Question: How Do I “Love God?”

Anonymous asked:

I get so bogged down and depressed when I try to be a ‘good’ Christian. Things begin to feel so legalistic and joyless that I find myself wondering how I could love anyone that will take over my life at any moment, twist my arm, and whisper things like ‘If you loved me you’d ___” or “If you had faith/believed more I wouldn’t ___” like some abusive relationship that won’t let you think, feel, or do things for yourself. Is there any way to overcome this feeling?


Dear friend: It’s very possible you could’ve been sold a pile of lies about God.  I’ve heard some of those conditional statements you mentioned and they do have good intentions, but they’re jumping off a false premise. 

I think your question boils down to a very simple one:

How do I actually love God?

I’ve never heard a single person in the history of anywhere successfully answer this question.  Most people say those bizarre things like, “If you know God really loved you, then you would love Him back!” And we’re supposed to reply, “So convicting!” — and then feel really bad about our sorry little Christian lives.

But if some random lady on the street yelled “I love you” at me, I’m not going to immediately reciprocate.  Not even if she’s Salma Hayek.  The most I would say is, “Okay thanks lady” while backing away slowly.

The truth here is: No one can make you fall in love with God — including yourself. 

So let’s ask an easier question.

How do I fall in love with someone?

Now we’re getting somewhere.

You ready? 

The more you get to know someone, the more you fall in love with them — and the more you fall in love with someone, the more you get to know them.

Continue reading “Question: How Do I “Love God?””

The God Who Walks In The Dirt of the Earth

Hello beloved friends!

This is the first part of a new series called “The Book of Mark: The Cosmic Journey of the World in the Story of Jesus.”

The message is titled: The God Who Walks In The Dirt of the Earth

It’s about the one reason I can hold onto faith even in the midst of intense doubt, and what it looks like to know God.

Stream here or download directly here!

You can also find me on iTunes here!


The Scripture is Mark 1. Some things I talk about are: That moment when you think all this church-faith-Bible stuff is just a crazy lie, the day God punched the stars and ripped a hole in the sky, 17 reasons why I still like you, and long-distance phone calls with God.

To stream other podcasts, click here.

Be blessed and love y’all!

— J

When You Fail A Sermon

Pastors and leaders —

There are times when we will totally bomb a sermon or Bible Study. We ramble on and on, miss major points, fail to connect big ideas, confuse the theology, and lose sleep over how it could’ve gone better. For every good one you preach or teach, there is bound to be a fail.

You might think, “Is this it? Am I out of good stuff? I thought I was improving. Did I pray enough? When will I ever be like those good preachers? Can I get a re-do?” I know. Every Monday, you can find me in my boxers and a blanket beating myself up over these things. I am easily discouraged too.

It happens to all of us. The hard part is: Sunday is coming again. You need to prepare once more. You have to reset the clock. And the insecurity is eating at your guts.

But the good news is: Sunday is coming again. You get another opportunity. You get your re-do. Most people will have reset their own brains from last week. You have the privilege to bring the Word once more. And it was never about you anyway.

Live to preach another day. Prepare a better meal for your eager people, and practice your craft. Pray like crazy. Most importantly, love the people you teach, or it won’t matter. Be encouraged that we even get to do this at all.

Even when you might totally fail again: you don’t know what God is up to. He might use your terrible sermon to speak to just that one person who needs it. But study up and do better. It is not an easy thing to preach God’s Word: so don’t be too hard on yourself. Sunday is coming, and God is already there. Do your best and He will speak.

— J

No Perfect Church

There is no perfect church.

There is no perfect service, no perfect sound system or praise team or preacher or sermon or environment or seating or set-up or video guy or audio guy or room temperature or bulletin grammar or body odor or carpet color or ending prayer.

But — there is a perfect God.

And He is in charge of your imperfect church.

Forget the distractions. Love Him, love your people, and have grace for all the grey in between.

Praise Him, and everything else will be fine.

— J

Question: Stepping Down From Leadership

Anonymous asked:

Currently, I am a Bible Study teacher for high schoolers and also one of the praise leaders for the college ministry in my church.   I am in a habitual sin [porn addiction]. Should I step down as a leader until I am not struggling with this anymore?


If you would’ve asked me this a few years ago, I would’ve definitely told you to turn in your badge and hand over your Bible.

These days, I don’t make so many blanket-statements and I’m trying to see things on a case-by-case scenario.  I don’t say this so you can do what you want, but I’ve seen plenty of flawed leaders serve through their issues just fine, so long as they’re taking steps to repent and overcome.  They didn’t just confess and stay complacent — they confessed and made forward progress.  

However, you must tell this to your pastor and church leadership.  They have a right to know and they get to call the shots.  If you were the senior pastor of this church, you would also want to know if one of your leaders was struggling with porn.  If they ask you to step down, whether temporarily or permanently, you have to respect that decision. 

The very fact that you’re messaging me shows you probably want to overcome this, and that’s a huge step in the right direction.  I hope your church sees it that way, too — but whether they do or not, you need to tell them.

Continue reading “Question: Stepping Down From Leadership”

Rain, Grace, Raised, Together

Last weekend, I was at an event called Rock The Universe at a theme park where all the bestselling Christian artists were gathered.  I was with my new church family and at some point I saw my old church family, about ten of them, and they saw me with my new church, over forty of us.  They were wearing red shirts, we were wearing green. 

I had really missed my old church, a lot.  Some of them I hadn’t seen in nearly a year, and we hugged like crazy.

I don’t talk much about what happened at my last church a year ago, because I don’t want the gossip to destroy them.  I haven’t even told the new youth pastor, my former roommate, what went on.  He doesn’t read here and he’ll never know I was quietly forced out against my will as I begged to stay.  I don’t want him or any of them to doubt their leaders or to resent the senior pastor.  I’d rather take the blame and let them think I quit — and I knew some of them still had questions.

But this night at a theme park, with the praise music roaring loudly over us and the rain coming down, we just sang.  My old church and my new church, shoulder to shoulder, arms raised and hands high together — we sang.  None of us cared about what happened before.  And as Chris Tomlin played his latest generic bestseller, the lyrics became real for me.  They took on shape, a weight, a gracious pain.  Romans 8:31 to a melody became our song.

And if our God is for us — then who could ever stop us? And if our God is with us — then what could stand against?

I wept, a lot.  We were all mixed in, red and green shirts with fists up.  It rained enough to cool us.  We were all smiling, not a hint of animosity or awkwardness, and my heart could hardly take the sight.  I felt like maybe this is how it will be in Heaven, when our color and our past and our hurts and scars will be reconciled into one, so that somehow our variety of diversity and even our iniquities would tell a story of unity.  The story of God choosing people such as us, where Heaven didn’t have to wait until we die — but could be real, right now.

I thought, Maybe everything really will be okay.

We laughed.  We clapped. We wept.  We worshiped.

— J

Question: Can I Lose My Salvation?


Hi, my name is Erica. First I want to tell you I have huge respect for you and what you do. I have been struggling with a question about salvation. I am without a doubt saved and do my very best to stay in God’s will, but I wonder is there a way to lose salvation? I was taught that it is impossible, however as I read the scripture (with very little ability to research), it seems like it can be lost. Can you help shine some light on this for me? Thanks a ton


Hello Erica!  Thank you so much for your encouragement and for blessing me today.

Let’s think through this question together.  I promise I’m not being sarcastic at all.

Question: Can I lose my salvation?

But then let’s ask, What is salvation?  A thing I obtain?  Something I hold?  An intangible factoid?  A conceptual piece of knowledge?  A feeling of assurance?

And what do we mean by lose?  Like the way we lose a wallet or my job or my mind?

I think many of us feel about salvation the same way we do some kind of shiny precious trophy — “This is my precious and I have to hold it for dear life.”

But maybe this premise is actually wrong. I don’t think salvation is like a toy we can keep or lose — because the author of our salvation is the very one who does the holding.  Salvation is not so much a thing as it is about a story and a person.  We get it backwards: we don’t so much have God as God has us.  It sounds like a cute preacher thing to say, but let’s not confuse “cute” for “untrue.”  It’s completely true.

I know we can read verses like Hebrews 6:4-6 and feel like salvation is “lose-able.”  But in the context of the entire Bible, we need to balance these verses within the scope of God’s Narrative.  Once God calls us and we respond, we belong to Him from eternity past to eternity future (John 10:28).  Like God told Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short?” (Numbers 11:23). 

If you ask me to explain how both can be true — that we choose God as God chooses us — my head might explode, or it would have to be the size of the universe to understand.  All I know is: once we’re adopted, it’s a done deal.

Continue reading “Question: Can I Lose My Salvation?”

Be Frustrated, Furious, Faithful

I know it can be so frustrating to see those in your church who do not take things seriously. The shallow lack of depth; the boisterous giggling at inappropriate moments; the disinterested vapid gaze during sermons; the squabbling and secret gossip; the overly flirtatious; the halfway-hearted visitors who treat the sanctuary like a social club.

We expect our pastors and leaders to correct the culture quickly. We want a church that truly loves Christ and worships sincerely, without concern for how others think, that they would see as we see. It’s a burning, fiery, deeply grieving passion that we can hardly contain.

This frustration is good. It shows you care. But — take heart in the long-term grace of God. Have patience. Be truthful, but do not grow bitter. Be firm, but do not shame them. Speak when it matters, but let small things go. Anything else is flesh, and God does not honor this. Trusting Him means we move ourselves out of the way for God’s grace to uppercut the lost.

For God was patient with our stubborn hearts too. God sees the mosaic of our faith in fits and starts. He loved us in our first lap of faith when we were so ignorant and rebellious; He continues to love us now so that we may love others who just don’t get it yet. Many people in our churches just don’t know. It is the blindness of being behind, and you have been tasked to help them see. We cannot coerce this, but only rely on the Spirit and His wisdom to give us the words to say what is right, what is true, and what will build us.

Love Him, and love your people too.

— J.S.

Wrecked By Breathtaking Glory

Hello beloved friends!

This is the sixth and final part of a series called “Faith Struggle: The Messy Uphill Climb of Faith.”

The message is titled: Wrecked By Breathtaking Glory.

It’s about what it means to glorify God, the single most important thing you could do with your life.

Stream or download directly here!

You can also find me on iTunes here!

The Scripture is John 3:25-30. Some things I talk about are: The art of story-topping and joke-killing, when athletes thank God in an interview, falling off the Grand Canyon, and Jesus at the end of the world.

To stream other podcasts, click here.

Be blessed and love y’all!

— J

Question: How Do I Give My Testimony?

imagejoshuadylan asked:

Could you describe how you believe a testimony should be given?

Hey brother, I appreciate the awesome question. 

Let’s get a pen and paper out.  Here are twelve things to know for a proper testimony.


1) I’m just kidding.  There are no twelve ways for a proper testimony.

2) Read #1.

3) Why are you still reading these numbers. Stahp. Waht are you doing.

You know, this is just one of those things where if you’re honest, you are yourself, you tell the truth, and you have ZERO agenda, then you’ll be just fine.

No one expects a testimony to be a polished, sermon-esque, theology-filled manifesto.  A finely crafted testimony sounds like one of those artificial Midi files from an old Geocitites page.  You just want it to stop.

Whether you’re sharing in front of a huge crowd or you’re face to face with your best friend, don’t be pressured into “telling it right.” You just tell your story of your personal encounter with Jesus Christ.  Sort of like when you start dating and then people ask you, “How did you two meet?”  One day you were doing your own thing, and BAM, you met the one.  You fell in love, and Jesus changed everything.

Continue reading “Question: How Do I Give My Testimony?”

So About Seeker-Sensitive Churches and “False Salvation”

Anonymous asked:

In a lot of criticism for the “Seeker-driven” churches, there’s usually mention of false assurances of salvation. What does that mean? Does it mean that despite repenting and confessing, Jesus Christ is the one and only true way to the Father, that people are still doomed to hell? … I’m so confused and honestly MORE than a little frightened.


Hey, thank you for this question.

First please know: God is not really in the business of scaring people into loving Him, so if any part of you is thinking, “I have to get this right or I’m doomed!” — then I don’t believe it’s coming from God. We can leave behind the fear, so says 1 John 4:18.

When we say the phrase seeker-sensitive, it was originally coined by Willow Creek Community Church, the huge megachurch in Chicago. About a decade ago, the leadership thought that creating a service around “seekers” — people curious about the church — would attract more mainstream crowds. The word “seeker” replaced sinner because it felt more friendly and welcoming.

There is a ton of anecdotal evidence that says the whole seeker-sensitive movement was a bad idea (Willow Creek has since mostly stopped services for seekers). I’m not so black-and-white on it. I think it was a decent idea to reach out to people who didn’t grow up in church. Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 says he became all things to all people, that he might save some. I believe adapting to seekers was born out of good intentions.

But as with any idea, the downside is that any church culture will always grow a subculture of bad ideas. All of them. Even the best ideas can be corrupted in human hands. Think of any movement in church history and this has always been true. If the Bible can be subverted for twisted agendas, then surely so can church culture.

Some pastors get scared of their youth group having sex, so BAM, you get fear-based scare tactics on dating that damages the youth. John Calvin expounds on God’s sovereignty and BAM, you get some arrogant Reformed Neo-Calvinists. I bet John Calvin would hardly recognize Calvinism today. If we’re criticizing seeker-ministries, we have to take that microscope on everything else.

Again, there is always going to be a cyst on the original intent of a decent idea, no matter how good it is, and that’s human nature: we’re bound to take things to extremes.

Continue reading “So About Seeker-Sensitive Churches and “False Salvation””

Quote: Lifted Veil

“An amazing thing happens when you get honest with yourself and start doing what you love, what makes you happy. Your life literally slows down. You stop wishing for the weekend. You stop merely looking forward to special events. You begin to live in each moment and you start feeling like a human being. You just ride the wave that is life, with this feeling of contentment and joy. You move fluidly, steadily, calm and grateful. A veil is lifted, and a whole new perspective is born.”

— Jes Allen

Question: Outgrowing My Parents

Two anons (edited for length):

– I’ve recently made a breakthrough and grown in my relationship with God, and I believe that he’s told me that I was made to dance. I know that it would be foolish not to follow His plan for me, but my mom is so against it and she always calls me childish when I speak about it. I haven’t explained to her that God wants me to use my talents to glorify Him simply because I’m afraid of arguing again … Any advice?

– My parents have become one of the major roadblocks when it comes to my faith. I’ve already attempted to talk about them about this multiple times, but every single time, I’m shot down. We’re pretty heavily involved in the church. However, they don’t approve of most of my friends at church, and have begun to strongly discourage me to attend church events and activities. What should i be doing here …?


Hey, I completely understand the drama that comes with family. It’s also very possible that you can outgrow them and make better decisions — but that’s still no excuse to do whatever you want without regard for them.

I’ve hardly ever heard the church teach about when we spiritually outgrow our parents. It tends to be a very imbalanced shriek-session saying “You better honor your parents,” or it becomes a rebellious Western ploy on individualism saying “Ignore the haters, including your parents.” Neither teaching ever works out.

Usually we go one of two extremes, where 1) we try so hard to pull away from our parents that we end up despising them, or 2) we try so hard to please them that we end up miserable.

Sometimes we forget that parents are just people.

By that, I mean –

Continue reading “Question: Outgrowing My Parents”

Quote: Tears

“For the preacher to be relevant to the staggering problems of history is to risk being irrelevant to the staggering problems of the ones who sit there listening out of their own histories. To deal with the problems to which there is a possible solution can be a way of avoiding the problems to which humanly speaking there is no solution. When Jesus was brought to the place where his friend Lazarus lay dead, for instance, he did not offer any solution. He only wept. Then the other things he said and did. But first he simply let his tears be his word.”

— Frederick Buechner

Not Every Pain Has A Lesson


There is NO connecting-the-dots on every instance of pain.  You can’t tell everyone, “God has a plan for your life.”  You can’t always say, “Everything happens for a reason.”

A blind theology on suffering only works for the unquestioning.  It can work until you have to comfort a young boy with cancer, a mother who has lost her son, a suicidal high schooler, an entire nation oppressed by genocide, a family torn by a school shooting or drunk driver, a pregnant victim of rape.  At this point: it is atrocious to say, “Pain forces you to grow” or “It takes a painful situation to change your ways” or “God is teaching you to trust.”

I think we probably say those things because most of us have had it way too easy.  And actually: they’re not biblical or from the heart of God.

What if there really is no spiritual lesson from your pain?

What if “God’s amazing plan” only makes sense to the privileged upper-class?

What if you never see the reason for why you’re going through this horrible ache? 

What if you’re that starving, kidnapped, beat-up kid in a scorched third world country?

Continue reading “Not Every Pain Has A Lesson”

Don’t Mess With A Fragile Ego


Everyone knows the guy who cannot handle rebuke — it’s like walking on egg shells over thin ice over a minefield — and if you dare bring up a hint of contradiction, they will either melt down or throw things or suck you into a terrible black hole.

Don’t mess with them.

What I mean is: you don’t have to bother trying to peel apart the layers and negotiate their craziness. It’s okay to step back or walk away. They are too sensitive even for the most delicate of hands, and nothing you do can satisfy their fragile ego.  If you try one way, they will have expected another, and if you do the other, they will have extra clauses tacked on. 

I would normally never say something like that.  I’m a huge advocate of getting into the broken mess of people and loving on them unconditionally.  I hate to demonize or generalize anyone.  I don’t like to make an ominous dichotomy of “them” versus “us.”  It’s not the cool thing to give up on anyone.

But — there are some people who will only learn by the natural deflation of uncontrollable circumstances.  Life has to kill them first.  In other words, you yourself cannot change them.  Something has to happen for them to see their own pride, their volatility, their entitlement, their impossible shell.  It is a horrible waiting game and no one enjoys it: but there are no words for a touchy, over-sensitive, energy-consuming victimizer.  You can only wait until their bubble-kingdom crumbles.

I have tried countless times to offer suggestions to wonderful leaders — but they are suddenly not so wonderful when I go against their grain.  They just cannot hear anything that runs counter to their own opinion, because 1) they’ve spent their whole lives in positions of authority, 2) they live in a bizarre Disney Land fantasy world where everyone bows down to them, 3) they are surrounded by Yes Men, 4) they are too insecure to confront their own ugliness, or 5) they completely disrespect you and your opinion, even if you are speaking the truth.

As a fortune cookie once said, If you haven’t said you’re wrong in a long time, you’re not living right.  

In the mean time: Of course we love them.  Every one of us is hard to put up with too, and there are instances where we all overreact to the truth.  But you do NOT need to waste more energy trying to hold up a mirror for your friend if they will only kick it out of your hands.  You don’t need to keep warning them if they continually explode into a fiery nuclear mess. 

When life finally hits them and they get their rude awakening: you roll up your sleeves and move in.  I’m sure that when each of us had our wake-up call moment, we wished for a gracious friend to embrace us.  Go be that person.  Be the one who steps in on time.  Until then: pray, hope, and do not retaliate.  God was just as patient with you, too.

— J.S.