Quote: Externals vs. The Heart

When I was growing up, I was not allowed to go to the local pool halls. As I look back, I’m sure my parents did not want me to come under the influence of the unsavory characters who frequented those halls. So they built a fence to keep that from happening: “Don’t go into those pool halls.” The problem was I didn’t understand why, so I grew up thinking it was a sin to play pool (don’t laugh, I really did). Imagine my consternation when I moved to a Christian conference center and saw a beautiful antique pool table in the recreation room and godly men playing pool.

That is the way a lot of manmade “dos and don’ts” originate. They begin as a sincere effort to deal with real sin issues. But very often we begin to focus on the fence we’ve built instead of the sin it was designed to guard against. We fight our battles in the wrong places; we deal with externals instead of the heart.

— Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace

It Was A Good Life

Sometimes a friend will ask me for advice because they feel like they’re going nowhere in life.  They tell me their whole story, whether for two minutes or two hours, and I listen.

I can see they’re totally dead inside. Their eyes are hollowed out. Their hands shake. They have that numb zombified look of giving in to lesser things. They have the desperate look of the Reaper coming to collect their corpse. 

It’s always because of a boyfriend. Or a lack of purpose. Or terrible parents. Or a ninth year in college. Or an addiction: porn, heroin, meth, weed, people. Or a low-grade haunting fatigue and depression and cynicism with no discernible cause. 

It’s all these things but none of these things. It is emptiness, and we try to fill it by finding a god in things that are not God. 

At this point, I tell them:

Continue reading “It Was A Good Life”

The Sloppy Truth of Discipleship

Hello beloved friends!

This is the second sermon I preached at a wonderful church in Huntsville, Alabama (the first sermon is here).

It’s titled, The Sloppy Truth of Discipleship.

Stream here or download directly here!


In this message, I talk about the joyful mess of making disciples and the difficulties of the Great Commission.

Some of the things I talk about are: When Jesus uppercuts drug addicts, the hyper-spiritual attitude in the awkward Bible study, and what separates the church from every other place in the world.

If you’ve been blessed by the podcast, please consider leaving a review on iTunes!

Love y’all!

— J

For my podcast, click here:

Quote: Right Value

You have a right to encouragement. You have permission to avoid haters, negative people, loud gossip, and arrogant bravado. That doesn’t mean you escape real criticism — it just means you have no time for overblown drama. You have a right to hear words that build maturity, momentum, and movement. Don’t ever think you’re being humble by hearing every opinion, because not all of them are allowed to have the same weight and value over your life.

— J.S.

Drive-By Witness

Occasionally someone will take me out to lunch and really take an interest in the drama that I’m going through. They nod, listen, show support, encourage, and even pray.

But then I never hear from them again.

That’s when I realize —

1) They were just curious about the latest gossip in town, 2) they feel like hanging out once is their good-enough deed for the day, or 3) they did it to impress me and puff up their ego.


It’s a bit heartbreaking because —

1) They were really good at acting like they cared, 2) I was excited to have someone who could walk through my struggle, and 3) it’s so hard to find trustworthy friends these days.

Of course I’ll continue to open up to people.  It won’t stop me and I’m okay with taking the chance. 

But please don’t be a drive-by witness. People are not hotel rooms: you can’t just check in and check out.  If you’re going to be there, then be there.  And really care.

— J.S.

Quote: The Tension

Here’s the tension: God is too holy to let sin go unpaid, but He loves us too much to let us pay for it.

Both are true, perfectly balanced, and will meet us where we are broken. If you are a prideful person, the Gospel revokes your self-glory. If you are a self-condemner, the Gospel makes much of Jesus through you. If you’re the guy who hurts people, Jesus will jackslap you. If you’ve been hurt, Jesus heals the brokenness. If you cause consequences, God will take up vengeance; if you’re living through consequences, God will carry you. Both sides will inevitably happen over the course of life, but that’s why the Gospel is for everyone.

— J.S.

Quote: This Love Itself

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can.

— Thomas Merton

Quote: Heart of the Father

During this two month break, I went to fourteen different churches across the eastern United States. About one church every four days. I would sit in the back and I would ask myself, ‘If I had never heard about God or the Bible or Jesus — what would I think about God just from what we do at church? Just from what the pastor says?’ And I recognized that we learn a lot of principles and rules and steps, and it became about, ‘Here’s how you use God so that you can make your life better.’ So I felt like a lot of people were marrying God for the money. I wanted to get closer to the heart of our Father, not just learn how to be a better person.

Where we get messed up is that prayer begins to be a way to clear your mind, Scripture becomes good advice and good habits, worship becomes an emotionally driven moment, and serving becomes this self-fulfilling good-deed checklist. We can become really good at these things, and there’s nothing wrong with those things, and those sermons can be great. I just wonder: When we’re praying, are we just worried about technique and method? Or are we really praying to our Heavenly Father who loves us and created us?

— J.S. from this message

Question: Trying Hard To Be A Better Christian, But I’m Stuck

Anonymous asked:

Why is it that I want to get better, I want to be unstuck from where I am, but I don’t do what I should do? If I really wanted to experientially know and serve God, I’d at least try. But I don’t. How to I really learn to WANT something desperately? Resolve in my heart that I want it? People keep saying resolve in your heart to follow God but I don’t know how to want something that badly no matter how much I’ve suffered and no matter how much good I know He is. No one seems to understand.


So a long, long time ago (in a galaxy called here) was a dude who had the same problem, and he wrote about this struggle in a letter that we now call the Book of Romans, in Chapter 7, which says,

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. … For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing.

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

I almost want to yell, “SURPRISE %@$#^&!!”

That was Apostle Paul, who was probably the holiest dude of his time but fully acknowledged that he struggled like crazy. 

I’m not trying to be cute here.  Paul was describing the entire dang human condition.

Hang with me a bit longer.  In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about his “thorn,” some crazy affliction that he doesn’t ever name, which God didn’t take away.  This is Paul, who by the way could revive dead people and also heal the sick by his shadow or handkerchief, and he couldn’t heal himself.  It was something so drastic that it probably caused others to doubt God, but Paul writes,

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The truth is: You can NOT do this on your own.

There’s no willpower, no personal resolve, no inner-strength, no part of your flesh will ever get to the place where you can say, “I made it.”

Maybe not the pep talk you were hoping for.

Continue reading “Question: Trying Hard To Be A Better Christian, But I’m Stuck”

Quote: Real Passion

When I practice my sermons, I sometimes pull up a chair right in front of me.

I picture the 15 year old kid whose parents are divorced and who wants to kill himself everyday and hates everyone at school.

I picture the single mom who lost custody of her children because she can’t hold down a job in this economy and drinks herself to sleep every night.

I picture the hard-hearted religious hypocrite who sings loudly every Sunday at his church but goes home to beat his kids.

I think of my future wife, my future children, I think of the historical figures in the Bible sitting there hearing my preaching.

I’m not about to yell in someone’s face who has real issues that need real help.

It’s great to sound passionate. But what does real passion sound like?

It sounds like a man nailed to a cross whispering forgiveness over his own murderers. It sounds like a man raised to life calling for the disciple who betrayed him so he could reinstate him back to fruitful ministry. It sounds like Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, angry at a temple for turning God’s house into a consumer’s playground, raising a young girl to life with the words, “It’s time to wake up now, honey.”

I’m fine with loud preaching, but what are we loud about?

— J.S.

Making Prayer Harder Than It Really Is


I don’t know anyone who thinks they’re praying as much as they should.

When the preacher tells us to pray more, we really want to.  It’s a constant, itchy, burdening debt.  Days, weeks, months go by with a handful of failed attempts — and each prayer feels like we’re apologizing. 

I’m sorry I haven’t prayed in so long.  I’m sorry it’s not longer than a few minutes.  I’m sorry it’s not “deeper.” 

Prayer is hard though, if you ever really tried it.

I mean in the first five minutes, you start thinking of other stuff.  A lot.  Did I leave the stove on?  Should I send that email first?  Should I do some sit-ups after?  Did I respond to that text?  It feels like we’re running through an iron stocking, with all these distractions and interruptions and runaway thought-trains.

Then there’s the doubting.  We don’t know if it’s working.  Or if God is listening.  Or if we’re doing it right.  Or if we’re too dirty to pray.  Or if I even need to, since God does what He wants anyway.

Continue reading “Making Prayer Harder Than It Really Is”

Quote: Dare To Believe

Christians dare to believe in a hope that is larger than life and bigger than what happens to us. It is a hope that does not deny pain, but confronts the darkness with the smallest sliver of faith that God has written our finale on a cross. Oh faithful struggling soldier: dare to believe, dare to hope, fight the good fight. He has won.

— J.S.

Question: My Friend Hates “Religion” And I Can’t Take It

Anonymous asked:

I have a friend who strongly hates religion. While he doesn’t try to force Atheism down my throat, he does often go on a lengthy rant about all the evils religion (especially Christianity) has brought on to the world and holds Secular Humanism and Scientism on the pedestal. I am trying very hard to be kind to him and listen to him but sometimes I can’t help but personally get offended by some of his statements. I am not sure what to do because some of the stuff he says is personally affecting me.


Please, dear friend: whatever your friend says, do NOT take it personally.

I understand it feels like he’s talking smack about your mama, but any sort of pushback from you will only prove his point. 

I’ve said this story many times, but in my old housing complex there was an awesome black gentlemen who was a guard at the security gate.  He had to work with a raging atheist, who was also a pretty cool dude.  Both of them became my friends.  When I asked Terry, the Christian black gentleman, how he handled the atheist, he said some very simple words.

Oh man, he just don’t know.

That was it.  No detailed script, no three-point plan, no evangelism cube, no apologetics.  Just the simple reasoning: He doesn’t know any better, and that’s okay.

Because at one point in my life, I didn’t know any better. 

At one point in your life, you didn’t know any better.

We all hated a weak version of Christianity that some lame college professor could dismantle in a thirty second lecture in the impressionable mind of a seventeen year old freshman. 

I was an atheist who hated God, who hated Christians, who shrugged at Jesus.

We just didn’t know.

I hope you have patience for your friend, to remember what it was like the first time you walked nervously into church expecting to be judged, not knowing why these Christians were being so nice to you, thinking the preacher was scamming everyone with the offering plate, seeing some weird stuff on Sundays like “drinking the blood” and being “baptized with the Holy Spirit,” and hearing that murmuring during prayer time. 

Try to remember.

Continue reading “Question: My Friend Hates “Religion” And I Can’t Take It”

Quote: Pages of the Sky

“God is holy, He is glorious, He’s powerful, He’s awesome, He holds the universe in the palm of His hand. But even though God is way above us and sits on a throne in control of everything — He punched a hole in the pages of the sky and He wrote Himself into the story of humanity. The feet of the Son of God touched the dirt of the earth and He became one of us. And he didn’t just get crucified, he didn’t just go to a cross: his whole life was a crucifixion. He was tempted, persecuted, hungry, tired, he was weak, just like one of us. Then when he went to the cross, he made this exchange called grace, where he said, ‘Your sin for my life. One of us has to pay the cost.’ And Jesus, our friend, said, ‘I will.’”

— J.S. from this message

A Living, Breathing, Pulsing, Dirt-Filled Faith

Hello beloved friends!

I had the privilege to preach at a wonderful church in Huntsville, Alabama.

The sermon is titled: A Living, Breathing, Pulsing, Dirt-Filled Faith.

Stream here or download directly here.


In this message, I discuss real relational intimacy with our Father — about a faith that is bigger than just church. The passage is John 15:9-17.

Some of the things I talk about: The time my dad saved my brother from drowning on a tricycle, how the homeless helped me love Jesus, that time Jesus busted a drug ring, and the greatest Christian I ever met.

Love y’all!

— J

For my podcast, click here:

Question: They’re Fine Without Jesus, Why Not Me?

Anonymous asked:

I have many friends who are not believers that are far greater people than I am. They are more kind, driven, and morally upright so it makes me wonder if people can be good without God, then why Jesus? If people can be good through sheer will power and by taking charge with their life, then I don’t see any reason to continue to believe. Maybe I am just frustrated by a lack of change in my life and filled with regret because of all the bad decisions that I have made that still haunts me today.


Dear friend, absolutely anyone can be “kind, driven, and morally upright” without Jesus: but that’s not the point of Christianity, nor do I even believe it’s the point of life.

You mentioned you feel a lack of change in your life and a regret over past decisions: which means you’re actually much closer to the heart of the Gospel than you think. 

Jesus is exactly for people who realize they are broken, beat up, and busted in all their attempts to be “good” — because Jesus offers a supernatural grace that surpasses what we’ve done and what’s happened to us.

Let’s consider a few important nuances in your question.  Feel free to skip around.  Please bear with me on the doctrinal stuff.

Continue reading “Question: They’re Fine Without Jesus, Why Not Me?”

Waves, Night, The End

I was walking along the beach tonight, wave after wave rushing at the side of my toes.

I saw a light at the end of the shore, a tiny dot, and I thought about the end. My life was halfway done.

I saw people swimming, clapping, dancing, kissing, fighting on the sand. I thought about taking a part in those lives, the swirling stories and journeys and conflict all colliding; I thought about the crying and joy and laughter and paintbrushed moments like they were made just for us; I thought of births and weddings and funerals, places where people hug.

I saw the invisible clock on our foreheads counting back to zero and the sound of the book closing shut on the last page of our lives.

I thought about the people who lied to me, hurt me, betrayed me, stole me — and I was mad, but I was sad too, because they need grace as much as I do.

I thought of being old, wrinkles on my eyelids, and how much I’ll love my wife as her hair goes grey, and if my kids would say to me near the end that I did okay as my frail fingers hold their fresh hands, and if my last whisper would be something funny or something wise.

I thought of God: watching us grow up, a proud Father who felt our stumbles and picked us up again, even when we refused, and His very breath lighting up my lungs like the way the moon hit the end of each wave as it broke along the shore.

I saw the light at the end of the beach again, and thought about the other side of those lights, to a strange eternal place called home, where I could keep my toes in the sand forever.

I looked at the waves, wave after wave, endless in their relentless supply; and I thought of grace.

I walked back to my car. My life was a little past halfway done. I want to end it right. I want to fight this fight. I need the waves this night. I need grace.

— J