The guilt.  This idea that they thought they were making progress, but suddenly they melted down, so they doubt that they’ve ever done anything good.  It kills them.  I talk to these same people at 3am and they can’t sleep because they think their life is over from their one mess-up, and they’re convinced that one time marks them forever.

“But the thing is that we’re all pretty crazy inside.  Seriously, I thought I was pretty crazy, but church people are really crazy.”  At this, my mom laughs.  “I mean we all are, more or less, you know.  There’s this thing that lives inside us that’s not really us.  I mean you see a person’s fault and flaws and they’re lashing out and everything” — and I sweep my hand to show a flat surface — “but underneath this is something very broken and hurting and needy” — and I make a fist to show a curled up soul below it all.  “There’s this back-story and upbringing and a long history behind their actions, and it doesn’t excuse what they did, but it’s an explanation.  If I can get there, and not attack where they messed up, then maybe they can change for the next thirty years.  Maybe we can break out of that pattern.

“I mean I’ve said and done a lot of things I want to take back too: but I hope no one ever just writes me off for some tantrum I had when I was seven.  I’m sure you had some moment like that, but the people who love you didn’t hold it against you very long. Even if what we did is wrong, or we mess it up more than once, I don’t think anyone is beyond change or forgiveness or redeeming themselves.  I think God knows that too.”

My mom nods, slowly.  Her face has changed a little.  She is seeing the stirrings of grace.

She gives me a long hug before I leave her place.  I think she is tearing up, or it’s just the street light.  She knows the person I used to be, that selfish horrible kid who threw things and used up people and cursed God at the top of my lungs.  She tells me, “I’m glad you have God.  If you can see people that way, then maybe God is good for something.”

I tell her, “I’m not always like that.  It’s hard.  But God understands that too.”

– J.S.

Hello lovely wonderful friends!

This is a message I had the privilege to preach at an amazing college ministry in Gainesville, FL.

The message is titled: The Reckless, Relentless, Sloppy Grace of God: The Church That Jesus Had In Mind.

Of anything I’ve ever preached, this one is the truest message of my heart: that we would become a community of reckless honesty that gets entrenched into the mess of real lives with thoughtful nuance and that costly love called grace.  Whether you hate church or you’ve attended your whole life, I believe this is what God is after.

Stream here or download here!


Some things I talk about are: My time at the mental institution with drug addicts and sex addicts and recovering mental patients, the awkward harrowing nerve-racking experience of bringing your friend to church (and it happens to be sacrifice-a-live-animal day), the cringe-inducing moment when the preacher goes political, finding out what percentage of the church is actually God’s intention, the recent trend of movies where bad guys are not really bad but have a tragic back-story, what saying “I do” really means, that time I fought a pastor in a parking lot, and sculpting a real eye-to-eye face-to-face friendship over coffee.

Here are other messages from the podcast.

Be blessed and love y’all!

— J.S.

About a year ago, I donated half my salary to charity to fight human trafficking.  I had saved for the entire year to make one check for $10,000.

I don’t say this to brag, at all.

I say this because I’m a selfish person.  I love comfort, my shiny things, the safety of a new gadget and adding things to my wish list.  I am naturally lazy and indulgent and self-absorbed.

But I also believe in a God who humbled Himself to become one of us.  I believe in a God who paid an infinite price to set us free.  I believe in a God who wrote Himself into the story of humanity to enter our struggle, to lead us into life, and to ultimately exchange our brokenness for grace.

Because I believe in a God who has this sort of heart –

I am compelled to have the same heart for others.

The selflessness of God utterly melted my selfishness to pieces.  His grace tenderized my conceited heart.  I gave my life away because God did the same for me.

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I was going through followers the other day and noticed some blogs that were “last updated 6 months ago” or longer. There were a lot of these.

Maybe they got bored or distracted or busy — but my guess is they probably didn’t get the huge number of likes and follows and reblogs they were expecting, and just gave up.

Please don’t do that. There are very few things we do consistently in this life. We’re quick to jump from island to island of halfway commitment. Taking a break is totally okay: but I exhort you to persist in sharing your one unique voice with the world community.

If you’re about to jump ship: please do NOT bail on your blog. Do what you must — take a sabbath, go on hiatus, commune with nature, restore relationships, try new things — but come back and tell us about it.

It doesn’t matter if you only have a few readers. You’re not doing it for that. And even if you were, those few people who follow you might really be encouraged by what you have to say. You might be the only one saying it.

But more than that: your blog is a captured snapshot of your one fleeting transitory life, like the dust mote suspended in a sunbeam that shimmers for a spectacular moment in time. It is beauty wrapped in expression, and you are putting something into the world that no one else can. God made you for it.

So keep sharing. Keep making art. Keep writing music. Keep taking pictures. Keep encouraging others. In some small way: you are healing your part of the universe. You are needed more than you know. You are making a bigger impact than you think.

— J.S.


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

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

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

Here’s how you handle us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An ongoing discussion about victory over sexual addiction.

The introduction here.

Part One, excuses and myths, here.

Part Three, the soul, here.

Part Three and a half, the soul, here.

Part Four: I’m Ready To Cut It Off. Here.

Part Five: Quitting Isn’t Enough. Here.

My podcast series “Cutting It Off” — here.

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

Every question submitted about porn on this blog, here.

**Updated: May 2013

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

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

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

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

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

The Addict’s Path:

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When I’m asked, “Will God forgive me no matter what I do?” — I always say yes, no matter what you do.  That’s forgiveness, to the fullest.

But often the question itself is asking for permission to do something awful, and then yank forgiveness from God like a get-out-of-jail-free card.

And if that’s the motive: then we haven’t understood that forgiveness cost the life of God’s very own son.  Our sin had to be paid, and either we do or He does.  So God paid.  It’s not some abstract ethereal doctrine in the clouds.  There was blood, nails, tears, dust, and a dirty Roman cross — and there Jesus whispered forgiveness over his murderers under a sunless sky.

More than that: God aims not only to cover our disobedience, but also give a new direction.  Forgiveness is not only for what we’ve done, but it also empowers us into a fruitful, powerful life of abundance and joy.

Of course God will forgive you over and over, no matter what, but it’s an altogether different thing to embrace the fully forgiven life, in which God’s forgiveness isn’t just for our failures, but also for our future.  To cut short the work of this forgiveness is to only ask for less of God’s grace, and not more.  To see forgiveness as simply an erased record is only half the picture.  That’s to settle for less, and I don’t want that.

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unfadinggrace asked:

How did you get to the point to being an atheist to now believing in Christ? What changed?

Hey there my friend: Here are a few thoughts on my journey from atheism to faith.  I know that we won’t see eye to eye on everything, and  maybe some of this will sound ridiculous or outlandish, but this is simply part of my discovery. I understand some will hate this or bring a reductionistic wit to bash it all, and that’s okay.  I hope we have at least enough humility to admit we’re all still learning.

- I found atheism to be completely untenable and unsustainable.

If I were to actually follow the logic of atheism down to the bottom, it would be an endless rabbit trail of contradictions.  No atheist truly lives out to their obvious conclusions, because no one really lives life as if there’s no meaning or it happened by accident or it’s a random blob of flesh and pebbles spinning off to nowhere. At some point, I had to realize as an atheist that I was being fundamentally dishonest.  A hypocrite.

And those who did follow it to the end either had to 1) stabilize it by smuggling in the morality of other worldviews, or 2) went insane and killed everything.  Any time your belief system needs to borrow outside itself, that’s a nail in the coffin.  And any time your belief system concludes with genocide or eugenics, you’re probably better off becoming a vegan Buddhist.

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Pray for the families of those mourning over MH17.

And please consider donating to the Philippines Red Cross for the survivors of Typhoon Rammasun. http://redcross.org.ph/

Image from VOA News.

Pulpit Confessions.

July 17, 2014 — 7 Comments

At times I feel like the preacher in the pulpit is telling me all his hero-stories, and he seems to be his own marketing guy saying “This is what Jesus does, so do what I’m doing and you’ll make it.”

But I always lean in when the pastor tells me about his failures. When he’s really for real. That time he blew up on someone in traffic. When he really lost it with his wife and kids. When he quietly refused to help a homeless guy. His sudden shopping spree. Those seasons when he stopped praying and reading the Bible because he was so jaded and burnt out. When he shares his frustrations with the church culture, not in a mean way that points out any one person, but really grieving over our collective lack of passion. The times when he doubted himself, when he doubted God.

I don’t want the act. I’d love it for a pastor to just straight up rip the mic and tell us how much he’s hurting right now and how much he still trusts Jesus to get him through all this and even tell us he’s barely holding on by a thread of his beat-up faith. Hero-stories are okay, but I want to know we’re in this fight together.

I can realize then that the pastor is a human being, and it makes me a little more human too, and this points to our need for Jesus and for grace. I want to meet inside our mess-ups, because God is there. With Him, we’ll make it.

— J

Hello lovely wonderful friends!

This is the fifth part of a sermon series called “Snapshots: The Men & Women of the Bible.”  It explores how the people in the Bible were just as fallen as you and me, and how God worked through them.

This message is titled: Gideon The Unworthy: God Has Given You Worth Apart From What You Think About You.

It’s about finding the gifts and greatness in you by the grace of God, and liberating ourselves from all the discouragement we’ve ever faced.

Stream here or download here!

Some things I talk about are: Outlandish auction bids for celebrity-owned items including Justin Bieber’s hair, my brother the totally unsuspecting MMA jujitsu fighter, the anxious fear of small-town gossip when you try to step it up, tough advice for my future daughter, how the church ought to be like a bunch of cheerleaders, my first pre-marriage counseling, and the words that you’ve secretly wanted to hear your whole life.

Be blessed and love y’all!

— J

 ahookintheheart asked:

Hey Pastor J, I have a quick question about prayer. How do you pray for someone who is, as far as you know, not a believer, and is making very poor and (potentially) dangerous life choices that could ruin their life (for lack of a better phrase)? I know that more often than not, people come to God when they get to the absolute end of themselves and realize they need a change. There’s a guy I know that has shut me out of his life,so the only thing I can do is to pray for him,but I don’t know how.

Hey my dear friend: You’re really awesome to be so concerned and loving for your friend.  He or she is very lucky and blessed to have you.

I think prayer is an automatic necessity, and it can’t be emphasized enough.  I’m always wary about giving too many instructions for prayer because it can easily be a formula, but I think it’s certainly okay to pray for a divine face-smashing intervention.  It’s okay to pray that your friend totally gets that uppercut wake-up call.

Here are some other things to consider.

1) You can show there’s way better than the world.

I know this will feel like a waiting game until your friend crashes and burns: but you don’t have to wait.  Before I really came to know God, my Christian friends would always take me out to the movies or dinner or their home to show that you can have fun without reckless substances and liquids and chemicals, and that there can be a good time without all the cheap mindless, sexual, gyrating pig-slop.  They didn’t really give me a “Christian lite version” of something, but it was really their total love and laughter and craziness, and most importantly, their vulnerability.

I found that the biggest difference between my Christian friends and everyone else was that I didn’t need to “measure up” all the time by puffing out my chest.  When I was at the club or at a drunken party, there was always this sizing up ego-pissing-contest with certain code words and cool language and false bravado.  It was exhausting.  But most especially with my genuine Christian friends, I could relax.  I could be myself.  I wasn’t relying on alcohol to build a pseudo-interaction or to make me fun.  I could be loud and nerdy and messy and not worry about being the social definition of a “man.”  When I saw a better way, I wanted that.  I wanted how God wanted things to be.

My Christian friends also cooked crazy good food, and that’s one thing you can’t ever enjoy at a drunk drug party where everyone is throwing up on their shoes.  Not to judge anyone: but I like chicken parmesan better than half-digested chips and salsa.

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I am Korean, and I’ve been a victim of racism my whole life.  I hate to use the word “victim,” but really, your race is nothing you ask for, and in a melting pot like America I’m still painfully aware that I am not like most people.

More than my faith, my socioeconomic status, my intellect, my demeanor — this has been the one dividing wall between me and my white friends that is just as tangible as the seat I’m on.  I am an alien.  I have different traditions.  I also own a dog.  I keep explaining myself to people because they think I’m going to eat him.

I grew up in the States but I’m still the token Asian guy.  When I visit an American church, they are proud to have an Asian person in their midst. They try to make me talk to the other Koreans. I am a victory for their diversity.

Since I’m this hybrid-Asian, it’s apparently okay to make jokes about chopsticks, Bruce Lee, martial arts, and eating octopus.  The thing is: I love chopsticks, Bruce Lee, martial arts, and eating octopus.  So do a lot of people.  I just don’t feel like making this a point every time I introduce myself.  I want to be a human being, not a flyer for AsiaFest or a punchline on South Park.  I don’t want to cater to anyone’s relaxed stance on ethnicity, as if “I’m cool enough to make racist Asian jokes because I’m friends with this one Asian guy.”

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artemis-pixie asked:

It really confuses me when people say,listen to God,what does this mean, how? God obviously won’t just talk to me like how I talk to other people, so how do I listen when there is no sound? I’ve meditated but, I can’t get what God means from silence.

Hey my dear beloved friend, you know: I’ve always had trouble with this idea of “hearing from God.”  I always side-eye those super A+ put-together Christians who were hearing from God every week, and somehow I was outside the door of some secret club where God was throwing around fortune cookies full of His life-changing secrets.

I remember a pastor once telling his leaders, “I can teach you how to hear the audible spoken voice of God.”  No joke.  At another Bible Study, they asked us every time, “What did you hear from God this week?”  And we’d go in a circle saying increasingly spiritual things that “God laid on my heart” until the last person was writing an extra chapter of Revelation.  Some kid thought that God told Him to do missions on the foothills of Tijuana, or Siberia, or some other uninhabitable place, and we would cheer with cringing desperation.

I got frustrated with all this because I began to expect God to boom down from the rafters and for angels to explode from the ceiling.  Of course, I believe God could do that if He wanted to.  He parted a sea before and He made the sun stop.  BUT — God didn’t do this every Thursday.  Those were bonafide last-resort miracles, and I think asking for God to do this every week was like having a wedding everyday of your marriage.  The expectations were killing us.

Eventually I spoke up to say, “Actually man, I did not hear from God today.  Not for a long time.  Is that okay?”  And I think this shocked a few people.  I think someone tried to lay hands on me to re-fill my spirit tank.  A few others thought maybe I was possessed or gone prodigal or had “unconfessed sin.”  But most of us felt the same way: we were in this exhausting run-around of trying to hear God’s voice all the time and feeling like crap because we didn’t.  At least not in the way we were taught to hear Him.

To be truthful, I think many people who say they “hear from God” are too afraid to say anything else.  We’re always appealing to the gatekeepers of faith to chest-bump our spiritual masculinity, but there’s hardly any room in church for vulnerable real talk.  So a bunch of us affirm each other over “God told me” when really we just make it up on the spot to look spiritual, and it’s basically a Cold War stand-off.

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Quote: Christ-Life

July 11, 2014 — 2 Comments

“That is why the Christian is in a different position from other people who are just trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or—if they think there is not—at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.”

– C.S. Lewis

Ocean, Motion, Joy.

July 10, 2014 — 1 Comment

To see a marriage so bubbling and intimate and alive, to see a business with its interlocking efficiency, to see a work of art filled with splashing colors and the smallest of lines — none of these things happened out of whimsy.

We can look at a picture of life in motion and assume that it was instant magic.  We’re tickled by “love at first sight” because it stirs our easy-button of convenience.  And it looks like luck falls out of the sky for everyone else.  But: dreams take sweat and scars and apologies.  Hopes are stitched with false starts and valleys of failure.  The ease of intimacy you see in a single conversation took many, many turns through the desert.  Romance is not romantic.  A building begins with the smashing of elbows and hammers.  Our art, whether song or dance or writing or film or poetry, takes months of anxious labor.  The band you see on stage rocking the stadium spent directionless weekends in pubs in front of disinterested strangers.  Art is never born from safety and stillness.

Please don’t be fooled by the seduction of bite-sized daydreams.  Real dreams begin with dirt, with intensity.  Don’t be taken in by the highlights of social media.  They may fuel you: but life needs you to be all there.  And when you’ve pushed past the initial illusion of lake-shallow emotions: you will find an ocean of richness and depth that was worth the pain, worth the risk, worth your tears and busted seams.  There, you will find the deepest laughter.  There is a joy that hurts.

— J

llmaime asked:

Hey, I really appreciate your blog. Your honesty is convicting, and it has prompted a lot of growth in my life. I’m just wondering, and maybe you’ve already written about this, but how did you come to terms with the reality of hell? I’ve known a lot of people who have dismissed Christianity because they couldn’t accept the thought of the majority of mankind enduring eternal torment, especially when God claims to be good. How do you navigate through all of that?

Hey my dear friend, thank you for your very kind words and thank you for asking. I know this is a tough question that divides many people.

Please allow me the grace to point you to some posts.  The first one here is a little snarky because I was sort of irritated that day, but here you go —

- Do Christians Have To Believe In Hell?

- Hell and Heaven As Motivation For Faith: A Mega-Post

Here are just a few thoughts on this to consider.

1) I believe most people already believe the concept of Hell, whether they admit it or not.

Those who don’t believe in Hell are also saying, “I don’t believe in justice for evil.”  You can’t say one without the other.

I don’t think just anyone goes to Hell.  But certainly there is justice for those who continually choose destruction, tyranny, manipulation, and oppression.  When someone says “There is no Hell,” it means they’ve never faced rape in Rawanda or a murdered child or a national genocide like the Khmer Rouge.  It means they never had to watch their relatives shot in the head right in front of them (my Cambodian friend’s mom watched all five of her brothers executed).  It means they never had to watch their parents get exterminated in an oven. Instead the naysayer’s suffering has only consisted of credit card debt or an egged car at Halloween.

Only over-privileged Westernized Post-Enlightenment thinkers who have been Pavlovian-conditioned with so-called “logic” could ever say that there’s no Hell, because they’ve never been ravaged by evil. [C.S. Lewis calls this “chronological snobbery.”]  And the only motivation for the victims of injustice to stop declaring war is to trust that there is a Hell which ultimately deals justice, so we don’t have to.  [This idea is from Miroslav Volf, a Croatian theologian who is a pacifist and well understands human indignities.]

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Whenever a fellow Christian brings up the “broad road of destruction” — that is, the single verse that implies most people are going to hell — I have to question this with, you know, the whole Bible.

Because Matthew 25 tells us a story about these ten bridesmaids preparing for the wedding, and half of them are ready.  Which implies that probably half of us are going to make it.

Or in Matthew 3, we learn about the wheat getting separated from the chaff: which actually implies that the majority of us are going to make it.

So which one are we cherry-picking for our agenda?

Do we only use the narrow gate to scare the hell out of people?  What about the bridesmaids, and the wheat, and the entire list of others issues besides sexuality, and the stuff about helping the orphans and the foreigners, and how about the criminal next to Jesus who made it in the last ten seconds of his life?  What’s the theology that makes the church hate poor people?

Like my seminary professors used to say, There’s no content without context.

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Do you ever feel like you just aren’t getting anywhere? Like you’ve been in the same position for a very long time and you just need change? I’ve been in a standstill with God and the world in general and this is sort of embarrassing but it’s really been screwing with my vibes, man. Especially now during the summer, because that’s when my depression peaks. I don’t know how to move forward, or what He wants me to do or anything, but I know i have to keep moving. Any advice?

On a long enough timeline, when I talk with friends who are of any and every belief, race, age, and gender — I always find a restless discontent that plagues them everywhere they go.  Me too.  It doesn’t matter how happy we are with God, with our marriages, with our career or college or kids.  It’s always the same itchy awkward gap between who I want to be and who I really am.  Almost no one is truly satisfied with their lot in life, and sometimes it’s because they could definitely do better, but other times they just know that this world isn’t our real home.

In some ways, this dissatisfaction is easy, and entire blogs are dedicated to yelling at everything that’s wrong.  But it’s a symptom of the real issue. I think the huge expectations we have over life can feel like knocking backwards on the door of nostalgia, to an unreachable fountain of unquenched thirst that won’t happen on our side of the door.  Of course, we must strive for joy and fight against evil and pursue healing.  But when you feel like you’ve stalled out or that your faith is dry or you’re all worn down, it’s perfectly natural to feel restless and itchy in your soul sometimes.

So please have grace for yourself on this.  We all experience these up-and-down seasons as much as the weather changes, and I think if we were told this from the start, then preparation would already win half the battle.  When my body gets into that strange rhythm of sudden discontent, I can already tell myself, “I’m on to you, bro.  You don’t get to tell me who I am.”  I find contentment in knowing that tiny little itch will always throb at me, and that’s part of being human.

Sure, all this stirring could indicate that you need to change a few things.  It could mean to let go of something or start some things anew.  Maybe God has for you a totally new vision, a new city, a change of career.  I would talk this out with a friend, face-to-face, one-on-one, to share that disembodied urge.  It can help for someone to say, “Yeah man, me too.”  If you feel depressed, please please please talk that out in safety with a friend.  We need honesty to move forward. And it helps to share our discontent before we make decisions from it.

But there is always this inconsolable longing for Eden that will remain a wounded vacuum which can drive you crazy.  And it’s okay.  It’s there.  It shouldn’t be so foreign to us that we feel like foreigners on earth.  And in the midst of that, even a tiny mustard seed of faith is enough to move the mountain and keep climbing.  God is cool with our weak hearts, and maybe prefers them.

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There are stretches of dryness where I haven’t been praying, reading His words, reflecting on Him, singing to Him, really engaged, really in tune. He slips in increments, like purple light beneath the coast, like a voice from a lumbering train. And it’s then I miss Him, a distinct pang of far away memory as much as I miss better times and real people, as much as I miss the sepia tinged laughter of childhood.

I sometimes choose later. I tell Him, “Tomorrow I’ll make the time, tomorrow I’ll miss You enough, later when I’m ready” — and tomorrow He is there, but I am not. So I have to stop. I have to take to the ground. I have to force a confrontation. I have to run through the fits and starts, the stutter of that first prayer, the tightening coil of distractions, the noise of my own mind. I need urgency to find Him. And there He is always, like warm water for cold bruised hands, like sun upon the hill: and I remember how good He is, how right, how so above the fleeting, how utterly true. I remember that I don’t have to wait, that He is not mad at my distance, and I don’t have to hold myself back from Him. I know that Sundays can be today. He is here, with grace.

— J.S.